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‘Prometheus Packs A Zippo’ from Crass Menagerie

March 9, 2007

I’m three weeks away from my fourth book, and here I am giving away an exercise that won’t be published until my sixth.  What other writer in Buffalo is willing to give away so much free material and still leave the best for their books, I ask you?  None of them!  As I promised to my email newsletter subscribers (which you can become a member of by subscribing for free by emailing bigwordsmailbag@yahoo.com ), here is a second essay for our bimonthly edition.  If you’re not on the list, then you missed the first one.  In the immortal words of Denis Leary, ‘Life sucks, get a helmet.’  Seriously, though, sign up for the newsletter.  It will change your life and give you a full head of hair.  Here’s the new essay regardless:

Prometheus Packs A Zippo

It seems like every time I embark on the eve of a new book promotion, I have a sad tale of loss and woe that’s unflinchingly honest and inspirational enough to propel me to new heights and accomplishments. Well, I don’t have one this time. It appears as if most of my bad luck is out of my system and I’m joining the travelers on the good karma lollipop this time. Some readers love to read about how I got the shit kicked out of me, how I kicked the shit out of myself, or how I finished a chapter in my life kicking myself in the ass for my own foolishness. Not this time. In a month, I’ll be hitting the front line to promote not one, but two books. One is a trifle that I cobbled together over the course of a weekend full of bar reviews. It’s called Clean Up After Me, I’m Irish, and it’s a little portable reader about Buffalo Bars chronicling my last five years of writing off-the-wall bar reviews. The other is my fourth humor collection, and a quantum leap in style for me as well as a departure of other sorts. That one’s called If They Can’t Take A Joke, and for better or worse, the body of work asserted itself as a book about relationships. I’m in the best possible starting position for this promotion, better than I’ve ever been in terms of contacts, publicity and bookings. I don’t have much of a story about being down and out but I’m sure I can give you something. Real life doesn’t always have a definitive character arc or a story progression. Here’s mine for the last year.

I finished schilling First Person, Last Straw (my third published book and my fourth book altogether) some time in the middle of November due to demands at work and all around exhaustion from touring the Buffalo area. Somehow I landed the book in Media Play, a national superstore that carries books, movies and music, and I appeared at all five or six locations in the county. The two or three months that I toured with the book and did standup appearances went pretty well, all in all. I launched the book at Desiderio’s (a local restaurant/night club) to a pretty good crowd, landed some radio interviews, showed up at a local book fair sponsored by The Buffalo News and drove to a locally owned bookstore to read for awhile to a crowd of three people. I’ve known other people who inflate their attendance numbers and make complicated lies about how they did in terms of turnout and book sales, but I don’t see the point in lying. I do okay for myself and that’s enough. I’d prefer to be honest. I opened for a band at Macaroon’s Night Club in Cheektowaga to a crowd of people who were mostly in their forties and fifties and got heckled. I read on through my four page rant about Buffalo drivers unphased, and when I got off the stage I wandered next to the jackass who was shooting his mouth off and he didn’t seem to have a peep to say to me. I’ll work on my comebacks this time around.

Christmas came and went and I had every intention of promoting more. There are two schools of thought about book promotion and I follow the notion that it’s better to run myself ragged for a month than space everything out so that I have no freedom and no privacy over the course of a year. I prefer to stay behind the scenes most of the time. Plus I need a life and some personal time to actually write these books. After Christmas, we went through a merger at work and I got a new boss. I’ve never dealt well with change. Then I found out that Media Play was going out of business. They were my biggest break to date and it crushed me to find out that my book wasn’t going to be on shelves at a chain anymore. Anxiety crept in through the cracks and depression followed shortly thereafter. That, and I was blocked. After writing a treatise about turning 30 (’Thoughts On 30’) and about how I was over writer’s block, that’s exactly what I got. I was out of the habit and it was tough to jump back in. So I started drinking until three in the morning. This never helps.

My buddy Finn got me into Charles Bukowski, so I went into poet mode and kept writing, but in a different mode. In the span of six months, I penned about sixty pages worth of free verse and labored away on my first full poetry collection. Conceptually, I decided that I was done with the three tiered format of essays, projects and prose for my books. It was time to move on. They functioned for a long time as a good showcase, but it was time to grow up as a writer, so my main focus would remain on essays while the interviews, bar reviews, poetry and other projects could kindly set up residence elsewhere. The prospect of writing a book entirely made up of rants and commentary was daunting, as I’ve never done that before. So I stalled somewhere around page thirty, picked up a glass of whiskey and disappeared inside of myself for a good six months. Sure it was grueling and emotionally painful and demeaning, but we’ve all been here before. I don’t need to go into it at length. I knew what the period was, and I gave in to it. Bipolar (for me) is and always will be a bitch. I’ll take the bad with the good, and so did Lindsay. This was my second down cycle in our relationship and she stuck it out with me, going out for drinks with friends when she was tired of being cooped up in the house and being loving and supportive with me in my cocoon at home while I wasn’t working.

When I can’t write, I am miserable. Therefore, I drink a lot more, and I drink alone, at that. This isn’t an exceptional quality for most writers, and I know I’m not the first one to come up with this healthy and functional way of dealing with a lack of creativity. I read another six or seven Bukowski books and let the sadness and desolation of the writer speak to me, perhaps too much. Months passed and I was no longer writing bar reviews and interviews for Night Life, ArtVoice or The Buffalo News, my three mainstays in the Buffalo area. I called Ed (my editor at Night Life) and told him that I wouldn’t be around for awhile, and that the depression was getting the best of me. This was the first time I brought him into the fold. He understood, and told me not to be a stranger.

Now it’s a bitch to build up an audience and then pull a Houdini on them. If and when you ever come back, you have to win them back one reader at a time, and this takes time. Up to this point, I had no solution for how I would keep people in the loop when the darkness descended, so I had to repeat this process for five or six years. While I was in the planning stages for First Person, Last Straw, I set up a catch-all blog site to inform my fans of what I was up to, and I kept the credo that the site would focus only on publishing, writing, and book related information. The site chugged along with a few updates over the course of those ten months.

By October of 2006, I was starting to come out of it. We had a company convention in Dallas and most of my friends and co-workers were asking about my writing and how it was going. Just the activity of talking about it with people was enough to get the wheels moving again. When I got back from Texas, a tiny idea popped into my head about walking around with my fly down and I rushed out an essay (’Zip Sliding Away’). If They Can’t Take A Joke, my follow up book to First Person, Last Straw, had been complete for almost a year. I’m neurotic that way. I won’t publish or promote a book until I’m at least half way done with the next. ’Zip Sliding Away’ was the first essay I’d written for my fifth book in almost a year. After that, the well spring of support propelled me forward to write more.

Now there was a time when I was content to just write with or without an audience. Those times are long gone. I look at my fans and my friends in all the gray areas as a support group. They keep me from getting too cocky, they keep me from going of the deep end, and they let me know when I’m on the right track. My writing process continues to evolve and transmutate over the years. When I was writing If They Can’t Take A Joke, the plan was to write one article a week to stay fresh and to stay ahead of my readers by three or four articles, and I stuck to that schedule for quite some time. When I stopped writing new material, I stopped sending out my bimonthly newsletter, ’Big Words I Know By Heart’. Always leave them wanting more. I didn’t want to show my readers everything I’ve written, and I still manage to talk them into buying the books because they’re still missing out on forty to sixty percent of my work even if they hit all the web sites and pick up all the publications I appear in. By mid October of 2006, that process went out the window. My brainstorming method of jotting down little ideas into a notebook to find out which ones turned into big ideas went out the window. All of it went out with the baby and the bathwater. This was a new dawn.

Dawn indeed. I realized in the back of my mind that I had some catching up to do. I was tired of going two years before a follow up book, and I started waking up at six and seven in the morning after staying up until one in the morning finishing a piece. Instead of writing one essay a week, I was writing three or four off the top of my head. I got up first thing in the morning, brewed a coffee, and went to work. Writing had become a job for me that I could turn on and off like a switch, and I couldn’t be happier. By November, I felt confident enough about my recovered creativity that I called my editor at Night Life and told him that I wanted back in, but under one condition. I wanted a humor column. I would still do bar reviews from time to time, but the time had come to start doing what I wanted to do. And to sweeten the deal, I’d be able to write it year round, block or no block. With over a thousand pages of backlogged material (most of which has never seen print thanks to the assignments and constrictions of most journalistic publications in this town), I had essays to burn. I knew that Ed was the only editor in town who would print my outrageous, offensive, foul-mouthed tirades intact in this town. He took the bait. Starting late in November, we premiered ’Big Words I Know By Heart’.

Now I don’t know if I’ve ever told this story about the name of the column, the newsletter and the web site, but I’ll digress for a moment and get it out of the way. Six years ago (when I was promoting my first book), I worked with a cocky little shit by the name of Bryan Staebell. I was his boss at a job I was trying to get fired at, so we went to the bar after work (and during work occasionally) numerous times and we talked about my self published monster at the time, Soup To Nuts. This kid was convinced that he could do everything better than anyone, so he read the manuscript and told me that he was going to write a better book and that more people were going to buy it than mine. He told me that my book was garbage, and that I should’ve called it ’Big Words I Know By Heart’. I laughed and told him that was clever, and that sure, his book was going to sell more. Let’s see you make it, I said.

Shortly after that (circa 2001), I started a crude email newsletter for my friends and family to get them interested in the book and the local appearances. I wasn’t net savvy enough at the time to blind copy everyone’s email addresses so that no one poached on them. Bryan gave me money for the book and quit at our place of employment shortly thereafter. I was broke, and forgot about his purchase, so I didn’t or couldn’t get the book to him. Events were sketchy at the time.

Somebody emailed me with the AOL screen name of ’IHateTomWaters’ and emailed the rest of my friends as well. I thought it was the best friend I had a falling out with over sleeping with his ex. I was wrong. It took me a year and a half to figure out (through net research and otherwise) that it was none other than Bryan Staebell. I was good and pissed. So when I figured that out, I also put in some overtime to find out that he was trying to write horror fiction under the preposterous pseudonym of Poecraft. I visited all the message boards and gave away his real identity. He was shut down everywhere within weeks for his improper behavior online and I haven’t seen his stories since. He only wrote two pieces of flash fiction. Some goddamned book.

Bryan still lives in Buffalo and after that, I named all of my official fan goings on under the catch all banner of ‘Big Words I Know By Heart’. I really hope that’s a thorn in his ass. It was a good title for something, and it’s probably the only good idea he’ll ever have. This is the only time I’ve used, taken or gone with another person’s idea. Normally I refuse to accept other people’s suggestions, but I made an exception for this asshole. Moving on…

December of 2006. My blog site was acting buggy so I had to move it and transplant my audience over to the new location, which is never easy. After reaching 10,000 hits at the original, I had to start all over again. After having a short rant appear in The Buffalo News, one of their peripheral reps contacted me with an interesting proposition. A faction of The Buffalo News was splitting their web site (Buffalo.com) and starting a new community site that was picture and blog based. They wanted me to head the charge along with a hand picked selection of two or three other writers. I chomped at the bit. The name of the site was YourHub, and I thought it would make a good in to get some more work into the News. I was right.

Rather than move my readers to a third new site, I gave it a different theme and context. I called it ‘Big Buffalo I Know By Heart’, under the auspices that it would be a PG rated version of my other site with more of a focus on my social life and laden with pictures of my comings and goings. To date, I’ve had almost a thousand hits on the site and the hits keep coming now that it’s gone public since March and the News is dumping millions into marketing and advertising. In my old age, I’ve learned that it’s best not to put all your eggs into one basket. The weekly column kept chugging along and some time before Christmas I completed my fifth book, Slapstick & Superego, in record time. In three months, I’d written a hundred and fifty pages of just essays, which is something I’ve never done before. And I was still writing. In the past, it took a book promotion to get the old creative juices flowing again. There was no published book in sight and I was still chugging along.

With 2007 upon us I was tying up loose ends for my book launch in April for If They Can’t Take A Joke. Somewhere along the line I schmoozed my way into Buffalo Spree, a national magazine, to write interviews, book reviews and other freelance work. And then I elbowed my way into The Buffalo News and started writing bar reviews for them. I was learning how to really network. That, or I’m finally old enough and I’ve been around enough that the industry fossils are taking me seriously for a change.

In February, after deciding to hang up my hat as a bar reviewer for Night Life magazine, I thought about compiling some of the best reviews and putting them together myself in paperback form. I had a web site I put together as a joke actually selling t shirts, thongs and doggy kilts with my book covers and personal pictures that was making money. The site had a book option. I took everything I had in my reviews folder and taught myself PDF over the course of a weekend. This is how Clean Up After Me, I’m Irish was born. It’s sold over 130 copies by hand in less than two months. I wanted to try an experiment to see if the smaller projects would make money if I self published them through an at cost site. It worked.

My poetry collection split in half and I kept giving away poems on my sites to start drumming up interest for a 2008 simultaneous release. An older poem about an ex girlfriend who’s a d.j. caught her attention and she threatened me with a lawsuit. Knowing what I can and can’t get away with, I copied her childish ravings and posted them on the web site. I kept the poem up and her tantrum drove another five or six hundred unique hits to the new Big Words site. Pity for her.

I’m four weeks away from the official book launch for If They Can’t Take A Joke and I couldn’t be positioned any better for success. My weekly column in print is going into its 16th week and I’m not even going to consider the prospect of stopping until it hit’s the year mark, if that. The new web site is rounding out to 2,000 unique hits and averages about fifty visitors a day. Acid Logic, a web site I’ve been contributing to faithfully since 2002, is still drawing new and unusual readers from across the globe to check out my work. I’m about sixty pages into the essay collection AFTER the next essay collection and both poetry volumes are rounding at about seventy percent completion. I’ve got high quality glossy posters up all over town with both book covers and the dates for my appearances at least four weeks in advance. Sometimes it takes five years of making mistakes to learn how to do things the right way when it comes to promotion. I guess I’ll find out this April.

Optioning the action figures through George Lucas,

Tom ’Big Words I Know By Heart’ Waters

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