Way back when I was wee boy tramping around the wilds of SC I knew for sure there were three things I wanted to do when I grew up. Just like everyone else (I assume.) that my goals and ambitions were a mixed of the realistic and the no chance in hell variety. I operated under the assumption of “Why not dream big?” because when you’re of a certain age you have to strive for something.
My “When I grow up.” goal was to be an outfielder for the Oakland Athletics. In my mind I was going to rove the outfields’ of the American League making Willie Mays look like he should have just stayed in the military and never said “Hey!”. I was going to carry myself like the demon spawn of Rickey Henderson, Ted Williams, and Hank Aaron but alas you friendly neighborhood Agent of M.E. has not an ounce of athletic talent. After a certain point I realized that the only way I would ever be at the Major League level would be to purchase a ticket.
*Sniff I’ve got a lot of heart though.* (No Belgium.)
Next, I wanted to be not just a pilot, but a military aviator. From a young age I was purveyor of all things that go boom (Purveyor of Boom sounds like the title of a DJ Magic Mike cd) and the thought of flying through and making things go boom appealed to me even more. If it was an airplane or helicopter that has taken to the air since 1939 I probably could name it by sight. One day when I was about 10 I was watching Siskel & Ebert or some show of that ilk and they showed a clip of Apocalypse Now. The clip of a group of Huey helicopters belonging to the Air Cav (Which later I found out was a battalion of the U.S. 9th Calvary which in hindsight made it much more appealing.) attacking some random village in Viet Nam. As the attack began Richard Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkryies” blared from loud speakers attached to the Hueys. At this point the 10-year-old me was thinking “I gots to get me one of those.” Much like baseball I just didn’t have all of the tools to live out my dream. I’m a tad blind at a distance so I will just smile in reflection of what will to this day remain only a dream. To this day if I hear an airplane or helicopter I will look to the sky to see what type it is.
My last dream was to be a writer. This one is the attainable goal that I’ve been flirting with for the last 15 years. We call each other from time to time but I swear I’m going hit that on a permanent basis one day. I always made up silly stories in my head and around the sixth grade I would occasionally jot them down. Admittedly they sucked (Ask my man Mario.) but I kept on going. I wasn’t always just made up things but I just found it easier to put my thoughts on paper then to just say them out loud. I will also admit that my quest to be a scribe is another manifestation of my quiet arrogance, because honestly you have to be somewhat arrogant to assume people actually care to read what you’ve written.
I started thinking the other day after seeing an article online, in Esquire I think, about certain writers every man should know. This made me reflect on the writers that do it for me and since I have this blog thingy on this Internets thingy I decided to create my list of people whose attempts at the written word just do it for me.
George Pelecanos (Right as Rain, Drama City, The Night Gardener)
I first became aware of Pelecanos from watching The Wire. He helped pen several key episodes and create many of the show’s most intriguing characters. His novels are all set in and around the Washington D.C. area, where he grew up and still lives to this day. Just like The Wire, Pelecanos’ novels are gritty and crime based. The good guys aren’t always that good, the bad men aren’t always as bad as they seem. With crime solvers like private investigator Derek Strange, bartender Nick Stefanos, ex-con/animal control officer Lorenzo Brown (who is the foundation for The Wire’s Cutty), probation officer Rachel Lopez, and Detective Gus Ramone Pelecanos’ characters right the wrongs in this somewhat fictional version of the District of Columbia. With recurring themes of basketball, muscle cars, the local music scene (it’s nothing for Pelecanos to mention the likes of Wale, Tabbi Boney, the Blackbirds, Rare Essence, or Big G who played Slim Charles) and lastly a personified District of Columbia itself. Spanning decades with all of the characters showing up in each others books Pelecanos makes D.C. seem like a small town rather than a major city. Besides he came up with the best stage name for a stripper ever: All A** Eve. A man this clever needs to be read.
Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird)
Only one book and what a book it was. What Harper Lee did in 1960 was the literary equivalent to B. Rabbits freestyle battle in Eight Mile. She took her shot, slayed everyone, dropped the mic, and walked off to hang out with Truman Capote. Lee’s protagonist, attorney Atticus Finch did what a true hero always does: the right thing. He defends a black man Tom Robinson, in Depression era Alabama who is accused of raping a white woman. During the process he learns more about himself and how he should raise his children Scout and Jem to be “good people” along the way.
Zadie Smtih (White Teeth, Changing my Mind, The Autograph Man)
I had never heard of Zadie Smith until one morning in the early 2000’s. I was watching MTV2 one Sunday morning and Sway and his head wrap were interviewing Smith in London. Smith and Sway talked about literature, a black British woman’s place in it, and music in between whatever videos MTV2 decided to play. She then discussed her first novel, White Teeth. White Teeth involved the lives of two multi-racial London families spanning from the end of WWII until the present. She handled the ups and downs of the families lives with smart and snappy dialogue and narration that would carry on throughout her other works. She writes like a true modern smart-ass and I love it.
Chris Claremont (The Uncanny X-Men, X-Men vol. 2)
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby may have created the X-Men back in 1963, but it was Englishman Chris Claremont who made them into household names. Marvel’s allegory for the Civil Right’s movement was all but dead by the mid 70’s until a bold relaunch spearheaded by Claremont occurred. Under Claremont the X-Men still carried the flag for the oppressed but they did it with bold new characters. The lily-white teenage outcasts now had new teammates that reflected the modern world they lived in. The dangerous loaner/anti-hero (Wolverine), the Christian whose belief’s actually reflected his actions (Nightcrawler), the Russian immigrant (Colossus), comics first black female character of note (Storm), and the nice Jewish girl who could walk through walls (Kitty Pryde). Chris Claremont did away with the archetype characters that made up teams like the Justice League and the Avengers by making each character multi-deminsional. He then took another bold step by making the female characters like Rogue, Jean Grey, Storm, Pyslocke, and Kitty Pryde as the teams backbone. If the Fantastic Four are Marvel’s normal all-American family Claremont made the X-men into the weird family down the street that played loud music and baseball at inappropriate times.
Walter Mosley (Fortunate Son, A Devil in A Blue Dress, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned)
I could very well sum up why Walter Mosley is one of my favorite writers in six words: Easy Rawlins, Mouse Alexander, Socrates Fortlow. Mosley’s characters are most often flawed men who are trying to survive in despite of their situations and themselves. Weaving mystery, suspense, and several anti-hero archetypes into his novels, Mosley lets the readers know from the start that if his protagonists are going to succeed they are going to catch pure hell doing it.
Those are my favorite scribes folks. List some of yours. Be honest and explain why.
Vaya con Dios.