Fiction+Opinion=Fact: David Howard of Crackpot Press
pd: So why did you start Crackpot Press (www.crackpotpress.com)? What is Crackpot's mission statement?
DH: Our mission statement? Are those important? Our mission is to quit our days job and dedicate ourselves to a life of bigger dancing and louder cocktails. These philosophies are very similar to the religion I started, The Order of the BD&LC, which is now on the back burner, but your tax-free donation is always welcome.
Crackpot Press is a forum for writers to explore their boundaries while getting the instant gratification of being published. None of the writers write “On Assignment,” except for Daze Strange. Throughout my life, I have heard writers bitch about “the system” so I just figured we should do it ourselves. The best writing in the world is sitting on a hard drive or in a browning spiral notebook. Let’s get it out there.
I read the New Yorker, a magazine that, in general, I enjoy. And there was this fiction piece that was pretentious, arrogant and sucky. I thought to myself:
“My stuff is as pretentious, arrogant and sucky as that. I can do that.”
If I may be so Zen… “Are you really a writer if no one reads it?” Put it out there. I strongly promote taking big chances. Do something odd. What’s the worst that can happen?
You get as many at bats as you want. We still like you. No one hits 1,000 all the time.
pd: Crackpot showcases creative non-fiction ("The Guy Down the Hall is About to Snap"), op/ed columns ("A Fistful of Murrow," "Bolgia 11"), interviews ("The She-Wolf of PNAC"), blog spotlights ("Blog Week in Review"), and ongoing press coverage of the AVP (Association of Volleyball Professionals). Is this a reflection of your own personal
interests, or do you feel that these topics offer universal appeal to your readers?
DH: All of the writers of Crackpot Press have written on assignment at one time or another. Actors are the same way; Shakespeare in the Park today, “Cab Driver #4” tomorrow. But typing up someone else’s idea of “awesome” isn’t much fun. So with the 6 original crackpots (myself, Mike Miller, Greg Mills, Philip Roufail, Daze Strange and Karen Woodward) and the others that come and go, I just tell them, “Write whatever you want. I trust you." Crackpot Press is what we make it. There are no rules. When you are trying to write to an audience you end up with something not always so great. When you write from your nads; that’s when cool stuff happens. Each one of these writers has their own specific interests and that makes our site appeal to wider audience.
For example, I love the AVP. It’s the only bullshit-free sport. The competition is fierce, the athletes are cocktail waitresses, teachers and construction workers in addition to playing. These folks play with nothing but passion and that’s all that really counts, right? I love the sport and as it turns out, so do other people. I wrote about what I liked and people showed up.
pd: As an editor, how do you feel about the phrase, "truth is stranger than fiction?" Do you feel this statement is reflected in the material you publish in Crackpot?
DH: One of my favorite interviews was by Geraldo Rivera in the late 80’s. He was going to do an in-depth interview with the Editor-in-Chief of the Weekly World News. He was going to expose them as frauds. Mike Wallace shit… blow the lid off of it.
The interview went something like this:
GERALDO: You have an article about Elvis being seen in a Burger King in Kalamazoo, Michigan…
GERALDO: AH-HA! THERE IS NO BURGER KING IN KALAMAZOO, MICHIGAN!
EDITOR: Who cares? It’s a good story.
Silence… insert favorite fart noise.
There is no truth, there is no fiction. 80% of what we say is true, the rest just makes it a better story. It’s all in the presentation. Fiction+Opinion=Fact. Some of the stuff on our site is true, some of it isn’t.. who cares? It’s entertaining. On some of our more “serious” pieces we may play with selective facts… who doesn’t?
So truth is strange. Fiction just accents it, makes it better. You can read any great work of fiction… but all the characters are just an extension of the writer…even if they are real people.
pd: Blogs seem to be a favorite staple in Crackpot, particularly, "Nude. Fat. Man." Do you think that confessional rhetoric mixed with journalistic reporting, aka "gonzo journalism" is a fad, or the future of historical record, and if so, why?
DH: Well Gonzo Journalism was invented like 35 years ago and there has only been one guy who did it right. Gonzo Journalism wasn’t a movement, it was just one guy... like Jesus... anyone else who dabbles in it is a poseur. “Creative Non-Fiction” is a better term for the impersonators, like myself.
I don’t think blogs are a fad. It’s going to evolve into something else. There is a law under debate right now that will make a distinction between bloggers and journalists. Bloggers are getting in a twist about it. I think it’s all semantics. The difference between “Journalists” and “Bloggers” is a word. It’s not the same as “Doctor” and “Guy with Ginsu.” Fox News plays with facts and since they are a cable show, they don’t have to be held to the same journalistic standards of NBC or The Los Angeles Times. Bloggers are writers. I think that if the government is going to draw lines on the Internet, they have to draw them everywhere.
But I like bloggers, I think it is a valid, uh, “thing” there are some great ones out there; The Humanity Critic, MoxieGrrrl, Karena, Wonkette and, of course, The Crackpot Press blog they’re all good, but there is something about “Nude. Fat. Man." He’s a real water buffalo type. NFMECD is a very honest look into one man’s life. He hasn’t written for us (or anyone) in a while. Last I heard, he had made Scott McNeally (from Sun Micro Systems) his number one enemy. McNeally is this shriveled testicled nerd who has a lot of money and power. He is the “Boss Hogg” of Silicon Valley. So I am thinking that NFMECD is in a very large trunk somewhere or maybe something went down with his Mom. It’s too bad. I miss that Nude. Fat. Man. To answer the question: Blogs are here to stay. It gives everyone a chance to rock the mic.
pd: Why did you choose the moniker "crackpot" for your publication?
DH: I have always liked that word. It has good hard consonants. The most brilliant people in the world are referred to as crackpots; Edison, Gershwin, Malcolm X, they are all crackpots. Not to be confused with "nutjob." “NutJob” is the foreign exchange student of a “crackpot.” “Nutjobs” are freaky, weirdo self absorbed people like Goebbels, Caligula, Webb, Nader, Bush, these people are simply "nutjobs."
Originally it was going to be called “Crackpot Ideas” but that URL was taken. So I was reading some blogs and the term “Crackpot Press” kept coming up.
I think it’s much better.
pd: What is your biggest challenge as an editor?
DH: Let’s not use that word “editor.” I’m a ringleader and the crappy web software just happens to be on my computer. CPP is a team. All of the writers are responsible for their own editing. Then I get to bitch at them when they forget to include pictures. There was some confusion about this at the get go…
We’ve worked this out.
I am not a grammarian. I write like it’s coming out of my head. I don’t have balloons saying “This is the right place for an absinthe.” I used to have a killer editor, but she broke up with me.
In college, I went to a lecture by Frederick Elmes, a cinematographer who did all the cool David Lynch movies. He also did Valley Girl. Someone in the audience stood up and said “How does continuity play into your master plan?”
Without hesitation, Frederick said, “Continuity is for pussies.”
That’s how I feel about grammar. Who cares, as long as it’s a good story.
pd: How does your role as an editor affect your writing?
DH: I hate having to reject my own work. Sometimes I have spent hours on something that just isn’t so hot. Not in the unconfident writer “everything I write sucks” kind of way. Fortunately, the band of Crackpot writers have no problem telling me when I blow. Then I move on.
But some of the people I have to keep in line. Daze Strange is the Billy Carter of the group. He was hot shit in the 90’s and 80’s, and has some name recognition and used to enjoy relations with Maureen Dowd. We’re not about this… but sometimes you have to tie someone to the whuppin' post. He travels a lot. We don’t like him that much.
pd: You've been advocating Wednesday Magazine as a touchstone to promote the Los Angeles literary scene. Why? What are your feelings about the L.A. literary scene as a whole?
DH: The L.A. lit scene is really exciting right now. The best part of that are the regular readings that are coming around. It’s getting more popular; I even saw a whole hour dedicated to the “Da Poetry Lounge” on TV the other night. The Wednesday Folks, Pallabrazilla, Redondo Poets, etc., are really making it a better community. There isn’t the kind of friction that one normally sees in “Writer’s Groups.”
Also the readings are intensely personal and the surprises you get are amazing. I was at one reading a few years ago and this classy-looking soccer mom type got up and starts talking about her kids. Then her kids found the bracelet she wore while she was in heroin rehab. It was devastating and shocking. Also, I like seeing that these artists becoming more proactive. The Wednesday writers were having quarterly readings, and then someone scratched their head and said “How hard is it to start a magazine?” Volume 2 is on Amazon now.
pd: Crackpot is relatively new (it debuted in March, 2005). How are things shaping up so far? What are your future plans for Crackpot?
DH: Traffic goes up every month, so we are happy with it. CPP articles have been featured on The Smirking Chimp, Wonkette, Raw Story, as well as other “bigger sites” so that’s always fun. The weird thing about the Internet is that people never tell you when they are going to link to you. Suddenly your numbers just go up and eventually you figure out why.
We are developing a publishing arm as well as continuing to expand our base.
pd: One last question: Did you ever find out the identity of the Princess Leia from the Los Angeles Star Wars Premiere?
DH: In fact, we did. A young man with some stellar (yet harmless) stalking skills came to us and let us know exactly the whereabouts of this young woman; including her recent appearances on TV. She hasn’t contacted me. In fact our photographer tried to to “talk her up a bit” that night and she was a little rude to him. The Princess Leia I am looking for is much more polite than that.
David Howard is a theater veteran of over 45 plays in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1993, he moved to Los Angeles were he worked in development and talent management. David started Crackpot Press in 2005 to give a venue for writers to expand their craft while being published and read regularly. In addition, David is very active with the American Diabetes Association.