To help support his family he did many things, among them selling bootleg hooch to sailers on the Long Beach Pike. For a
lark he took the L.A. sheriff department’s entrance exam. He passed it and became a life long cop. When he was promoted to Chief of Corrections the brass discovered that although he had two honorary degrees from USC, he never graduated from high-school. There was a rapid scramble to get him a GED diploma. The man was well educated, he just didn’t go to school.
A fellow writer once referred to me and Pearce Hansen as street writers. I was proud to be associated with Hansen, but didn’t see the link. It took a while to understand street writer was code for ‘he ain’t gots no higher edumacation.’ That what I knew, I learned in the street. True, sort of. I learned some things in the street (back of a Firebird or a bowling alley bar more like it), but I also learned a lot in public libraries and cigarette and caffeine fueled conversations with writers and readers. Dyslexia and a deep-seated mistrust of authority made me a lousy fit for academia. But I have no room for or truck with ignorance, so I educated myself. I have studied everything from Shakespeare to old west dime novels. From Dylan Thomas to James Crumley. I also have my rich and troubled life to pull from. Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living – conversely the life un-lived is not worth examining. If all of one’s knowledge comes from reading and lectures, your work can not help but be referential. This isn’t ‘only write what you know’ crap, if you want to write about something go out and get your hands dirty, live it, tell Google to fuck off and spend a night interviewing Ensenada pimps. Good fiction is making shit up while getting the essential truths right. Our job as writers is to tell our truth fearlessly. Only by doing this can we find our voice and reach into reader’s hearts.
Here is a short list of my fellow autodidact writers – William Blake, Agatha Christie, William Faulkner, Harlan Ellison, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Terry Pratchett, Ernest Hemingway, Louis L’Amour, Ray Bradbury, Alan Moore, Tad Williams and, wait for it, William Shakespeare. Not bad. So from now on instead of street writer, how about you call me one badass autodidact motherfucker. ###