He’s an overweight, mostly bald, late-middle-age white guy in skinny jeans. Phil Collins meets Phil Collins. Like that. But like a really old Phil Collins. A sad spectacle.
We meet at the Viper Room off the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. Almost two hours late, Jerkins offers no word of apology, no acknowledgement that he is tardy to the party.
A Pixies T-shirt bulges at the belly as he tosses a pack of Camel Wide Blue onto the tabletop and wedges himself into the booth opposite me. One can’t help but wonder if the convenience store was sold out of American Spirits.
I glance at the publicist hovering just out of plain sight, but well within earshot.
INTERVIEWER: Let’s make this real. No handlers. No interference. Just me and you. Five minutes of honesty. Being straight with each other. You down with that?
Jerkins sighs and motions away the publicist.
INT: Don’t you think it’s a bit trite to interview yourself? It’s kinda been done to death.
GRANT JERKINS: Says you. What’s old is new. Here’s the secret to writing: There are no new stories. It’s up to the writer to tell old stories in a fresh way.
INT: That’s the secret to writing? Clichés are okay?
INT: That’s great. Sagely advice. Faulkneresque.
GJ: ‘Stories from the past don’t die. They haven’t even been told yet.’
INT: Not how that goes.
GJ: ‘Haven’t even been told yet.’ Think about that.
INT: Okay, let’s tie that into your new release, Abnormal Man. It’s about a kidnapping gone wrong. Has that one been told yet? A kidnapping? Gone wrong?
GJ: Not the way I tell it. Have you read the book?
INT: I want to stay with this train of thought before we get into those kinds of specifics. I did a little research on this, about how many books and movies have used the kidnapping-gone-wrong trope. Sticking to things released just within the last twenty years. Care to guess how many there’ve been?
GJ: I have no idea.
GJ: I’m not interested.
INT: A shitload. A shitload of books and movies have used that plotline.
INT: You can’t smoke in here.
GJ: It’s the Viper Room. They allow smoking. Johnny Depp smokes in here all the time.
INT: Okay, but you’re not Johnny Depp. You’re like, a sad old man trying to cling to his youth. And you’re way too old to be wearing skinny jeans. Let it go.
GJ: Have you actually read the book?
INT: Let’s shift gears. What’s up with that cover art? What’s that about? It’s a pink tree in like a deserted Wal-Mart parking lot or something.
GJ: Did you notice the crack in the asphalt leading to the tree?
INT: A bit obvious. But yeah, man. I get it. I get the symbolism. Asphalt cracked in the past hasn’t even cracked yet. I so totally get it.
GJ: Look, the point isn’t that it’s about a kidnapping or that there’s crack in a parking lot. The point is that sometimes we make bad decisions. Sometimes we do things we regret. And hurting another human being can be the biggest regret of all. And maybe we try to fool ourselves, try to believe that our actions were preordained. That what we thought were choices were never choices at all. It was never under our control.
INT: Fate? Seriously? You really are bringing out the chestnuts.
GJ: You have a young man. The protagonist in the book. He’s introverted. Isolated and lost. No friends. Nothing. An island in a sea of humanity. Except he likes fire. He’s sexually stimulated by fire. It’s his only friend, his only escape. Was that a choice for him?
INT: It’s easy to shock. Oooh, he gets off on fire. How disturbing.
GJ: Not the point. And you’re right, it is easy to shock. But sometimes when we get to glimpse into someone’s unguarded core, it’s shocking. Hell, the banality of it can be shocking. But what makes it worth exploring is the question of how did that person get that way. How did any of us get to be who we are, doing the things we do? Was what got you here today in front me in this booth the culmination of a series of choices, or were you destined to be a hipster douchebag from the moment you were born? Were you always someone unable write anything of any substance on their own and therefore must associate himself with serious writers hoping the glam rubs off?
INT: A serious writer? That’s how you see yourself?
GJ: What about a child molester? Or a rapist? It’s uncomfortable to talk about, to think about. But are those choices? Is that someone’s fate? Or even a result of chaos? Did carbon atoms swirling about the galaxy bring them to that point? Isn’t it worth putting some thought into how the most despicable amongst us got to be who they are? Or, putting all that aside, what about their humanity? They are human, right? We are all human, so as uncomfortable as it is, we need to acknowledge that our humanity binds us. That we overlap and have commonalities in that regard. What if we concentrate on that overlap, our humanity as a Venn diagram, and then consider the problem from there?
INT: You are not a serious writer. You think you’re like Bret Easton Ellis or something?
GJ: I cannot stand that prick.
INT: Guess what? Our humanity just overlapped. I can’t stand that fucker either. Are you down with the new crime movement? That whole thing? The whole Southern Gothic Burn Barrel Rural Noir thing? Someone like Brian Panowich? What’s you’re take on him?
GJ: Tattoo-riddled charlatan.
INT: We really are seeing eye-to-eye. So Venn it’s Zen.
GJ: Nah, see, I actually like Panowich. I was testing you. I dig his writing. He’s righteous.
INT: He’s a serious writer. I’ll give him that much. But you, you are not a serious writer.
GJ: I try. I honestly try. I aspire.
INT: Dude, you’re a fucking hack. You’re not even a hack. You’re like… Like a nothing. You’re like dark matter. You might exist, but probably you don’t. You don’t exist.
GJ: You’re right. I don’t exist. I’m not even past yet.