Post Thumbail

Buy the ticket, take the ride…

One of my only California regrets is never stepping on a surfboard during the five years I lived on the Central Coast, never paddling deep into the Pacific and trying to rise amid fierce swells that hold a surfer’s life in the power of the falling tide.

As Wallace and Rose found out in “Blood Red Syrah,” surfing offers a chance at life and death. Riding the soul of the sea can be mystical and terrifying. Not every wave gives us a stand-up ride to the beach. We sometimes wipe out.

I’ve always found other ways to hunt truth – other ways to buy the ticket and take the ride.

I wrote controversial newspaper columns for decades. I loudly argued for another 10 years in the news talk radio wasteland. I rose relatively high within the ranks of vicious Japanese martial arts. Now, at 67, I write far-out fringe novels – trips far more magic than terrifying.

Until the other day in my new world, I sensed nothing but good vibrations – at the small Bookworm book shop in Santa Maria, in the bigger San Luis Obispo Barnes & Noble store and at the Santa Maria Public Library during my recent two week California book tour. We also had a raucous State College Barnes & Noble reading, signing and discussion among friends old and new.

No wipe outs.

Then came cagey Ray in Florida who told me his big independent bookstore would pass on an appearance from me because he wouldn’t make any money with a wine country thriller about the West Coast. Write about Florida, then I’ll host you in St. Pete, Ray said. As testimony to my maturity, I didn’t tell Ray to get corkscrewed and kiss my pinot noir.

Like Jimi Hendrix said, “Mr. Businessman, you can’t dress like me.”

Ray reminds me of too many dull editors and insecure bosses who can’t lose their edge because they never had one to begin with. I probably wouldn’t like Ray, anyway.

But I learned something from his curt dismissal – exactly what I learned from the rejection of literary agents and major publishing house executives who never responded to my queries about a journalism memoir and another novel that took a wild run through the chaos of raw identity politics and dying, ethnic American culture.

I learned they don’t matter to me. I don’t like them and they don’t like me. Yeah, I know, publishing is strictly business. Not to me it isn’t. Everything’s personal. That’s the kind of writer I’ll be until the day I keel over at the keyboard. To me, it’s always personal.

But I learn from my mistakes.

My mistakes make me stronger.

Trial and error are crucial to living and learning as an authentic outlaw novelist. I’m still a little untamed, no-frills and proud of the attitude I took a lifetime to cultivate. Speaking of error, some mistakes – typographical and otherwise – appear in the first printing of “Blood Red Syrah.” That’s OK, but still, a little embarrassing. Avventura Press and I will fix them.

TC Boyle is one of America’s best contemporary novelists and I found a mistake in his most recent major publishing house offering. I found one in Carl Hiassen’s most recent novel, as well. So I’m in good company. Unlike these two famous stylists, I don’t have a fawning entourage of literary agents, publicists, editors, advertising kiss-asses and other pampered corporate executives looking over my shoulder.

Lucky them.

So thanks to those of you who caught the blunders and told me. Thanks to those of you who spotted errors and didn’t tell me, too. I appreciate your good intentions. And, for those of you who might revel in my missteps, don’t get too excited. A rough road comes with living and working as a small-time outlaw novelist. I know the twisted path and welcome the hard ride. I started 40 years ago as a two-bit outlaw journalist and maintained my edge, honing its sharpness over many successful years. I’m learning something each day and fully expect to bang out pulpy novel after pulpy novel that sets fire to the timid status quo, explosive words that run amok in a world of safe and sane literary tedium.

I’m already working on the sequel – a grisly, California sand dune chiller.

So, if you haven’t read the first book, read the first book.

And, if you’ve passed on cracking open my gruesome California wine country thriller, I have every intention of casting a dark Celtic/ Irish/German curse on your sorry, uh, sorry.

Never mind.

My maturity still needs a little work.

I still have time to jump on a psychedelic surfboard.