Monday, August 3, 2015


I was re-reading Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book to prepare myself for the escalating political weirdness that’s already kicked in as we approach the election year, when I came to the section on calling in to radio talk shows, and it came back to me: the time I hijacked a radio talk show in the name of self-promotion/guerrilla marketing/whateverthefuck . . .

It wasn’t completely for the hell of it. It was 1982. And I had my first published short story in Amazing Stories, making me high in a way I had never experienced. See? I really am a writer, not just some maladjusted collector of rejection slips!

An irresistible urge to tell the world had overtaken me. And this was before the Internet. I quickly learned that telling random strangers was next to useless – they either didn’t understand or got confused: “What? You mean somebody actually writes the stuff in magazines?

If only I could gain access to a legitimate media outlet that could convey the message . . .

Fortunately, there was program called Hour 25.

It was a different world back then. I need to explain a few things. Hour 25 was a talk show devoted to science fiction. Such things were not the usual fare on radio at that time. It was a creature of KPFK, part of the Pacifica Radio Network, which came out of the anti-war movements of the fifties. This was non-commercial, listener-sponsored radio. I discovered it way back when I started high school, while Nixon was in the White House and the war was still going on in Vietnam.

What a difference from the commercial stations! Almost as different as science fiction was from regular fiction. Free Speech Radio they called it. A doorway to alternate universes.

KPFK and Hour 25 were important in my development as a writer. KPFK gave me access to the counterculture and other weirdness; it was considered an “underground” station. Hour 25 provided incredible coverage of science fiction – an excellent education. Writers were interviewed, and when they opened up the phones, especially when someone like Harlan Ellison was on, and they had done the “sensitive language disclaimer” that allowed the use of dirty words, you were in for anarchic, freeform radio.

You younger folks should understand that sci-fi wasn't all slick franchises brought to you by respected corporations and designed for a global mass market the way it is today. This kind of literature – and media – was considered disreputable, barely a step above pornography. It was something sleazy that slithered out of the fringes of society, and the authorities weren’t sure if it should be legal.

Sigh – I kinda miss that . . .

It would been natural for a newly published writer to grab some air time and commit self-promotion with extreme prejudice.

But I didn’t. At least, not at first.

This was back in my youth. I wasn’t the jaded, confident sophisticate that I am now. I was a shy, quiet young intellectual – I believe they call them “nerds” these days – who had spent most of the last decade neglecting his social skills while honing his writing and drawing skills. And back in those days, the electronic media was intimidating.

I thought about it, put it off. Soon that issue of Amazing was off the stands, and I for the first time experienced the let-down that comes from seeing your story vanish from the market.

Some people thought that story, “The Rape of Things to Come” was great. It was a reaction to the predominate all-white nature of science fiction and the space activisim movements of the time. I was groping for what we now call Afrofuturism. It was a distortion of the world as I saw it as a young Chicano living on the edge of civilization. It could still be considered offensive, especially if you don't have a warped sense of humor.

Some people got it. There were some positive responses. Someone even recommended it for the Nebula.

Then there was a letter in Amazing that thought it was utter garbage and I that should be writing for Hustler instead.

I was expecting somebody to trash me, but it did hurt. And I was desperate to talk to someone about it.

That week Norman Spinrad was going to be on Hour 25.

Inspiration hit me. I could call in and ask Norman Spinrad's advice. It wouldn't help with the sales of that issue of Amazing, but I could let the Group Mind (the show's audience) know that I existed as a writer.

I braced myself, and nervously called when they opened the phones. I probably talked too fast, but I did mention my story, Amazing Stories under Elinor Mavor's editorship, and I asked what I should do in my situation.

Norman reminded me that Hustler paid better than Amazing.

Mike Hodel, advised me not to respond to such criticism, and said, “You never know what's waiting out there,” before going on to the next caller.

It may not have improved my career that night, but I put myself on the road to becoming a guy who gives interviews with alarming regularity. Some will be online soon. I'll let you know when.

I still tend to talk too fast, but I'm getting better.

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