What books are currently on your night stand?
I have crates of original FBI, DEA, US Customs files, Senate hearings, original indictments of Pablo Escobar, Ochoa Brothers, Manuel Noriega, the downfall of the money laundering by the BCCI bank in Panama, documents on the War on Drugs during the Reagan/Bush administration, press and correspondence where convicted drug smuggler Steven Kalish refuses to talk. I have non-fiction books by journalists here and abroad dating back to the Bay of Pigs during John F. Kennedy’s administration. I have books on the sixties assassinations, CIA hiring mafia and world leaders like Manuel Noriega in 1976 all for writing my current project the non-fiction drug crime epic “The Last Gentleman Smuggler” by Steven M. Kalish and Nikki Palomino.
If you were forced to name your favorite novelist of all time? Your favorite novel?
Truman Capote’s novelization of his non-fiction crime book “In Cold Blood” ditching the journalistic approach and delivering facts in a way the reader can empathize and experience the story. I would have to say this book left its indelible mark on me. He characterized the killers as the result of their circumstances. With vivid imagery and without apology he showed the victims as not just the Clutter family but all of Holcomb, Kansas before PTSD had been heard of.
Whom do you consider the best writers — novelists, songwriters, journalists, poets — working today?
I have so many I wouldn’t be able to name them all like crime writers, Joe Clifford, Tom Pitts, Rob Pierce, Will Viharo, Paul D. Marks, horror writer Billie Sue Mosiman, scriptwriter Dan Madigan, journalists John Dinges, William Beecher, Tony DuShane, Peter Maas, songwriters Lucinda Williams and Jim Lauderdale, poet Puma Purl, magazine interviewer Ginger Coyote. So many more, each for an element of humanity they bring to the page no matter the situation.
What’s the best book about music you’ve ever read? About art or design?
There are lots of great music books. Design and art I’d say Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Mick Rock. Hard to choose because there are so many pieces that make a great music book. I think design and art are at the mercy of the beholder.
What genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
I like a good story. The genre is only important when selling a manuscript. Passion and bleeding on the page is my ultimate choice. Romance can be as bloody as a story about a maniac slasher. I don’t want to avoid any work worth its weight on the page.
What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
Probably the variety and the amount of original works I have like “Great Expectations” to the first “Farmer’s Almanac.”
Who’s your favorite literary heroine?
Scout in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mocking Bird” as she moves away from the fear of difference.
If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?
I’d just drink and listen to Truman Capote and Harper Lee on a front porch in past times. Writers don’t need a prompt to talk especially with a drink or two.
If you could live inside the world of any work of fiction, which would it be and why?
I’d visit any work of fiction that would welcome me. I’d take Boo Radley’s hand and walk him out of the dark. Then I’d get inside a time machine and take off. Destination unknown.
What’s the best portrayal of a rock musician you’ve ever read? And the best rock memoir?
I love them all. Surprisingly, Nikki Sixx’s “The Heroin Diaries: A year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star” blew me away.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Your favorite books and authors?
I’d sit on a stool in my writer grandfather’s upstairs office and watch him type. Being hyperactive at three, it was hard to hold still. When I’d let loose, he’d stare me down over his wire-rim glasses. To keep me occupied, he made me grab a book and read. So I taught myself how to read, form sentences and allow my imagination to find structure, sort-of. Grandpa reminded me of Truman Capote because it was in his office library that I met the greats, Harper Lee, Eudora Welty, James Cain, Flannery O’Conner, and poets like Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath. I had been tested at a clinic for my ADHD, but they discovered I was highly intelligent. That was cool until I hit school and lost my hearing in my left ear due to an undiagnosed infection. I suddenly became stupid at six-years of age, placed into a special education class and forced to read primer books that I had passed by three. So I hid the material I read. I knew “To Kill a Mockingbird” practically by heart. I liked the kids labeled retarded and some had Down’s. They liked the stories I’d tell them more than the crap we were reading in the classroom, and I made them laugh. I looked to them as my friends who would profoundly influence my life. When a teacher discovered my hearing loss as the culprit of my sudden stupidity, I was thrown back into general population where I was called retard among other things. But it was the sheer joy washing over my grandfather’s face as he wrote which made me want to be a writer. It was my life as a freak that pushed my connection with others who were different and later write about their struggles.
If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?
“To Kill a Mocking Bird” as I related to Scout and Boo.
You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?
Hell no, I would meet at a rock club or back patio of a Mexican restaurant dive and have fun. I’d invite everybody whoever wrote.
What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?
The ones I discovered in my grandfather’s library in Overland.
What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
Me, embarrassed? I am originally from Texas. The only thing that would embarrass me is leaving the bathroom with my skirt tucked into my underwear. I am lucky to have read what I have. If I come back in another life, I can try and finish.
What do you plan to read next?
My own non-fiction crime book “The Last Gentleman Smuggler” by Steven M. Kalish and Nikki Palomino on numbered pages with photos. Like the late Martin Luther King Jr said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” And I can honestly say, this book gives the reader insight on how the early innocence of smuggling turned deadly. What makes this smuggler different from others is how he became the only rogue white boy ever welcomed into a tribe not his own. Steven and I grew up in Houston so we both understand the Gulf Coast. We took risks, me running away to NYC, playing music and writing, and Steven a drop-out at fifteen, finding a way to survive. He could have been anything with his brilliance but took the detour to crime. I could have been normal and want what other girls wanted, but what drove me was different. When we came together which is quite the story, we merged as one. Steven says, “When I read the story, I forget I’m reading about myself. You know me as well as I do.” And that takes me back to Truman Capote’s influence to turn left-brain facts into right-brain fervor.
And that is what I tell an aspiring writer. Cut to the chase. Tell the truth and break every rule you learned. You are bleeding onto the page, not perfecting English. In the past there were troubadours, folk singers and kids with the imagination to dream. Don’t keep the passion to yourself.
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