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Sunday, May 20, 2012
My Advice? Buy "Drugs"
Those of you who have been here from the early days might recognize the name J.R. Helton, who published a book in 1996 called Below the Line, a highly entertaining, ruthlessly clear-eyed look at the feature world of that era, detailing his own rocky journey through the film biz. After seven years painting sets for feature films on locations all over the south, south-east, and east coast, Helton put down his paint brush in favor of a pen. Now, with several published books under his belt, he teaches the art of writing to college students, whether they like it or not.
As far as I'm concerned, Below the Line is a must-read for anyone curious about the reality of working in the film/television industry, be they students, newbies, or veterans. In equal measures informative and entertaining, it's a truly great read -- in my opinion, a classic of the genre.
I haven't yet laid my hands on a copy of his latest book, Drugs, but was able to read a few early chapters published as short stories a couple of years ago. That R. Crumb cover is no joke -- I was all but sweating bullets reading those pages. Having strayed across the fine line of the law more times than I care to admit during my younger days, I can attest to the authenticity of the harrowing scenes Helton so vividly describes. Those chapters opened a window on a reality experienced by many of us who eventually made it through to the other side -- and more than a few who didn't -- during a time that, in many ways, wasn't all that different from today. Young people continue to walk the pharmaceutical high wire in the name of Fun these days, and if the drugs involved are different (some are, some aren't), the essential good news/bad news reality of that equation hasn't really changed.
As Jerry Stahl (ex-TV writer/heroin addict-turned author of the terrific book, "Permanent Midnight") described it, "This is a truly riveting, mind-altering read, not to be missed.” But maybe R. Crumb put it best: "J.R. Helton really speaks to me -- starkly honest, darkly funny, acutely observant, and captures the tragic absurdity of human life... he's right up there with the best of them."
This blog has never accepted any advertising, despite the offers that periodically land in my Gmail box, nor does it make a habit of pushing products or services. Today I make an exception, because J.R. Helton will appear in LA on a book tour for a reading/signing/discussion at Book Soup the evening of May 23. Yeah, I'm finally pushing "Drugs"... or at least urging anybody interested to head on over to one of LA's last great independent book stores on May 23.
J.R. Helton is one of us. He's suffered in the film industry trenches below-the-line, enduring the ridiculous abuse we all know too well, then made an almost unfathomable leap of faith to break free. Now he's doing what he really wanted in life, what he was meant to do -- write. He's good at it, too, and although it's taken a while, he's finally managed to achieve a modest level of success as a writer. Getting published by the mainstream literary press has never been easy, but it's harder than ever nowadays. Talented people who make that kind of effort deserve some support from the rest of us, especially when you consider that this book tour isn't being paid for by some Daddy Warbucks publisher -- Helton is doing the whole thing on his own nickle, all the way.
That's why I'll be at Book Soup on Wednesday night, inshallah, to shake the man's hand and hear what he has to say. I plan to buy "Drugs" -- and I'm looking forward to it.
Hope to see you there.
8818 Sunset Boulevard
Wednesday, May 23, 7:00 p.m
But wait, there's more... Readers in the New York City area (and I know you're out there, no matter how quiet you may be) will have a chance to meet J.R. Helton in a reading at Book Court one week later.
163 Court Street
Tuesday, May 29, 7:00 p.m.
Displaying a classic Big Apple sense of humor, they're calling this one "A Night on Drugs."