There’s a line between hobbies and passions. There’re a lucky few who have been able to turn their hobbies into a career, but for the rest of us, life can seem like an endlessly bureaucratic game of harmonizing ‘wants’ and ‘needs’.
Take skateboarding, for example: many kids end up starting with the goal of ending up in the professional ranks, but only a special few have the chops to make it happen. Skateboarders often carry a special conceit, that they are creating ‘physical art’ on the streets. More recently, that conceit has evolved into thinking that skating naturally bleeds into taking on other forms of art. Of the popular mediums, skaters have most often pursued photography, painting or music. Hell, even golf seems to be getting more attention these days, but writing seems to be one of the definitive lost arts in recent years.
In this context, None of The Bad Ones stands out. Penned by Andrew Brown, a longtime proponent of the New York skate and nightlife scene, the novel’s very existence represents a departure from traditional expression from those in the scene. Here we sit down with the author to discuss the creative process behind creating what Quartersnacks has dubbed “Erotic Skate Fiction”; whether he believes in skate-artists; and the parallels between skating and writing.
Can you talk about your creative process in writing None of The Bad Ones?
I rented a desk in this office near my crib. It was me and this weird boutique travel agency set up on opposite ends of a temporarily vacant architecture firm. I would go like five days a week. I’d eat an early-ish lunch and write into the evening. I had that spot for like a year. It’s a nice luxury, but now that I know how to sit down and just work I don’t really need it. But I needed it then, it taught me how to really focus and just work. The blank page is so intimidating having that structure and specific space really helped. The re-writing I did at home. I had an amazing editor that worked really hard for basically no money. He really believed in the project and we worked it out so if the book takes off he’ll get paid. It was a fucked up amount of work, but it needed to be done.
Please describe your writing background and experience. How did you come to start and why?
Well first things first, I dropped out of high school got my GED and spent the next fifteen years persuing DJing, so no school. In the early 2000s I started reviewing records for Turntable Lab. They were in this snide voice that was basically my hip-hop take on the early Vice tone. In retrospect they were pretty lame, but they were fine then, very of that era. But that writing was just an extension of DJing. I was trying to build my brand, but nobody called it building a brand back then. It was just like oh it’s cool to write flippant reviews that have my name on them. It was calculated but not in the way things are today. A few years later I did Boyslifenyc. It started in shades of that Lab voice, but quickly morphed. Honestly I started that blog because I’ve always been an attention junkie, like ever since I was a small child. DJing quieted that beast for a while, especially when I started doing really well, but the thing about outside shit is it’s never enough. No DJ gig, no book deal is going to make me happy. Eventually I settled back into a constant state of unfulfilled. So I was wrestling with this shit and I decided to take a break from working in the clubs. I wasn’t getting my fix from anywhere, I needed interaction, buzz. I saw people making noise online and kinda thought hey I can do this.
Can you tell people a bit about Boys Life for those who’re unfamiliar? Was it an easy transition between writing it and writing this novel?
Boyslife was an anonymous blog I wrote. Basically I just copied what a lot of women were doing at the time, over sharing about their sex lives on the Internet, but obviously I did it from a male perspective. It was totally anonymous, at first even close friends had no idea I was writing it. I was taking things from my life and turning them into these stories that on the surface were about sex or trying to get laid. A lot of people couldn’t really see past that, or didn’t want to. The narrator of the stories, which I guess was me but in some ways wasn’t, is so clearly at odds with himself and his behavior. He’s cataloging these situations, but they’re not a list of conquests. He’s writing this stuff down trying to find the patterns, understand why he’s so shut off, comprehend his inability to connect. But because I was using the sometimes very harsh language that men actually use and talking about nightlife and stuff, a lot of people thought it was some vile sexist shit.
One thing I learned from writing that blog is people read what they want to, not what’s actually there. If they decide you’re the bad guy critical thinking goes out the window, you’re the bad guy. Looking back that shit was so much fun. There were girls sending me naked pictures even though they had no clue what I looked like or who I was, other ones calling me the worst person alive, saying I was like Tucker Max, which if you know me at all is just so so far from the truth. It was a fucking ride. It had momentum, but I decided to let it die. Somehow I knew if I commoditized it, then somehow I wouldn’t grow as a writer. I stepped away from the blog and started working on the book. I’d made a fuss and had some fun, but it was time to prove it. Do the real art not the bullshit for the Internet. Bullshit for the Internet is easy.
“There were girls sending me naked pictures even though they had no clue what I looked like or who I was, other ones calling me the worst person alive, saying I was like Tucker Max, which if you know me at all is just so so far from the truth.“
Who were some of your favorite authors growing up? Currently?
I guess I read a lot as a kid, I wasn’t writing plays at 7 or anything, but I devoured a ton of different shit. In 6th grade I was super into Bloods the Wallace Terry book about black soldiers in Nam. I was really into Vietnam books. I read all the MACV SOG, LRRP and Navy SEALs books I could get my hands on. My dad is a vet and looking back I was probably trying to understand him or something, but at the time I was just into it. By 7th or 8th I was the kid who did his book report on The Stranger. I don’t know if I really got the book, but that’s just an example of what I was like, I was a really unhappy teenager. I was searching for things; I found that book through The Cure. Obviously I was a Catcher fan, and a Gatsby fan. I loved On the Road, I read it then read it again on acid. I got really fucked up on drugs for a while then got sober and got into way hip-hop. I didn’t read that much for a while cause who can read when you’re digging for beats and learning how it DJ and shit. I still read all types of shit but my favorite books are usually short and first person. Jesus’ Son, The Things They Carried, Gatsby, newer ones like Love Me Back and This Is How You Lose Her, these tuck them in your back pocket and live with them type books are always my favorites. Thank god I didn’t read Diaz until I was a few drafts into my novel I would have stolen too much from Lose Her if I had. I loved and still love Easton Ellis. Psycho is one of the great American novels, and Rules, Zero, Glamorama, they will always be classic to me but they can be difficult to unpack. That bleak shit doesn’t land as well today. You have to be in the mood for Ellis. Really, I have the most regular taste in books. I’m a basic. I like hits. Like David Foster Wallace doesn’t have hits, he’s deep and thinky, I mean so they say, but he doesn’t have any hits. I have a hard time with those round about long snarky road to the heart of things books. Give me a love song that says exactly what it means. I’m a huge Taylor Swift fan.
Skateboarders think themselves – and for the most part are – a creative bunch. Why do you think so many opt for other mediums (photography, collage work, graffiti, etc.) as opposed to expressing themselves through writing?
I don’t know how I feel about skate-artists. I think it’s a lot of bullshit, but I also think some of those guys will turn into real artists if they put in the work. But no, I’m not really interested in seeing more photos of skaters looking pensive in and around vans, or a stolen moment with some half naked girl they met at Max Fish. As far as writing, nobody wants to write, it’s miserable. You’re alone, working hard for nothing. You need this blind belief that at some point down the road what you’re doing will touch someone, or at least be entertaining enough that a few copies of it don’t wind up in Goodwill. It’s for lunatics. I been looking at books in Goodwill, it’s pretty depressing; all authors end up at Goodwill.
Do you see any parallels between skating and writing? If so, how; if not, why not?
Skateboarding is the exact opposite. That’s why it’s the best. With skating the less you think the better. I can’t do a lot of tricks, but the less I think about the ones I can do the more likely I am to land them. Like 360 flips, the more I fiddle with foot position and think about them the harder they get to land, if I just push and don’t think about it, if I just believe that I can do em, I’ll land them every time. Also, you need to be fearless to skate good. I’m terrified of getting hurt so I can only do a few tricks well. I’m a pussy. But as far as life goes, I’ll hurl myself down whatever. Like, tank my career and spend a few years writing a book on blind faith, let’s go. But ask me to skate more than 3 stairs and it’s like you’ve asked me to rob a bank with you. I have that willingness to put my life on the line but not my body.
Are there any obvious references to the downtown skate scene in the book? Was there any concern with alienating non-skaters?
There are a few in the know things in there; one is that I wrote Slicky Boy into a scene. I was going to give his story closure, like bring him back later in the book but I decided not to. I wanted to show the way people sort of drift in and out of your life when you skate, like some kid is around a ton and you share this intimate time skating together, then suddenly he’s just gone, so Slicky’s only in the one scene. Mostly it was about capturing the mood, the vibe on the benches at Tompkins, not actual skateboarding. It always sounds corny when people try and describe skateboarding. Whenever I was working on the skate stuff I tried to make it as accessible as possible without alienating someone who knows what’s up. Don’t stop to explain stuff to the laymen, but don’t over write about it and risk them tuning off either. When the characters are trying varial flips I don’t go into the history of the varial flip, how it has gone in and out of fashion, how it can be this terrible little kid trick in one skater’s hands and poetry in another’s. Nate Jones. I just say they’re trying varial flips. Actually, I maybe say something about Varial flips there but it’s super brief. If you know you’ll be like yea fucking varial flips, if you don’t it won’t be a bump. It won’t jar a non-skater, take them out of the story.
“I don’t know how I feel about skate-artists. I think it’s a lot of bullshit, but I also think some of those guys will turn into real artists if they put in the work. But no, I’m not really interested in seeing more photos of skaters looking pensive in and around vans…”
How would you say growing up in New York now is different than when you first arrived in the city?
It’s less diverse than it used to be. It’s a lot safer, but that’s everywhere. I’m sort of tired of talking about New York, but, well, when I was leaving NY I was in my U-Haul I put WBLS on and there was a mix show on. Like, that was heartbreaking I just starting crying. I’m a white kid from Virginia, but Hip Hop and Dance music that culture literally saved my life; my debt is totally unpaid. So when I think about crapping on New York, which I sorta do sometimes I need to remember that there are good people there preserving the stuff I care about. That was a bit off topic, but for kids in New York, yes now it’s a lot more like everywhere else, but if they dig a little deeper the vibrant New York is still there, and they’re lucky to have that access. There’s no fucking 718 Sessions in Seattle. The shit I miss the most about New York is the shit I didn’t do nearly enough of. I spent a lot of time chasing rich pussy when I should have been at The Shelter thanking Timmy for changing my life. I don’t regret the skating though all the crazy people I met on skateboards in NY, they’re the best. Looking back I feel so lucky to have had that life.
How did Alex Olson and Call Me 917 get involved?
I’ve known Alex for a long time and when Bianca was coming together I was just around him and his business partner a lot. Those dudes are like family. When I was creating my Kickstarter I was asking them how to get shirts made, where to get stickers printed, how to set up my shipping and all that. It just happened from there. I think they just believe in me and were down to help. I’m not stupid, I know it’s a sick look for me to have that co-sign. I owe them for that.
“I’ve known Alex for a long time and when Bianca was coming together I was just around him and his business partner a lot. Those dudes are like family.”
What’s your strategy in terms of publishing?
When I started this whole process I knew my book was either going to get pounced on right away or it would be misunderstood and I would have to self-publish. It seemed like lit agents are mostly looking for people with the right literary pedigree or 400K twitter followers. They want the product they already know how to market or the product that sells itself. I don’t think any of them really understood me and my story, and I failed to make them understand, so I’m just doing it myself. If someone comes along and thinks that with the right push I could be on some Barnes and Noble shit that’d be awesome. My buddy, he’s a brilliant screenwriter and when I first, first started this journey, he was like look, these people don’t want to start fires anymore, they want to spread them. So that’s what I’m doing, trying to do it on my own terms so they come to me. If not, the book will still come out on my own imprint. It’ll get to the people who want to read it. I mad a mix cd when I was a pretty young DJ, it was ok, parts of it were good, parts of it were terrible. A couple boxes of 200 ended up in a dumpster. I didn’t have an editor for that CD. I needed someone to tell me to go back and get my bars right, come with a second draft. Hopefully I don’t wind up sneaking around late at night dumping books into recycling bins. I think I got my bars tight, we’ll see.
On a personal level, would you say the completion of this novel is the launch of your career as a writer? What’re your next steps, and are you hoping to keep this particular momentum going?
Yea, I guess it does. I’ve done some sketching for a second, completely unrelated book. I also just finished writing a romantic comedy. I think it’s great but who knows what Hollywood will think of it. I’m gonna get back to pushing that script and working on a script for NOTBO as soon as the Kickstarter wraps. I’d love to take a couple years and work on the second book idea but there’s that money thing. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m hoping the universe will point me in a direction. I’ve basically put everything on black, if none of it works out at least I’ll know. I tired and I didn’t have it. The closest thing I have to a backup plan is starting an artisanal, vinyl only DJ school. Teaching the old ways. Some back up plan.