Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Indie Ink Runs Deep: John Smelcer

Every now and then I manage to talk a small press author into showing us a little skin... tattooed skin, that is. I know there are websites and books out there that have been-there-done-that already, but I hadn't seen one with a specific focus on the authors and publishers of the small press community. Whether it's the influence for their book, influenced by their book, or completely unrelated to the book, we get to hear the story behind their indie ink....

Today's ink story comes from John Smelcer. One of the last students of the legendary John Gardner, widely considered the best creative writing teacher in America, John is the author of 50 books, including the award-winning novels The Trap, The Great Death, Lone Wolves, Edge of Nowhere, and Savage Mountain (forthcoming this summer). The American Library Association named Lone Wolves as one of the best feminist novels for young adults in 2014, along with I Am Malala. The Great Death was named the best novels about sisters in 2008.

Tit for Tat: A Writer Apologizes

What can I say about my tattoo, except for what kind of numbskull has the audacity to sport one of the most iconic images from pop culture on his shoulder? More importantly, what does it say about me? Even as I write this, I’m re-watching the first James Bond movie, Dr. No (1962), for the umpteenth time. Ursula Andress standing on the beach in a bikini with her dagger drawn never gets old.

James Bond burst onto the silver screen the year before I was born. Yet, I have the vivid memory of watching it at a theater when I was six. I was enthralled. Here was a dapper, self-assured man of action, who always got the bad guy and the girls (lots of girls). Growing up in the decade of Flower Power and Free Love, 007 epitomized the latter. I loved Bond. I wanted to be him.

James Bond: Role Model.

It’s an oxymoron akin to Shakespeare’s “O Loving Hate!”

But what kind of role model is James Bond for a boy and later a young man? He may have been a woman-lover, but he was also a misogynist who treated women disrespectfully, saying and doing anything to get them into bed. Did he even remember their names afterward? Did he remember them during? (Who could possibly forget Octopussy or Pussy Galore?) Or, in that instant of passion, did he simply call out his own name?

In retrospect, I realize that much of the trouble of my life was because of James Bond, because I adopted his shameful persona. I remember going to my eighth grade prom with one girl and, by the night’s end, I had clandestinely (like a secret agent) asked three different girls to go steady with me. They figured it out soon enough, and I didn’t get a date again until high school.

Bond made me do it!

In the mid-1970s, when I was a tweenager, my mom left for a couple weeks to be with her folks. While she was gone, my father gave me permission to put a hundred nudie posters on my bedroom walls. (It was he, after all, who took me to see Bond films.) Needless to say, my mother didn’t appreciate my artistic sensibilities.

Again, Bond made me do it!

Before I type another word, I feel a need to apologize to all the girls I wronged in my life. Mea culpa. I was clueless.

As an adult—only a year younger than the Bond film franchise—I drink Vodka martinis, even though I don’t enjoy them. I’ve owned sports cars. And like Bond, I like to dress sharp, especially in classic black, gray, and white to the point that I’m a bit of a clotheshorse. I’m an Anglophile who studied at Cambridge, Bond’s alma mater, and I sometimes speak in a fake English accent.

So why did I get a 007 tattoo on Valentine’s Day a decade ago while my wife sat in the adjacent parlor chair getting her own tat? What does my tat say about me? Is there any redeeming characteristic in Bond’s personality? Can I look at my shoulder in the mirror with any sense of self-respect? Maybe. Maybe the thing I carry in me nowadays, as a husband and father of two daughters, is simply a yearning for a bygone childhood during a confusing time in America. Maybe Bond resonated with a nation trying to figure itself out. Maybe I’m still trying to do the same thing. For those of you who enjoy poetry, I present the only poem I’ve ever written about James Bond.


James Bond went to see a doctor;
he was having a little man trouble.

They took some blood and asked him
to list all his sexual partners on a form,
but there wasn’t enough room.

Besides, he couldn’t remember them all.

There was

Octopussy, Honey Ryder, Holly Goodhead,
Solitaire, Mary Goodnight, Triple X, Jinx,
Plenty O’Toole, Strawberry Fields, Mayday,
Domino, Christmas Jones, Tiffany Case,
Jenny Flex, Xenia Onatopp, and his all-time
personal favorite—Pussy Galore.

The test results finally came in.

Horrified, doctors discovered Bond had sexual
diseases they had never even heard of before.

So they put him in a yellow bio-hazard suit,
hung an “Out of Order” sign around his waist,

and quarantined him on the dark side of the moon.

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