To commemorate the publication of the 10 year anniversary edition of my memoir Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, I have decided to do a series of interviews with memoirists I admire. I’ve known Alan black for many years, and I’m not ashamed to say it publicly. I met him when he was running literary events at The Edinburgh Castle, in the groin of San Francisco’s seed-filled Tenderloin. In the name of full disclosure, we wrote a book together.
David Henry Sterry: Why in god’s name did you decide to write a memoir?
AB: I didn’t write it in His name. I wrote it I my own name. God had already published a couple of biographies, the Bible, the Koran and He even has a global rights deal out in the East with the Upanishads in India. I thought about using His name but then I figured Oprah would find out and I would be exposed as a fraud and I like to keep my fraudulence private like my flatulence.
DHS: What were the worst things about writing your memoir?
AB: Reversing the Copernican model of the solar system. The sun went around me. When you’re at the center, it can be uncomfortable. I felt I was inventing myself. My entire life work of having others define me was in peril. I had to take responsibility for my own story and during the process of writing the book, all I could think of was Jim Morrison yelling at the audience, “No one gets out of here alive!”
DHS: What were the best things about writing your memoir?
AB: Working with an exceptionally talented editor who kept me straight. When I tried to bullshit him by re-inserting a petulant and infantile chapter in the document, he cautioned me – “Now you’re being a sanctimonious asshole. Let’s just get back to being an asshole.” Pure quality! Refreshing and direct. That’s the editor you want.
DHS: Did writing your memoir help you make some order out of the chaos we call life?
AB: I don’t see life as chaos. I see it as a straight railway track to the grave. The good parts are being able to go back to the restaurant car for a good meal or sitting in the observation car watching the world go by. And you meet the finest people on trains unlike planes or hot air balloons.
DHS: How did you make a narrative out of the seemingly random events that happened to you?
AB: None of it was random. I’m a Calvinist. Everything is pre-destined. If you work in a supermarket, you get to understand this. Everything has a sell-by date. It arrives ready to expire. I worked at Safeway as a kid and they still owe me for a week’s wages, the fucking bastards! I never shop there. However, I did learn one think working there – chaos is an illusion.
The beauty of baking the bread in the morning in the store’s bakery was as close to heaven as a person can get. For dough always rises. And tomorrow it rises again.
DHS: How was the process of selling your memoir?
AB: My agent was spectacular, the female 007 of publishing. Within a few hours of it being in the hands of an editor, it was sold.
DHS: How did you go about promoting and marketing your memoir?
AB: I tried hard – went on the radio, performed readings from the book, Google bought a box, but real life held me back via time. Having to work as a bartender for a living kept me short of hours to sell myself as “the next big thing.” Yeah right! I was busy throwing drunks into the street, breaking up fights, dodging punches, slopping up geographic vomit spatters in the shape of Long Island and sprinkling Holy Water Jameson droplets on bilious sociopaths while delivering the benediction – “the power of Christ compels you!” I am available for exorcisms at reasonable rates. I have met some evil spirits.
AB: Did you have difficulty speaking in public about the intimate aspects of your memoir?
DHS: How did your family, friends and loved ones react to your memoir?
AB: I don’t think any of them read it. And if they did, they kept it quiet.
DHS: I hate to ask you this, but you have any advice for people who want to write a memoir?
AB: I hate you for asking that question! Yes, write your memoir. It’s your story. What else is there?
David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor. His new book Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition http://bit.ly/1ancjuE, has been translated into 10 languages. He’s also written Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money and Sex, which appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award. He has appeared on, acted with, written for, been employed as, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, a marriage counselor, Disney screenwriter, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Milton Berle, Huffington Post, a sodajerk, Michael Caine, the Taco Bell chihuahua, Penthouse, the London Times, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a human guinea pig and Zippy the Chimp. He can be found at www.davidhenrysterry.com. Http://www.davidhenrysterry.com/