[Nota Bene: I don't usually drop names, nor do I care for the practice, but since I can't NOT drop "names" here, you'll just have to bear with it. Hold nose as required.]
Suddenly, it seems, everyone in porn is writing his or her “memoir.” To them I say: this is a cautionary tale. To everybody else, it is at least amusing, and broken down into mercifully short bites.
But be warned, while it is NOT hard core pornography, it IS hard core.
Day one: It began because I had to write it. And it continued unbroken to its conclusion, but, really, it had its beginnings in a letter that Thedore Sturgeon wrote for me to the late literary agent Robert Mills …
I met Ted at Westercon 29 (as noted here) in 1976, and I saw him a few times in the following years. In 1978, at a literary convention for a magazine called “BooksWest,” which I’d just begun to review for, I ran into Ted again, this time with Lady Jayne in tow (he’d met her at ComiCon in San Diego, just a month after I’d met him).
The Ambassador Hotel (RIP)
That was during my first wifetime. Ted walked up to me and hailed me by name in the old Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. We talked a little, but he was otherwise occupied with talking to a Jungian psychologist who’d just given a talk on the “shadow” and the nightworld.
Guy made something of himself, I found out later. His name was James Hillman, and he passed away in 2011.
He was at BooksWest (the eponymous convention) and his talk was straight out of his notes for his upcoming book The Dream and the Underworld (1979) . Ted wanted to talk to him about the fact that he didn’t dream. It was an interesting conversation to be a fly on the wall for. Then I didn’t see him again for awhile.
The next year was somewhat hectic: BooksWest folded, with all my reviews in the pipeline.* I changed residences, from West Hollywood, across the street from Sam Goldwyn Studios (Warner Brothers Hollywood, last time I checked) to Glendale, California, to an apartment that my friend David Seville (whom I’d “met” at that BooksWest convention) called to say “Know anybody who needs an apartment?”
No. Not THAT David Seville. THIS David Seville:
[* But they were not entirely lost. At the American Booksellers' Convention in Los Angeles later that year, I spent some time talking to Jerzy Kosinsky, and mentioned that I'd reviewed Blind Date for BooksWest. He asked me to please send him a copy and gave me his business card. "It should be read," he said. He sent me a nice thank you note in his scribbly handwriting (since lost) after I did. So SOMEBODY actually read the review, after all, even if it was only an audience of one author. This story is my only "pay" for that work, so there you go.]
said scribbly handwriting
At 1200 square feet over a storefront in an extremely quiet neighborhood near Brand Park, it was $165 a month, which was almost as much a steal in pricey 1978 KA rentals as it would be today. And that was the place my copy of Ted’s letter to Bob Mills was sent to, but I’m getting ahead of the story.
I wrote some PR for A&M Records. Wrote a brochure for the UCLA Surgical Oncology Unit through one of those weird Hollywood celebrity connections, and wrote a lot for Adam Magazine and the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. Ended up taking a job to support my writing habit, and then, in a weird way, connected with that BooksWest Convention, I ended up as an editor for Hustler.
ADAM (I wrote the Long
Beach Grand Prix story)
And my book critic was Ted Sturgeon, so we got to know each other professionally a lot better. He used to have to deal with some piece of business, and would say: “Here. Talk to Lady Jayne for awhile,” and hand her the phone. And Jayne and I got along and had plenty to talk about, so that worked out.
The old Los Angeles Herald-Examiner building, which was a mindblower
to visit to meet my editor and pick out review books. A classic piece of architecture
That was 1979.
By the summer of 1980, with the help of David Seville, I cut my expenses to the bone and put away a nice “nest egg.” I was already in my second wifetime. I found myself with a lot of money to just write a novel, pay my $165 a month rent, and at the same time, to write a book proposal for a novel called “Adventures in the Skin Trade,” which was structured as a fake memoir.
And that was why Sturgeon wrote Mills. Bob Mills was a gentleman, and took a look at my proposal, but no dice.
He’d tried to shop a book by ex-porn star Johnny Keyes, but nobody in New York was interested in such a book.
Not because of the person: because of the topic, per se.
So, he took a pass. I understood. Certainly I didn’t know anything near as much as Keyes (who you might remember from the classic Behind the Green Door, with Marilyn Chambers), and I realized that I didn’t actually probably know enough to write the book that I had proposed, and so I dropped it too.
Johnny Keyes and Annette Haven, circa mid-70s
I wrote a science fiction novel instead, and he took a pass on that. I don’t blame him. I burned* the damned thing in Mark Weiss’ bar-b-que grill in 1985, and that’s not getting ahead of the story. Actually, we’re almost there. Another fellow I met at BooksWest was Timothy Leary, who was the keynote speaker Saturday night, and whom I would thereafter run into regularly in the oddest places for the rest of Leary’s life.
[* see end note = **]
Timothy Leary, drawn from vague memory
I wrote and worked, and published two novels, and did a lot of bread and butter writing in the LA porn business: articles, interviews, “real letters,” short stories, screenplays, even gossip columns, etcetera, to keep the paychecks coming while I published in more prestigious venues like New West and Los Angeles magazine — mostly because “prestige” magazines pay late and cannot be trusted to pay one’s rent. The “mens” magazines could be trusted, and I wrote for them until 1987.
The Herald-Examiner folded in 1989, but for me it folded when the editor at the Los Angeles Times whose extreme waiting periods had caused me to “go rogue” and talk the Herald-Examiner into taking freelance book reviews (in 1978) was HIRED away from the Times’ Book Section in ’82 and suddenly I was just as screwed as I’d been when I had written for the LA Times Book Section. One moves on.
I was still writing for the H-Ex in 1980, when Sturgeon wrote Mills for me. But, by 1986, Sturgeon was dead, and Mills was dead too (his obit appeared on Valentine’s day 1986, ironically, the day of the Second Annual XRCO Awards at Gazarri’s on the Sunset Strip — where I met Annette Haven for the first time in the flesh — I’d interviewed her by phone, previously– and which Melissa Melendez remembers well, I learned last year.)
Gazarri’s on the Strip, site of the first two XRCO Awards and power outage
And I was in another amazing rent situation, on Kingswell, at Hollywood and Vermont — a building, I later learned, that Walt Disney had his first actual studio in, after moving from his garage a couple blocks away on the same street. I rented an office space for $200 a month. It had 800 square feet, so it was cozy, and with a hotplate and using the industrial sink in the bathroom down the hall, I pretty much had a kitchen and bath. Oh, no first-last-deposit. Just first month’s rent. We were then in the Reagan S&L meltdown and commercial space was going a-begging even as apartment space in LA was at 90% + occupancy.
It was after my third wifetime by then, and the wheel of Samsara had left tread marks up and down my backside.
click on picture for the “real story”
But I staggered forward into the fourth reinpartneration blithely ignorant as to the marathon I was about to enter; had already been running in, unknowingly, for eight years by that point. And I sold a screenplay, giving me enough money to try the “books” world again. I paid six months’ rent from the screenplay money and started writing, free, for the first time since I was an unpublished writer to write what I wanted, without any other interference or deadlines. I didn’t waste the opportunity.
But I was burned out on magazines, I was burned out on the endless porn wars, the Meese Commission, the Traci Lords jihad and I just wanted OUT. And I decided to finally write that book Bob Mills told me couldn’t be sold in New York. Now, I DID know as much as Johnny Keyes.
On July 31, 1986, fueled by an endless supply of 2-liter Dr. Pepper bottles from the corner deli, I started writing on my Sanyo “90% IBM PC compatible” MBC 550 PC, with the amber monochrome screen and 5 1/4″ floppy disks.
I had only made the switch from typewriter to computer in 1985, although, I’d later learn to my chagrin, nobody in Manhattan in publishing had heard of a “personal computer” as late as 1987, which is, again, getting ahead of the story. I wrote in WordStar 3.3.
Twenty six years ago.
Hunter S. Thompson said it best, and particularly appropriate for my little fake “memoir” on porn movies, men’s magazines, Hollywood and the whole skin underground:
“I’ve always considered writing the most hateful kind of work. I suspect it’s a bit like fucking, which is only fun for amateurs. Old whores don’t do much giggling.” (Hunter S. Thompson, on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)
But that book was one great capacitance, a massive discharge of stored up observation, stories, and my long-developing perspective on the field. Like Dylan’s “blue-eyed son,” I knew my song well before I started singing. And at the end, this is what I wrote:
July 31-August 5, 1986
(And yes, I wrote this in 6 days. This is minor, compared to other things done in the same length of time, I am told.)
I have never written anything as well-oiled, effortless and, yes, FUN, before or since. When I staggered out into the red dawn of another smoggy summer LA day, I knew I’d done something I could be proud of. There is no real way to describe those six days: it was a long, singular dream. And then it was done.
But, while the writing was fast, facile and the literary equivalent of “the perfect wave,” now that I was done, I was about to start that twenty-six year odyssey that brings us to the present day. I had a connection to an LA publisher, and I started out with that …
[to be continued]
**End note, from said book:
Mark Weiss and I went out to the barbecue grill, and Mark kindly cleaned out a mayonnaise jar for me. I took the grill off the cheap three-leg metal brazier, spread out the pages, and doused them thoroughly with charcoal starter. Then, solemnly and with a certain mad glee, I lit a match and tossed it on the 242 pages of THE HANGED MAN, bringing the novel to its own predicted conclusion.
I did it because it had become a psychic albatross. I would write other novels. But as long as that damned thing sat in my files, I was blocked by a feeling of failure, and of senseless, pointless striving.
I only realized many of these things after I’d burned it. Then, though, it was something I had to do, for vague, inexplicable reasons.
The mayonnaise jar sits on my bass speaker, in my office. Beside it is a cheap ceramic figure of the Laughing Buddha. He reminds me that nothing in life is eternal, and that you’ve got to enjoy it a day at a time. The mayonnaise jar reminds me that no work is ever lost. I enjoy that first novel much more now than I ever would have as another paperback cluttering my already cluttered shelves.
On the mayonnaise jar is a label I made. It says:
“WARNING: SEVERE ZEN JOKE ENCLOSED. Ingredients: One first novel, self- pity, pride, humility, hope, despair, virtue, sorrow, a need to out-Hemingway Hemingway, BHT & MSG added for no reason.”
~ From the book what I done been talkin’ about. © 1986
In 1989, I retyped the original on a New Mexico Highway Department address label and added: © 1981 Hart Williams haveaniceday.