Category Archives: Jay Porter

Book Deals and Agents

You might have seen I just signed a three-book deal with Down & Out Books to publish my three standalone novels. While writing Jay Porter, I would write an additional novel each year. These books, The One That Got Away, Skunk Train, and Occam’s Razor, are among the best things I’ve done. I love the Porter books but it’s been especially frustrating to not have these three books out in the world. Now, thanks to Eric Campbell and Down & Out, these works have a home. For this, I am forever grateful. I’ve long been a fan of what Eric and D&O are doing, and I’ll be back at the same house as my buddy Tom Pitts. What’s not to love?

Getting here, though, has been a bumpy road. I talked about what a shit show 2017 was personally. Professionally it wasn’t much better. I am carefully not to criticize the gatekeeper system of publishing because, despite its shortcomings, I don’t see a better way. Like knocking capitalism: it’s the worst system besides all the others.

I got the Down & Out deal without an agent. I left my agency over the summer, not for anything they weren’t doing–my agent got me five book deals in five years–who can ask for more? I reached a point where I needed to make a change. It’s like a baseball team that is underperforming. It’s not the manager’s fault, but you can’t fire the entire team. Which is why the manager gets the ax. It’s not fair. But it’s the system we have.

Being without an agent is strange. The two happiest days of my publishing life were not when I got book deals or when books came out; it was when I got both my agents. Getting an agent validates you in a different way; it’s an invitation to the party. Landing an agent says you are good enough to be here; you are worthy.

When I left my agency over the summer, I didn’t exactly inundate the market with submissions. I had hoped my name might carry some weight. It didn’t. I was back to square: send a sample chapter and we’ll get back to you. After a handful of rejections, I stopped trying.

Several other factors factored into my giving up. Like my brother dying. We knew my brother was sick for a while, even if consciously I tried to believe he wasn’t. Alcoholism is an awful disease, and looking back at the pictures of Josh, so yellow and grey, I don’t know how I managed to convince myself he’d be okay. The alternative hurt too much I guess.

Suddenly pushing on with my career didn’t seem so important. I didn’t feel like I could sell myself. And that is a huge part of what this industry is. This isn’t, in any way, to disparage agents out there. Agents have a largely thankless job. Very few authors hit big, and fifteen percent of nothing is a whole lot of time spent reading, revising, editing, and submitting your work. If an agent takes you on, they are making a serious personal investment. They don’t want to sign authors who might hit; they want as much as a sure thing as sure things get in this business. They want to believe in you.

I didn’t find any who felt that way about me last year. And it was my fault because I didn’t put myself out there more, send enough submissions, let the process unfold the way it does. I got a few no thank yous and said fuck it; I’ll do it myself.

And I did. And Down & Out is a great fit for these books. But my inability to land an agent, and furthermore my unwillingness to re-enter the marketplace made me realize something. Beyond my stubborness. Agents are looking to (rightfully) be wowed and dazzled by a manuscript, and there is nothing so otherworldly and unique about my work that an agent is going to drop everything and say, “This! I need to have this!” I’m not knocking my work, and I’m not knocking agents. I mean it more as an understanding of what I am and what I do, how work resonates. I have my own style, and it’s not for everyone. But I can write.

I have a nice fanbase and following, readers who like what I do. I am happy with my career. But like anyone I want more. Or maybe not “like anyone.” Like Josh Brolin in that Wallstreet sequel and/or addicts, active or past. A little is never enough, and neither is a little more. More always means … more.

My next book is almost certainly going to be non-fiction, a follow-up to Junkie Love. It will cover my drug years, but focus more on the relationship of brothers, a central theme to just about everything I’ve done. I want to write about my brother Josh and his life and what we did together, the violence we grew up with and that helped shaped us, how one of us escaped the affliction and the other did not; and I want to have that experience transcend, like Junkie Love did. At least to a few people.

As for agents, I’m not submitting my work. This isn’t ego or angst. I get how the gatekeeper system works. I am not suggesting replacing it. But I’m also not sending in a chapter of my work, with my name, to a stranger I find in a database or on a referral, which is tantamount to a blind date. I’d rather control my own fate. Write the most kick-ass book I can, get it out in the world, take my message to the streets. If any agent wants to see what I do, my books are out there, all dozen or so. I write the way I write. That is not changing.

I’m still aiming for the Great American Novel. Until then, I’ll recommit to doing what I do best, which I started in earnest back in 2010 with Junkie Love. My only skill, in fact. I can bang my head against a wall longer than you. Plus, I don’t have a lot of time. My family rarely lives past their fifties.

New Year

2017 sucked. I know it was rough for a lot of people. I’m not sure if it’s because I am getting older and have entered the hell and a hand basket stage, waving angry fist at cloud, but I can honestly say last year ranks among the very worst of my life. And, yes, that includes the homeless junkie years.

As you may know I lost my brother, Josh, in November. Most sibling relationships are complicated, but Josh and I had a shared history of addiction, which only further complicates. It’s not as simple as one of us was the fuck up, the other the overachiever. We each played both roles, at various times. The end was particularly hard. By then I’d given up the ghost, was married with kids, living on the West Coast. The writing had taken off, books doing well; and my brother was 3,000 miles away in his own tormented hell. There was a time where Josh and I were as close as two brothers get. The last several years saw more distance, as I moved further and further from certain behaviors, movement that my brother, for whatever reasons, couldn’t emulate. And it sucks because when you lose someone, especially under those conditions, where the person, essentially, let their own demons consume them, you’re going to ask what you could’ve done. I’ve been asking that question for the better part of fifteen years. I’ve just changed tenses.

If you’ve read the Jay Porter books, you know where the story of two brothers, one an addict, the other besieged by guilt and regret, finds its inspiration. I am not Jay Porter, even if Jay Porter is me. If that makes sense.

Junkie Love is coming out next year in a 2nd edition, with new Foreword by one of my literary heroes, Jerry Stahl, and a new Afterword by me. The Afterword, which I wrote shortly after Josh’s passing, might be the best thing I’ve written in fifteen years. Even as it came from one of the worst times of my life. That’s art, right? Nothing ever going wrong does not for great writing make. But I’d give back every book, and just about everything else in my life too, save my two boys and family, to have my brother and mother back (they can keep my father).

I don’t want to talk too much about that Afterword–you’ll get to read it soon enough–but one of the lines in there talks about how the Porter books have long been the conversations I wanted to have with my brother but couldn’t. I don’t think Josh ever read any of my books after Junkie Love. I know it must’ve been hard, that thin line between truth and fiction.

Since November, I’ve sorta checked out. Going on social media got to be too painful. And since I spend a lot of my life in the virtual realm, I feel like I’ve been isolating and anti-social. I’m that way in the physical world too (never been much of a people person), but I’m usually online, on Facebook or whatever, to interact. A lot of people reached out after Josh died, and the outpouring was touching and deeply appreciated. But I could also not go on social media and not be reminded. And some days I didn’t want to be reminded. Some days I just wanted to play with my boys or watch football or go golfing. Even if as I did those things I was never fully able to escape the reality that my little brother was gone, and no matter how much longer I lived, another 50 years, I wouldn’t get to see him again.

With 2018 almost here, I’ve … resolved … to get back out there. Like a single mom dating again or something. I have some good news with my books, and I’ll share that soon, and I’ll need to do my part to promote. I know the year turning over isn’t some magic reset button; it’s an arbitrary marker. Still I am anxious to see what this New Year brings. I don’t want to say it can’t get much worse because I know it always can, which makes me more appreciative and grateful for the people in my life, my family, friends, fans, folks who took the time out to check in on me these past couple months. Thank you. I expect you’ll be seeing more of me (that’s not a threat). (If only in an electronic version. I still don’t like to wear pants.)

Where I Am Right Now / Jay Porter

It’s been a weird year. And by “weird,” I mean … just fucking awful. I don’t want to rehash all the personal losses and professional setbacks, and this isn’t to bitch and moan about lousy hands–life deals from the bottom of the deck, same way to everyone–but those who know me know what I am talking about, and those of you who don’t, let’s just leave it at: I’ll be glad to see 2017 end. Hyperbole aside, this year has ranked among the worst of my life, every bit as the worst of the junkie years, and keep in mind that particular period saw me eating food off the ground and shooting up mouse shit.

So what does 2018 hold? I won’t say it can’t get worse because if there is one thing we all know about this place: it can always get worse. And herein lies the rub of writing Jay Porter.

I’m sure most of you know who Jay Porter is. Those who don’t: Jay Porter is the protagonist of the … Jay Porter Thriller Series that I write for Oceanview Publishing. The books have done well for me, selling enough to land a 5-book deal. I owe that to my former agent Liz Kracht, who did a tremendous job getting my work out there. But last summer I decided it was time for a change, and I parted ways with the Cameron Agency. This wasn’t for any other reason than I felt I needed to shake things up, and I couldn’t fire myself, even if that would’ve been my first choice. I’d come to the end of Jay’s story. I mean, I came to the end of the arc, in my head, which was still two and a half years out. I am currently writing Book 5, RAG AND BONE, a draft of which is almost complete. (It will be released in June 2019). I feel the need to do something … bigger … next. Though I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know what the fuck that means. I have something inside of me to say, like all writers, and I’ll have to pick the best vessel. And this is why Tobias Wolf’s “Bullet in the Brain” hurts so much, that never-ending hall of self-reflecting mirrors when you vivisect the living word for a living.

Right now, though, I am in full Jay Porter mode. And if you haven’t read the Porter books, I’ll leave it as Jay’s skin is not the most comfortable to wear. The rub, of course, is that I am Jay. Even if Jay is not me. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I hope you’ll forgive any roundabout syntax. I’ve written almost 40K words in 7 days. Which may not seem that crazy. But I promise you, when you are writing a mystery, plotting this and that, the process sorta turns your brain to mush. Spending time in my head right now feels like traipsing through a sea of Velvetta.

Jay is also a miserable bastard. Maybe that’s not true. Maybe that is just because so many people have told me how miserable he is that I’ve come to accept it. Except that I am Jay, and I don’t think of myself as miserable. More … unsatisfied. If I had to pick one word to describe how I feel, how Jay feels that would be it. Unsatisfied. Probably why I love Paul Westerberg so fucking much.

It’s a tough line to walk, this feeling of being unsatisfied, because conversely, at the same time, I can feel tremendously lucky and a shit-ton on joy and, on occasion, even hope. I have my boys, my wife, my house, my 8-lbs. poodle Lucky. And yet …

I’m not quite sure where Jay ends and I begin, or if it’s the other way around. I’ve spent the last 7 days writing the story of man who serves as a harbinger, a portent, a worse-case scenario, the potential for how bad my life could get. Jay Porter predicts my future. Jay hurts his leg, I hurt my leg. Jay’s brother dies, my brother dies. Jay loses everything he loves, and I … realize it’s just a book. Right?

I resurrected this blog. Though I am not sure what function it is supposed to serve. The first time I had a blog, there was a purpose: to eliminate the disconnect between my person and my (writing) voice. To that end, it was wildly successful. But now? Not sure if I want to use it to get another agent, sell books, get a book deal, communicate with strangers, or just … write. Just write for the pure, unadulterated love of language, as corny as that sounds. I fucking love writing and I fucking love words.

That last one is disconcerting because you can end up with this, what is tantamount to a journal/diary entry. Then again On the Road was essentially one long rambling diary entry. Of course I am not Jack Kerouac, even if I named my second son after him. Maybe I just write and someone will read something they need to read. Yeah, we’ll go with that.