THRILLVILLE: Will "the Thrill" Viharo's weird, wild world of Pulp Fiction, B Movies, & the Lounge Lizard Lifestyle.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Story Behind "Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me"

As recently reported, my first published novel Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me - currently in development as a film to star and be directed by Christian Slater - is back in print after being OOP for many years. The revised, definitive edition of LSATVFM, published by Oregon's premiere pulp fiction press, Gutter Books, is now on sale - for cheap! Kindle edition here, and the print edition here. First copies will be available at the official book launch party on July 27, 6-10pm, at 50 Mason Social House in San Francisco, with live music by one of Vic Valentine, Private Eye's favorite bands (and mine), The Aqua-Velvets! More events will follow, including a book signing and special screening of True Romance at The New Parkway on Thursday, September 26. On top of all that, an all-new Vic Valentine vignette, called "Space Needle Fix," is being published later this summer in Bachelor Pad Magazine's all-nude annual Nightcap Edition, a follow-up to last year's short story "Private Dick, Public Enemy," both installments in the sixth Vic Valentine novel-in-progress, Hard-Boiled Heart. Stay tuned for updates.

Below is the complete story behind this particular novel (along with a summation of my literary career in general, at least so far), published as the introduction to the "definitive edition." Dig:

THE PULP PACK: With fellow word-slingers Tom Pitts (Piggyback, left) and my Gutter books editor Joe Clifford (Junkie Love, Wake the Undertaker), Green Apple Books, San Francisco,  July 2013

by Will Viharo

I first wrote this novel on an old school portable typewriter, rat-a-tat-tat style, in the tiny kitchen of my lonesome little Berkeley studio back in the spring of 1993. I was 30 years old. At that point it was my eighth full-length book – and I was still unpublished, at least as a novelist. However, this was during my two year courtship by famous New York editor Judith Regan, already a rising celebrity in her own right. An author I'd interviewed, Wally Lamb (She's Come Undone), had sent her one of my manuscripts, Chumpy Walnut, my very first effort, completed at age 19 (I've been on my own and writing steadily since age 16, raised mostly in South Jersey by a stepmother with whom I did not get along). Chumpy is a Runyonesque fable about a guy only a foot tall, featuring my own crude, Thurber-ish illustrations, which I finally self-published in 2010. I still remember the night I came home from my job as a delivery driver for the ACCMA Blood Bank and heard Regan's astonishing message on my answering machine. She was taken with my literary “voice” and “promised” to publish “something” by me. This was like Elvis getting the call from Col. Tom Parker. After over a decade of dejection, I was more than ready for my ship to finally come in.
WILD AT HEART: Note from one of my favorite authors, Barry Gifford 
With Barry Gifford at a screening of Perdita Durango at The New Parkway, 7/18/13
Creatively motivated by this improbable prospect, I almost immediately began work on a modern film-noirish piece of fiction inspired by some of my pathetic experiences at my workplace, the hospital blood-delivery gig being the latest in an epic series of odd-jobs I took to support myself while following that seemingly impossible literary dream. The title, Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, popped up accidentally (or at least incidentally) during a phone conversation with my father, now-retired actor/filmmaker/artist Robert Viharo, wherein I was lamenting my latest, largely self-imposed amorous atrocity. Like my protagonist, Vic Valentine, I was constantly pursuing unattainable women, but given my critical lack of self-esteem, vehicular mobility, formal education, social skills, and disposable income for dating, they all seemed pretty much unattainable at the time. (I actually did “The Date That Never Was,” with similar results – you'll see.) I think Pop was suggesting I watch a certain film he enjoyed that of a romantic nature, and I just automatically retorted, “I don't think so. Love stories are too violent for me.” And he laughed and said, “That's the title of your next novel!”

THANKS FOR THE INSPIRATION: Florida's famous crime novelist/satirist Carl Hiaasen, whose work partly influenced my own outrageously sexy, violent saga Down a Dark Alley; at Rakestraw Books, Danville, CA, July 2013
Suffice to say, Judith Regan did not come through for me, despite her initial enthusiasm. Cutting to the chase, she unceremoniously dumped me by farming out my stuff to an assistant who obviously had no idea who the hell I was, after requesting I write a memoir (!), which I completed and submitted, an epistolary autobiography called Graffiti in the Rubber Room: Writing For My Sanity, composed of imaginary letters to people in my life, including my own fictional characters, like Chumpy Walnut, along with various relatives and love interests. Several were addressed to my late mother, a virtual stranger to me, named Charlotte Glenn, formerly Miss Houston 1960 and an aspiring actress until she went to New York City with my father circa 1962 and got knocked up with yours truly, biologically coinciding with the onset of her schizophrenia, which eventually proved fatal, after enduring the most tragic life I've ever witnessed second hand. She is the inspiration for Vic's own mother, though the similarities are vague outside of the mental illness. As always, this book was cheapjack self-therapy. But with Judith Regan egging me on, I was determined to appeal directly to the mainstream tastes of the general public by concocting an easily promoted and digested product. I was always a fan of crime fiction, and had just completed a straight-up pulp piece called Down a Dark Alley that was also sitting idly on Regan's desk, so I decided to meld genres and create something both uniquely personal but also commercially viable. Apparently, it wasn't enough. As widely reported in the mass media, Regan left behind Simon & Schuster (and me) to start her own imprint at Harper Collins, then went on to her own glory, publishing the likes of Howard Stern and hosting her own TV show until she decided to publish O.J. Simpson's “confession,” which ended her career as a publisher. I'm still going as a writer, though.

WILL POWER: Writing novels on my little portable typewriter in my Berkeley studio apartment, circa 1993

By the time of this heartbreaking, soul-shattering, disillusioning disappointment, convinced I was way down the road to success, I had already written four successive sequels to Love Stories: Fate Is My Pimp, Romance Takes A Rain Check, I Lost My Heart in Hollywood, and Diary of a Dick, in addition to the “commissioned” memoir, working late into the night after returning from my depressing blood bank shifts, determined to take full advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But just as it was pulling into port, my ship suddenly backed up and left without me, leaving me stranded on the dock, staring sadly at the barren horizon ever since. Until now, that is.

WILD CARD: the original cover by Tim Racer, 2005
Then, circa 1994, a pair of old friends, who will go unnamed here for personal reasons, approached me with an offer to publish Love Stories under their brand new venture, Wild Card Press. They procured fantastic cover art by professional graphic designer Tim Racer, and promised to eventually publish the entire series. This would be their first book. As it turned out, it was also their last.

THE MIDNIGHT LOUNGE: Will the Thrill and Monica Tiki Goddess, 1998
Soon after the book was published in December 1995, these enterprising entrepreneurs decided to quickly move on to what was destined to become their signature achievement: the Parkway Speakeasy Theater, an extremely popular Oakland institution and Bay Area-wide destination due to its unique format as a community-oriented movie theater offering eclectic programming, funky sofas and comfy seating, a wide-ranging food menu including beer and wine, and many other attractions which secured its place as an iconic local legend. Unfortunately, due to various factors both internal and external, Speakeasy Theaters (including the Parkway's new sister theater in El Cerrito) abruptly folded in 2009, taking Wild Card Press and my alternate “career” down with it. Love Stories was now officially out of print, though to be honest, the couple pretty much abandoned their small press after the Parkway took off, never publishing the sequels or any other book for that matter, and I was left to promote the book myself – but with a public platform they provided.

WELCOME TO THRILLVILLE: Poster art by Rich Black
During a particularly tough time in my life, circa 1997, following the breakup of my first so-called “marriage,” the Parkway owners offered me employment at the theater, first as a ticket taker and editor of their monthly newsletter/schedule, then eventually as full time programmer/publicist. It was the Speakeasy CEO's suggestion that I host and produce my own weekly midnight movie show, with the idea that if I became a locally known “personality,” that would generate interest in our book. I caught that ball and ran it down the field and scored, inventing a “lounge lizard” doppelganger I dubbed “Will the Thrill” (my nickname back at the blood bank), initially calling the gig “The Midnight Lounge.” Though it never translated to literary success, my tenure as host/programmer/producer of the long-running “cult movie cabaret” Thrillville, its eventual moniker, ironically turned out to be my ticket to localized “fame,” if not fortune. It ran in various forms and time slots for the duration of the Parkway Speakeasy Theater's operation, 1997-2009, as well as subsequent independently booked “road shows” around the Bay and beyond before and after it closed.

LONELY NO MORE: Cal-Neva Resort, North Lake Tahoe, May 31, 2001

I met my beautiful wife and best friend, actress/educator Monica Cortes, at my midnight screening of Jailhouse Rock on May 31, 1997. She showed me her Elvis/Navajo tattoo on her upper right hip. Wow. Since I was now divorced from my first “lovely assistant,” I was selecting comely female audience members to spin the big wheel on stage and help me give out prizes, auditioning new lovely assistants – as well as potential wives. I didn't have the guts to ask Monica out that night, but I happened to run into her again at an Elvis birthday party I was hosting at the Ivy Room in Albany, CA on January 8, 1998. The rest is history. Monica – AKA “The Tiki Goddess”- got both gigs, and we were married on May 31, 2001, at Frank Sinatra's old joint, the Cal-Neva Lodge in North Lake Tahoe, with our friend Robert Ensler presiding over the ceremony as “Dean Martin,” and a mariachi band performing Sinatra and Elvis tunes. My lifelong loneliness – the major impetus for this and most of my novels – had come to an end. But there are always other forms of artistic inspiration – healthier ones, too.

TRUE BROMANCE: Christian and me, Miami, June 2012

Something else magical and momentous with lingering impact and life-altering ramifications also happened in 2001, months before our marriage: Wild Card Press received a letter from representatives of famous actor Christian Slater, who had decided to option the book for a film! I received a check from his lawyer almost annually for the next 11 years, even after Wild Card Press went out of business, until 2012, when Christian contacted me directly, offering to bring me out to his adopted hometown of Miami to work on his adaptation, which was extremely faithful to the source material.

BOGARTING: on The African Queen with Christian, Key Largo, June 2012

Christian finally told me how he had come upon the book, seemingly against all possible odds: he had randomly picked it up while browsing the shelves at Dutton's Books in Brentwood, Los Angeles, which my father's wife managed, and she had made a point of stocking a few copies of Love Stories. Christian explained to me how he instantly related to the tormented voice of the main character and his unfortunate yet oddly heroic experiences, which still stuns me. Dig: shortly after finishing Love Stories in 1993, I saw the late Tony Scott's cult classic True Romance, which turned out to be one of Christians' signature roles, and I thought it had been made just for me. The references all resonated with my own sensibilities and tastes, and Christian's character, Clarence Worley, was like an idealized version of me (and it actually was an idealized version of my fellow former video store clerk/female foot fetishist, screenwriter Quentin Tarantino). Ironically, that's exactly how Christian responded to my obscure little similarly titled novel, he told me. Needless to say, we hit it off right away after finally meeting in person (“a true bromance,” as my wife called it). Christian wanted to relocate the action from the Bay Area and Los Angeles to South Florida, so he graciously flew me out first class, put me up in a Miami Beach luxury hotel, and we went about location scouting. He took me deep sea fishing off the coast of Miami where we smoked Cuban cigars and caught (then threw back) a rare Cuban night shark, and later we rode the actual African Queen down an estuary in Key Largo. How Bogey can you get? When I returned home, burning with vindication, I immediately “overwrote” his script, transferring the settings with ease, since Miami's Art Deco and midcentury modern architecture suited Vic's retro world even more accurately than the Victorian environs of San Francisco. It was like a spiritual and virtual rebirth of the book – and me, as a professional author.

Our updated script and storyboards (by this edition's amazingly talented cover artist, Matt Brown) are currently in circulation as of this writing. Forget Judith Regan. THIS was, and is, the million-to-one shot I had been waiting for all my life. My ship is back on the horizon and steaming towards port.

ALOHA: drinking the official "Vic Valentine" cocktail, available exclusively at Forbidden Island

Now to briefly back track and then come full circle:

I kept my Thrillville gig going for a while in a downsized version called “Forbidden Thrills,” a monthly movie night at Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge in Alameda CA, where I worked as a bouncer for several years after the Parkway closed, and where I met Scott Fulks, who later commissioned me to write our sci-fi epic It Came From Hangar 18 after reading several of my self-published pulp novels (including the four Vic Valentine sequels, Chumpy Walnut, Down a Dark AlleyLavender Blonde, and my “bizarro” novella, Freaks That Carry Your Luggage Up to the Room). Moreover, Forbidden Island now features the official “Vic Valentine” cocktail, created by ace bartender Susan Eggett – and thanks to proprietor Michael Thanos for putting it on the menu! Currently I program but do not host a “franchised” film series dubbed “Thrillville Theater” at The New Parkway in Uptown Oakland, miraculously reopened by a whole new crew. As far as I'm concerned, “Thrillville” nowadays is the online pimp headquarters for my own pulp fiction, not just other peoples' B movies.

DEEP TROUBLE: Real life professional mermaid MeduSirena Marina in a promo shot for my exploitation noir,
A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge

When I suddenly lost my career as a film programmer, I returned to my first true love, writing, completing and self-publishing a very dark, surrealistic pulp novel I'd started then abandoned once the Parkway opened, called A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge, now informed by my experiences during my twelve year hiatus from fiction. Four years later, up-and-coming pulp author and established Gutter Books editor Joe Clifford contacted me via Facebook. We'd already been in steady communication since accidentally discovering we shared the same literary idols (Holden Caulfield, Philip Marlowe, and Batman), and he had been following progress on the Love Stories movie. As soon as I posted a status report publicly announcing I was planning to reprint Love Stories myself, Joe immediately pounced on the opportunity, offering me a contract without even having read the out-of-print book, since used copies were going for hundreds of dollars on Amazon. But he had read and immensely enjoyed Mermaid, and Christian's film option had validated its value as a literary property, so it was a somewhat informed decision, but still an educated dice roll. And now, here we are.

MERMAID SIGHTING: Forbes Island, San Francisco, May 31, 2013

This book is a time capsule of a particularly colorful period in modern hipster history, within which several earlier eras resonate and echo due to Vic's (and “Will the Thrill's”) nostalgic obsessions. As a freelance journalist on these particular subjects, my knowledge of classic cult cinema, lounge music, and particularly the local burlesque/surf/swing scenes increased rapidly during my tenure as “Will the Thrill.” Hence, I've made some rather stylistically significant if substance-wise superficial “adjustments” to the text, mostly cosmetic, but all strategic in terms of overall mood, which for me is an essential ingredient to any piece of literature, art, film, or music. The characters and storyline remain almost entirely intact, but I've inserted a little extra exposition here and there, some flesh-out characterization, and a number of retroactively informed pop cultural references which artfully authenticate the context.

CHEERS: Toasting 12 years of beautiful marital bliss, Forbes Island, San Francisco, 5/31/13

Also, benefitted by two decades worth of maturity, while preparing and retyping the text for republication (since I didn't have access to the original Wild Card files), I was much more cognizant of Vic's relatively innocuous sexism and misguided misogyny than while actually writing his bitter, generalized observations about the opposite sex. It all came from a place of intense loneliness, for both character and author. So while I haven't gone back and politically corrected or rationalized any of these sometimes cringe-inducing comments, I have made Vic (and those around him, particularly his confidant, Doc) slightly more aware of their innate wrongness. Doesn't make them apologetic, though. These characters are slaves and victims of their own flawed human natures, as are we all. That, in my view, is what makes them so relatable.

SEATTLEITE: Cheers from my future home office.

As I write this, I've just turned 50 years old, having celebrated with dinner in Seattle's Space Needle, which for me represents a beacon from my own future. The film is deep in the development stage, with promising prospects. The republication of Love Stories Are Too Violent marks both a personal and professional milestone. Finally, it is something in which I can take great pride, given its professional presentation and distribution. This is more of a re-introduction than an introduction. This time, though, our collective efforts got it just right.

So to sum up in cinematic parlance, this is basically my “Director's Cut.” Dig.

Cheers, Will “the Thrill” Viharo
Alameda, CA
Spring 2013