Saturday, November 3, 2012

Twenty Questions for Author Thomas P. McNulty

Twenty Questions for Author Thomas P. McNulty
By Nick Ciccotosto, Ph.D.

Dr. Ciccotosto received his Master’s Degree from Northern Illinois University and his doctorate in Anthropology from the University of Florida. His ongoing research studies include investigations into language origins, sound symbolism, primate communication systems, paleobiology and science fiction.

NC: You learned to read and write as a boy and now you have seven books published and many more in process. Can you tell me who were the authors and their works which most inspired you? If I were a young boy or girl, what three books would be most influential?

TM: Keep in mind that before the age of ten I was reading Ian Fleming and Mickey Spillane in addition to the Hardy Boys. I loved the Hardy Boys. Once I learned how to read I never stopped and I was fortunate that my parents refused to limit my reading based upon social norms and customs. They let me read whatever I wanted and I was told that if I had any questions to ask. That’s an education right there. I devoured the Hardy Boys, Brains Benton, Tom Swift, and The Three Investigators series. I did my first compare and contrast analytical thinking with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I wanted the book to be as creepy as the Boris Karloff films and it wasn’t the same at all. But the important thing is I understood the book and I recognized that film was a separate medium. By the age of ten I had read The War of The Worlds by H. G. Wells, Dracula by Bram Stoker, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne and of course Edgar Rice Burroughs. And tons of comic books. I have a great fondness for the John Broome-Gil Kane Green Lantern series, Curt Swan’s Superman, and Stan Lee’s early Marvel Comics. I can recall with clarity reading Daredevil # 42 in the summer of 1968. Written by Stan Lee and drawn by Gene Colan, it was called “Nobody Laughs at The Jester” on the cover. Classic stuff. By the time I entered High School I had discovered science fiction. Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and the DAW Books paperback of L. Ron Hubbard’s Ole Doc Methuselah. I devoured T. H. White’s The Once and Future King and, of course, J. R. R. Tolkien. Before the 70s ended I was heavily into Roger Zelazny, Robert A. Heinlein, Issac Asimov, and Frank Herbert. I discovered Michael Moorcock’s Elric series. I think those were DAW paperbacks as well, with colorful pulp style covers. And speaking of pulps, in the 70s Bantam paperbacks reprinted the Lester Dent Doc Savage novels and the Walter B. Gibson Shadow novels. So I was into some wild stuff. You want to go on? I can talk books all day. You see I can’t name just three, because I can name three hundred. I can name three thousand.
NC: Your most impressive book so far is Errol Flynn and you researched this for over a decade. Can you tell me something about the FBI files which were finally released to you? Do you think Flynn got a raw deal from the government, the press and his hangers-on?

TM: The FBI celebrity files on Errol Flynn and other famous personalities are an example of government abuse of power at the hands of J. Edgar Hoover. These files are misunderstood and falsely lionized by the press. There is no victory for democracy in their existence and they don’t offer realistic insight into the personalities involved. Hoover and his agents paid informants largely to tell them what they wanted to hear. But the press promotes this idea that these files offer insight into the rich and famous. There’s only a touch of insight, and we can glean some biographical facts, but they are hardly illuminating. I referred to them because it was my scholarly duty and objective obligation to comment on them. Author Charles Higham altered the text and misrepresented these files in his book about Errol Flynn. But there’s a deeper problem, and that’s a cultural one. Other people and writers take facts from the files out of context and use them to malign whatever dead celebrity they are torturing. It’s a cultural sickness. The FBI files only tell a fraction of the story. Life – our lives, all life – is far more complex day in and day out and year by year to be synopsized in an FBI memorandum. So if John Lennon dropped acid in 1968 and you hate Lennon and are looking for some smarmy gossip it’s right there, but John Lennon was a far more complex and interesting man than such a fact would indicate. Now I addressed this issue in my book about Flynn and I make this point. Flynn was complex, and yes, the FBI files cast him in a negative light, but don’t judge him on that fact alone.

NC: Which do you like to write more, fiction or non-fiction? Considering that your Errol Flynn book was the best biography done on him, why were you attacked by cult fringe elements?

TM: The Errol Flynn fan community is a complex and often volatile group. There are some wonderful people in that group – people whose friendship I am grateful for, but there is a separate group of collectors and fans who constantly vie for attention. That’s the group I left out when doing my research which was conducted predominantly in secret. It wasn’t until I was nearly finished that word got out about my book, and some egos were bruised because they weren’t included. The Flynn book was an attempt to understand the real man and the era in which he lived. I don’t pretend that it’s perfect but I know I’m in the 95% range for accuracy on the essence of his life. And that was the goal. Hack writers like (the late) Charles Higham and David Bret should be ashamed of themselves. They did Flynn an injustice, and they made themselves look like fools. I don’t have time for that type of hateful nonsense. But being in the public eye, even at my modest level, leaves me open to attack. Higham and Bret have learned this as well, albeit for different reasons. It’s a fact that I can live with, and I’m prepared to hear from nutcases. They are predictable. When it comes to historical figures there is no end to the know-it-alls eager to offer a comment. It’s the nature of this beast we call the Internet. It’s a forum for every sorry son-of-a bitch to vent his anger. For example, I’ve been following the wonderful Galaxy Press reprints of L. Ron Hubbard’s classic pulp fiction and writing reviews of the books. I found myself under attack by anti-Scientology factions who can’t stand anyone saying anything nice about Hubbard. This includes a few writers who sent e-mails out “warning” people about me. They jumped to conclusions and condemned me. These are people I have never met and they don’t know those e-mails got back to me so I won’t mention names here. Some were members of the New Pulp community and some were members of the Black Horse Western community. They ignored the fact that I wasn’t making a religious statement but I was making a literary statement about Hubbard’s incredible talent as a popular writer. But, since they have made religion an issue, I wonder what these people would say if they discovered one of their favorite western writers was a Muslim? Anyway, I don’t judge people by their religious preferences and I’m proud of that fact. I support all religions and I support the individual’s right to practice any religion he chooses without harassment. To harass people over their religious beliefs is communism. When it comes to religion I tell people to read World Religions at Your Fingertips by Michael McDowell, Ph.D and Nathan Robert Brown. So we’re talking about books again. We live in a fascinating world. Now what was your question? Oh, yeah, fiction or non-fiction. I like them both and I will continue to keep my hand in both.

NC: You hold a black belt in Korean martial arts, have traveled in some elite Zen poetry circles, and have a ready laugh and smile. What part did writing have in all these things? Were you drawn in or compelled?

TM: I began practicing Tae Kwon Do in 1975. I have a black belt in Kyuki-Do. I’ve studied Judo, Hapkido, Jeet Kun Do and boxing. I love the martial arts and their practical attitude. Only tough guys will inherit the earth. The rest of you pansies are worm food. Bruce Lee and David Carradine helped popularize the martial arts. I’ve always been attracted to ways of thinking that are beyond the established ideas society imposes on the masses. I studied creative writing with Zen poet and translator Lucien Stryk when I was knocking about that University between cornfields and getting into trouble. Stryk was great and he had a positive influence on me. That was a long time ago. I think I’m drawn to these things because I am curious by nature and I retain a great deal of what I observe. I read a variety of material. The poet Dave Etter has had a positive influence on my writing. I don’t limit myself in my reading choices. Zen poetry can be enlightening, and that naturally leads into Buddhist studies. I have always been inspired to write. I have filled many notebooks just as you have. Some of that material I released in Anthropoets. It’s important to understand the past without letting it destroy you today. Understanding is the key. I compiled Anthropoets from thirty years of scribbling in notebooks, and I have Anthropoets II in the works. My writing career has taken many strange turns and I came to publishing books fairly late in life. But I’m not doing this to meet anyone’s expectations. I don’t care what the bloggers say or what anyone thinks in the New York publishing industry. I think my bibliography is ten pages long and mostly magazine work. I’m doing this to please myself and I’m grateful for my small audience. You and your wife Carol have always supported me. I’m glad you think I have a ready smile. Whenever I enter a Wal-Mart I set the goal of making at least one person smile. Try it sometime. The Wal-Marts of America are populated by angry, repressed people who have given up.

NC: Your lovely wife and yourself are members of SASS – Single Action Shooting Society – wherein members sport authentic costumes and compete in contests with various Colts, Henrys, Winchesters and other guns. Can you detail how this interesting activity has enabled your realistic Western novels?

TM: Understanding guns is a positive step in writing realistic fiction. I read new westerns all the time where it’s obvious the writer doesn’t know the difference between a Winchester and a Henry rifle. Some of these writers are famous. Go figure. But I also keep in mind that I’m specifically writing fiction as entertainment, so I let loose with some creative license quite often. Fiction like this is meant to entertain. Readers want blazing six-shooters and galloping horses. I’ve seen shooters manipulate an 1873 Winchester with such speed that it sounded like an automatic weapon, and they hit the target every time. Cowboy Action Shooting is the fastest growing sport in the country, and SASS is the pre-eminent organization behind it. There’s a lot of camaraderie in the shooting sports just as there is in the martial arts and I enjoy that tremendously. Understanding how these guns work and what they can do helps you appreciate what someone on the frontier might have experienced in 1875. Food gathering took a lot of time. Defending yourself against attack with a firearm is not as simple as it sounds. Incidentally, there’s a fascinating story behind my first western, Trail of the Burned Man. Years ago I interviewed a film director named Burt Kennedy. Burt directed The Return of the Seven, The War Wagon and Support Your Local Sheriff. He told me part of Hollywood’s problem was finding an original western story that would translate well to film in an era where fast edits and special effects defined the production. In several conversations I had with him he also reminded me that audiences want those blazing six-shooters and galloping horses I mentioned. I wrote Trail of the Burned Man with Burt in mind, and I added a character named Ben Wooley as a tribute to Sheb Wooley, another actor I had befriended. I even put in a singing cowboy scene as a tribute to Sheb and guys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. It’s on page 40 if you want to look it up. I finished Trail of the Burned Man in 1998 I think and set it aside as I was deep into the Errol Flynn project. Burt Kennedy died before I could send him the manuscript and I never did get around to rewriting Trail of the Burned Man. Then I heard from a screenwriter named Steve Hayes who knew Flynn. He liked the book and we made some small talk where he mentioned he was writing westerns for the Brits over at Robert Hale Publishers. He encouraged me to dust off Trail of the Burned Man. Three of my westerns have now been published by Robert Hale Books so I’m indebted to them, Steve Hayes, Burt Kennedy, and a lot of other people.

NC: I like the gun battles in your westerns because, of course, they are pretty exciting. But they also taught me plenty about guns (I own none). How good or realistic is Hollywood about gunplay since it appears a real chore to do well? Guns are heavy, can slam your hand, arm, shoulder, eye to particular effect, not to mention the sound. They are a hold to hold, aim, and fire from horses, trains, cars, collapsing buildings.

TM: I enjoy target shooting. I own a modest but useful collection of guns. Hollywood glamorized gunplay in the 30s and 40s, but it worked beautifully. I don’t have a problem with what some critics call “The Mythic West.” My books are set in the Mythic West. Of course a .45 six-shooter won’t stop a buffalo at two hundred yards, but those Hollywood actors made it look fun. I try to put at least one fistfight into my westerns as well. That stems from my appreciation of hand-to-hand combat training and the martial arts. My favorite rifle is my Henry “Big Boy.” Henry rifles are the best. But I own a ’73 Winchester replica from Uberti, a model 94 Winchester and ’92 Winchester among other toys. It’s easy for me to imagine a gun battle. The gun battles in my books are all meant to be visual virtuoso pieces. Guns are another controversial topic like politics and religion that get people all worked up.

NC: Can you tell the interested reader how you create a villain or hero? Where have you met your most interesting personalities?
TM: I have met the most interesting personalities in the morgue. I have met some of the drabbest personalities in the corporate world, usually management staff, who will undoubtedly attain a better personality once they die. These “professionals” who inhabit our corporate world like lice make great villains. I don’t believe in what some people call “writer’s block” by the way. It doesn’t exist for me. If you need ideas open your eyes and look around. This is an amazing world we live in. When I hear someone say they are bored I know I’m dealing with someone that can’t see the forest through the trees. You’re bored? Are you kidding me? I remember reading a Jimmy Olsen comic book once where he had writer’s block and to help him out Superman flew past his window holding rocket ships and weird things like that. Well, that cured Olsen of writer’s block. I still have that comic book here in a box somewhere. The point is open your eyes. Creating heroes is equally easy. Western heroes are the idealization of who we want to become. It’s that John Wayne representation of the American dream.

NC: Can you tell me how you choose the action flows in your westerns? Do you start out with a locale, a personality type, or a purpose first? Do you have an outline like Faulkner, a grand sense of the story before you write, or does it unfold as you write?

TM: I write the first paragraph and then I write the last paragraph. I like to know where I’m going in a story. Then I do a rough plot and begin writing. I’m willing to change things as I go along because the physical and mental act of writing is a way of discovering things. The characters really do take over. I see scenes as images. I also work from a list of titles and characters that I created. Writing is an act of discovery and there are no boundaries with imagination. I always have a sense of the basic story and the locale. I don’t believe in rules for writing. A lot of highly successful authors that I respect have published “How to write” books or essays and I find them useless. I do believe in diligence, and I believe in literacy. Keep the mind active, read something every day. Make sure you understand what you read. The action in my westerns derives from having read and appreciated the pulp fiction of the 30s and 40s. The pacing was fast. Keep them turning the pages.

NC: In your most recent book, Werewolves!, you explore the ancient mythic expressions of transubstantiation. This is likened to a passage of the human spirit into a wholly animal spirit, a rite of altered consciousness seen from distant shamans to present day. What is the modern message of werewolves? Who has given the better renditions of this transformation allegory, cinema or literature? As far as the “deeper than just entertainment” meanings go, what does it say about human nature?

TM: What we learn from werewolves is that there’s a dark edge to humanity; it’s a carnivorous aspect of our souls that harkens back to those days before Troglodytes emerged from the primordial fog. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the best fictive rendering of this idea. The Lon Chaney, Jr. films are the best in cinema, along with the Spanish horror films of Paul Naschy. Wolves are beautiful and frightening at once. Mankind has celebrated wolves since they could scratch scenes on a cave wall. There’s a little bit of Mr. Hyde in all of us and a lycanthrope represents that dark side of humanity. Humanity has always had a choice to make, relent to evil or try to create something better. Civilization exists because we have attempted to create something better, but that primal side of our nature isn’t always suppressed. We see examples of this in the news every day when someone flips out and goes on a rampage. They have lost touch with civilization. The werewolf book is meant to be an simplified survey on lycanthropes, sort of a primer. It’s the equivalent of a Master’s Degree to my way of thinking. The Flynn book was the equivalent of a Ph.D. At some point I need to write erotica. That would be my second Bachelor’s Degree. I’m only half joking.

NC: In Werewolves! You make the point that Lon Chaney, Jr. Curt Siodmak and Jack Pierce set the standard all others have copied. Why did they do so well together?

TM: There’s a good reason why the 30s and 40s are referred to as the “Golden Age.” It was a remarkable period of creative output. Not only in films but in literature. Technological advances increased communication which increased awareness. The Hollywood studio system, which was a contractual arrangement where you worked on a set formulae, brought together myriad talented people with the common goal of creating. That’s the key. There was an agreement to create something that could be sold as entertainment for a profit. This was the near-perfect melding of art with business. Of course, there were problems, but the statistical positive effective is validated by the high number of those studio system films that are revered today as classics. So Chaney and Siodmak and Pierce were working in an environment that fostered creativity. Hollywood rarely does that any longer. The so-called “studio system” pulled a lot of talented people together for the common goal of creating something entertaining. The pulp magazine market flourished during this same period and that’s no accident. The Industrial Revolution had changed the world. People were healthier, they were literate, and they were hungry for everything. What I’m talking about is a cultural anthropology case study on western civilization. Live music was enhanced with phonograph records and radio. The impact on a household was immediate. So by the 30s a lot of creative people set their eye on movies or magazine writing. It’s an astonishing creative period not unlike the French Renaissance. And some people believe World War II marked the decline of that creative period, but I see a resurgence happening thanks to advances in technology. Of course I’ve generalized here for the sake of brevity.

NC: Can you see yourself writing sci-fi or historical novels? For example Paco’s Story by Larry Heinemann about a brave Vietnam War vet, almost an invalid and now with supersensitive feelings and intelligence, or Neuromancer by William Gibson, a chilling story about the outer reaches of inner neural space?

TM: Well, those are two great books you mentioned. I have some short stories I’ve outlined but nothing longer. I’m interested in ghost stories, fantasy and film noir style hard-boiled fiction, all of which is in progress. I have a story I’ve been working on for several years that is a contemporary coming-of-age story about a teenager who gets into trouble. I’ll be focusing on that in the near future. I set goals for myself and I have to finish a series of adventure novels that I’m dedicated to. This includes some non-westerns. I always have something in the works. I have outlined two contemporary stories that might satisfy those seeking something from me other than westerns. I’m full of surprises.

NC: Your mother was an accomplished actress. What love of the theatre did she give you that influenced your writing and sense of dramatic imperative?

TM: Looking back on that era, the 60s, I think I was lucky in many ways. I experienced a great deal simply by witnessing events. My mother’s theater friends were fascinating. There was egotism and romance and rivalry and brilliance and flops. I watched the initial line readings, the rehearsals, the building of sets which was sometimes handled by my father, and then the director’s blocking and the opening nights. They had cast parties at our house. Believe me I saw a lot. During the plays I was sometimes allowed to stay backstage behind the sets. I was mesmerized by the make-believe facade of a set only to find myself crouching in the dusty cobwebbed enclosures backstage as the actors went through their paces. I got clever in one play and snuck behind the window so that I was between the window and the painted backdrop of some green countryside. I stuck my head up and several women in the front row saw me. They pointed at me and I clearly heard one of them say, “Look at that cute boy!” I was a star! So I did it again, giggling. Well, they banished me from being backstage during performances. But I loved being backstage. They had Playboy centerfolds tacked to the wall. I understood exactly what James Bond was doing in those books and I couldn’t wait for the Hardy Boys to grow up. So there are a lot of good memories in all of that. My favorite play was Harvey by Mary Chase. My mother played Myrtle Mae. The actors all stunk because they tried to imitate Jimmy Stewart because he had played Elwood P. Dowd in the movie. When they did Arsenic and Old Lace the lead actors always imitated Cary Grant who starred in the film version. Those are two great plays that were made into great films. I learned about three act plays and plot construction right there. Too often stage actors emulate the mannerisms of the film actors which is a huge mistake. I’ve read David Mamet and Sam Shepard but I prefer some of the older plays. Take a look at Sidney Kingsley’s Detective Story or John van Druten’s Bell, Book and Candle. That’s great material. I wrote a play in High School called Swords and Lipstick. I still have it. I might get around to writing a three act play I’ve begun to outline. Like I said, I always have something percolating.

NC: You have interviewed scores of actors, writers and directors such as Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Tom Hanks, Robert Vaughan, Phillip Jose Farmer, Joe R. Lansdale, Forest J. Ackerman, David Carradine, Jack Elam, Sheb Wooley and others. Who gave the most memorable interview? Who would you most like to interview, living or dead, excluding Jesus Christ?

TM: Jack Elam and Sheb Wooley come to mind as memorable. I was making small talk with Jack Elam and he brought up the cultural differences between New York and Chicago. He preferred the arts community of Chicago over New York, but his wife loved New York. He had his finger on the pulse of Chicago’s vast creative arts community. Elam used salty language and I had to omit the F-word from the interview because it was a family magazine. And Sheb Wooley became a friend. I interviewed him down in Nashville. And I liked John Agar, Burt Kennedy and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Those guys were accessible to me and we remained in touch. Fairbanks assisted me on some research that proved useful. Those guys were all right with me. And I loved Jackie Chan. He’s an original all the way. As far as interviewing someone today I think I’ll pass. There are plenty of people that can do that. I did it, and now I’m done with it. Obviously Errol Flynn would have been great to interview, but I’m happy to be doing different things as a writer. I do have plans to compile and publish all of those interviews in a book.

NC: You were cast as a bank clerk (an extra) in Road to Perdition with Tom Hanks. What was that like?

TM: It was a long day. It began about four A.M. and I left the set about eight o’clock that evening. I’m on screen about three seconds. It was fun watching Tom Hanks rob that bank. He’s a nice fellow. I didn’t pick up any negative vibes from him at all. And Sam Mendes, the director, is immensely talented. I remember you and I spent a few hours on the set of Groundhog Day watching Bill Murray mope about. Film sets are far more tedious than live theater.

NC: You commented to me once that the world was entering a golden age of reading again, that never before were more writers and readers reading because of web based offerings. Are texters good thinkers or merely anxious and nervous consumers?

TM: People that text constantly certainly are anxious and nervous consumers. They are texting but they don’t have anything to say. As a society we are infatuated with electronics. We want that futuristic Star Trek world to be real, and we keep moving in that glitzy direction. But be careful what you wish for. We are living in an age where there are more resources available to us than ever before, and that wisest percentage of the population is using that to their advantage. Now I’m not a fan of E-books like Kindle and Nook because I believe they only sell steadily out of a cultural desire to “Keep up with the other guy.” Everybody wants the latest gadget just so they can say they have it. It’s fashionable to have a Nook, so I didn’t buy it. Literacy levels in the United States have actually declined. But the world population is rising and there really are far more educated, literate people in that regard. I’m not surprised that so many people from Europe are so well versed in American culture. They love the pop culture, including pulp writers. If they can make it out of the low income districts they invariably seek American comic books or graphic novels for entertainment. There’s a new wave of talent out there, and so many are from Iran or India. The Internet’s sole useful purpose is to function as a repository of world cultures. It’s a window into another world. If you think the world of fantasy and imagination is dead take a look at the number of blogs. Look at the designs and the photographs and the artwork that people post. This is amazing. This is the good news. But we can also talk about the problems that come with the Internet. The Internet has become a hate-filled bulletin board where every brain-damaged geek can spit venom for sport. That’s the down side to electronic communication. But I’m impressed by the immigrants from the Middle East for example who have embraced English and are now creating some remarkable literature. America has always been an ethnic melting pot and I’m thrilled to see this dynamic shift in the creative arts. Women currently play a large role in the New York publishing industry. When Barnes and Noble puts out its new releases in paperbacks every Tuesday they are predominantly by women. And print-on-demand technology has created a separate industry of authors who are responsible for creating a new literary movement called “New Pulp.” That would be guys like Tommy Hancock and Ron Fortier who are nurturing a stable of writers to create adventure stories. And that market is expanding dramatically.

NC: You argue that comic books are a good way to motivate improved reading skills. Have teachers begun to see the attractive value of comic books and graphic novels yet?

TM: Yes, I believe they are. Watchman by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons is taught now in some High Schools. This is Literature with a capital L. And I know there are college courses devoted to Will Eisner’s Spirit. Comic Books are a great way to teach plot structure, characterization, and genre. Strong visuals accentuate all of these elements in conjunction with a text. Neil Gaiman’s graphic novels and comic book stories are among the finest literature you’ll ever read.
NC: Given that you have probably done several screenplays which plot would you most like to see on film?

TM: Trail of the Burned Man was written for film. That would be a good one and Death Rides a Palomino would begin on the sea off the Alaskan coast with the freighter The Molly Belle belching black smoke from the smokestacks. Death Rides a Palomino is about change, loss and redemption. Trail of the Burned Man is an old-fashioned ensemble cast and kick-ass western. I have also written a pilot for a modern series set in Los Angeles today that I’ll be marketing. Hollywood is a tough town to crack. We’ll see where it goes, if anywhere. I have some people in my corner but I’m a realist. Let’s just keep hoping they re-discover the western.

NC: What are some of your favorite haunts in Chicago?

TM: I remember one night when you and Jeff and I sat on the lakefront eating a can of sardines. Busted malcontents, voyagers of the neon boulevards, poets of the Midwestern gothic landscape. I remember the water was green phosphorescence. And I remember the strip joints downtown, the greasy burger joints, the fantastic trips inside the Art Institute where history was played out on a grim palette. In the 70s I was always on Lawrence Avenue or in Wrigleyville. Clark Street and Nelson Algren’s Division Street blues. I remember Mike Royko in Miller’s Pub and so drunk he was cross-eyed and had trouble sitting straight in his chair. People are always telling me Royko drank at the Billy Goat Tavern, but I saw him several times in Miller’s Pub. Drunk as hell. This is James T. Farrel’s town and the place where Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote the first Tarzan story; and it’s Hemingway’s town and Carl Sandburg’s town. It’s certainly Sinatra’s town. These days Jan and I get down to Navy Pier or the Christkindle Market in December. I take it easy. But what a great city! Know thyself, the philosopher intoned, and so I did. In the 70s and early 80s we were chic bohemian chi-town outlaws in the shadow of Jim Morrison. We wrote beat generation pastiche and odes to William Blake. I slept on couches and I puked in alleys. I wore a scowl on my face and studied madness. I majored in darkness and reveled in sunlight. I burned my retinas on sacred texts and condemned the establishment. I whispered sweet nothings into the ears of vestal virgins, and one remarkable night we even rubbed elbows with Allan Ginsberg, but he was vain and arrogant and so we sought other madmen. From saloon to saloon. We made friends with drunks and drank with nuns, professors, hookers, hoodlums and actors. We survived on hardboiled eggs and beer. All these years later and I can recall Jim Morrison’s words, “For seven years I dwelt in the loose palace of exile playing strange games with the girls of the island...”

NC: Given an imaginary and exhaustible stipend, what is on your bucket list?

TM: A bucket list is for people that need it, and I don’t need it. I’m living the American Dream. I establish new goals every day and strive to meet them. I concentrate on today and not what I think I might have missed. Yesterday got me here, I did it, and it was fantastic, but I’m looking at today and attempting something creative. The message I have always delivered is be creative. Explore life, embrace the world of ideas and create something – a poem, a painting, a story, a song, or anything you can imagine. There are no limitations. You can do this at any age. So if anyone reading this is uncertain what direction to take the answer is simple. Unleash your imagination and carve yourself a life.

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