By Sunni Maravillosa
SUNNI: It’s good to see The Black Arrow getting well-deserved acclaim from several people. I imagine you’re getting a lot of private feedback too. Are you pleased with its reception so far?
VIN: All the notices have been positive. You can’t complain about that. I’m especially glad to see some attention being paid to the characters and the relationships, going beyond your basic plot outlines. It’s also nice to get some kind words from female readers and folks who I know aren’t gun nuts or tax protesters. That means the book is appealing to that wider readership we were hoping for. Of course, we still don’t know if the traditional boycott on any pro-gun or anti-tax or anti-drug-war book that’s not from a major publisher, by The Washington Post and The New York Times, by Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews and Harper’s and The New Yorker—by all the mainstream media—is going to continue. All you can hope is that pressure from the internet and the alternative media will finally force those people to cave in and acknowledge we exist.
We send out more than 500 review copies of each of my books, and we can generally count on some generous review space in Backwoods Home and Guns & Ammo. You can maybe add Soldier of Fortune and Laissez Faire Books [Laissez Faire Books elected not to stock The Black Arrow, which caused quite a stir among the online libertarian community—Editor] and Mike Hoy’s people up at Loompanics [Loompanics recently announced their decision to cease operations—Editor]. But that’s about it; up till now the mainstream media in New York and Washington have just thrown our books in the trash and hoped we would go away. I’m not whining, it’s just the point from which we know we start out. Once you’ve been at this for six years you start to see the pattern; it has nothing to do with whether the author is willing to go out on the road and promote the book; it has nothing to do with whether we make the book available through Baker & Taylor and list it in Books in Print and get ourselves a Library of Congress number and a bar code on the back, because we do all that. And I don’t think it’s just my ego when I say it can’t be the quality of the writing, when people I’ve never met are already comparing The Black Arrow with Atlas Shrugged and Gone With The Wind. Which I think is a little over the top, just for the record. But yeah, there’s some real enthusiasm out there.
What’s different this time is the kind of work you and Tom Knapp and Doug French and Fran Tully have been doing on the internet. We’re getting orders from Germany and Australia. We’ve sold hundreds of the leather-bound edition of The Black Arrow at $50 apiece, and the demand for the paperback is building, and it’s not even released yet. So things look good. And we’ve got a few cards left up our sleeve, yet.
SUNNI: Most readers are probably familiar with your previous nonfiction books, Send in the Waco Killers and The Ballad of Carl Drega. Both are excellent compilations of—and expansions upon—your newspaper columns. Why did you shift to fiction for your third book?
VIN: Looking for a wider audience. Fiction is more digestible; people don’t think of it as work. But also because the conventions and space limitations of journalism just get too restrictive when the goal is to get the reader emotionally involved. And it was just time to grow. Either you grow and change, or you stagnate and fall into a formula and lose your ability to bring anything fresh and surprising. My nonfiction books sell 5,000 or 10,000 copies apiece and they make a little money; the investors make their percentage. But to have any real impact you have to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. This book is the equivalent of going at the walled city with ladders and battering rams. We’re tired of being ignored. Did I just quote Glenn Close as the creepy woman who boils the rabbit in that Michael Douglas movie?
SUNNI: [laughs] Speaking of The Ballad of Carl Drega, is also here. You do seem to be quite busy of late. You co-authored A Drug War Carol with , just recently published in print your graphic novel version of classic libertarian novel The Probability Broach, and did the cover for Vin’s novel The Black Arrow. Sleep much? [laughs]
SCOTT: Not enough. But this is the sort of work I feel like I was born to do, so I’m really happy to be doing it.
SUNNI: How did you and Vin first connect? I recall that you did the cover for The Ballad of Carl Drega—beautiful work, too. That may be my favorite of all your artwork I’ve seen.
SCOTT: Thanks! The original concept was Vin’s which had the soldier handing out flintlocks. I suggested substituting M-16s for the flintlocks, and Vin loved the idea. I first discovered Vin through his older online collection of articles. But I didn’t really establish contact with him until we both attended Ernie Hancock’s first Freedom Summit, in 2001. By that time I had several cartoons published in The Libertarian Enterprise and I was getting to be known within that faction of the libertarian movement. Just a bit prior to that I had some initial internet contact with him, as Neil wanted me to paint the cover for Lever Action, which Vin and Rick Tompkins were publishing. At the Freedom Summit we got better acquainted, and soon afterward Vin contacted me about doing a cover for The Ballad of Carl Drega. And so we are now infamous in New Hampshire.
SUNNI: Yes, so I’ve heard. You and Neil seem to do a lot of work together, too. I noticed on your web site that some of the stories for your posters start out, “L. Neil called me…” How did that relationship come about?
SCOTT: In 1997 I was going through one of my burnout periods, dejected and disgusted. But one evening I was idly surfing the web, and just on impulse typed “libertarian” into Yahoo’s search engine. The first listing was a compilation of Vin Suprynowicz’s columns, titled “The Libertarian,” and several hits from Neil’s web site. Reading Vin’s columns got my blood roiling, and then reading Neil’s columns was like a blast of fresh water. I was re-energized and revitalized. You might say that together, Vin and Neil saved my libertarian soul.
The fact that Neil is also a science-fiction writer, and tends to put more of himself into his writing, and sometimes participates in online mailing lists, drew me closer to him first. I wrote him a few times and got a desultory “thanks for the interest” reply. I used my 3D graphics program to do an update of his “Bill of Rights Enforcement Logo” and got another desultory response. Finally, in 2000 I drew a cartoon showing how Harry Browne was screwing his Libertarian Party donors, and that got Neil’s attention.
Neil loves cartoonists, and was thrilled to discover a libertarian cartoonist with my skill level—I know that sounds immodest but I don’t know how else to put it. Neil was already friends with Rex “Baloo” May, and I like his work, but it’s very Thurberesque.
Neil and I got to chatting first by e-mail, then by phone, and we learned we have a great deal in common. We were both strongly influenced by Rand, and have the same generally Rothbardian opinions on the questions which divide libertarians. We both like guns, science-fiction, and the general drinking-carnivore lifestyle. We have some disagreements, but they seem pretty minor so far, more a matter of differences in interpreting events than in basic doctrines.
Later, when I started drawing The Probability Broach, Neil remarked at one point that it seemed like I had a direct USB connection to his brain, that scenes came out looking almost exactly has he imagined them, only reversed left-right for some reason. Maybe what we really have is a twisted-pair Ethernet connection. [laughs]
SUNNI: Sounds like it. Did you and Neil work closely on your graphic novel interpretation of The Probability Broach? Or did you simply get the okay from him for the idea, and run with it by yourself?
SCOTT: Neil and I worked closely on the graphic novel. We spent a couple of weeks working up the “look” of the main characters, and Neil wrote a complete comic-book script for the graphic novel, based on his original book. In the beginning, as I was drawing the book I would see something I wanted to change to make it look better or read better, and I’d e-mail him and wait for a response before continuing. By the time we were halfway through the book, Neil said, “Scott, I trust you and know that you understand this story as well as anyone. Go ahead and make whatever changes you deem appropriate.” I always sent him notices when I made changes, but we never had any real disagreements on how to do this book.
SUNNI: I’m not usually a big fan of graphic novels or comics in general, but I really enjoyed your vision of The Probability Broach. Why did you decide to do it, and what do you hope to accomplish with it—other than making some money, of course?
SCOTT: It was our mutual friend, the late, great Lux Lucre (AKA Kerry Pearson), who suggested doing a comic-book mini-series. Neil wasn’t too keen on trying to break his story into six or eight episodes, and I’m not keen on the 32-page comic-book format anymore—I think it’s a doomed format. So Neil and I worked up some sample pages for a graphic novel—they’re the future—and I shopped the book around for publishers. Finding none, I convinced my brother to start a new company, BigHead Press, to publish the work. What we hope to accomplish, besides making money, is to expand the audience for Neil’s work. No one besideshas been better at presenting libertarian ideas in an entertaining way.
SUNNI: Many writers who dabble in both areas say that writing fiction well is much more difficult than nonfiction. That seems to dovetail with my perception as a reader: few nonfiction writers transition successfully to fiction. Vin, you’re a notable exception to that pattern, and I’m wondering if you have any ideas on why you not only succeeded, but have done so well in creating a story, characters, and an environment that many readers find so engaging.
VIN: Journalism is good training for other kinds of writing, but only up to a point. It teaches you craft. You learn to organize your thoughts on the fly and write short and get to the point. Picking out the one cogent detail instead of describing someone right down to the color of their socks, which usually reveals nothing. You’re not there to take an inventory, you’re looking for that one detail that tells the story. She hasn’t fixed her own sweater but the dog’s sweater is neatly mended, whatever. You work fast and you write a lot so you get better. I’d still tell any young writer to go write professionally for a newspaper or magazine for awhile. It bakes out that temptation to write purple prose. You need to see a good editor lop all that stuff off and throw it on the floor. You’re learning a craft, and one of your tools is a great big pair of scissors. But then there comes a day when you’ve done it too long. Fiction demands that we get inside the character and hear her thoughts and suffer with her and exult with her, but journalism trains you to stay on the surface, only to write what you can see and prove.
So if you’re meant to write fiction, you go home at midnight frustrated and you pour all that love and hate and frustration into pages and pages of stuff that you have no idea how you’re ever going to use. It’s either that or eventually they beat it out of you; you stop putting in those off-the-wall details and those rambling ungrammatical verbatim quotes that actually sound like the way real people talk, and you’re dead. You’re embalmed as a writer; you just don’t know it yet. I see it all the time. It’s a little scary, ‘cause newspaper writing is a steady paycheck. But in the end, your daily paper wants nice, safe, inoffensive stuff to wedge in between the brassiere ads on page 4 and that special on motor oil down at Checker Auto Parts in the Sports section. Newspaper readers write in to complain if you run a photo of a stripper to illustrate a story on a topless clubs, even if she’s partially hidden and you can’t see a thing. It’s the idea of showing the stripper that offends them. “This is a family newspaper!” Well, where do they think goddamned families come from, underneath the cabbage leaves?
You can tell them 12 guys got blown up in Baghdad every day of the week, but don’t show them a single photo of a real dead body or they’ll cancel their subscription. It just got to be time for me to write the gory photos and show the stripper’s tits, that’s all. I like tits, and I think we have to look at death to understand life, and I’ve passed all my exams and got gold stars on all my papers; I’ve got nothing left to prove and I don’t give a damn if people look at me funny, any more, because I’m right. I’m quite often shockingly right. The sleeper is awake. When journalism gets afraid to cover reality, we go back to writing reality and we call it fiction.
SUNNI: Would you consider online writing as professional writing? I don’t mean a personal blog—but maybe a politically-oriented one, or an online ‘zine like The Libertarian Enterprise or Lew Rockwell.com?
VIN: It’s hard to answer because that’s so broad. I just don’t know how they all work. But the basic criterion is you have to do it for money. Not forever—there’s a risk of getting comfortable and sticking at it for 20 years till your stuff has about as much individuality as a Keebler cookie. But for a couple years, at least, you have to depend on it to pay the rent, you have to work for an editor who can give you a raise or get you fired, or transferred to taking classified ads over the phone. It’s a hidden benefit of capitalism that hardly anybody ever talks about. Because as long as everybody is a volunteer they can say “Oh, that’s very nice dear, thank you so much (bless her heart)”; no one ever calls you on your rambling attempts to channel the Brontë sisters. So the learning curve never really gets started. But if you need that paycheck to pay the rent you grit your teeth and mutter what an insensitive bastard he is and you learn to do it his way; you get hammered out in the forge, you get purified in that fire. You learn to write crisp and short without a wasted word.
So, later, when you’ve been through that bloodbath, you’ve earned your stripes, then you can start to fool around with the formulas, break them down the way Coltrane and Parker broke down the tunes and played them from the inside out. But you’ve internalized that editor, his voice is always there for you in your ear, going, “Oh great, Heathcliff on the moor! How many pages of this crap do you think they’re going to put up with? You do know what they invented wastebaskets for, don’t you?”
SUNNI: Speaking of stupidity, Vin, I’d guess that your opinion of most of your journalist colleagues—and I use that term loosely, because unlike you, most of them seem to have forgotten what true journalism is—isn’t too favorable. Is that accurate, and if so, what keeps you in a field that seems to largely be unappreciative of your work?
VIN: The paycheck. It’s a dream job, in a way. You know those internet spam ads that say “Get paid for your opinions”? Well, I’ve already got that job. If you’re some freelancer out there on the internet, people have to wonder if tomorrow you’ll be writing about gray aliens inside the hollow earth, and they’ll be embarrassed that they were touting you to their Uncle Ned last week as a real solid source. It’s like a musician going back to play the Newport Jazz Festival. Do they still do the Newport Jazz Festival? Miles used to go back and do Newport to prove it wasn’t all studio magic, that the rumors were wrong, that he wasn’t too sick or strung out to stand up and jam. I will have to move on, eventually. But it takes some years to build your chops and land a seat on a major metro daily, and it does add a little cachet. At least, I used to think it did. And don’t even talk to me about the “alternative press.” Being socialist was an alternative when the powers that be were William Howard Taft or Warren Gamaliel Harding. Since 1936, to be “alternative” in American journalism you’ve had to be Austrian in economics and Libertarian/Constitutionalist in politics. Repeal every law passed since 1912: There’s an “alternative.”
SUNNI: Ooooh, Miles Davis. You just reminded me of something from The Black Arrow that I loved, but didn’t mention in anything I’ve written on it: your bringing old music into the story. In part because of that, I’ve been going back to the music I heard on my parents’ radio station when I was a kid and other older music I’m just now discovering, and I’m finding all kinds of songs that are still relevant, and meaningful. Like the Association’s Requiem for the Masses, Frank Zappa’s Trouble Every Day, the Rascals’ People Got to be Free, and several from Cream, and Crosby, Stills, & Nash (and sometimes Young). Did you work the music in just because you love it, or to make a point?
VIN: What’s the first sentence in The Black Arrow? Most people think it’s “Madison walked alone.” But it’s not. It’s “This is the story of a dream. Whether it was a good dream, you must judge for yourself.” It was part of the dream. The dream had a soundtrack. A lot of writers have to hunt around and find the right kind of music to listen to while they write, Les Daniels first told me about that, years ago in Providence. It blasts everything else out and helps clear a pathway—music can be a useful drug that way, a useful way to alter the consciousness. Anybody who’s planning to live with a writer probably needs to ask about that. And the music that you need can change according to the book you’re working on, or maybe what you write changes in part because of the music you’re listening to, the emotional content, the phrasings—I don’t know if anyone has ever answered that particular chicken-or-egg question.
The rhythm of your sentences is actually affected by the music, so you have to be careful. Choose carefully, Grasshopper. Originally I thought this book would be Tommy James and the Shondells, Ronnie Spector and Edison Lighthouse, the 1910 Fruitgum Company. But that wasn’t quite right. “I Think We’re Alone Now” is the only Tommy James song that I kept. It’s there when Jack and Joan find themselves sitting in that darkened drainage tunnel, you have to listen for it, it’s just a fragment. Who knew this book would be The Raspberries? But when you find the right sound, it’s bliss, I’ll tell you. Storytelling is an aural art form, they used to do it around the campfire, it’s the sound of the words. You have to hear the words as you write; the keyboard is a musical instrument. I just know the new book I’m working on is Miles and Bill Evans and Dylan and John Sebastian—“Younger Girl” and “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind,” which are basically the same song. It’s a considerably different mix from The Black Arrow. I’m still working on it, getting it right. It may require some Gershwin or some Hoagy Carmichael. You never know, it’s all trial and error. I tried Billie Holiday; not quite right. Thought it would be, but no. That doesn’t mean she’s not great; of course she’s great. But you’re trying to re-open a wormhole to a particular altered state of consciousness. You can use pharmaceuticals or sacraments, of course, but we all know the downsides there, how draining that can be, and the risk of diminishing returns. What may work is using a sacrament to find that dream state, and then finding less taxing ways to return there at will.
It helps that my brother is a musician; I called him up and explained the kind of stuff I was looking for, I was looking for real heroin music, and Clark immediately says, “Oh, you want Miiiiiiles. ‘Steamin’ With the Miles Davis Quintet.’” And he was right, of course. But doing Black Arrow, it was the first time I found the music was so intrusive—I mean that in a good way, so omnipresent—I could only write a scene right when I finally figured out what song to write it to, it was part of what told me I’d finally stumbled on the right tone—the music would give coherence in tone over these vast expanses, hundreds of pages—that I figured, what the hell, let’s give this a try. Let’s tell the reader what the background music is to this scene, since it forms a kind of subtext. If I could have stuck a disc in the jacket flap with a little number on it and said, “As you read this scene, play track 12,” I would have done that. But the expense of the permissions alone would have been nuts. The written page is too limiting, really, if your dreams have soundtracks.
If I’d written The Black Arrow as a screenplay with the soundtrack music specified it’d still be sitting on some shelf, somewhere, gathering dust. So all I could do was plant that stuff there, in case some reader wants to go to the trouble to go to Amazon.com and buy these old discs and stick them in the player on “shuffle” and really have the full experience of reading The Black Arrow. The Raspberries’ Greatest Hits, the Chiffons’ Greatest Hits, just read the attributions at the back of the book. It would be like discovering the original soundtrack to a movie that you always thought was a silent movie, wouldn’t it?
You wouldn’t believe how long I looked for the right music to write the final battle scene to. You’d think it would be Liszt’s Preludes or the 1812 [Overture] or Wagner’s Valkyre, I tried all of those. All wrong, completely wrong. Pompous, overblown, no nuance. Then one night I’m lying in bed, I’ve essentially given up, I’m never going to get this, maybe that scene just isn’t supposed to be there at all, and what comes on in the other room but “Sweet Talkin’ Guy,” and I go, “No way. Come on. You’re kidding me. The cavalry comes to the rescue playing Sweet Talkin’ Guy?” It was hilarious and ridiculous and impossible and it was perfect so of course I leap out of bed and blast the Chiffons through this old tubes-that-glow-in-the-dark sound system that Jimmy on East Charleston keeps repairing for me as a labor of love because the digital stuff just doesn’t sound the same, these big old 60-pound floor speakers I’ve been lugging around for years, and it was perfect, I wrote the whole scene in an hour. And this way, if they ever do make the movie of The Black Arrow, they’ll know what’s supposed to be there, on the soundtrack. I already did the work for them. Change it at your peril; the readers will know, ‘cause it’s all in there.
SUNNI: Scott, it was a nice bonus to learn that you’d done the cover art for the trade paper edition of The Black Arrow.
VIN: Scott is on the right wavelength, politically, and he’s got the chops as an artist and illustrator. He read an early manuscript version of The Black Arrow and came up with a cover idea. In this case, I suggested something else, which turned out not to work at all. We got as far as a rough sketch and it became obvious my idea would have been much too busy and hokey. So after I wasted a little of his time we went back to this one, to Scott’s original conception, which strikes just the right tone, I think. We had one reader actually complain that it looked too much like a throwback to the pulp covers of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Well, duh.
SUNNI: I don’t want to give away too much of the book, but I’m really interested in where the character of Daniel Brackley came from. He’s such a contrast to the other major male characters…and of course, I loved despising him. Is he based on a man or men you know?
VIN: My friend Bill Branon, who was the first manuscript reader to come pretty close to getting this book, which is why his blurb is on the first page, says Brackley is the protagonist of the book. “There’s your protagonist.” Not the hero, mind you; he’s the villain. But Bill meant that Brackley is the central character. He’s the best developed character. Andrew Fletcher is much sketchier, because the readers demanded that. All this crap we hear from the Beat Generation critics about people wanting a conflicted, neurotic hero is so much crap. They want Tom Selleck or Sam Elliott in a big hat and a bandana, strong and silent, saying “Yep” and shooting that sleazy Mark Harmon. People react to the hero, they bounce off the hero, who pretty much stands there looking good. But with a villain, all those rules are suspended. Daniel Brackley is what all these feminist schoolmarms are going to get if they insist on turning our little boys into sensitive little girls who brood about their deepest feelings. What does every woman complain about? Her man won’t tell her his deepest feelings. Why won’t they tell us their deepest feelings? Why why why? Well, are you sure you really want to hear them? Here’s Daniel Brackley, explaining his deepest feelings about women and the way they treat men in the endless rituals of dating and mating, and women immediately shriek that they want this guy killed. It’s hilarious; you can set your watch by it. End of chapter four. Turns out they don’t want to hear it, at all. Brackley has disadvantages, he has handicaps; he’s short and pudgy and bald.
SUNNI: Hey! A lot of women like bald men! Bald can be very sexy!
VIN: So he uses the same techniques to bed a woman as the Claude Rains character used in the movie Casablanca. Well, everyone thought Claude Rains’ Captain Renault in Casablanca was just a lovable rogue. “I’m shocked, shocked to learn there is gambling going on in this establishment!” It’s fine when he throws away the Vichy water at the end and walks off arm-in-arm with Humphrey Bogart, because they could never hear his thoughts, it was all handled so elegantly, with such indirection and subtlety and savoir faire. Well, I’m sorry, Captain Renault was going to give that young couple the letter of transit if the pretty young wife spent the night with him. And you know what he was going to do to her? He was going to fuck her.
Aaah! Aaah! I can hear the shrieks all the way from Bayonne. You let people in on what a guy like this is thinking—especially female readers—and they’re immediately out for blood. Every man in the world over the age of 14, when he sees a handsome woman, he doesn’t think, “Gosh, I wonder if she has a Ph.D.” No, he thinks: “Nice tits.” But women don’t want to be told that. Daniel Brackley holds up the dark magic mirror and says, “You wanted to know what’s really going on in a man’s mind? Are you sure?”
I’m not saying he’s normal. Daniel Brackley is pathological, obviously. But I’ve had male readers tell me, “I had an experience just like he talks about where he got rejected by Carmilla. There but for the grace of God go I.”
I’ve had guys tell me, “This guy may be evil, but a lot of what he says about women and marriage is right on target.” He’s expressing things that every man has felt. The difference is that this very casualness, this thick skin, this refusal to brood and dwell on emotional hurt that women complain about in men, actually saves us from becoming like this guy.
My mom was visiting Las Vegas when she read the book and she got so shrill she actually yelled at me, “I don’t know why you have to give this guy so much space in your book!” This is a guy whose character and personality are defined by the way he’s been treated by women—it’s almost the key to the book, looking at the way the characters’ personalities are defined by how they’ve been treated by the opposite sex. And I get the distinct impression women don’t want that staring them in the face. Daniel Brackley moves us past a whole layer of pretense; he makes it okay for everyone to start speaking their mind. Daniel Brackley is the way every man feels when he thinks he’s getting the right signals and he puts a move on a woman and he gets shot down, rejected, thrown out, treated like shit. Only instead of grabbing a beer with his buddies and laughing and saying “Better luck next time,” this guy hoards his rejections and disappointments and perceived betrayals, he collects them and broods on them and plans his revenge. John Lennon sang, “I’m gonna break their hearts all ‘round the world,” and Danny Brackley is a really big Beatles fan.
SUNNI: Wow. Okay…and I guess I should thank you for all my sistren that Danny didn’t get a little help from his friends. Last time I saw you, Vin, you seemed fairly down—maybe you were just preoccupied with writing The Black Arrow; and I think that I, along with many people, took your “farewell tour” as a sign that the bastards had at least partially succeeded in grinding you down. Is that right? I read The Black Arrow as a realistic, hopeful book—as you know I give it a lot of credit for rejuvenating me in the wake of the Hiibel case, and all the other, regular bad news that we freedom-minded individuals have to deal with. Was writing the book a way for you to create a better future than what we seem to be headed for now?
VIN: I used to tell my stories at Libertarian conventions and they knew my talk was a good draw so they’d usually schedule me just before the big auction or the pass-the-hat fundraiser or whatever. And bless their hearts, Libertarian Party activists know how evil government is and they just want to explain it all to their neighbors so everyone can vote for freedom. You can’t hate that. I was there myself, 12 years ago. We all have to give it a try.
But it’s all doomed. Mencken said the American electoral process is an advance auction of stolen goods and you can’t win by promising to return all the stolen goods to their rightful owners, because no one will bid on that. So I just started to feel like I was part of the Cable Shopping Network, peddling eight-dollar costume jewelry for four easy payments of $39 apiece. I don’t wish them any ill will, I just think it’s been tried and it failed and I can’t in good conscience put on a big smile and tell people to throw fifty bucks in the hat to help paint some more yard signs and we’re bound to win next time. If they want to have me come talk about what I’m writing now and sign my books and answer questions like I’m answering here, that’s great. But I can’t be Pinky Lee in the plaid suit doing the old song and dance any more, encouraging people to think we’re going to win at the ballot box by telling people their taxes will go down after we close the government schools. They’re horrified; they think we’re the walking dead.
I can’t create a better future. I’m just a writer. But I can choose to be an honest writer. I can go look for the dream place that the holy men and the visionaries have been seeking out for thousands of years, and if I survive the journey again then I can report back my visions, and let people make whatever they can of them. The temptation is to soften them down and sugar-coat them, but you have to deliver them as rough and whole as you can, and not worry about people who complain you’re “incoherent.” We’ve lost our visions, or allowed them all to be tamed and put in cages like canaries where we can’t draw any strength or power from them, any more. Religion used to be orgiastic and now you snooze while some old man chants for a few minutes before brunch at Denny’s. Read The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Remember the first sentence of The Black Arrow… “This is the story of a dream.” The meanings are not hidden. They’re only hidden if you’re too sophisticated to read the words. Come to the words as if you were a child, filled with wonder. “This is the story of a dream.”
SUNNI: One of the things I liked best about The Black Arrow was that it illustrated very well how a decentralized resistance could operate. I mean, even though the Black Arrow is clearly a leader, he’s not the only one; and he’s certainly not a micro-manager. Was this an intentional element you planned, or did it just happen as you wrote?
VIN: In 1777, the British captured Philadelphia. They expected the Revolution to end. The European tradition was, when you captured an enemy’s capital, they quit. As late as 1940, look at how fast Holland and Denmark and France laid down their arms. Orders from the capital. That was the tradition. Like a game of chess. But there were two really scary exceptions that meant things were going to change. In 1777, the Redcoats captured Philadelphia, and the colonists said, “So what? Our capital is now some tree stump out by Harrisburg. By the way, your Johnny Burgoyne guy in the nice gold braided uniform? He just got beat by a jumped-up New Haven storekeeper up at Saratoga.” The whole British paradigm was wrong. We didn’t need the cities. And then the same thing happened to Napoleon in 1812. He captured Moscow; the Russians were supposed to surrender. Instead Czar Alexander just said, “So what? I never liked Moscow that much, anyway. How do you like our winter? Getting a little hungry yet? Try eating the chandeliers.” Just that quickly, the time of Europe was over; the age of Russia and America had begun, because we weren’t playing some stylized feudal chess game any more; we changed the rules.
The Black Arrow doesn’t want to capture territory and make himself the new maximum ruler; he’s just fed up and he’s ready to start killing them; what he wants isn’t reform, it’s anarchy. We’re taught to think anarchy is a real scary word, but if you went back to the year 1910 you’d find a nice, peaceful world that most of today’s Americans would be unable to distinguish from anarchy. No zoning codes, no drivers licenses, no income tax, we didn’t even have any airport searches all the way up through the 1960s. There was very little government involvement in the average American’s life, and it was a mostly peaceful, happy land. To immediately shout “But there was racial prejudice!” is to ape those propaganda films the Russians used to show, that characterized America as nothing but ghettos and race riots. I’m not saying I want to go back to separate drinking fountains. You’ll note plenty of the good guys in The Black Arrow are black and Jewish and Asian. But the idea of federalism is that every state should be different; Rhode Island had complete religious tolerance, a lot of Jews moved to Rhode Island so it thrived and the other states said, “Gee, maybe we should allow synagogues to be built here, too; it doesn’t seem to hurt anything.” I should be able to go live in a state that has the same level of government that it had in 1910, if I want to. That’s the Free State Project ideal, though of course the federals will never allow that, now. What’s the last sentence in The Black Arrow? It’s a quote from John F. Kennedy; go look it up.
But, back to my point…The other side can understand someone who just wants to live in the palace. You can cut a deal with a guy like that. What frightens them is the guy who doesn’t want to live in the palace. If you can’t win playing by their rules, you change the rules. Technically, a decentralized group of cells works better; it’s harder to decapitate. But this is actually something I wanted to write about. Setting up a new political organization that’s big enough to replace the old political organization just means you get a Stalinist bureaucracy instead of a Czarist bureaucracy; you get Castro instead of Batista. The kind of talent you need to run that kind of outfit is going to behave just like the old outfit, because the form dictates the function. What takes courage is deciding you’re going to be free, and that anyone who wants to search your pockets has to be killed, here and now; no half measures. We’re issuing a warning, see. Back off, or this is what’s coming. And when it comes, the meter maids will not be safe; Ramon at the airport will not be safe. They won’t listen, of course. They never do.
SUNNI: How far do you gentlemen think we are from that kind of action?
SCOTT: I think we’re awful damn close. If you look at The Ballad of Carl Drega with this thought in mind, you might get the idea that it’s already starting, in isolated cases. Personally I’m a lover, not a fighter, and I don’t look forward to the kind of world and actions depicted in The Black Arrow. But I fear that’s where we’re going, nearly in free-fall now.
SUNNI: What medium do you like to work in best? Do you have a closet full of paintings, waiting to be discovered?
SCOTT: I’ve gone completely digital in my art. The only canvas paintings I’ve done were done years ago in art school. There are about a half-dozen of them. I did a lot of spot-illustration work for Steck-Vaughn Company, the textbook company I went to work for after leaving art school. I have some comic book work done in the early and mid-1980s, including a comic-book called Gambit, from which Marvel Comics stole the name and concept for its mutant character of the same name.
SUNNI: Who among today’s libertarian writers would you most like to work with?
SCOTT: You mean, fiction writers? I’m pretty much already doing it, working with Neil and Vin. Neil and I hope to do future collaborations. The next one will probably be a story set in yet another alternative universe, titled Roswell, Texas. This will be a prose novel for which I will do chapter illustrations. We’ve also talked about adapting Their Majesties’ Bucketeers, doing a series of juveniles based on Brightsuit MacBear and Taflak Lysandra and continuing the rest of that septology. Also, we want to do the story about how Lucy invented a working FTL drive and how Clarissa finally gets cured of Koman’s mitochondriasis. I’d also love to work with , and I just finished working up samples pages for a graphic novel proposal with —who came to me with the idea.
SUNNI: Oooh! Can you tell me more about that?
SCOTT: Escape From Heaven. I don’t want to spoil the plot but essentially it’s a romantic comedy involving Jesus, Satan, Adam, Eve, God, and the story’s hero, a popular radio talk-show host named Duj Pepperman. does some interesting twists on Christian mythology. The book also contains a fair bit of libertarian commentary, in the form of Pepperman’s on-air commentary, but the book isn’t really about libertarianism, it’s about one’s relationship with God—a subject that has occupied thinking rather a lot lately.recently wrote his first new prose novel in several years—
SUNNI: Yes, I’m familiar with the book—I reviewed it, but don’t think the review got published anywhere where it was widely seen. So, what pro-freedom artists do you like best? What artists inspire you?
SCOTT: Pro-freedom artists are pretty damn scarce, which I suppose is a good thing for me because it cuts back the competition. Some of the artists who inspire me the most, based on their technique, completely leave me cold politically, or else I don’t know their politics. Those are comic-book artists like Steve Rude, John Byrne, Frank Miller, and the late Will Eisner, illustrators Frank Frazetta, Mike Whelan and the late Kelly Freas. I was also inspired by the underground cartoonists Gilbert Shelton and the late Dave Sheridan, Mad Magazine artists Jack Davis and Mort Drucker. The only other pro-freedom cartoonists I know of are Peter Bagge, Kevin Tuma and Russmo—and of course, Rex May, who I mentioned earlier. I respect them as comrades in the struggle for liberty, but I can’t say their work has any influence on mine. Although I’m a tad jealous of Bagge for getting those multi-page spreads in Reason.
SUNNI: The “About the Author” page in The Black Arrow states that you’re at work on another novel. Care to share a bit more about that?
VIN: I tried for years to write novels from outlines. The way they tell you to. Tried and failed. Complete disaster. Everybody’s different, but I have to let a novel grow organically out of the stuff I’m researching, the life I’m living. And most of all, out of my dreams. You are what you eat, and you write what you dream. I used to think Tim Leary failed to conquer death, but now I’m not so sure. Maybe he’s still dreaming. A novel is a really big dream that comes to you in parts, and the parts come out of order, like fractured images in a kaleidoscope. As it grows, you try piecing the parts together different ways, like trying to piece together a broken pot. Except there may be some shards that aren’t really from the same pot; you have to be willing to set them aside and see if they fit the next pot. It’s trial and error. The book has to keep surprising you or it gets stale.
The next book is about jazz and murder, about the jazz clubs where I’m hanging out and about the Las Vegas cops and a Las Vegas murder. We get a fair number of interesting murders in this town. You immerse yourself in those things till they’re in your dreams and then you see what comes. You let the subconscious generate stuff and you take the great journey again and you trust it and you don’t start asking what it all means, right away. And of course I use sex very differently from most writers, where it’s a recreational activity—James Bond gets laid by two different women so you know one has to be the bad girl so he’ll have to kill her and she’ll usually be the one who’s more sexually knowledgeable. And why is that? After a while you’ve got to surmise poor Ian Fleming’s ideal woman was actually the inflatable kind, because they’re not aggressive and they lie still and they don’t talk too much. I find it much sexier for a woman to say, “I love you, pulse of my heart. Let’s make lots of babies; can I be on top this morning?” It’s time to go back and look at William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. Why shouldn’t marriage be sexy? Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?
Excerpted from a longer interview originally published at Sunni’s Salon
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