I have this dream every night I’m in Disneyland, and for the next two days following. It’s the first dream in the last five years I remember that’s not a nightmare.
* * *
Let’s get down to realness. Late last year, I fell into a second job that paid me … just stupid money. Like, questionably generous money. I was functioning as a temp, but the way the manager set it up, I was getting paid directly by the company, and not going through a temp agency. The money poured in. And look, I’m not saying I was rich, but for the first time in my adult life, Christmas was easy and fun to shop for. All of my friends got stuff. I went out to eat without worry. If I wanted to go to a movie, I just could. It wasn’t rich-guy money, but it, combined with my regular day job and my job as a columnist, kept me in an elevated state for months. And in that elevated state, I spread some money around. Some went to bills. Some went to clothes. And a bunch went to Disney. Look, I knew the money was going to end. It was right there in my job description: temp(orary). So I went ahead and did everything I could to secure my Disney year in advance. And one of the things I decided to do was take my buddy Joe to Disneyland.
Let’s catch you guys up if you’re unfamiliar: Joe is a buddy I met at a bear run way back when. We
Indeed, I wanted to know some shit. Joe was like a walking atlas of Disney World. He showed me videos of defunct rides (Horizons! Yes! You knew I was going to bring up Horizons! SHUT UP I LOVE HORIZONS!) and he introduced me to The Crystal Palace and this one time we went to the record shop on property and bought the Springsteen album Magic on opening day because the synergy is real. We don’t go to the parks together every time we go to the parks, but it’s often. Fourteen times often.
And here’s where we lean that oh my dear God, Kevbot always needs a narrative.
That’s right, meta-commentary in the third person! Joe’s and my next trip was to be our fifteenth together. Well, that’s cause for a celebration, isn’t it? Of course it is, because symbols and milestones and narratives are the only way to live in the real world! Only way! I might have a problem!
One of my life credos was that if I ever had stupid money, I would spread it around. I had done that at Christmas, and now it was time to carry that through before the money ended (which it did, far more abruptly than I’d anticipated, by the way. One day it was like, oh, Kev, b-t-dubs, we just realized that you working here for as long as you have at your rate is within sniffing distance of illegal, so leave now, okay?) So I did what any sane and normal friend would do. I took Joe to Disneyland.
Now, back the truck up. Have I mentioned that Joe’s never been to Disneyland? That’s right. Been going to Disney World in Florida since he was a zygote, and had never had a chance to visit the mother country. (Yes, mother country. Look, I’m a stunted manchild talking about my dream of riding my bike through Disneyland, let me have my florid prose.) In my process of discovering Disney World, Joe was there every step, pointing me toward books and podcasts, websites and references. For me, Joe was a walking history of Walt Disney World, and I can earnestly say that without him, I would not have become the fan I am so quickly or so thoroughly. Without Joe, I might not have been able to see the depth behind the rides and the cartoons, might never have delved into the history of it, might never have considered Walt Disney one of the three most important creative mentors of my life (Stephen King and Bruce Springsteen, for the curious). I wanted to figure out how to transfer my love of Disney into something richer, something deeper. All that stuff was there, waiting to be unlocked; Joe had the key. I owed him.
Now, I won’t presume to tell Joe’s story here. I’m pretty sure he has his own stories to tell, and I’m looking forward to reading them. What made me want to pick up the pen for this short series was the change that happened in me when I was in Disneyland, how my perception altered, and what I took away. Occasionally, you need to take yourself out of your routine and put yourself in a whole different place to learn some stuff about yourself. I know that it doesn’t seem like Disneyland is the place for a man – a grown man – to realize some weird truths about himself, but that’s where it is, and I’m going to lay it all out.
I’m not always who I really am when I’m online, is the long and short of it. Maybe no one is, and there’s no rule saying you always have to bring your whole box of self-awareness and actualization to the anonymous masses, but my problem was getting into a whole other box.
It started simply enough. My friends on Twitter were sick of me talking about Disney all the time, so I created a new Disney-specific Twitter account, and named it WestCotCenter, after an unbuilt park that was supposed to face Disneyland. (We got California Adventure instead, which sucked for a decade and then got super awesome.) I delved into the world of Disney fandom, and that’s … just never a smart idea. Fan communities always sound awesome, and it’s fun to join because feeling connected to things you love and the people who also love those things is such a pure impulse. What ends up happening, though, is that you start seeing the cracks. You find the people who seem angry at whatever the company/artist/musician/writer does, because it doesn’t fit their paradigm of what they should be doing. You come across those who feel personally betrayed by all the things they feel they’ve earned for being so loyal for so long. None of this was new to me: familiarity breeds contempt more often than not, and when you give a platform to the little tin gods who think they’re the torchbearers for what such-and-such used to mean … well, that’s a world of hurt.
What follows is the story of how I got in it, and how, just a few days ago, I realized it was terrible for me, and how I’m trying to drag myself out. It’s some real shit about my brain, and addiction, and my desperate need to be liked.
But it’s also about me having a goddamn blast with my friends at the Happiest Place On Earth, because you shouldn’t have to slog through my dark brain shit without me talking about how awesome seeing the Enchanted Tiki Room at night with Joe is. Because how you gonna be mad on vacation?
Stay tuned. It’s a journey.
If you’ve been following me, you know I’ve had a bit of a crappy year. For awhile, I thought it was just in comparison to the prior two years, which were some of the best of my life. It took abruptly losing a job on top of all that other stuff to make me realize, no, Kev, you’re having an objectively bad year.
Now, look. I know I’m not playing Job here. There aren’t locusts. I know me dropping my phone and having the glass shatter isn’t going to make Rwandan refugees feel my plight. Bob Costas had an eye infection and he went on national TV. It’s not like most sketch groups don’t fall apart. People lose jobs. People get bronchitis. Sometimes peoples’ favorite actors die, and you just keep living your life and trying to make it a good one.
But all of that is kind of beside the point. Or it should be. See, I didn’t want people to donate to my Kickstarter because they felt bad for me. There was a situation, and while it wasn’t dire, it sucked … but that’s not the reason I created this. I do Kickstarters when I have a vision for a book I want to create. When I have a clear concept and a passion to see that concept through to completion, that’s when I do these things.
Wayne Corbin, my private eye, has starred in four novels so far. I wrote the first one in 1999, when I first met my husband and I was still living in a studio apartment in deep suburbia. I was still new to writing novels, and I had never written a crime or a mystery novel before. That one was called The Eighth Acre and it was an okay start. Pretty good. Some of the characters went on to feature in other books, non-mystery novels that still figure into the Wayne Corbin universe because most of my books connect. Not in obnoxious ways (except for that long sequence in Maybe You’re Right when the entire cast of Find the River shows up and it took forever to sort things out), but they’re all part of one shared universe. Even the horror novels.
I wrote the second Wayne Corbin book, The Color of Blood and Rust, a year later, in 2000. It remains the shortest of my books (except my first one, Spare Parts, which is like a novella with a few extra pages), but it was leagues better than The Eighth Acre. Blood and Rust is where I really figured out what made Wayne Corbin tick. More importantly, it’s where I figured out that the obnoxious brat from the first book, Wayne’s girlfriend’s daughter, was actually way more interesting than I’d first thought. Tamatha, who I’d created specifically to be a foil for Wayne’s relationship with his girlfriend, became the second most important character in the series.
The third book, Roses in the Rain, was the biggest so far, and the most fun to write. I just dove in. I explored character motivations. I looked deeper into Wayne’s friendships. And I think I actually wrote a pretty compelling mystery, for once. I also got to take some jabs at superfans who hate the thing they say they love.
Then came The Taste of Concrete On Your Tongue, the hardest book I ever had to write. People that had been reading the series all along hated me for what I did in that book. It was the best written, and it utilized a storytelling device I’ve always liked but use sparingly because it can be indulgent: when the plot gets too much, the main character just leaves it. Goes somewhere else and has adventures there for awhile before coming back home. I love writing that stuff. I loved it so much that I used again it in Maybe You’re Right.
But those final things take a lot to come back from. Wayne’s entire paradigm changed. The status quo of the first four books is different now. And for the last five years, I’ve been trying to figure out what that means to Wayne. How he’s different. How his friendships and relationships are different. How things are the same. I always had ideas, but without any clear direction for how to utilize them.
You know what unstuck me? Remember a comic book graphic novel called The Archer’s Quest, a Green Arrow story by Brad Meltzer and Phil Hester. See, Green Arrow had gotten resurrected and was alive again after dying or some such nonsense. And basically, he wasn’t really feeling alive. Like Buffy in Season 6, he was alive but not really living. What helped Green Arrow was a quest, a road trip of sorts that Green Lantern went on with him. (What helped Buffy was some rough sex and a realization that she had a lot of self-hate issues, but that’s not where I was going with Wayne).
So: a quest. An adventure. A caper. Wayne hasn’t had a caper before. And if he’s still dealing with everything that happened in Concrete, he’s going to need something sort of fun to shake him out of it.
Well, I can write fun. I can write fun well. Well, as fun as fun can be when it starts with a decades-old murder and maybe more bodies in the future. I don’t know.
But that’s just it. I don’t know. But for the first time in forever, I have a way in. I know how to start.
Last year, my Kickstarter for Roller Disco Saturday Night was very successful. A big part of that is my cult of personality. I like things a lot, and a good number of people enjoy knowing someone who bases his life on liking stuff. As my friend Duncan recently said, I have a lot of jams. Plus, I try to be good to people. I like people to be happy and successful. I put people on stage. I review people’s work and give them better exposure. I post links to their sex toy party business. I want people to succeed. And people respond to that, too. I’m not sad about that. If people want to donate to my projects because of good stuff I’ve done, that’s fine. More than.
But that’s not what it felt like this year. With some exceptions, the donations this year didn’t feel like, “We like you, take our money” or, “sorry you lost your job, here’s some money.” It felt more like, “Hey, that book sounds cool. I want to back that.” For awhile, I was worried that Panic Town wouldn’t succeed as a project. But then folks started coming out of the woodwork to tell me that they liked my writing. They had more confidence in my ability to spin a yarn than I did. And that, my friends, is even more gratifying than fully funding this project. More gratifying by half.
There are still about 50 hours left for Panic Town. I am fully funded, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still donate if you want to. There are still plenty of prizes, including signed trade paperbacks – actual books! – I can then mail to you. So, if you haven’t donated yet and you want to, I will be pleased as punch. If you didn’t, hey, that’s okay, too. Maybe you’ll buy the book when it eventually comes out.
For all those who have donated: thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I quite honestly could not be writing this book without you.
Now look. 2012 and 2013 were two of the best years of my life. Maybe the best years. I had a great sketch group I’d brought to the New York City Sketch Fest. I was writing constantly and getting paid for a lot of it. I ran a comedy show every week at a bar near my house. I had a great job that sometimes sent me to warm places in cold months and paid for me to stay in five-star hotels. I was living The Dream … or at least a version of The Dream that happens before the Real Dream of being a bestselling novelist takes hold. But things were good. Things were great!
Things were shaky. And I didn’t even know it.
On New Year’s Eve, my husband Shawn and I toasted 2014 as another fantastic year. Why wouldn’t it be? Everything was laid out for some major plans, and I was at the head of the change. Never stopping. Always going. Drive. Will. Adrenaline.
Then the bar I did my weekly show at burned down. Not entirely. But burning happened, and when the sprinklers came on, water damage destroyed the place. Now, the owner of the place absolutely had it worse. She’s a sweet woman who didn’t deserve to have something that horrible happen. The fact was, though, that I was out a night of comedy, and because one of my credos was to always pay people who performed, the Boston comedy scene was out a paying venue to peddle their entertainment. I never paid a lot, but I paid what I could. Doing right by people is one of those karmic things.
Then the sketch team imploded. I won’t go into the whys and wherefores, but some stuff went down that made me realize the current trajectory was untenable. I still think dissolving Duct Tape Revolution was the best move for what happened, but it hurt. It hurt like hell to do that, and that plunged me into one of those clinical depressions I have every few years.
Was that before or after the eye infection? It was definitely before I had to have gum surgery, but after the bronchitis I had for a few weeks. Oh, it just keeps piling on.
Then, last week, one of my four jobs abruptly and shockingly let me go. Now, I knew the terms. It was a temp job. More weirdness: it was a temp job at the place I used to work at that laid me off in 2009. It was strange being there, but I liked the people I worked with, and the pay was great. It ate up a lot of my time (especially given that I was also working my normal full-time job on top of that), but I needed the money. And it was good money. The plan was to have me there until either May or June, and then I’d transition out once they hired someone real.
Only it turned out that I actually wasn’t supposed to be working there that long. Some snafu with payroll meant that I should have sort of stopped working there in January. Maybe February. The problem was, no one told me that, or my supervisors, or anyone in power. They just sort of figured it out Friday an hour before the close of day. And so I was gone. My most lucrative job set me free. Just like that.
When I set out to do a Kickstarter campaign for a novel I’m writing, it’s not for the money, not really. It’s for the freedom of being able to live my writing life without having to worry about getting a fourth or fifth job to support myself. (That is not hyperbole. I am currently working four different jobs, one of which mostly pays enough to live on, the others … not so much.) I love to write. I’ve written my whole life. I’ve been writing novels since 1999, so technically I’ve spanned three decades of novel writing. I’m good at it. More, I finish my work. I’ve turned in the completed books for my last two Kickstarter projects, and they’ve been polished, clean, publishable novels. Now I want to do it again, from scratch.
I love to write, but I need to be able to justify not getting yet another draining, time-sucking job I don’t want so I can keep doing it. That’s where this campaign fits in. My novel Panic Town will be a crime novel in the grand tradition: long-ago murders, missing manuscripts, sexy widows, scheming families, and a worn-down private eye who needs a reason to live again. I can’t wait to start writing it. I’m clearing my desk now and getting my research and outlines in order. I have a lot of work to do, and with your help, I can do it more easily.
I have four days to go, and I need to raise less than $1500 to get there. Thank you for all your help and support. My year looks to be getting better already!