Counterculture Writer's Life, 1968 to Now
My First. I Still Love It Like My Baby
The Truth About Counterculture Writers–Honest
Seeds of a counterculture writer's life, from 1968, have grown, been chewed up, reissued and re-imagined in piles of fiction I've put between covers. It's been twisted by all the impossible-to-be nonfiction and jollied by the limitless opportunity to make jokes while twisting reality as needed to make a point.
Counterculture writers, of course, are no more homogeneous that beatnik or, heaven forbid, romance writers.
So, this is my version of the truth, maybe a deceptive pack of obfuscation for others. I write for one reason only–to attract and hold readers. There is nothing else. I'll do almost anything (anything heterosexual and reasonably tasteful, that is) to achieve my goal.
It's all very selfish. Odd, too, because one might reasonably expect selfishness to have more obvious rewards.
What Went Wrong? Traveling Without A Passport
Friendships based on the shared belief that they would change the world were forged in the hippie movement, but when Peter McCarthy resurfaced ten years later, he wondered if anyone else was still standing.
Counterculture Writer's Life from 1968, In the beginning
I got bit early. Assigned a paper in the fifth grade by a warm and helpful teacher, Mrs. Ryan, while attending public school in my hometown, Binghamton, New York, I wrote up something about living on the moon (which writers like me do a lot of anyway) and received higher praise from my teacher than for anything else I'd done, including poking people and straining to look up the girls' dresses.
That same year, I researched and wrote up an essay on the sassafras tree that was so acclaimed I was asked to read to the class next door, a sixth grade class in which one of my brothers was reluctantly installed.
Mrs. Ryan, unfortunately, will probably never know how much she influenced the rest of my life.
Early fame was followed by years of abject failure. Influenced by the baseball novels of John R. Tunis, then both by the novel, All Fall Downby James Leo Herlihy, and the novelization of West Side Storyby Irving Shulman, I dashed into the immediate production of novels about teen life.
My first involved an interracial romance, something I knew absolutely nothing about (Hey, it's supposed to be fiction!), which ran to about twenty-five handwritten pages before being abandoned as the thread unraveled.
It turned out, I mostly liked writing about things, not necessarily telling stories. This is a negative attribute among novelists.
The only one potentially worse is climbing near the one-hundred thousand word peak and not being able to figure out how to scale that last summit–as in, now that you're here, how are you going to park your flag before getting back off the mountain?
This dilemma I tried to solve by resorting to books as series. Loose ends were acceptable, except I had a whole other book about these tired characters I had to write.
A Philosophical Look
Seeds from 1968, Short Stories
Virtually everyone volunteering advice about becoming a writer, whether solicited or not, argued in favor of starting out with short stories. In the Sixties, there still were plenty of literary magazines offering short fiction, and it would be a decade before television started seriously diminishing our level of literacy.
I found, however, that my verbosity resisted the purist's restraints of poetry. I had a hard time holding back, I had so much to say that I firmly believed, at fifteen, that no one else had found a way to say yet.
I turned to poetry, the high priesthood of literature. I completed plenty, not the least reason for which was that girls really liked it. In my mid-teens, that was good enough for me and a singular sort of advantage.
My verses were pretty derivative and I even pilfered lyrics directly from the B side of a Nat King Cole single to get back in the good graces of my first girlfriend who was tiring of my singular interest in parts of her body usually kept under clothes.
My poetry got better. Unfortunately, so did my awareness of the fact that nobody much wanted to pay money for it.
Oh, you had Rod McKuen's Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows , but not much of anything by anyone still breathing–the great Robert Frost had just died and Carl Sandberg, while still living, was in his eighties, publishing his last book of poems, Honey and Salt, in 1963–but poetry was fading fast as a popular art form, being replaced by a proliferation of popular songs in many genres.
By the time I got around to reading Judson Jerome's columns in Writers' Digest, in which he made clear that poet was a sure to fail career choice, it was only a matter of tapping a few nails into that coffin.
Still, I'd been snagged by the poetry bug and kept producing "for the trunk," as Jerome had it. I still occasionally succumb to the fever and send my poems out to the world. In this space, I can be confident, they will be my least read hubs.
A Million Different Things
Henry Miller Destroyed Me
And there is nothing more to be said about it.
Well, maybe a line or two...
From the time I first picked up Miller's Tropic of Cancer , I was eighteen and ready to break out of the pre-counterculture rigidity of the 1960s. I'd already had a few unhinged interludes, but Miller fired me up for the long haul
The thing about Miller was that he was going to be Henry Miller the Writer and Henry Miller the Free Spirit, and he really didn't give a crap who liked it, Or him He just went forward doing his thing as he believed the reality inside and outside himself warranted. He gave a new and positive spin to being crazy.
I wanted to be Henry Miller crazy. He gave a new and positive meaning to being a libertine. Any teenager who doesn't hanker from time to time to be a hot shot libertine ought to have his pulse checked. My own was racing.
My quest for liberty, experience and bold adventures in prose–Man, could that guy write!–eventually led to my quitting school in favor of autodidactic practices, abandoning all conventional relationships in family, lovers and friends and to believing I could crash through walls as Miller did.
Miller was intoxicating as a writer and as a man. He was free.
Then, This Counterculture Writer Got Married
My wife believed that my poetry as well a my prose stunk. I thought she was a virtual wolverine. And that was on the good days. My writing went into remission, and our marriage went to places worse than that.
Counterculture Writer's Life – Seeds from 1968, Then, I rent the fabric again.
By the time I reemerged from marriage, I was calmer but no more inhibited. I was determined that I would be the writer I always intended to be and never compromise in pursuit of the comforts of the middle class again.
I began writing with a practice Miller recommended, working at it two hours a day, everyday, after work. This gave birth to my first novel in almost ten years, Funny Music, which finally became the basis for Traveling Without A Passport, my most recently published book. I wrote lots and lots of poems, never making the least effort to publish one.
Writing poetry is a labor of love along the lines of going through a gallery full of the works of Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock or Robert Rauschenberg, listening to Mozart's G Minor Symphony or walking through the back streets of Venice with my wife.
I spent many hours filling rooms with cigarette smoke while scribbling gag ideas on a legal pad. "Lay down and get right to work," they advised. So, I did. What I learned is that, for many of us, humor isn't so funny when it's an obligation. I quit and decided to amuse myself with caustic remarks freelance without compensation.
In Conclusion, The Counterculture Writer's Life
It does go somewhere, if you stick with it. If you decide to be the writer and person you know in your heart you should be, if you're willing to go where it leads you, amazing things will emerge from your pen or, more likely, your word processing application.
Be true to it. Honed it endlessly until, like Michelangelo, you find the sculpture inside your hunk of marble. No compromise is ever worth it. No one else's values matter, unless you learn from them.
Hey, that was sort of preachy. My apologies. But it took me decades to accept those principles and now, instead of seeking approval, I write, write, write and publish things I care about constantly. I hope they grab readers. If you've gotten this far, I just did.
I don't know why I decided to write this little autobiographical summary. It simply dawned on my as most, maybe all, the good ideas do.
There are writers and creators in other mediums who plot and plan to produce work they have calculated will sell to the masses. They are wrong more often than they will admit, and isn't that how a whorehouse gets populated?
My work comes bounding out, a little bit clumsily and not so surefooted sometimes, but there it is, the only genius I have to offer.
Some Sample Chapters
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