More than 20 years ago, when I was still in college, I started writing short stories for my stepbrothers. My stepbrothers Brett and Lyle wanted to be hero detectives, and so the first short story, “Sherlock Brett and the Case of the Missing Clowny” featured them searching for our younger sister’s favorite stuffed toy (spoiler alert: I had the stuffed toy; I was such a poor college student that I was trying to barter it for groceries).
These stories were silly fun for young kids, though I snuck some adult jokes in there in case my father or stepmother happened to read one of them. I began making a habit of writing these stories for Brett and Lyle’s birthdays and for Christmas.
The adventures of Sherlock Brett, his trusted brother and sidekick Watson Lyle, and our sister Georgia, have evolved over the years. My younger brothers and sisters are all adults now. I still send stories, but they have much more adult subject matter and explicit sex and violence.
Four years ago, I got a call that Brett had taken ill in Miami—he had moved there to work for Univision—and that the illness might soon prove fatal. My father and stepmother flew down there immediately. Brett was in a coma and his prognosis was grim, but he pulled through. He’s still recovering from the effects of being sick and in a coma, and it has been a steady but slow road to recovery for him.
Brett has stayed sharp and I’ve continued writing stories for him. He hasn’t let his long recovery process put a stop to his life and he married his wife Samantha, who now has a bigger role in the Sherlock Brett stories.
While I am glad that these stories have a small and appreciative audience among family, I thought that they could help form a vital part of my literary canon and be published for the general public. I put a few short stories online for sale through Amazon, but you had to have an Amazon Kindle or have the (free) Kindle app on your smart phone.
For Christmas last year, I wanted to have a physical book to send Brett as a gift. I began collecting some of what I thought were the better and more recent Sherlock Brett stories and compiling them in a book. I pulled them together and began editing them for publication. This took longer than I expected and I learned I know little to nothing about book design.
But slowly things came together. I got the very excellent Justin Melkmann to do the cover art and help with editing from my wife Emily got the book in top shape.
Last year, Brett was the first person I called after our youngest daughter was born to give him the news and tell him his new niece’s name. I told him I was sorry he had to share a birthday with another family member, but the doctors had determined the time was right for our offspring to be from her mother’s womb untimely ripped.
I managed to get Brett copies of Sherlock Brett Saves America, a collection of Sherlock Brett stories that will humor and inspire. He said he was very happy with it, and that made my day.
So if you’d like to read the adventures of a detective who not only ran for president but also handed Islamic terrorists their worse defeat ever, took the world’ largest bowel movement while helping fight a band of White Castle bandits, and helped fight an unfair bathroom law in North Carolina, then buy this book.
I plan to continue writing the Sherlock Brett as well as stories about my other brothers and sister until they ask me to stop or until I die. These are fun to write and I have license to bring some much-needed levity and satire to our world.
Years ago, before I returned to New York, I decided I wanted to be a writer. I had no real plan and to be honest my ambitions have languished at various times. But it’s long overdue that I stepped up my efforts to make waves in the world of fiction as I have long planned, and my effort comes at a time when more writers than ever are fighting to reclaim literature for the real world.
Like other parts of the art world, what is considered literature is often the judgment of a well-heeled clique of self-dealing academics. They feed on the dreams of earnest young writers and take them to the cleaners after convincing them that they need a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) to be considered a serious writer.
The MFA programs churn out many hopeful and aspiring writers, and many of them are excellent. But when I look back on the great writers that I admire, none of them made their bones in an academic program, but by scrapping out a living in the real world. The academic journals and programs have a choke-hold on what gets considered literature at the moment, though history will offer a different opinion.
Either way, the current system of academic literature has never been in greater need of a hard kick in its well-powdered derriere. And getting books published at all often requires knowing the right people and getting the right agent.
The Internet has helped writers working outside of this established universe to be heard and even make some money off of their writing. I am honored to know people like Darren Pillsbury, who has more courage than just about anyone I know and moved to California to pursue his dreams as a screenwriter. He wound up excelling in online publishing and is best known for his ‘Peter and the Vampire’ series. He gave me some great advice on how to publish things online. I probably violated plenty of his advice when I put a short story on Amazon and charged too much money for it, but I did it to figure out how to do it.
I’ve been too long avoiding pursuing literary ambitions in earnest because I’ve busied myself with other creative things. In some way they’ve all made me a better writer and a better person. Being in a punk rock band demonstrated that a key to any success is finding good creative people to join you. No one wants to listen to me play bass lines on my own, but I was lucky enough to have excellent collaborators in Blackout Shoppers. Doing comedy showed how not all audiences will respond the same way to the same material. A joke that kills at one gig bombs at another. The key is remembering you have the microphone and pressing on.
The right niche for success likely lies in the more comic short stories that I write. I love writing them and people enjoy reading them. I don’t know how marketable that is. Short fiction doesn’t make much money these days, but so what? I’ve mastered the art of excelling at art forms that are money losers at their core. As one of my excellent musician friends said, “We are middle-aged men with an expensive hobby.”
For a long time I attempted to write what I thought would be what literary types wanted to read, but in reality even moody literary types want to read something interesting. My stories feature people shitting themselves to death, loaning a family member’s corpse out to necrophiliacs, and taking part in operations to kill Islamic militants with Ebola on their toast. I have not done any of these things, but they are more compelling subject matter than most of what passes for literature today. I think I manage to make these stories into literature that will stand the test of time, but even if you don’t think it is art, at least it’s damn interesting.
Too many people, in art and in life, do what they think they are supposed to be doing instead of what is right for them to do. It’s not right for me to try to write weepy sensitive stories about people coming to terms with their emotions. I’d rather write about people saving White Castle from terrorists or punk rock bands doing battle with crack head zombies.
So Monday, Feb. 16 I will be reading a short story at the debut Short Story Open Mic at The Cobra Club in Brooklyn. It is hosted by my good friend Phill Lentz, who lives the mad literary life of music art, blood, sweat and tears. I am honored to be the featured reader.
The reading is a competition. Writers pay $5 and the winner gets the whole pot. The crowd gets to vote on their favorite writer, with drink tickets being used for votes. You could rig the whole thing if you bring enough hard-drinking friends, but it’s still a more fair literary competition than what the academic journals are offering.
So if you have a short story that you can read aloud in five minutes or less, join us at The Cobra Club and put your work out there on the line. You will be living a truly literary life. Be bold.
It’s been a while since I’ve had some fiction published, so it’s long overdue that I managed to get a short story published by Former People: A Journal of Bangs and Whimpers.
The story is Grandpa The Clown and is about the kind of clown we should have been educated by while we were children, but were instead in short supply. Clowns are usually in cahoots with parents and authority figures. This is a story about a clown that isn’t.