Auntie Meme

June 26th, 2008

I owe this meme to Lisa Kenney, who tagged me for it. In the spirit of the thing, I’ll be passing it on to several people who probably like me more now than they will when they open their e-mail tomorrow. Although maybe they’ll have as much fun doing this as I did, since I rarely think about the past (my past, anyway) and answering these questions turned out to be an interesting exercise

What were you doing 10 years ago?

I was working full-time-and-a-half, commuting between Los Angeles and New York for my television consultancy business, and I had just written The Man With No Time, the fifth and next-to-final book in the Simeon Grist series. It was an interesting time because I was making a lot of money, burning out in grand style, and in the process of saying goodbye to a series I had really enjoyed writing – and, for all I knew, to my writing career as a whole.

Five Things on Your To-do List for Today

  1. Get home from Seattle, which is where I am right now for a signing at Seattle Mystery Bookstore.

  2. Figure out what I’m going to read from THE FOURTH WATCHER for tomorrow’s bookstore reading/signing in Venice.

  3. Write 500 words of MISDIRECTION.

  4. Send out a bunch of thank-you e-mail to people who sent me happy birthday wishes. (Today is my birthday.)

  5. Upload this so I don’t have to write it again tomorrow with a new to-do list.

What would you do if you were a billionaire?

Nothing much different than what I do now. I’d buy my wife a bunch of stuff she doesn’t need. I’d get myself a killer car. (I’m driving a total junker.) We’d go around the world if I could get Munyin (my wife) on a plane. I’d go to Tuscany for a six-month Italian cooking course, and I’d get a better apartment in Phnom Penh. And I’d write all the time.

Off the “me” front, I’d start two combination schools/shelters for street kids, one each in Thailand and Cambodia. Give the kids a clean place to sleep, language and technical skills, and some sort of curriculum that honors creativity. And the day the bloated, death-drinking swine who rule Burma are overthrown, I’d open two more, in Rangoon and Mandalay.

Too much of this kind of thing is left to NGOs who spend more money raising money than they do helping kids. You see them all over Southeast Asia, the Lords of Poverty living in their villas and driving their Lexus SUVs. I’d fund the children’s centers one hundred percent and make sure that administrative costs never represent more than about ten percent of what’s actually spent on the kids.

And if I had a second billion, I’d pay poor families in rural Thai and Cambodian communities small amounts of money to let their kids go to school rather than working to keep the families’ heads above water. The average annual income in some of these places is less than $1000 a year, so it wouldn’t take much. The real cost would be building and running more centers so the kids didn’t have to leave their families behind.

What are three of your bad habits?

Making snap judgments about people, especially about their intelligence.

Overrating intelligence in general over sweetness of spirit, good humor, and a dozen other important traits.

Overestimating my ability to solve other people’s problems, and other people’s interest in having me try.

What are some snacks you enjoy?

I’m too serious about eating to snack much. My idea of a snack is Thanksgiving.

What were the last five books you read?

LA Outlaws by T. Jefferson Parker

The Devils of Bakersfield by John Shannon

Incinerator by Timothy Hallinan (I’ll be reviewing it soon –wow, it was weird to read it after all this time.)

The Empress by Shan Sa

A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene

What are five jobs you have had?

My first job (when I was thirteen) was as a page in the United States Senate. It didn’t pay much, but there were lots of interesting people around.

My second job was as a bus boy at Denny’s, which some might see as a step down. Me, for example. I lasted six hours. Every time I took a load of dirty dishes back into the kitchen, the cook would be singing a song that went precisely like this: Me and my baby went huckleberry huntin’/She leaned over and I saw somethin’. The one hundred and thirty-eighth time I heard it, I took off my apron, dropped it into the dishwater, and walked out the back door. I never went back for my money.

In college, I sold shoes for much longer than I thought I would because some seriously interesting female humans bought their shoes in that otherwise ratty store, exposing me to a broad cross-section of extremely diverting female feet. I also did a Cyrano de Bergerac routine, writing love notes for Jordie, who owned the store and whose idea of a tender note was (this is a word-for-word quote, because this is the first one I rewrote for him): Deer Heleen, Today I remoudeled the frount of the storr. I’m not sure what effect Jordie wanted this note to have on Helene, who looked to me like she hadn’t smiled since California outlawed capital punishment, but whatever it was, I doubted this note would do the job. I give Jordie everlasting credit for having the nerve to show it to me, which he did because he wasn’t entirely secure about his spelling. I started by fixing the spelling and wound up writing, Dear Helene: It’s all I can do to get through the day because time moves so slowly when you’re not with me. I wrote eight or nine of these, and then Jordie gave me a raise.

Then I was in a band and wrote songs under contract to several companies whose faith in my hitmaking potential was badly misplaced. But I had songs recorded by some very interesting people and a few very dull ones, toured around, and met another bunch of diverting female humans, becoming sort of an expert in short-duration relationships of considerable intensity. And we made an album and I did some soundtrack singing for tone-deaf movie actors.

For years I wrote trash books. It was a perfect arrangement. I thought up a bunch of titles for action series (I can’t legally name them, but they were awful) – things like, oh, I don’t know, a dental-hygiene thriller called The Kill on the Floss. They’d give me a contract, a six-month deadline, and $7500, and I’d go away and spend the money and forget all about the book until the Friday before the Monday when the manuscript was due. Then I’d go out and buy a handful of little white pills that weren’t, strictly speaking, legal, and two gallons of Gallo Hearty Burgundy, plus a ream of paper and a paint can full of white-out. And on Friday afternoon I’d sit down and pretty much stay down.  I’d get up occasionally to go to the bathroom and get the second gallon of wine, but never to eat because the little white pills sent your appetite to Reno for 48 hours, and when I got up for good, around eleven Monday morning, I had another $7500 to look forward to, a Yasser Arafat beard, and 60,000 words that apparently made sense, except that I occasionally renamed characters without knowing I’d done it. Three weeks later, I’d get a call from the editor asking, “Who’s Helene?” And since the only Helene I’ve ever known was Jordie’s girlfriend, I’d have to tell him I had no idea, unless maybe she was that other girl, the one with the bicycle and the pumpkin that the hero doesn’t like at first, and, no, I don’t remember her name, that’s probably why I called her Helene.

What are five places where you have lived?

1. Los Angeles

2. Washington, D.C.

3. New York

4. Bangkok

5. Phnom Penh

And in many, many purely imaginary places.  The nicest things about imaginary places is that you don’t have to go through airports to get to them.

15 Responses to “Auntie Meme”

  1. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Happy Birthday! I wanna hear more about being a page in the senate. The busboy job — too funny! And the Shoe Salesman-Ghostwriter? I could see that. I sensed a certain Cyrano-ness about you. LOL!

    OK, here’s a pledge. If I ever wind up with a billion dollars, you’ll be the second person I call to manage my windfall.

    The most important point I gleaned from all this info, is that I suffer from the same fault of assuming I know all and can solve all of someone else’s problems (as I just blogged about yesterday in my post on boundaries). Hey! We could start a club, and invite Lisa to join, too.

    Oh, and who did you tag for the meme? Isn’t that how the whole thing works? (And not to be presumptious, but I’m exempt because I pointed it out to you.)

  2. Dana King Says:

    I’m sure you had Simeon Grist involved in a murder at some point. Grist for the kill, so to speak.

  3. Lisa Kenney Says:

    Happy Birthday!!!

    Well, this has certainly been enlightening.

    I am continually surprised (although I shouldn’t be) at some of the things you and Scott have in common. In particular, “met another bunch of diverting female humans, becoming sort of an expert in short-duration relationships of considerable intensity”, caught my eye. The biggest generational difference in the six year age gap between Scott and me is his nostalgia for the free and easy seventies 🙂

    So now I know more about how “trash books” come to be. Your description of how they’re written explains everything!

    Love the Cyrano de Bergerac part of the story too.

    Veeerry interesting!

  4. J.B. Thompson Says:

    It’s really too bad I didn’t have all this information in hand BEFORE I did our interview, Tim – oh boy could I have asked some seriously delving questions then … 😉

  5. J.B. Thompson Says:

    Oh, and happy birthday!!!

  6. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    I knew this was going to be too revealing (and too long, too).

    J.B., this is material I skilfully kept under the rug until the interview was over, a tactic I’ve learned from professional politicians.

    Lisa, at least Scott and I are candid about our past. Does that get us any points? Anyway, why else does any male go into rock and roll? Self-expression? To make a difference? Puh-leeeze. It’s about backstage passes, an ambiguous phrase if there ever was one.

    Dana, I’ll forgive you that pun because mine was worse. The Kill on the Floss, indeed. And no matter how hard I try, I can’t think of another one. But at least I’ve gotten some use at last out of the book I hated most in high school.

    And Cynthia, (a) I forgot all about tagging and will have to do it; (b) isn’t it amazing how many people fail to recognized that you/Lisa/I could solve all their problems, (c) I do not have a single copy of any of those awful books, and there were a lot of them, and (d) as soon as you land that billion, have your people call my people.

    Thanks, everyone. No more revelations.

  7. Andrea Mitchell Says:

    I’ll add my birthday wishes to the general throng – Happy Birthday!

  8. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Thanks for all the birthday wishes. Where are the presents?

  9. bets Says:

    Overrating intelligence in general over sweetness of spirit, good humor, and a dozen other important traits.

    Wow, you just intimidated the hell out of me.

    But happy birthday anyway!!

    Your present is that the first five chapters of your book taught me more about writing than I’ve learned in a while (specifically in the one-line descriptions of characters category). : )

    Also, I read it at the pool in a bikini. And I showed off your signature shamelessly. Hey, I’m doing my best to sell the thing for you.

  10. Larissa Says:

    You remind me of Tim O’Brien. I keep expecting you to say “all of this is true” and then launch into one of the stories or descriptions with the distinct spin you put on things. I dig it. (c: Thanks for a really interesting response to a pretty cool meme.

  11. usman Says:

    Happy Birthday Tim.
    I thought it was only my wife who reminds me, I’m supposed to give presents on her Birthday. I’ll add you to the list.

  12. Mitch Says:

    Very interesting stuff Tim! I had no idea that you led a rock star life before getting more heavily into writing. What band did you play for, and did you write songs for anyone worth mentioning?

    Also, that gig you had writing trash books doesn’t sound half bad! I’d love to get into that somehow, at least until I could get something “not-trashy” published. Plus I think it would be a challenge to keep coming up with ideas for books in short amounts of time.

  13. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Everybody —

    Been running around to bookstores and not having much time online, so sorry for the delay.

    First, JB’s interview with me is here. I know I plugged it before, but you should visit his site and look at all the other great stuff.

    Bets — I’ve always overrated intelligence and underrated more heart-centered qualities, and it’s something I REALLY have to look out for in my writing. I’m glad you’re enjoying the book, and as far as I know you’re the only person who’s ever read it in a bikini. I have a feeling it’s not my signature that people are looking at.

    Larissa — Tim O’Brien is on my shortlist for world’s coolest writer, so thanks a lot for that. The funny thing about the meme is that I’d forgotten almost everything in it, and it all came back as I started to write. I’d like to take credit for the distinctive spin, but everything I wrote actually happened.

    Usman — If your wife has to remind you to give presents on birthdays, you’re already toast. In my family, I’m the one who makes a big deal about birthdays and my wife pretty much ignores them, which is odd because she knows and can recite the birthday of practically everyone she’s ever met. So she makes a mental note, memorizes, it, and then chooses not to observe it.

    Mitch — I was in a band called The Pleasure Fair that made one album and released four singles and then morphed, minus me, unfortunately, into a much better-known band named Bread. You can look at the cover of the Pleasure Fair album, on the unlikely possibility that your interest extends that far, by going here and scrolling down. I’m the male babe on the right. Other people who recorded my stuff included a couple of members of the old folk trio the Limeliters, Pat Boone (!), the Tijuana Brass, and Bread, although it’s been about 20 years since I saw any money from that, which is something I’ve got to look into one day. There’s probably a potload sitting someplace.

    Those hackwork books are over now — there used to be absolutely endless series about combination private eye/action heroes with names like Nick and Biff, and they were “written” by someone like Don Pendleton (a “real” name used on the cover of a series I didn’t write) who was actually a far-flung community of hacks whose goal was to crank out a couple of potboilers per year to keep themselves in kidney beans while they wrote the Great American Etcetera. I also wrote trash for teens, published in paperback by the people behind magazines like FAVE and TIGER BEAT.

    And as much as I knock those assignments, and as loaded as I was (usually) when I wrote them, I learned an enormous amount from them. And Helene or no Helene, I wrote them all the best I could, given the demands of the series and the genre. I honestly believe that it’s impossible not to learn while writing as long as you’re actually trying to make it work for the reader.

  14. Stefan Says:

    This is absolutely killer, Tim, esp the part about setting up centers in Thailand and Cambodia. In the real world, you’d have to set up the infrastructure to ensure that the staffing/funding went as per your wishes, and this would be a bigger ordeal than I think either of this can imagine. But, as something that springs to the front of your mind, it shines with intense light. Beautiful.

    Also loved your job descrips. The trashbook-writing gig…my *other* friend Tim H, who lives in Manhattan, had that gig for awhile, writing airport-rack-size paperbooks about rock bands. He did one on AC/DC, and called me in a frenzy…I was living in Minneapolis and the legal dept for Ballantine or whoever would not approve his text without some documentary evidence. So i got in my car and drove to the Peters Brothers compound in some frozen hellhole suburb, posed as a “concerned relative” and bought all their material related to rock music and Satan-worship (including of course the headbangin’ Aussie moshpit maniacs of the tome). Couriered it all to Tim in NYC and got a special credit as “eleventh-hour religious research assistant” in the book.

    If I think about it, if I had to list some of my jobs, that’d make the cut.

    s

    PS: Happy Birthday!!

  15. M. Y. Aguayo Says:

    Gee….what a “deja vue” experience I had reading the site on “Bread”. So many forgotten details came thundering into my
    webby mind. Even having lived an experience doesn’t guarantee a memory.

    What a joy it was to get some of it back. You are -wonderfully- a sharing, intelligent
    source of information and humor. Thank you.

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