Los Angeles

Modern City Scribe: 6 Questions With Historian and Author Wade Graham

Wade Graham

Wade Graham

By Adam Vitcavage

Wade Graham is a Los Angeles-based historian who has written two books exploring urbanism, landscape, and architecture. His first book, American Eden, entwined gardening and history into an insightful exploration on what gardens throughout history can reveal about our culture. His second book, Dream Cities, explores seven concepts, ranging from castles to malls that shaped the modern world.

While these ideas may sound tediously specific, Graham’s writing is engaging and welcoming. You don’t need to be an expert or academic studying these topics to enjoy the books. In fact, they weren’t written for that purpose. Dream Cities gives a person walking down the street an insight into why the world is the way it is.

Graham was kind enough to offer a primer on his book, what it’s like to write nonfiction for the general public, as well as briefly discuss his next project.

Adam Vitcavage: I wanted to start with your background. You seem to have a lot of titles, but they all seem to work hand in hand.

Wade Graham: I have done a series of things in life and still do a series of things. One of them is as an academic. I’m a historian; my PhD is in U.S. History and with a master’s degree in the History of Science. I teach at Pepperdine University’s graduate School of Public Policy. I teach Urban and Environmental Policy.

I also design gardens, which led to my first book American Eden. I’ve also done journalism, which is recently been about environmental and cultural topics.

Those things just are just a mix of cultural history and policy analysis.

AV: The structure of this book are the seven major trends of cities. There’s a little bit of biography and history. How did you come up with these seven trends?

WG: I was trying to answer a baffling question. If you look at modern cities—built since 1850—there are two things that are irreconcilable about modern cities. First, they are very chaotic. They’re made of all different parks; they’re not coherent. Pre-modern cities tend to have one type. You go to Venice and all of the buildings are the same height except for the churches. Everything is made out of the same stuff. Modern cities you don’t get that coherence. You get things banging into each other. There’s a skyscraper here, there’s a freeway there, there’s a mall over there, and a weird suburbia here.

Everywhere you go in the world, you see the same things. You can be in Mongolia and you can see skyscrapers that look the same as the ones you’ll see in Australia, Russia, and Detroit. You’ll see malls that look the same in Singapore. They’ll look a little different, but at the same time there are what architects call typologies. Which are not what buildings look like on the surface, but their basic form. Those are the same all over the world. That struck me as an odd fact.

Why would Melbourne look exactly like Moscow and exactly like Atlanta?

I tried to boil it down to what the basic types were and I got seven. I gave them names to treat them like types of birds. That way you can look out at any modern city and point at something and say that’s a mall or that’s a skyscraper.

In every case there was one person behind each idea who either invented it or built its example and sold it to everyone in the world. I had to begin with the biography of one—or sometimes a cluster—of architects, designers, and thinkers. Then I had to explain what the idea was. Each of these carries intention and an idea forward. In some cases these were very utopian ideas. Even in the case of slab high-rise skyscraper housing. It started as a utopian idea, but ceased being that. This book is my way to understand to see where these ideas came from and how they changed people.

AV: You wanted to know about this, but when did this idea first seep into your mind?

WG: It seeped into my mind when I was trying to understand landscape and how it structures space. One thing interesting about people in the west is that we notice a lot of things. I could look at your car and know a lot about you. I can look at your handbag and know even more about you. I can psychoanalyze you. But we’re pretty stupid about our physical environment. I can put a very well educated person in the street and ask them what they see and where it came from and they come up blank.

We’re trained in our culture to notice certain kind of objects and ignore the context we’re in. That struck me as interesting because context has a lot of meaning.

I live in a little 1921 wooden bungalow. It’s kind of unremarkable for my neighborhood, but it was utopian form. It was built by white Methodists from Iowa to build with the strict intentions to build a white, religious community on the west coast that was going to be different than the cities that they came from. Most of modern cities are a rebellion against cities at all. They’re anti-urban. The way we build cities is a rejection of the idea of a city. Even the skyscraper has its roots in the rejection of the city. Cities were thought to be chaotic and have too many things going on, too many mixes of people going on. They were meant to bring order and control to the city.

AV: How was the research for this conducted?

WG: It was really research intensive. Training as a journalist and as a historian makes you not question how much research needs to be done to get to the bottom of something. A huge amount of my research was based around going to the Los Angeles Public Library and going through their catalogue and making notes.

The way I write nonfiction is just to collect all of the footnotes you’re going to end up having and put them in order. Then you put sentences in between them. It’s a bit like building a building out of bricks. You go get all of the bricks and put them in the write order, then you stack them up one by one.

It was very methodical research: finding a clue then being led to another clue. The story just builds itself.

AV: I found your book’s voice very friendly. I’ve read some nonfiction that is a lot of academic, dry jargon. Yours was very intellectual, but very accessible. When you’re writing a heavily researched book like this, is it ever for the academic or for the general public who just happens to be interested in the subject?

WG: Absolutely not for the academic. I’m a reformed academic in a lot of ways. I learned as a journalist that you need to speak simply and clearly so that people get what you’re saying. To be honest with you, these books have been written for non-academic people. For smart people, yes, but for people who are generally interested in their culture. I have to hit my academic knuckles with a ruler to keep that type of writing out of the book. It’s difficult, but it’s required.

AV: Moving forward, are you working on another book?

WG: I am researching another book. I found myself really tired of all of that footnoting and the careful legalistic way of writing where you care about facts more than anything else. Also as a historian you’re taught to write from 30,000 feet. You see the big picture, you use statistical layers of proof, and that’s how you proceed.

When I moved to where I live now, which is three blocks from Dodger Stadium, one block from Sunset Boulevard, on a two-block long street that was put together in the 1910s and 1920s. It suffered white flight and gang infestation and now is reviving the way many of our central cities are.

I realized on this two-block long street that there were thirty different nationalities. Most of them were refugees from American wars. There are Cambodian refugees, Vietnamese boat people, Guatemalans whose families were killed by American bullets in the 1980s, there are Latvian refugees from World War II, and so on. I thought about how this is the history of the world on two city blocks. It’s also the history of the American cities rise then decline and rise again.

What I’ve been doing is interviewing every type of person in my neighborhood I can find. I mean every kind: homeless, prostitutes, gang members, prosecutors, old ladies, hipsters, skate punks, everybody. I’m trying to layer a story like a journalist would. It’s a collection of different stories, how they intertwine and how they coexist.

I’m trying a textured, more human thing than flying overhead way of academic writing. I’m writing the history of Echo Park. Through Echo Park, a history of Los Angeles. Through Los Angeles, a history of American cities over a hundred years.

To learn more about Wade Graham, visit his official website or follow him on Twitter @wadelgraham.

The Writer’s Bone Interviews Archive

L.A. Devotee and Author David Kukoff Examines 1970s Los Angeles in New Anthology

David Kukoff (Photo credit: Natalie Crane)

David Kukoff (Photo credit: Natalie Crane)

By Lindsey Wojcik

When Hassel Velasco launched his essay series "To Live And Write in L.A." on Writer’s Bone earlier this year, he was inspired because he thought, “documenting the craziness of [the] city and its inhabitants might make for a good read.” Turns out, Velasco wasn’t the only writer that thought scribing about life Los Angeles would captivate an audience.

Author and screenwriter David Kukoff—a lifelong Angeleno—had a similar thought after completing his first novel Children of the Canyon, a story about a boy growing up during the Laurel Canyon counterculture in the 1970s. A brainstorming session with Kukoff’s publisher birthed the idea for a collection of essays that examine life in Los Angeles during the ’70s, a formative decade in the city’s history.

Los Angeles in the 1970s, edited by Kukoff and out in stores Nov. 15, offers an insider’s glimpse into a time when Hollywood was being revolutionized, the music business was booming, and authors like Joan Didion wrote novels about the realities of living in the land of eternal sunshine. The collection of 29 essays features pieces from literary figures in Los Angeles, including Dana Johnson, Deanne Stillman, and Lynell George, to poets, including Luis Rodriguez, Susan Hayden, and Jim Natal. Journalists, award-winning film and television luminaries, academics, art scenesters, musicians, and other Los Angeles insiders also contributed to the anthology. 

Kukoff recently talked to me about what life was like growing up in La La Land, what he aimed to achieve with the collection, and how he rallied a diverse group of writers to contribute to Los Angeles in the 1970s.

Lindsey Wojcik: What enticed you about being a writer? Did you always want to write or did something specific inspire you to pursue it?

David Kukoff: It’s often said with writing that “you don’t choose it, it chooses you.” I remember being young and compulsively writing stories. Somehow, the endings would come to me before I was finished, and I’d set up the narrative pieces along the way so they’d pay off in the end. Somehow, the process of writing and everything about it just always felt right to me.

LW: You've worked in film, television, and have published a novel. How is your writing process different for each medium? 

DK: At this point, not much. When I wrote Children of the Canyon, I used a lot of television structure to help me. I envisioned the book as a limited series, and each of the chapters as episodes, which was immensely helpful. I do believe that every writer should learn some of the principles of film and television writing, as it’s immensely helpful where economy and structure are concerned.

LW: What was the drive behind creating the Los Angeles in the 1970s anthology? What were you looking for with it? 

DK: My publisher, Tyson Cornell, and I were discussing a companion piece for Children of the Canyon, and he told me that their anthologies tended to do well. We were talking about the time period in which Children took place—namely the singer/songwriter haven of Laurel Canyon of the ’70s—and I mentioned that, to the best of my knowledge, no one had done a collection of essays about this time period in the city’s history.   

I think what I was looking to do was explore the last period in the city’s history when it still felt like the Wild West. When Los Angeles still felt like a wide-open frontier, before it became as world-class a metropolis as it is today, which most Angelenos trace back to the Olympics. And I think the essays in this collection reflect that.

LW: What was your experience in Los Angeles like during the 1970s?

DK: I was actually pretty young; I turned 14 years old in 1980. My experience wasn’t all that different from the experiences a lot of my peers had elsewhere: I rode my bike around, we took the bus to the beach, we went to the movies or friends’ homes, and generally made our own adventures throughout the city. The thing was, that kind of freedom simply doesn’t seem to be experienced by kids that young in Los Angeles today. And that’s a shame.

LW: How do you think the decade shaped Los Angeles into what it is today? 

DK: One of the things I loved exploring in Children of the Canyon was the idea that the 1970s were something of a “bridge” decade, in which the country went from the “We’re all in this together” ethos of the ’60s to the “I’m getting mine” of the Reagan ’80s. Somewhere in that time span, something palpably changed. And Los Angeles seemed to be very much at the forefront of all that, supplying everything from counterculture icons to even the key politician: Ronald Reagan.

LW: The anthology features writers with expansive backgrounds including musicians, journalists, and television writers and producers. How did you assemble the group of writers for Los Angeles in the 1970s?

DK: I was fortunate enough to be friends with a lot of great writers, and I started putting the word out. Fortunately, Los Angeles, in addition to being chock-full of amazing writers, is also home to one of the most inclusive literary communities on earth. Once word got around, I started hearing from people who had wonderful stories to tell. There were a few subjects I solicited that I felt were a must, but by and large, I’m fond of saying that this collection came together as though it were almost guided by a divine hand.

And that divine hand gave us a fantastic, diverse array of stories. I like to say that this collection, even the pieces that aren’t from a firsthand perspective, truly feel lived-in rather than merely observed or reported-on.

LW: What were you surprised to learn as you wrote and edited the anthology? 

DK: How much you truly function the same way a producer does for a movie: generating the project, putting together the creative pieces, wrangling and working with the talent at every turn, overseeing the finishing touches, and then hitting the promotional trail.

LW: How was the process of putting this anthology different from writing your first novel Children of the Canyon?

DK: The latter was solitary, the former was far more collaborative. Even my contribution to this collection involved collecting over a dozen interviews and culling them into an oral history.

LW: What's next for you?

DK: I’m two-thirds of the way done with another novel. I have a script that was optioned by Film Nation and is being packaged right now, plus a couple of television pitches.  

LW: What's your advice for up-and-coming screenwriters and authors? 

DK: More than just writing what you know, write what you love. Write what you yourself would want to see, or read.  

To learn more about David Kukoff, visit his official website, like his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter @DavidKukoff.

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive

A Conversation With Thriller Author Robert Ellis

Robert Ellis

Robert Ellis

By Sean Tuohy

Robert Ellis takes readers into a world filled with dark characters and twisted crimes in his best-selling novels. His latest novel, City of Echoes featuring LAPD detective Matt Jones, has garnered major praise.

Ellis talked to me recently about his writing career, his research process, and what inspired Matt Jones and City of Echoes.

Sean Tuohy: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Robert Ellis: I spent most of my early life wanting to make films, but was always an avid reader. In high school I used to skip classes and go to movies. Then one day I discovered City Hall. I sat through several murder trials, which absolutely blew my mind. I mention it because this was really where my writing began. Seeds that wouldn't bloom until many years later. I wrote the trials up as short stories and turned them over to my English teacher (which almost got me kicked out of school!). I also co-edited the school newspaper, so writing was always a part of my life.

But this is a tough question because it took me another six years before I decided that I really wanted to become a writer. I remember the exact moment it happened, and it's a difficult memory to deal with because it came with a certain price. I was 24 years old and driving a VW bus west on Route 70 about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh. It was a hot summer day in August and I was on my way to graduate school for an MFA in film production. Traffic had been reduced to a single lane because of road construction, and I was sandwiched in between two tractor trailers.

I'm sure you can guess what happened. Everything was good until the truck in front of me came to a sudden stop. When I checked the rearview mirror I thought the truck a hundred yards behind me was going to stop as well. After a few moments, I checked again and guessed that the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. The truck was coming right at me, full speed ahead. I had enough time to get the VW bus into first gear, pop the clutch, and turn the steering wheel. I didn't have a seatbelt on, and was knocked unconscious on impact. The van was totaled. I must have been out for 10 or 15 minutes, because when I woke up, there was a crowd standing in front of the wreckage thinking that they were looking at a dead kid. It was a really horrendous time. An entire family had died in the same accident on that very spot one week before. Another family died on the same spot one week later. To this day I have no idea how I survived except to say that I knew it was coming for about five seconds. But the bottom line was that I passed through this near death experience a changed human being. My perspectives had changed, my entire world. Suddenly an MFA in film production didn't seem so necessary any more, especially because I already had a BFA in the same subject from the same university. Life was no longer infinite. I couldn't handle wasting time repeating lessons I'd already learned.

As it turned out, Walter Tevis, the novelist who wrote The Hustler, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and The Color of Money was teaching in the university's English department. With his help, I quit school after the first quarter, rented a small house, and started writing. I never dreamed that one day I would create an epic thriller like City of Echoes. I never thought anything like this would happen, and I'm very grateful to everyone who helped me get to this point as a writer!

ST: What authors did you worship growing up?

RE: Elmore Leonard's Unknown Man No. 89 and The Switch changed my life. Before Leonard I had been reading things like John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps, Doyle's The Complete Sherlock Holmes. But Leonard was the first author who brought the seedy side of life into the forefront for me. Leonard was my introduction to characters who were essentially losers, and the whole thing made me laugh. I love to do this in my own writing now. All of my novels involve a character like this, usually an opponent who's out in the open (meaning that he's not the main opponent even though the reader thinks he is). Writing about Martin Fellows in City of Fire, Nathan G. Cava in The Lost Witness, or LAPD Detective Dan Cobb in Murder Season, is absolutely the best part of making a story. Fleshing out characters like these is what makes it fun. When I wrote The Dead Room, specifically the chapters from Eddie Trisco's point of view, I wrote each one in a couple of hours, then ran out of the office into the living room laughing, even cackling. Every one of the Eddie Trisco chapters, actually every chapter with any of the characters I just mentioned, was published as written. That's something I never thought about before. These chapters with these characters never required editing. It must me that when a writer creates characters like these, the writer is truly at play. I know actors feel this way about playing the "bad guy." They say they love it.

ST: What is your writing process like? Do you outline?

RE: I've heard many authors claim that they do not outline. In fact, it may be possible to write a detective story without outlining. At the same time, one of my favorite authors of detective fiction once said that he doesn't usually outline, but did for three of his novels. When he named the titles, I didn't say anything, but those three works are by far his best novels.

While it may be possible to write a detective story or a formulaic mystery without an outline, there is no possible way to write novels like mine, all-out thrillers, without an outline. Writing a thriller means that your story is layered. In order to pay the story out and entertain your readers, it's all about the number and intensity of the twists and turns toward the end. The reveals. Your hero's revelations. It's not a casual process. No one could "wing it" because the writer needs to set the moment up.

This is how I look at it. You can't make a great movie without a great screenplay. You can't build a great building without a great set of architectural plans. You can't paint a great painting without a great rough sketch or great subject. Why would a novel be any different? A novel is the most complex work of art in any medium. In a novel, the author is creating an entire world. How could anyone begin to build that world if they didn't have some idea of how they wanted it to turn out in the end?

ST: What is your research process like?

RE: I love doing research. I've walked through every inch of Police Headquarters in Los Angeles where Lena Gamble works. I've toured prisons outside Philadelphia, the morgue at Yale University Hospital in Connecticut, and even climbed to the top of the Capitol Dome in Washington in order make sure the final chase in Access to Power was accurate. Most, if not all, of the details in my novels, including all of the DNA stories in City of Fire, are factually true. And as I'm often asked by readers of City of Fire—yes, it's true. If someone in your family survived the Black Plague in Europe so long ago, then you have a gene that mutated in such a way that you are immune to HIV.

I think things like this make the novel feel more real. Like we spoke about before, a novelist is setting his or her story in a place. That means that they're creating a world. Anything a writer can do to give that world detail will really pay out in the end.

ST: In City of Echoes we meet homicide Detective Matt Jones. Where did he come from?

RE: This is a great question because when I started research for City Of Echoes and began fleshing out a story, the hero wasn't Matt Jones, but Lena Gamble. When I begin a new project I start a journal dedicated to the new novel. This is the document where I type in my ideas, a possible premise, odd facts, anything and everything is in this file. This is also the place where I work out my new ideas and basically ramble and think out loud. At the end of the project this file could be 75 pages long. I mention this because I just took a look at my journal, and for the better part of a month, City Of Echoes was all set to be the fourth Lena Gamble novel.

The reason I made the switch to a new character in LAPD Detective Matt Jones was that Lena Gamble had too much experience to be the lead in this story. Remember, this a thriller, not a detective story. In detective stories you have characters like Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. There's nothing innocent about the hero in a detective story.  The big difference, the key difference, is that in a thriller, your hero is also the victim. That is a very important concept that even most publishers don't get. Everyone wants to call every work of crime fiction a thriller. But nothing could be less true. In a thriller, the hero is usually a complete innocent. This is the way Lena Gamble began in City of Fire. A female detective just promoted to the elite Robbery Homicide Division and completely green. But by the time Gamble works through her third homicide case in Murder Season, she's right there with Sam Spade.

City Of Echoes is about a lot of things—greed, Wall Street, family and friendship, truth and beauty, and ultimately, love and death. As a boy Matt Jones was abandoned by his father when his mother died. He was raised by his aunt in New Jersey, and when he went to Afghanistan as a soldier he became best friends with Kevin Hughes, a young LAPD cop. After their tour of duty, Hughes convinced Jones to move to Los Angeles and become a cop. That was five years ago. When City Of Echoes begins, Matt Jones is working his very first night as a homicide detective. And unfortunately, the murder is a personal outrage making his challenge extremely difficult, and his survival, very much in doubt. That's what makes City Of Echoes an epic thriller.

ST: What attracts you to the mystery genre?

RE: Someone who wants to write novels has a lot of choices. From general fiction to sci-fi to romance to young adult to crime fiction. For me crime fiction is a more fascinating genre to explore ideas because it seems to mirror real life. Crime fiction, and by that I mean detective stories, crime stories, and thrillers, define and detail and question and criticize the world we live in today. And let's face, getting justice in the real world is very much an uncertainty. As most of my readers know, my novels are about more than the murders or even the story. It gets back to building that world we spoke about, and deciding what to put in, what to leave out, and what might, if you're lucky, push your story to the edge.

ST: What is next for Robert Ellis?

RE: Writing City Of Echoes was a very special experience for me. My editors have always said that they believe each one of my novels has been better than the last. This feels true to me, and I think the reason might be that I still feel like I'm learning. With each new novel I feel like I'm starting from scratch and have to learn how to do it all over again. Maybe it's because of the car wreck I survived.

Keeping this in mind, I'm very lucky to have an editor and publisher who, when confronted with anything out of the ordinary, anything that might seem experimental, don't ask why? At least for me, this time around, they said why not?!

My next novel is The Love Killings, and it's not quite a second book in the Detective Matt Jones series. Instead, it's an actual continuation of book one, City Of Echoes, which comes to the last page with a lot of loose ends. So much is still up in the air. So this is what going to happen. City Of Echoes plays out. Then, after only six weeks in story time, The Love Killings begins and the chase is on. I'm really jazzed about this, and can't say how much I appreciate the creative freedom I've been given. Let's hope it works!

ST: What advice do you give to aspiring writers?

RE: The first professor I had in film school was Joseph L. Anderson. At the time, Joe was the leading American authority on Japanese film in the country and beyond. Joe spoke perfect Japanese, worked with Akira Kurosawa on “Throne Of Blood,” and produced the Japanese Director Series for PBS. The first thing he said in my first film class was that your success as an artist depends on your ability to know the difference between good and great. Forget about personal biases and personal opinions. There's a difference between something good, and something great.

You need to see it, and you've got to know it, in order to study and learn from the artists who are pushing the genre forward. That doesn't mean that reading a really bad novel or watching a film that sucks isn't going to be helpful. It's just important that a new writer understands the difference.

After that, once a new writer gets off the ground, he or she needs to learn how to take criticism. From fellow writers, editors, advisors, from everyone the new writer trusts who knows something about stories and writing. Don't ever take it personally like I do (laughs)!

ST: Can you tell us one random fact about yourself?

RE: I love to cook. I love my dogs, Harry (Bosch) and SamE (Elvis Cole). And drinking wine while listening to music is pretty good, too.

Learn more about Robert Ellis, visit his official website, like his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter @thrillerwatch.


A Conversation With Writer, Poet, and Comedian Bucky Sinister

Bucky Sinister

Bucky Sinister

By Sean Tuohy

Reading Bucky Sinister is like reading the inner workers of a dream being created. Bucky’s new novel Black Hole is a cocktail of dark humor mixed with characters ready to leap off the page.

Sinister (what an awesome name!) took a few moments to sit down and talk to me about writing, punk rock, and creative fuel.

Sean Tuohy: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Bucky Sinister: In 1987, I heard Black Flag's “Family Man” record. There's a whole spoken word side of that record. I had never heard anything like it. I was immediately captivated. I wanted to do it.

I grew up with aspirations of being an evangelist, but earlier that year I had lost my faith. I had no more place in the world. Society as a whole looked like a lie. The church offered nothing for me anymore. I turned to them for help and got none.

That's when I found the punk world, and subculture in general. I can't explain to anyone who grew up in an Internet world how difficult this was to find. Everything was like a secret you had to uncover by knowing someone cool or reading a zine. I wanted to belong in this world, not just watch it go by, and here was this thing I could do: I was good at talking to groups of people.

I was doing a lot of tape trading then, which is what we did before file sharing, and I ended up with these cassettes of Giorno Poetry Systems albums. It was this really great record label that put out comps like the “Smack My Crack” record. It was where I got exposed to a lot of bands like The Swans and The Butthole Surfers but also to writers like Jim Carroll and William S. Burroughs.

I still didn't really connect it with books. It was more of a performance thing. I wanted to write for spoken word shows. I didn't care about anything in print.

I moved to Los Angeles in 1988. I went to open mikes, partly because they were free. I heard real poets there, who were also really good live. I had no idea you could say the things they were saying. Their message was so far beyond the punk band lyrics. That's when I found the little magazines, the local poetry rags, and such. There was one reading in the Midnight Special Bookstore, which had a really good poetry section. The open mikers showed me which books they liked. I would show up there early and stand around in the poetry section and read. I think that's when I wanted to write a book.

ST: Which authors did you worship growing up?

BS: I grew up fundamentalist, so I loved CS Lewis. During a hard time in high school, I was befriended by a great group of nerds, who loved The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. I read those pretty much to be in on the joke.

I didn't really have a fire lit under me until I read Charles Bukowski's Ham On Rye when I was 19, after I had moved to Los Angeles. I moved to all the obvious counterculture stuff: Hunter S. Thompson, Burroughs, beat poets, some of the Black Sparrow authors like Wanda Coleman, Eileen Myles, and Jim Carroll. Then there were harder to find books like Adulterer's Anonymous by Exene Cervenka and Lydia Lunch, and Rollins was putting out chapbooks that I bought at Hi De Ho Comics.

Bukowski freed me. It was the first story I had ever read about a kid who grew up in an abusive childhood, and he just shook it the fuck off. Somehow I would be okay. He also destroyed all the rules for American poets. There's a lot of obnoxious Bukowski fans, and a lot of people hate him without reading his work, but I don't know if anyone's ever written anything better than his output from 1960–72. I catch shit for liking his work, people put it down, but I still reread it and find things in there at 46 I didn't notice at 19.

I moved to San Francisco and met a bunch of people who were into cyberpunk stuff, so I got into William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, George Alec Effinger, KW Jeter, and John Shirley. This also led me to Philip K Dick, which was a huge deal for me. This book definitely would not be the same without Dr. Adder or City Come A-Walkin'. This also coincided with a big meth streak I was on. I'd get high at a party and go home and read all night.

There were also a ton of local writers in San Francisco. Black Hole was heavily influenced by Jon Longhi and Peter Plate. I was part of a scene there that included Michelle Tea, Beth Lisick, Daphne Gottlieb, Justin Chin, and many more. A. Razor was, and is, a close friend of mine from those days, and we had a lot of adventures together. There's like, 30 people I've left off this list, whose writing I competed with week after week. I was pushing to keep up with them.

ST: Where did the plotline for Black Hole come from? Was it based on anything personal?

BS: I had a recurring dream where I worked at the mini-whale company. In the dream, I would remember my waking life as if it were a dream. It was really messing with my head.

I tried to keep the dream structure for the novel. I wanted it to be in and out, recurring imagery, inconsistency-ridden, and just not make sense in the way that dreams don't make sense when you're thinking about them.

When you're doing drugs, especially meth, you end up talking for hours and hours, sometimes days. You hear the weirdest shit, and people tell you with the utmost sincerity. I wanted this book to have that feel, of the rambling nightmare conspiracies you hear on the second day of meth, when you're trying to not come down.

This is all either stuff I've dreamed, seen, or heard, and some of it is true, but only believable when I wrap it in bullshit. I did know a conspiracy theorist who covered himself in shit and got 5150'd and had both his arms amputated and was found dead with a syringe in his neck. I did know a 500-pound crack head junky thief who lived in the Tenderloin. I did move to the Bay three months after Op Ivy broke up and regretted it ever since. Last week I met a bodybuilder who gets $800 to let fetishists touch his arms while they masturbate, and I really thought I made that part up. So I'm not sure what is real or not.

ST: The opening paragraph to Black Hole is one of the funniest and most honest things I have read in a while. How important is it for a writer to set a tone early in their work?

BS: That paragraph was originally about 40 pages in. But I really loved how it sounded. So I put it first. In standup comedy, you find a few jokes that are essential: your opener and your closer. I read that paragraph on my second draft, and knew it was my opener. I thought it was abrupt, but fuck it.

ST: What kind of connection do you want to form with your reader?

BS: I hope this book entertains the ordinary reader. I hope recovering drug addicts find another layer of humor. We're funny people. You will never find darker humor than in recovery.

ST: What kind of writer are you: Outline and then write or just write and see what happens?

BS:  I write everything I can think of, and then remove what doesn't belong. Then I rearrange it. I don't write sequentially.

ST: What advice do you give to aspiring writers?

BS: Read at least one book a week and write 10 pages a week. After two years, you'll have read 100 books and written 1,000 pages. If you're not better after that, quit. Your last 10 pages should be drastically better than your first 10 pages.

I came up when television sucked and there was no Internet. I had little else to kill time with other than reading. I read a lot. You need that. A new writer today needs to sacrifice other distractions and get those books in.

A lot of people can't get that first manuscript done. Just get it done, It's okay if it's bad. Just finish it and write another one. Too many writers wait for some thing that will never come to get started. Start now.

This is my seventh book. I'm 46. I can't get literary representation. I want to. I hope to. But if I don't, fuck it. The literary world knows who I am, they just don't care. Still want to be a writer? It can be done. It won't be on your terms.

A lot of people want to be authors, but not so many want to be writers. They want to sign a hardcover for a line of adoring fans after whisper-reading the first chapter to a crowded bookstore. They want to be interviewed on NPR. They want to complainbrag about how different the movie is from their book. They want to be at whatever events Dave Eggers and David Sedaris go to. They want to say something insightful to the press when David Foster Wallace kills himself. But they don't want to write, they don't want to go through the extraction process and run the gauntlet of rejection trying to get it published.

ST: Can you tell us one random fact about yourself?

BS: I compete twice a year in Russian kettlebell sport.

To learn more about Bucky Sinister, visit his official website, like his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter @bucky_sinister.


Booze, Drugs, and Screenwriting: A Hollywood Fairy Tale With Author Liana Maeby

Liana Maeby (Photo credit: Jeremy Hunt Schoenherr)

Liana Maeby (Photo credit: Jeremy Hunt Schoenherr)

By Daniel Ford and Sean Tuohy

Author Liana Maeby’s novel South on Highland starts like this:

The pills spilled to the ground like debris from a tornado, landing in various wet spots around the toilet. No, they tumbled out like a wintry mix: Klonopin hail OxyContin rain, Vicodin snow. No, like that moment on the 101, somewhere around Barham, when accident traffic suddenly unclogs and the cars shoot forward at once. 


Loosely based on Maeby’s life, South on Highland follows a young screenwriter who toggles between crafting inspired screenplays and ingesting more drugs than a Tim Dorsey character. The novel rumbles like a freight train powered by addiction and Hollywood. You’ll need a stiff drink while you binge read, but the prose will make you question whether or not you want to keep refilling your glass (or powdering your nose with a blast of cocaine).    

Maeby took a timeout from promoting her novel to answer some of our questions about how LifeCall influenced her early writing, how the idea for South on Highland originated, and her ketchup phobia.

Daniel Ford: When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Liana Maeby: I’m sure I’ve retrospectively self-mythologized a little bit, but I really don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. In kindergarten, I was penning—or, more likely, Crayoning—stories about mermaids and self-aware unicorns instead of playing tag like a normal, fun kid. There was a satirical kid’s book at eight [I’m still tremendously proud of Earl Can Hurl (You Can Hurl Too)], and then some god-awful early novel and screenplay attempts as a teenager.

Both of my parents are writers, so I grew up surrounded by it. I basically just took up the family trade. We’re like dentists, but poorer!

DF: Who were some of your early influences?

LM: Okay, so honestly? That infamous “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” medical alert commercial came out when I was four, and I remember finding it to be the funniest thing I’d ever seen in my entire life. Like, I would just laugh and laugh and laugh, a little toddler sociopath. So that absolutely had an effect on my comedic development. God bless you, LifeCall!

On the lowbrow side, I also grew up really loving dudes like Faulkner and Nabokov and Baldwin. And I can’t undervalue how important it was for me to have been lucky enough to come of age in the era of Tina and Amy.

DF: What is your writing process like? Do you listen to music? Outline?

LM: I do like to outline, but I’m also not a linear writer at all. If I have an idea for an out-of-order section, I’ll just write it. And sometimes I’ll write, like, the second and the sixth paragraphs of said chunk, and then go through and fill in the rest.

At the same time, I’m super precise and can’t move on from a section unless I’m happy with every word. Which is great in that I don’t have to do a ton of line editing at the end of the process, but also not exactly ideal when I’m cutting stuff out.

Music? Never. It’s too distracting. I need my brain to pure, like Wonder Bread, ready to sop up the world and expel it back onto the page (I wrote that last sentence while listening to music).

Sean Tuohy: Does your writing style change when you are writing a screenplay? Do you focus more on dialogue when writing a screenplay?

LM: Definitely. I love writing dialogue and structuring jokes, but there’s really nothing more satisfying to me than crafting a good prose sentence. So much so that in South on Highland, I actually had to go back in and add more dialogue.

ST: Be honest: Do you think my screenplay about commando puppies that break dance on weekends will sell?

LM: I mean, this isn’t a deal-breaker, but I’ve already identified a logic flaw…to a puppy, every day is the weekend.

DF: How did the idea for South on Highland originate?

LM: It started out as a story about breakdancing commando puppies, but then I identified a logic flaw and decided to look at our culture’s fascination with the addiction memoir instead. The book was initially conceived as straight satire, but became more of a novel as I went along—mostly because that felt more interesting and easier to sustain.

DF: Your novel is based on your life, but after all the writing, re-writing, and editing, how much of yourself—and your interactions with friends, family, and others—ended up in the final draft?

LM: Really, the book is only loosely based on my life. I wanted to take a kernel of truth and see that through to its logical extreme. So part of that process involved challenging myself to come up with fictional ideas, which has always been much more appealing to me than just writing fact-based stuff. I kind of figured out a way to live vicariously through myself, which basically makes me Elon Musk or Willy Wonka.

DF: Sean and I talk all the time about how writers can be self-destructive when they’re not working on their craft, or things aren’t going very well with their work. How did you go about putting those themes on the page and how did you tie it into our culture’s view of addition and sensationalism?

LM: This is, in fact, one of the main themes of my book. Our culture is set up to reward wild, sensational behavior as long as we come out on the other end to write (a book, a song, a movie) about it. And as writers, we can justify this kind of behavior with the pretense that we’re gaining necessary life experience. It’s a very dangerous cycle to enter, especially if things aren’t going well, because you’ve set yourself up with the perfect toolkit for utter self-destruction.

DF: B.J. Novak, whose short story collection we loved, said your book is “the kind of book that kids will steal from each other.” How does it feel receiving warm praise for a story so near to your own life?

LM: I mean, I’d rather people buy the book… stealing it won’t exactly put my dog through college. But really, it feels indescribably amazing to hear these nice things, especially from folks I admire. Every single kind word I hear about the book makes me feel so insanely lucky, like all those late nights spent in front of my computer have been worth it ten times over. Compliments: I recommend them!

DF: You also landed on a few “best of” lists for your Twitter account! How do you balance promoting yourself and your work on social media and actually sitting down and writing?

LM: I’d say a good self-promotion-to-actually-writing ratio is 80:20. But I’m not even on Snapchat, so this could feasibly go up to 85:15.

DF: What’s your advice to aspiring authors?

LM: I wish I had something better than “sit down and write,” but I really don’t. Write, and rewrite, and don’t be too hard on yourself if something isn’t working. There’s a huge learning curve, and the only way to get through it is to keep your head down and work for longer than seems sane or reasonable.

The good news is that if you have a writer’s heart, the above will seem like a fun challenge rather than a chore!

DF: Can you please name one random fact about yourself?

LM: I have a ketchup phobia. Not as in, I don’t much care for it on a burger, but more that I can’t look at it or smell it without getting nauseous, and if some happens to accidentally end up in my mouth or on my body, I will have a full-blown panic attack. It’s really weird and inconvenient! Like, even using the stupid word in this answer means that I will have to lie down on the couch for 15 minutes to recuperate. You’re welcome, you monsters!

To learn more about Liana Maeby, visit her Good Reads page or follow her on Twitter @lianamaeby.


Woodworking 101: The Craft Comes Alive at Nick Offerman's Woodshop

By Sean Tuohy

Offerman Woodshop, located in Los Angeles and helmed by comedian and “Parks and Recreation” star Nick Offerman, has been described as “kick-ass” and is filled with extremely talented and skilled artists. With the help of RH Lee, I was lucky enough to learn more about what it takes to design an original piece of art from a slab of wood.

Matthew Micucci

Matthew Micucci (All photos courtesy of  Drift Journal  and Offerman Woodshop)

Matthew Micucci (All photos courtesy of Drift Journal and Offerman Woodshop)

ST: How did you get into woodworking?

MM: When I lived in New York City I was lucky enough to get a job at the Public Theater as a set builder. I had no deep desire to build but the job was a welcome change after working in the service industry. I quickly discovered that there is a unique bond that forms among your co-workers when you are working physically with each other on a project. It was unlike any other job I've had (and I've had a lot!). You become a family. When I moved to Los Angeles a few years later I knew I needed to find a gig that was similar in order to find my “people” in an otherwise very strange town. So, long story short I am a woodworker simply because I wanted to live a life with people that have a physical job, work with their hands, and create things simply because I knew they'd be nice folks. My theory turned out to be true.

ST: Is woodworking a hobby or passion for you? 

MM: It's not a hobby. It's my way of paying rent. It's my main social group. It's my reason for enjoying life in Los Angeles. When I'm doing it I'm certain it's not my passion. It's a job. But when I go home for the evening and I'm sitting on the couch sipping a whiskey getting excited about tomorrow's part of the project and looking forward to being with the crew again I wonder...Maybe it is a passion? Nah, can't be.

ST: What was the first item you made out of wood? 

MM: The first thing I made was a birdhouse when I was little with my Uncle Pete. We eventually blew it up with fire crackers years later because a hornet’s nest started taking it over. That's how we handled things in the crazy 1990s. 

ST: Do you have any pre-woodworking rituals?

MM: Coffee.

ST: What advice would you give to a first-time woodworker? 

MM: Measure twice cut once. Measure three times...Just have Nick cut it. 

ST: Is there a piece you have made that you are most proud of?

MM: I'm very proud of a few pieces. One that comes to mind is the Zeus Wagon Wheel, which is a seven-foot diameter circular table made from recycled wood with a mahogany Lazy Susan. We all worked as a team on that and it turned out amazing. The client was extremely gracious and excited about it, which is always icing on the cake. However, I think I'm most proud of maintaining and taking care of the shop. When the machines are clean and running smooth, the air filters are clear, materials are well stocked, and the shop floor is organized I feel a strong sense of pride. It's the little things. 

ST: What is your dream item to make out of wood?

MM: Currently a dream would be to make a dining table for myself. It's hard to find the time and energy to make things for yourself when you're at the shop most days of the week working on other projects.

Thomas Wilhoit

Thomas Wilhoit

Thomas Wilhoit

ST: How did you get into woodworking?

TW: I came to woodworking by dabbling in many related fields. I grew up on a farm and spent a bit of time logging, putting up fences, and doing barn repair and other construction projects. I was an actor, and through that got involved with set construction, having an abundance of experience using tools. Finally, in college I did some sculpture and wood, naturally, became my favorite medium. Eventually, when I moved to Los Angeles, I stumbled upon OWS, and it was unlike anything I had encountered in the city (or have since), so I decided I had better become a woodworker for real and lock that shit down. To have an opportunity to work with such an amazing collection of people is a rarity.

ST: Is woodworking a hobby or passion for you?

TW: Hm, well, those seem awfully similar to me, and I don’t think either is entirely accurate. Presumably most people are passionate about their hobbies, since they pursue them for pleasure. Woodworking is my occupation, so it certainly isn’t a hobby, by the very nature of the word. I like to think that I’m passionate about it, but there are also plenty of moments when I get frustrated flattening a slab or during a complicated glue up and just want to go collapse into a comfortable chair and drink a beer. Most people’s experience of woodworking is limited to the realm of the hobby, so it’s natural that they assume full time woodworking is just like getting to work on your hobby all week, but like any job, it has highs and lows. So, if you mean passion in a slightly archaic sense, then yes, I feel a range of strong emotions about woodworking.

ST: What was the first item you made out of wood?

TW: That’s digging deep—I used to make myself toys out of wood. I know that makes it sound like I grew up on a tenant farm in the 1870s, but I guess I was always dissatisfied with the toys that you could buy at the store. So, I would make all kinds of stuff, like wooden knives and swords, castles, boats, that sort of thing.

ST: Do you have any pre-woodworking rituals?

TW: No rituals, per se, but I like to start the day at the shop with a glass of water and some beef jerky. And, of course, I like to get pretty handsy with the wood while I plan a project.

ST: What advice would you give to a first-time woodworker?

TW: Don’t wear gloves when using tools; it’s a serious safety risk. Just accept that splinters are part of the job and toughen up.

Also,  be prepared for frustrations and failures, and be flexible—you have to work with the wood, you can't just impose your will upon it. 

ST: Is there a piece you have made that you are most proud of?

TW: We did a massive round table out of glulam for a client, and it was completely beyond our shop’s capabilities. They just don’t make much equipment for dealing with those dimensions. Because of that, we had to think on our feet and do a lot of creative problem solving, and that’s what I love most about woodworking. And, it turned out pretty gorgeous in the end.

ST: What is your dream item to make out of wood?

TW: I don’t have a “dream project,” but it’s hard to beat working with a beautiful slab. Frankly, if my goal was simply to make things, I wouldn’t choose wood as my medium—it has a whole host of complicating factors that make it a real pain in the ass. I’m a woodworker because I enjoy working with wood, dealing with the natural quirks that give it such unique beauty. It might sound a little cheesy, but I try and think less about some conceptual form or item that I want to produce and more about the potential in each piece of wood. So, I definitely don’t have a dream item, but I can point you toward a number of dream slabs that I want to work with.

Nick Offerman

Nick Offerman

Nick Offerman

ST: Can you explain what “traditional joinery and sustainable slab rescue” is?

NO: “Traditional joinery:” Missionary position? The knee bone connected to the thigh bone, knuckling under or above, having one’s nose in or out of joint, etc.? Or you may be referring to methods of joining the discrete implements in a piece of wooden furniture to one another without fasteners such as nails or screws. For example, the four sides of a Shaker blanket chest are traditionally joined to one another by cleverly interlocking dovetail joints at the corners. Traditional “post-and-beam” or “timber-frame” construction heavily utilizes the mortise-and-tenon joint, which can be exemplified by making a “vessel” (mortise) with one hand, and inserting the index finger (tenon) of the other hand into it. Repeating this traditional action brings us full circle to the missionary position.

“Sustainable Slab Rescue” refers to the practice of re-using local trees that have been felled by storms, nature, or construction needs, by milling them into table slabs and other lumber. Many urban trees become landfill fodder, or at best, firewood, while woodworkers and homebuilders rely upon lumber companies to harvest forest products from distant locations and then expend even more fossil fuels to transport those two-by-fours to our lumberyards. By setting up a local milling service, we can give our local trees a valuable second life as furniture and home decor, while burning a hell of a lot less diesel shipping in Douglas Fir timbers from British Columbia.

ST: How did you get into woodworking?

NO: I grew up in a farming family in Minooka, Ill., learning to use tools for carpentry and mechanic work from a young age. I framed houses for a summer, then did some roofing before learning to build professional theatre scenery. I made a good half of my living in Chicago building scenery by day and acting in plays at night, which further honed my competence in working with tools in a shop. Once I moved to Los Angeles in 1997, I began to construct decks and cabins in peoples’ yards, which included teaching myself post-and-beam construction, particularly inspired by the local works of the architects Greene and Greene. One day I was chopping out a large mortise, when I realized that traditional furniture utilized the exact same joinery just on a smaller scale, and I was bewitched. A friend gave me Fine Woodworking Magazine and I devoured it, a matriculation that continues to this day.

ST: Is woodworking a hobby or passion for you?

NO: This question confuses me. It seems to presuppose that one may not be passionate about one’s hobby. To my way of thinking, a hobby can be precisely described as a productive diversion in one’s life about which said person is passionate. As in, “Fred’s probably out in the garage building one of his popsicle-stick ‘Star Wars’ vehicles. It’s his passion.” If you mean to ask if woodworking is a hobby as opposed to something more, say a vocation, then I would have to say it is a vocation. It is a discipline. A true woodworker is more than a hobbyist, if one considers “hobby” to represent a diversionary activity like repairing antique pocket-watches, or photographing and cataloging local bird species. Woodworking, I think it’s safe to say, requires a greater commitment than any mere hobby. What I mean is that woodworking is a craft that, once begun, continues to hold the woodworker in its grip, rewarding her or him with a progressive accumulation of knowledge throughout a lifetime of craft. If I were to simply enjoy building birdhouses in my spare time, with no interest in heightening my skills or tool knowledge, then I would consider myself a hobbyist who uses woodworking to make my charming product, but I would demur at being referred to as a “woodworker.”

On the other hand, if one is besotted with the tutelage of all the great woodworkers who have come before and left for us their instruction in books and periodicals, or simply in their works in homes and museums, then I would consider woodworking an obsession and a vocation. This is the case with me. I began, as many do, by building a box. Then I built a box with a lid. I chose each new project based upon some new joinery technique so that my knowledge and skills would progress equally apace. Then I built a table, then more tables. I built a small four-foot lapstrake rowboat as a cradle. I built a canoe. I built another canoe. Then I built a ukulele. I am itching to get back to my shop to build several more ukuleles so I may then graduate to acoustic guitars. Beyond that, I may build more boats or instruments—the mandolin and the violin are both calling my name from afar. In a few months it looks like I will get to take a Boston workshop in building a traditional Windsor chair, and that has me bristling with excitement, as the techniques involved are not yet ones that I wield in my personal bag of tricks, and in woodworking, every new technique becomes part of the invaluable body of knowledge that allows the woodworker to solve each unique problem as it arises.

ST: What was the first item you made out of wood?

NO: In truth, a crappy tree house down by the creek with my pal Steve Rapcan. My father and I also built a small barn at our house before I began framing houses. The first item I made once I got turned on to woodworking was a jewelry box for my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time.

ST: Do you have any pre-woodworking rituals?

NO: No specific rituals per se, although consuming a bounty of bacon and eggs doesn’t hurt. Woodworking requires a clear head and perspicacity when it comes to safety around the tools and materials.

ST: What advice would you give to a first-time woodworker?

NO: Plan to make mistakes. Practice joinery and get to be comfortable with your tools on scrap wood before you ruin some expensive walnut.

ST: Is there a piece you have made that you are most proud of?

NO: To date, I am most proud of my first canoe, Huckleberry, built with the techniques I learned from Ted Moores in his book CanoeCraft, and his plans from Bear Mountain Boats. That noble vessel, my main ride, also served as the canoe of Ron Swanson on my television show “Parks and Recreation” until the series finale in which he paddled into the sunset in my second canoe, Lucky Boy.

ST: What is your dream item to make out of wood?

NO: The next one. At the moment it’s more ukuleles.

Josh Salsbury

Josh Salsbury

Josh Salsbury

ST: How did you get into woodworking?

JS: I always liked building things when I was growing up. As a kid, I played with Lego all day long. In college, I ended up studying music at the Eastman School of Music and UCLA and then had a brief professional trombone career. After feeling unsatisfied with the freelance Los Angeles music life, I enrolled in a woodworking class at Cerritos College on a whim. I was instantly hooked and dove into fine furniture making. I enjoy woodworking because like music, it still has a creative element but the end result is something that is physically tangible.

ST: What was the first item you made out of wood?

JS: My first memory of making something was taking a bunch of nails and hammering them into a scrap of wood in the shape of a happy face when I was a little kid. My father set me up in the backyard with blocks of wood, nails and a hammer and said, “Have fun!”

ST: Do you have any pre-woodworking rituals?

JS: I don’t have any rituals per se, but whenever I walk up to a tool, especially a power tool that wants to eat me, I make sure I am aware of my surroundings and that I’m in a proper state of mind to operate it. Things can go wrong in an instant if you allow your mind to wander! I always respect the tools.

ST: What advice would you give to a first-time woodworker?

JS: I would advise new woodworkers to enroll in a class. If you are in Southern California, the program at Cerritos College has semester-long courses. Or if you just want to get a taste of woodworking, check out Off the Saw in Downtown Los Angeles. Taking a class is a good way to learn how to safely use the tools and meet other like-minded creative people.

ST: Is there a piece you have made that you are most proud of?

JS: I recently completed a coffee table made out of a Bastogne walnut slab with an ebonized eastern walnut base. The slab was one of the more unique pieces of wood that I have had the opportunity to work on and had a lot of interesting figured grain. The overall design of the table was simple, but it allowed the beauty of the wood to be the focal point of the piece.

Bastogne Walnut Coffee Table

Bastogne Walnut Coffee Table

RH Lee

RH Lee

RH Lee

ST: How did you get into woodworking?

RL: There was an after school program at my elementary school called Kids' Carpentry. That's where I learned to employ hand tools and soft pine to make pretty much anything I wanted. My beloved grandpa Sam was an amateur woodworker (in addition to being amateur hunter, beekeeper, photographer, chemist, and psychedelics enthusiast). He was paralyzed by a stroke when I was little and so from a young age he asked me to be his woodworking proxy. I like to think he would have been proud to see me now.

ST: What was the first item you made out of wood?

RL: Hard to remember the exact chronology, though many of my “rustic” early works are still kicking around my parent's house in Berkeley. 

A cutting board they still use even though its just a piece of one-by-eight pine board that I cut with a handsaw in 1984, the skateboards I built and road down to splinters, a small chair I built in our basement, and various wooden toy walky-talkies and high tech spaceship consoles with bottle caps for buttons.

ST: Do you have any pre-woodworking rituals?

RL: Unless I am making a delivery or a lumber run, I always ride my bicycle to the shop in the morning. From my house I take the Los Angeles river bike path and small neighborhood streets. I find that my best creative ideas and problem solving happens in this quiet pre-work ride between the river and the interstate.

ST: What advice would you give to a first time wood worker?

RL: Start by making things for yourself and your loved ones, and continue to do so even as you start to find paying work. When you make your own furniture, you get to figure out your own standards—you can let go of perfection and accuracy and let simple accidents guide you to your aesthetic. Then as you live with the piece, you learn what works and what doesn't over time. Since we strive to build furniture that will last for generations, the knowledge of the functionality and temporality of your work is invaluable to informing design. 

ST: Is there a piece you have made that you are most proud of?

RL: I worked closely with the Outdoor Gallery at the Exploratorium Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception developing a new set of outdoor exhibits for public interaction. I'm particularly proud of the mobile museums that I built with friend and engineer Jesse Marsh. Together we engineered and crafted a mini interactive museum console mounted on a Dutch tricycle chassis. Museum educators did public science outreach by riding the museum on wheels out on the Embarcadero.

ST: What is your dream item to make out of wood?

RL: I've always wanted to build a mobile tiny house—something simple but fully tricked out with low-tech multipurpose modular components. Every square inch would be a completely economical and functional use of space.

To learn more about Offerman Woodshop, visit its official website or like its Facebook page.