Thursday, July 11, 2013

Hack's Birthday Secrets, Revealed!

On this, the anniversary of the publication of my debut novel, Hack, (which is coincidentally the first novel I completed), I figure it's time to come clean.

You know how novels, films etc. always have a required legal disclaimer at the beginning that says something like "This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental."

That's a big fat lie. A real whopper. Yes, the story is entirely a product of my twisted imagination, but the people, places, many of the events - just as real as the bulbous schnozz on my piggy head. All I did was take all these pieces of the life around me, throw them in a crock pot and let 'em stew.

Since 9 out of 10 folks (quite literally, 10 total - see the reviews) that have read Hack are either blood relations that are bound by family law to buy (but not necessarily read) the book, or old friends with whom there is some mutual debt, or curious local fans of my musical endeavors, all of the owners of the book are familiar with our Marin County home and thus most of the locations. And probably most of the people on whom these "fictitious" characters are based.

I doubt any of the real people on whom the characters in Hack are based would appreciate being outed. But what I'm basing the characters on aren't these people as they are today, or as they ever really were. Instead they're based on a very vague, thin memory - how they look, how they dress, how they talk, how they operate - that all springs from a snapshot in my memory, a static portrait that I've animated with fiction. Still, they probably wouldn't even want their 3rd grade photograph outed along with their real name, so guess all you want. Like I said, since many of you know me you might know the folks the characters are based on, but I ain't tellin!

Let's start with the main man, Henry Griffin, the "hack". None of the reasons the narrator provides in the story are the real reason Henry Griffin thinks of himself as a hack. Griffin, like my sorry ass, has struggled to make a living as an artist for a long time. Unlike me, he hasn't sold out. Any artist that doesn't get a lick of recognition is likely to mistakenly think they're no good - a hack. That's at least part of our protagonist: me as if I had never married, had kids or bought a house, living the hand to mouth existence of the artist waiting on a break.

Henry Griffin is an amalgam of somebody I might have been and somebody I know who is an artist, living an artist's life but also completely lacking in self-confidence and lacking the ability to make a commitment, not even to his own art. Most of the time he lets the little head do the thinking, which to those that have never lived bed-to-bed sounds like a lot of fun, so long as getting to really know someone inside out doesn't matter. But that does matter to Henry Griffin, so...mixing and matching the real and the imagined is what makes the Hack we know and love.

What about Hadley? The real-life Hadley truly was my grammar school and junior high sweetheart, we really did play with Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse, and drop acid at Alpine Dam (LC and CH stayed at home). After high school I did hear rumors of her doing wild things like moto-cross, and there was a one-nighter that woulda shoulda coulda sent our lives down the same path, and I really honestly did dream about her regularly, well into my forties...until I wrote it all down. That's where the similarity ends, of course, but I did see her not long ago and she knows all about what I just told you. And I've done my best to describe her as she really might have looked 15 years ago. (Save your twenty questions for a private message!)

Herte is also real as the day is long, though she is more of an amalgam of my spouse, professionally, and a woman I knew with the same first name as my spouse for several years in the early nineties. I've told her that she is Herte's role model, but I don't think she's interested enough to read the book. I had a terrifying married man's crush on her, but was either too chicken or too faithful to play it out. So I let Henry Griffin do it for me.

Mr. San Anselmo? Most of you know him as Mark, a Drake graduate, Vietnam vet who lost it and became a streetwalker. Rumor has it he came back from Nam to find his wife with another man, got into a scuffle with the fella, took a pool cue to the cranium and hasn't been the same since. He was a fixture in downtown SA for many years, and, again, I've done my best to describe him as he really was. Nobody seems to know what's become of him.

Sylvie Deveraux is based on a college flame who is actually not nearly so flaky as she is in this story, and these days certainly not amorous as she was back then, and even then she wasn't the slut I made her out to be in the book. Sometimes you gotta exaggerate a little to get your point across. Our paths cross from time to time, but I don't believe she has read Hack and is certainly not a Limbo Bunny or Huff n' Puff follower.

Archie Wilcox is my own creation, 100%, but his boyfriend and sidekick, the freckled red-headed Scot,
Cyril McFadden, is based on a colleague from the not so distant past. I took this larger-then-life gay coworker and friend and threw him in a pot with the character that plays Robin Williams' brother in Mrs. Doubfire. In fact almost all of what I envisioned for Hack's transformation into Paco was based on Mrs. Doubtfire's complicated disguise. As often happens in the creative process, you come up with an idea - in this case the idea of adopting a new identity - and then look around for ways that the idea has been executed in the past in hopes that by borrowing from a successful portrayal of the idea the whole concept is more credible.

The truth is I always intended Henry Griffin's transformation to be symbolic rather than literal: the Paco role play reveals hidden strength, self confidence, even bravado, that Griffin didn't know he had, enabling him to ultimately shed his sentimental past and "self-actualize" at a new level.
Ha! And you thought he only wanted to get laid! Isn't it ironic, then, when Griffin lets the little head do the thinking on the golf course in Tubac and his whole scam unravels!?

The character model I used for Razor Rick Morgan should be blatantly obvious to anybody that's lived in Marin for even just a couple of months. In previous drafts, Morgan was probably too similar to George Lucas, so similar that my late Dad, a trial lawyer for 40+ years, recommended that I tone the similarity down in the interest of avoiding a slander suit. I wonder if following my Dad's advice was such a good idea, considering the publicity the novel might have received if Lucas sued. Still, I took the safe route, blending the Lucas character into one of the heavy metal clowns from Metallica that has cordoned off a good portion of the Sleepy Hollow Ridge. I think it's the guitar player? Dashiell Hammet or something like that? So I created a character that looks like Lucas, acts like an insecure mega-millionaire (take your pick), and was once a rock-star. But Hadley doesn't see nor care about any of that, except maybe the mega-millionaire bit.

The inspiration for Barbara Basset will continue to go unidentified but I will take private, confidential inquiries...

Now we get to my favorite character: Karl, the bobbleheaded wrestler. So many archetypal characters swirled around my head: Lenny, from Of Mice and Men; Jaws, from the Bond films; the blonde killer in Fargo, Frankenstein, Doglips McGee, Baby Bingus, Sly Stallone in real life...almost anybody big and brain-damaged that I could think of were Karl models. In earlier drafts Karl sticks by Morgan's side, believing that Hadley has betrayed her husband and should be punished. Then I realized that Karl's slavish dedication to his cruel boss made him too much of a one-dimensional automaton, and it would be more fun if he was hiding a big puppy dog heart underneath all that German bluster.

One of the most difficult things about just about any creative endeavor, from sculpting to painting, Hack (which was titled El Artista for about 4 years of its existence as the behest of a literary agent) was in revision for 10 years (not constantly, I shelved it for a couple of long periods), and ultimately it was the publisher that decided it was finished. Now, whenever I open it up, all I can see are things I would change. Oh well it is what it is, as they say! Besides, I'm in the throes of revision with the next offering, American Corporate, hoping to get it out this year (ironically the same year that I exit the Amercian corporate world...).
writing of all genres, writing and recording music etc., is deciding when it's finished. Until recently a writer could keep working and reworking a piece until an editor decided that they would publish it. These days a writer can publish a first draft if they want (and from what I've seen there are as many self-published first drafts out there as there are polished pieces), but you still have to decide when you're going to stop revising.

Did I meet my one-year sales goals with Hack? Not even close. I was sort of surprised six months into it that I was about 90% off target, especially when my publisher seemed so confident that I would not only meet my goals but would blow them out of the water and even be a bestseller. But 2012 - 2013 has been pure unadulterated chaos for the publishing industry, with the self-publishing phenomenon flooding the market with eBooks and printed titles alike, and when Hack gets beyond the audience of the family and the 10 or 12 other people that I know, it's just another unknown title among millions. Even with all my irritating (and, frankly, really difficult) efforts at self-promotion, there isn't any one place on the World Wide Web where readers of contemporary literary fiction are hanging out waiting for new titles to come across the wire. Fantasy? Yes. Detective? Yes. Zombie? Yes. Romance? Of course! There are avid groups for every sort of genre fiction out there, but not for plain old silly man meets woman in the midst of a mid-life crises...well, fans of such fiction are not exactly gathering online.

I guess the other excuse could be that it's not a very good book, but believe me if I thought it didn't stand up to the kind of fiction that I like to read myself I never would have published it. But it could be that throngs of people went to Amazon, "looked inside", barfed all over their keyboard, ran into their closet and hid. Could be, but I ain't buyin' it.

Okay, stay tuned for Hack's official birthday party, comin' right up!

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