Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A "Beastly" Conversation With Jim Marquez

         I met Jim Marquez and Rick Mendoza at a Holiday Art Sale last December. He was hangin out, drinking and oh yeah he was selling his book, "Pieces Of L.A." there too. We got to talking a little and I knew I HAD to read his book. I bought it the next week at Antigua Cultural Coffee in Cypress Park (because I had no cash at the Art sale) and when I was done reading I had so many questions I had to ask him. Check 'em out.

Hey, Jim, I want to thank you for agreeing to do this interview. I just finished reading Pieces Of L.A. and I’ve got to say, it IS hardcore, man. I really liked it and enjoyed how you connected the beginning and the end of the story. You and I talked briefly when we met but after reading this book there’s more I’ve got to know.

Hey, thanks for the kind words. Glad you got through it. It's not for the faint of heart that's for damn sure.

So first off, I’m sure you answer this all the time but I’ve got to ask you myself. The nickname “Beast”, where does it come from?

The Beast. Yeah. I love that name. It describes me perfectly. A very good friend of mine, an artist by the name of Emmeric James Konrad, who I collaborated with on a book we did last year called "Suckling the Urban Teat", he did the illustratons, sorta like a Charles Bukowski and Robert Crumb thing, or a Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Steadman thing; anyway, Emmeric had invited me to read at this underground speakeasy in Downtown LA one night, on 6th and Alameda-this was back in 2006-and it was a nasty debaucherous, hellish place, a REAL speakeasy-god, I loved that joint-and I read onstage, cursing yelling, sweating, stomping about, howling, because that was part of my performance back then, and very drunk too, of course, nobody paid any attention, and all these naked models were prancing around, and Emmeric was waiting for me at the bar in the back of the room. He points at me and says, 'You, my friend are truly a beast amongst all these beauties!" And we stopped short, our eyes went big, and we both said at the same time,"That's it!" My stage-name if you will, and because it is known to anybody who knows me that I drink like a beast, fuck like a beast, live life with the abandon of a great beast, and, certainly writes like a beast, that moniker, 'The Beast', would make a lasting impression. And it has. Almost like a living character, a reflection of me and the man in my stories. When I enter a room people say, "It's the beast!" and yes, I like that very much. 

So, 12 books in 6 years? Really!? The things you write about are real experiences. When do you find the time to get out into L.A. and live these experiences you write about?

At night. When all the other good, wholesome, christian-folk are climbing into bed at 10pm because they have to get up early for work the next morning, I'm out prowling about. Not every night, mind you, there are a couple nights I go out, hit the bars, the art parties, openings, closings, after-hours, roof-top madness, and then don't crawl home until 8am. Sleep it off the next day, lay around, sober up, cry, eat a late lunch, read the paper, answer emails, do my facebook, go to Starbucks, get my head straight, then, late at night, usually about 3am I start writing, go until about 6am, then, hit the pillow. And the ten years I spent backpacking across Europe, solo, has filled the files and memory banks with enough experience for ten men. But I don't actually 'go looking for stories'. Naw. That's amateur hour. Don't carry a notebook either. You stay in one place long enough and the shit's gonna find you. I just allow myself to be open to that. If I'm in a pissy mood I avoid it, move on. If I feel relatively safe I'll stick around, see what happens. Go with that drunk woman who's inviting me back to her place up in the hills. Or, tag along to an underground scene, or whatever. Or have that next drink because so-and-so is buying. Other nights I read voraciously, go to theaters to catch films, go to Santa Anita, the track, bet on the ponies, have lunch at historic food joints around the city, meet a buddy for happy hour at El Torito, and all those places too shit happens; I remember it and file it away. Try to remember the feeling, the look, the sense, the mood. It ain't rocket science. Too many 'writers' try to make more out of it. But I am in it. I'm an arrogant bastard so the point of view is always through me or a third person pov that's usually me too. Not interested it other people's stories. I must have that passion, that closeness to the happening in order for me to do it any justice. You tell me a story about what you did in Palm Springs. Ok. I'll listen, laugh, nod my head in agreement, but if you ask me to write it out for you I can't do it. I simply don't want to. It's your story. YOU write it. Henry Miller once said "Write what you know". I do.

People can find your writing in many different places online and in print. Besides the 12 (gazillion) books you have out, you’ve also written for magazines and sites like Citizen LA, LA Weekly and www.latinoLA.com. Is there a particular outlet that you prefer to write?

Whoever is willing to publish it AND pay me for it, THAT'S my favorite outlet.....Serioulsy though, I loved writing for "Citizen LA", the arts and culture magazine, print, monthly for over 4 years, out of Downtown Los Angeles. They let me get away with murder. And it's there where I started my 'name' in this writing gig. I was very independent, the editors left me alone, and never changed a fucking thing. Which was wise. I have degrees in English, a teaching credential, an ESL teaching credential, have taught literature and conversation and writing for 15 years, I know of what I speak. Wish to Christ LA WEEKLY would run my stuff-I had a few things in there a long time ago in another galaxy, but I guess I'm too much, or they're too pussy, or I just suck. LatinoLA I love because in addition to running my pieces they are kind enough to let me post free announcements for my shows and signings. But it's the books I self-publish, where I am truly a god. Not THE God, but A god. I can do whatever I want. Even the mistakes, and there are plenty, are mine, but I'm still proud of them. Grassroots, brother. Just got to get those books into more indy markets around the city. One great place is "Half Off Books" in Uptown Whittier. They just sold out a box load of "Pieces of L.A.". I was suprised. People actually asking for the damn thing. I'm like, wow, fuck me! They ordered more, plus other titles from my catalog, and want an order of my next book due out in March. Now THAT's an independent bookshop. I want more of those shops! Hell, at Antigua Coffee House in Cypress Park I had a stack of books and half of them were stolen. As an artist that makes me feel great. Stealing my literature? Are you serious? Fuck yeah! 
How long have you been writing and when did you know that writing was what you wanted to do full time?

Since the second grade. And, since the second grade...My teacher had a writing contest, I didn't know it was a contest, I thought it was just another writing practice assignment in class. I wrote this fantasy thing about a dog who was this Sherlcok Holmes type of doggy detective. Short, silly, stupid. The next day the teacher anounced the winner of the best story and she called my name, then, called me up to the front of the class to read my story to the other 40 kids there. Then, and this is the most important part: she gave me a giant plastic Tootsie Roll bank filled with tiny Tootsie Rolls. I thought: WOW! I got candy for my wrting? Really? They give you stuff for writing? I wanna do THIS shit!   

How would you describe your writing style to someone who hasn’t read any of your books?Which author would you compare your work to or would you?

My style is not to everyone's taste, I know that. I accept that. It's rough-going, but elegant I think. And most foul. Very Sexy. Over the top. Naive. Scatter-brained. Loving. Lonely. Erratic, Pulsing. Electric. Intense. Moody. First person narrative but lately switiching to third person. Unafraid. Honest. Stories about bars, booze, broads, sex, death, memory, dreams, passion, adventures in foreign lands, dealing with the humanity of sketchy environs, race, class struggle, art, identity. I am proud to say that my writing shares the same flavor as, but by no means can begin to compare with the likes of Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, Oscar Zeta Acosta, F. Scott Fitzerald, Nathaniel West, James Joyce, Ernest Hemmingway, Henry Miller, Bret Easton Ellis, Stephen King. All those guys and more I read, still read, they took me into worlds I never knew, then, became familar with as I got older. Yes, they influenced me, but I've also established a beastly-voice of my own....This novel of mine,"Pieces of LA", is about all those things I listed, but it's wrapped around a murder mystery and takes place in different parts of Los Angeles, each chapter is a new area of the city. And, for the first time, I deal heavily and harshly with cultural identity. I hear it's all the rage now.          

Your books all have great shots on the covers. I know all the photography is handled by your main man Rick Mendoza. How long have you and Rick worked together and how does that influence the work you put out?

The "Mini-Beast" as I insist on calling him. Yeah, man, he's a fucking god too. We first met I forget, maybe five years ago. It was at another speakeasy called 'Higgins' that used to be at the corner of Third and Main, under a gallery. For many years. A true speakeasy too, in that, as mentioned before, with no set closing times, unlicensed debauchery, musical acts, celebrities, and hot like a motherfucker because it was in those caves that are all over the downtown area, and I noticed this dude drinking straight whiskey at the end of the bar, the way I drink. Most artists or kids have cocktails, mixed drinks, vodka and cranberry, but he was pounding Jameson Irish whiskey, like me, little ice. I thought, huh, finally a real drinker, you know? We'd see each other, tip our glasses, catch glimpses at various parties that Emmeric Konrad was taking me too and introducing me around town, and when the opportunity came up to write for the 'Citizen LA' (again, because of Emmeric's introductions, first to Linda Ford and Jonathan Jerald, then, to eventual Uber Publisher George Stiehl ), and lo and behold, Rick was starting there too as the photo editor. I'd come up with a column idea, some outlandish bit of stupidity, tell Rick about it, he'd go out a get a shot that reflected the essence of the piece. After a while, Rick and I started hanging out together on the scene, and he was snapping away, using those shots for the stories. We'd hit back stage of fashion shows, film festivals, art parks, beauty contests, after parties, drugs, sex, booze, naked girls, drunk with actors, porn stars, politicians, police raids, guns, everything. He has this roving Weegee-like eye of capturing the moment, and unafraid to go places. There was a TV crew once that wanted me to do a cable show, to show my beastly-world, and I had set up places to shoot, got permission all over town because people owed me favors for giving them good coverage for the magazine, but the cameramen they sent out couldn't keep up with me. Rick could. That's what made he and I stick. It got to a point that whenever there was an event I'd show up and Rick would be right there too, soildering on. Whiskey in hand, screaming like a madman, running and sometimes falling down, getting the shots, keeping up every step of the way. I was on book number four when I decided to ask Rick to do a cover. He's the real deal, he shoots for national publications, he's done award shows, studio work, has been flown all over to take shots of celebrities for TV and film, so I was shy to ask him to do a cover because I had no cash to pay him. Turns out he was waiting for me to ask. And all he wanted in return was credit, and lots of whiskey and tacos. Done Deal ever since....As for the covers I tell Rick what I'm thinking about, he tells me what he's thinking about, to capture the spirit of the text. He has lots of time, and then little by little I'll get the emails, jpegs attached, 'what do you think of these?' We go back and forth, tweaking, adding, bitching, until he have a final product. We'll sit at the bar at 'Coles' on 6th and Main with grilled cheese sandwiches and Kibeggan whiskeys to make it so. I like his mind for this because even though I always have an exact vision for what I want he's able to adjust it, offers another view to what I'm thinking about, and makes it perfect. My work is very visual, lots of raping of the senses, and we make sure the covers capture that. People LOVE the covers. Gotten to point now that at my shows I sell poster-sized prints of the covers. People want the Mini-Beast! In additon to the years we put in at 'Citizen LA' and the books, Rick and I have done pieces for "Artilley", a national arts magazine, and worked on projects for artist Robert Vargas' Red Zebra Art and Fashion Show over at the Crocker Club in Downtown LA. 

I caught this video of you reading http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7OL6PK-QSc “Girl In The Café”. What’s it like getting on the Mic and sharing your thoughts with strangers? Did you
ever/ Do you still get nervous?

The booze helps. Serioulsy. Nervous? Sometimes. But when I'm reading I'm in a zone, like great sex: don't bother me let me finish! HA! I have years of teaching experience, of independent travel where you make friends quickly and on the fly; I love interacting with strangers. Of being in front of large groups of people, acting the fool, so that prepared me for the public reading. I've done radio too. POWER 106FM. College radio. Internet/Cable TV. I especially like reading for strangers because they don't have to feel obligated to like it. When they do I am extremely grateful and blown away.  

As a writer I’ll assume you do lots of readings at lots of different venues all over L.A. What’s that like and do you have a favorite spot you like to read at? Why?

Christ, I've read all over the damn place. I swear to god I am the best kept dirty secret in Los Angeles. You're the first whose ever wanted to run a piece on me. Thank you...Anyway, I've read at universities, high schools, the bars, art festivals, gallery openings and closings, Million Dollar Theater, Beyond Baroque, Olvera Street, Pershing Square for Autumn Lights, Barnes and Noble, The Last Book Store, Half Off Books, Libreria Martinez (Lynwood), Edward James Olmos Literary Festival, Dutton's, Antigua Coffee House, and the radio and TV stuff, Hollywood, Westside, Eastside, Northeast, tons of Downtown LA galleries, Farmer & Merchant Bank Venue. It's fun, nerve-wracking, chaotic, exhausting, arousing, hectic; just happy that people want to hear it. But lately, after all that madness, I'd prefer to read at a quiet bookshop, tired of raising my voice over broken glasses and drunken banter, you know? Universities are cool too. Lots of hot chicks there. But no ONE favorite spot. I've done it all. Trippy because I'm nowhere as well known as all those other Latino writers. Not that I want to restrict myself, but you go where you can. I'm self-published, it can be tough. Well, no, that's not entirely true: people on the Latino art circuit have heard of me, they do know about me, but most want no part of me. They're afraid. I'm too much of a beast for them to handle. Jim's too crude, he's drinks too much, he says bad words, he sleeps around too much, he farts too loud, he's always hitting on the girls, he writes about fucking, he doesn't know Spanish, he's not really from East LA, he doesn't know the gang names, he talks too honestly about his own people instead of getting on the white man's case as you're supposed to, he angers the gods, he doesn't sacrifice his individulaity, he doesn't give proper respect to the elders...whoever the fuck they are. Please, give me a fucking break! I'm my own beast. Oh well, their loss...     

Are you working on anything right now? What can your fans expect you to release in 2012?

My next book, my 13th, is called "Beastly Bus Tales". Due out March 17th. Hardcore stories about Jack Morales, our 'hero' from my novel "Pieces of L.A." as he takes the buses every night on the way home late, after hitting the bars. The freaks he comes in contact with; the dealers, artists, prostitutes, psychos, homeless, gangsters, rich kids, the phonies, cops, racists, drunks, the whole whiskey soaked tapestry that is Los Angeles after midnight through Jack's bloodshot eyes. And Mini-Beast is doing an amazing cover! It's a brick wall, and all the bricks in the wall are like tiny tiles, each with a tiny picture illustrating the stories in the book. He's been taking pics when he can over the past six months. And spray painted in dripping red paint on this wall is the book's title. I came up with that in a dream. When I told Rick my idea he was for once speechless, but in a good way, I think. And, because I respect Rick's work so much I'm keeping my name off the front cover so as to enhance the art of it all. My name however, will be in GIANT LETTERS on the back over! HA! 

What advice would you give others (youngsters) who may be considering writing/journalism.

Don't do it....just kidding. If you really gotta do it, it had better be inside of you to begin with. You don't learn this crap. Sacrfice a lot too. Sleep. Various relatonships. Money. Be honest in your writing, even if it pisses people off. If you wanna be on Oprah, then, ok, lie. Write for yourself, that's what a real writer does. Fuck the reader. Fuck the audience. The people will come around to you. So never keep them in mind when writing. Real writing connects on its own. Be serious in your writing. You want people to woot, woot, woot you at some lame-ass poetry-slam bullshit-drum-circle or whatever, then be a comedian, don't waste your time writing. Write what you know. Get experience. Always write about something from the inside out, never from a distance. Listen. Observe. Be smart. Get drunk, fuck, get to know people, places, habits, like a cop staking out a suspect. Then attack. No mercy.
Where can your fans connect with you to keep an eye on future readings and releases? 

Fans? I got fans? First time I ever heard that one. Cheers, lad. Now, STALKERS, maybe. But, ok, if they really wanna know then I beg you to check out the following two sites:
Books (print & apple itunes/ibookstore downloads): www.LuLu.com/spotlight/jimmarquez
Events, news, work in progress, pics, random thoughts, casual sex hook ups:www.facebook.com/JimTheBeastMarquez
(You can also Google me, but for some reason they took down all the 'pics'. There were hundreds of pics from the past 5 years that Rick took, now it's just video stuff. I don't do the YouTube thing usually, it's always been in photos for magazines)
Thanks for your time, Beast err may I call you Beast? 

That's Mr. Beast to you, pal...

Front Cover of novel 'Pieces of LA"
'Jim Marquez at Union Station, Downtown Los Angeles"
'Jim Marquez strolling the back streets of Chinatown, one of his favorite haunts'
'Jim Marquez reading from "Pieces of L.A." at Farmers And Merchants Bank, Old Bank District/Gallery Row, Downtown LA' 
Jim Marquez Lost in Downtown LA
Cover from Jim's best selling "From East Los"
Cover from illustrated book with artist Emmeric James Konrad 'Suckling the Urban Teat'
Irish Whiskey for The Beast & Mini-Beast
Photographer Rick Mendoza at Bar 107 (Downtown LA). Photo by Jim Marquez

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