Out of the Past

February 25th, 2012

Memory is unreliable.  Or maybe it’s just my memory that’s unreliable.

Back in 1995, I wrote the sixth and (probably) final Simeon Grist mystery, The Bone Polisher.  It did not win me a contract for three more, and I turned my back on it without a lot of fondness.

I just didn’t like it very much.  It dealt with a murder in the gay community in West Hollywood, and while I knew, liked, and worked with lots of gay people, I was very uncertain about my ability to present the community accurately.  That uneasiness lifted somewhat about a third of the way into the book when a 19-year-old kid who’s just come out wants to know whether it’ll change the way Simeon thinks about him, and Simeon says, ” . . . you know, it’s just one thing about you. Whether you like guys or girls or Eskimos or Arabian horses.  It’s just one thing out of thousands, like who you voted for or whether you shave before you shower or after.  It doesn’t have much to do with who you are.”

The kid says, “It does if you can’t admit it.”

But that didn’t make it any easier to get to the end of the story.  And this was still the time of AIDS, and I was trying to write about that, too.  Kind of a tall order.

I wrote the book because I was arrested for drunk driving. As part of my penalty, the judge sentenced me to several months in Alcoholics Anonymous.  This curdled my blood. When I thought about Alcoholics Anonymous, I imagined dingy rooms with curling linoleum floors in which a bunch of unshaven, toothless men in raincoats chain-smoked and gummed uninteresting confessions at each other. Sort of like film noir, but eleven hours long and without a plot.

But that was not to be. I lived above the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, and my local meeting was in a church at Fountain and Fairfax. When I walked into that room for the first time, I was expecting a budget production of “The Lower Depths,” but what I got was more like the moment in “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy opens the door to reveal that Oz is in color.

The room contained the best-looking group of men I’d ever seen, although some of them were painfully thin. It soon became apparent that quite a few of them were there because they were determined to die sober, and others had come so they could live their last year or so in clarity. I saw more grace and courage in that first hour than I’d ever seen in such a concentrated period in my entire life.

And I both cried and laughed myself silly, in that meeting and the meetings that followed. I made dozens of friends. I learned that I was, in fact, an alcoholic, and that I was in good company. I’ve never had a drink since, and it saddens me to know that so many of the guys who helped me are gone now.

So I wrote the book, and it was difficult to write, and it didn’t get me another contract, and while some of the reviews were sensational, some were very critical. Publisher’s Weekly excoriated me for daring to make any jokes at all: “Uncertain sexual orientation and self-loathing,” the critic wrote, “are hard matters to successfully crack wise over.”

To cut a very long story short, when I decided to put the Simeon books online, I hesitated with The Bone Polisher.  I wasn’t going to do it at all, because I remembered it as being kind of dreary and over-earnest and . . . well, boring. But after the other five went up, Everett Kaser, may he live long and prosper, scanned a copy and sent me the scan, and I figured what the hell and forwarded it to Kimberly Hitchens to convert into ebook format, and then I read it on my little reader, and I loved it.

It may be the best book in the series.  There are things in it I’m not certain I could write now, which is kind of a two-edged sword.  I’m far enough away from it — seventeen years later —  that I’d forgotten it has a twist ending, and when Simeon goes into someone’s house in the last chapter, I actually asked myself, “What the hell is this?” So I can say without feeling like I’m praising my own writing that I genuinely like this book.

I’m even proud of it.  I feel like the father of a large family whose least-favorite child just received the Nobel Prize.

Well, no, I don’t.  But it’s really nice to like this book.

Oh, yes, and it’s up on Amazon right now, and thanks to Lil for the reminder.  (Only Amazon for now — I’m going to try to see whether their Kindle Select Program will help me sell any.)  And, thanks to Everett for reminding me I might want to put up the URL for the book on Amazon.  It’s here.

18 Responses to “Out of the Past”

  1. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    You’ve seen a lot, Tim, haven’t you? When does “The Bone Polisher” go up on Amazon? I just checked and it isn’t there yet. You will let us know, right? Th Fear Artist is up for pre-order. That, too, is exciting.

  2. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    It’s up now, Lil — this shows how smart I actually am. The point of this post was to say the book is now on Amazon, and I left that out.

    Putting it in now.

  3. EverettK Says:

    A nice, honest, touching blog, Tim, thanks! And as a reader, I enjoyed the book a great deal!

    Re: painful experiences, it’s the sum total of ALL of our experiences, good and bad, that makes us who we are. Without them, we’d be someone entirely different. Better or worse? Who knows? But certainly different. And I’m not willing to wish away ANY of the things I’ve experienced in life. Who needs the bad side of “It’s A Wonderful Life?”

    Re: scanning The Bone Polisher. I was happy to help in some small way, and I’m glad if it encouraged you to finish getting the Simeon Opus all on line. I really grit my teeth in anger when I read how this artist or that writer or some creative person burned all the works and papers they didn’t like, before they died, because they wanted to control what was left behind for society to know about them, to think about them. It’s certainly their right, but I think it’s mostly selfish, and none of us can control what others are going to think of us anyway. Not that that’s what you were trying to do by not releasing an ebook version of Bone Polisher, since it’s out there in paper. But your blog just made me think about this subject.

    And lovely cover, by the way!

    Oh… and where’s the link to the book on Amazon? Did you lose your Marketing Hat again, Tim?

    The Bone Polisher – Amazon

  4. Mike Schimmer Says:

    I checked Amazon, it’s $2.99 for purchase. Amazon Prime users can borrow the book for free. I’ve already purchased–had to complete the collection.

  5. Rachel Brady Says:

    Once again, proud of you and impressed, and only partially because of the book.

  6. Julie Evelsizer Says:

    Well, I, for one, am about to order it.

  7. Gary Says:

    Those of us who’ve never had to battle a demon as big as alcoholism just sit back in awe at what you’ve done with your life, Tim.

    I wish there was a way of saying this without a cliche. Sadly there isn’t, but I’ll say it anyway: I’m proud and honored to have you as a friend.

    And well done, Everett!

  8. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    Thank you for the link, Everett. I swear I checked under Tim’s name and didn’t see it. But now I did, and it is on my kindle.

  9. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Folks, and thanks for the great response.

    Lil and Everett, thanks for pointing out what a doleful marketer I am, forgetting to say the book was online and then not giving the URL. This has been an immensely busy couple of weeks, and I’m sort of dragging myself from task to task.

    And thanks again, Everett, for the wonderful Amazon review. We’ve actually sold a bunch of books in the first eight hours it’s been up, and you helped with that.

    Mike, thanks for buying it. Every copy counts.

    Rachel, praise from such a good writer is always more than welcome.

    Julie, hope you like it, and thanks for continuing to come around.

    Gary, that’s so nice of you. I was a good drunk, by which I mean I got loose and funny, and also wrote very well when under the influence. And quitting wasn’t actually that difficult, once I learned how to go to sleep instead of passing out. It’s approximately 23,876 times easier to stop drinking than it is to stop smoking. I’ve only gotten drunk once since, and that was off two bites of a bourbon-saturated birthday cake in Thailand about ten years after I quit. I have to admit, that was fun.

  10. Ruth Sparks Says:

    I kept watching and waiting for a Tim Blog and was rewarded by your poignant commentary, THANKS. You forgot to mention your interview on MCTV Coast Currents #15 which is a big hit in Mendocino and Fort Bragg (website accessible). Your fans ever widen (Ah, you say, they are eating too much good food.)

  11. Sharai Says:

    Ruth, are you sure it’s #15? This starts off with someone else.

  12. Gary Says:


  13. Bonnie Says:

    Can’t wait to read this one. Suffering from end-of-the-month syndrome, but tomorrow is payday, and then I’ll have the lucky choice of picking between Tim’s newst oldie and Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’ newest Bill Slider. Ah, to have such choices!

  14. Sharai Smith Says:

    Thanks so much Ruth & Gary for pointing the way to this interview.

    Tim, I love hearing you talk about Poke and his family. You speak of them like they are people we would find in your family photo album.

    On my way out now to find some Thai food!

  15. Larissa Says:

    Good to hear that after some perspective you were able to see the work for what it is! I’ve been playing Tim’s Blog Catch-Up. Just wanted to drop in and say hi (c: Glad to hear that things are moving right along. Also, I’m jealous of your jogging-I’m training for a 5k right now, which should be fun, and we’re working up mileage we go…I’m aiming to not screw up my IT band this time around hehe. Happy writing!

  16. Bonnie Says:

    Having finished Bone Polisher last night (thanks to Tim for shooting me a copy), I have to reassure him that, though there’s a lot of good stuff in it, the writer of Queen of Patpong or, for that matter, Nail through the Heart, has come a LONG way. Man with no Time is still my favorite of the Simeons, and I think one reason is what I can only call the choreography that is a foreshadowing of some of Poke’s more ingeneous (and complexly staged) solutions to neutralizing the bad guys (e.g. room full of women literally laundering money). But there are a million little elements in the use of language that show an increase in depth and subtlety in the intervening years, not to mention characterization: relationships have more substance and credibility in the Pokes than in the Simeons.

    So, Tim, in my opinion, while anyone might have been proud and happy to rest on his laurels after producing the Simeon books, in Poke you have risen to a completely different and much higher level. Long may that climb continue! 🙂

  17. Philip Coggan Says:

    What can I say? You’ve been so honest here, and you write so well, and I’ll buy the book.

    And yes, I like the cover.

  18. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Well, I’m back after a period of trying to find my way through the dread middle of my current book, and you are all models of gentility and consideration. It’s enough to make me feel guilty.

    Philip, thanks for the nice words and for voting with your pocketbook or, I suppose, wallet. Was there any problem buying it in Oz?

    Riss, so nice to hear from you again, and good luck with the 5K. I’m down 22 pounds as of a week ago and averaging 3-4 miles daily, and I mean daily — I think I’ve missed only four days since I started the program. Run carefully — injuries are zero fun.

    Sharai, Ruth, and Gary — I cannot STAND to see myself on camera — I can see my mind searching frantically for an ending to the sentence I’ve launched myself into, plus I look older than the redwoods. I would have been more forthcoming about finding the interview if I weren’t so vain.

    But I do thank Ruth for setting up the interview and all the other amazing events in Ft. Bragg/Mendocino, and thanks to Sharai for being so flattering about me on camera.

    Tomorrow, Robb takes on Vietnam, and probably most of you.

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