A Conversation with "Sex, Drugs and Jerk Chicken" book author, Marcus Bird

Marcus Bird was born in Jamaica and received his degree in Film Production from Howard University in Washington D.C. He has written for Comedy Central in New York, the Jamaica Observer, several online publications and had two short stories “Gaijin Girl” and “Sleep” published in the 2010 and 2012 editions of Japanese literary journal Yomimono. He loves traveling, dabbling in languages and having great conversations.

Synopsis of Sex Drugs and Jerk Chicken: Three completely different young men find themselves in the sex-fueled, emotionally vacant backdrop of Washington D.C, as they search for meaning in a series of events that force them to deal with loss, isolation and  despair.
(1). When did you first begin writing ? Please provide motivation, etc.
Like most people, the genesis of my writing began in high school. I found myself always eager to make my English class essays “epic”. I’d write about space aliens, abductions by monsters and try and make whatever world I created in those thirty-five minute classes as real as possible. I’d always been a fan of comic books and fantastical worlds, but my mind exploded after discovering works by writers like Dean Koontz and seeing how a person could take a concept from their imagination and carry it to the next level. This is how I started writing, getting small concepts together and seeing how far I could take it.   

(2). What was your first literary creation?
That might depend on the definition of “literary” for me. I wrote a column for the Jamaica observer a while back called “Bird’s Eye View”, where I wrote anecdotal articles around Jamaican colloquialisms.. I guess my first “real” literary creation was a novel I penned a few years ago. It was set in Jamaica, and centered around the lives of four different Jamaicans. It focused on society, class and the dark side of blackmail.

(3). What genres have piqued your curiosity as a writer and what subjects are you most interested in writing about?
These things vary over time. As a kid I liked more fantastical things and stories that focused on the paranormal. I really liked mainstream fiction such as stuff by Michael Crichton and Sidney Sheldon. As time passed I preferred to read things less “movie in a book” style. Books that had interesting non-fiction, or very unique narratives that took me mentally and in a literary sense to places I’ve never been. Stuff like. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and Rules Of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis. I’ve always liked writing and thinking about the human condition, and I personally find reading and writing about that interests me a great deal. Analyzing the possible outcomes of a social situation through odd writing tangents and cool characters has always been something I consider valuable.   

(4). What do you hope to achieve through writing book, novels, etc.?
A writer wants his or her voice to be heard. I love telling people about a quote I heard from American writer Sarah Vowell. She says that, “It’s a pretty megalomanical job being a writer, because you just assume that other people need to know what you say.”

I agree with this, because when you write, you create these mini realities you want people to be active participants of, and you hope that the messages hidden within all those words gets across to them. For me, depending on the subject matter, I want to invite a person into that world and let them see how I shine my spotlight on reality. I listened to a friend recently explain how she felt about my book after reading it. She detailed what moved her, and how she felt about the various character arcs and as I was sitting there, nodding along with what she was saying, I realized that at one level I had achieved what I wanted to get across. Mapping out the book in a specific manner, inserting different conflicts and situations to develop things dramatically had panned out in her mind the way I had foreseen it. I feel at the very least that is what I’m trying to achieve. People can draw different inferences from a book after reading it, but I think if they at least take from it what you were trying to give them, you’ve achieved something. Novels are just different versions of this primary goal, sometimes you want to embellish on a serious topic, or just explore a new territory and take someone along for the ride.

(5). Do you have plans for other novels, or books?
Yes. I’ve lived in Japan as well as the Caribbean and the U.S, and there are a few ideas spinning around in my head regarding projects that relate to those aspects of my life. I’ve already started working on the Tokyo-based project, which should be fun reading for anyone interested in Japan life from the perspective of a guy like me, who dabbled in PR, photography, graphic design, filmmaking and also taught English in one of the biggest cities on the planet. I’ve also written quite a few short stories, and i’m thinking of putting them into a collection. 

(6). Please tell us about your prior literary works?
I can mention a few. In 2009, I wrote a series of short stories while I was in Japan. I wrote several over a two-week period, and I got a group of quality readers together and let them assess the stories. The top pick, a story entitled “Gaijin Girl” would be published soon afterward in a Japanese literary journal called Yomimono. (“Yomimono” literally means “Reading thing”). Then about a year later, the publisher, author Suzanne Kamata, chose another story of mine, “Sleep” for the next edition of Yomimono. As I mentioned before, having lived in and visited many different places gives my work a very multicultural feel. I wrote “Gaijin Girl” about the phenomenon where westernized Japanese women often date and marry foreign men in their home towns after returning to Japan. “Sleep” talks about an insomniac male model who lives in New York, focusing on the randomness of life in a place where the city never sleeps. Another short story I wrote,  “Misses Cats”, is written from the perspective of a Japanese woman. It gives a bleak look into her life, where she grows up and experiences tragic stories of love and loss. I like exploring different angles and agendas, in my writing, and these works reflect that.  

(7). What was your motivation to write “Sex, Drugs and Jerk Chicken” ?
There was a two year period a few years ago when I experienced a lot of loss and a mixed bag of situations in my life. People say that things come in waves, and that was my “tidal wave” experience. During that time, I saw a few people close to me die, I also saw the pain that broken relationships and the whole “coming of age” drama can bring. When dark, traumatizing things happen to you as an individual, your mind searches for ways to process the information relative to your previous life experiences. Depending on how badly you feel this might be an extremely difficult process. The book is a manifestation of my brain seeking answers and resolutions to things way over my head at the time, and me trying to make sense of it all.

(8) How has writing the novel affected your life?
Not significantly thus far, I just released it, so it will take some time to see what the future truly holds. It does feel great to have achieved this goal, and to be in the process of doing cool stuff like interviews and chatting to people about the little reality I created in the world of Sex, Drugs and Jerk Chicken.

(9). Do you write from personal experience?
For the most part, yes. I think writers generally get the most material or inspiriation for writing from their actual lives, or scenarios from their lives they can expand upon and I’m no different.

(10). Are there plans to make “Sex, Drugs and Jerk Chicken” into a movie?
A few people think it would make a great movie, I probably need to start getting my screenwriting skills back up to scratch (laughs).
(11).  What advice can you give a novice writer?
Write as often as possible about topics that interest you, without worrying about how it sounds for a while. Then get quality feedback from someone who has a genuine interest in your work. Take their criticism positively, then go about either rewriting some of your old stuff, or forge ahead with this new information. Sex, Drugs and Jerk Chicken isn’t my first novel, it’s probably my fifth. I wrote several manuscripts on other topics before I settled on writing in a manner that held more of my “voice” as it were. Some people find their writing voice right away, some people need to explore more territory. I tell people to explore the territory quickly, so you don’t find yourself searching for your voice for years and years.
It’s very easy to get stuck in the mud of “single subject” matter, which doesn’t help you to grow. Personally I find different and varied writing projects are like wily opponents in a fighting cage, you need to switch up your styles to face different challenges and you learn new things from each bout. Stretching yourself with different kinds of  prose and exploring different creative ideas eventually helps to give you a certain versatility, it gets you out of the mud.

There was a two year period where I wrote about four full length manuscripts, and I ran the gamut from science fiction to non fiction. I wrote a novella that was about a failed romance, I wrote over a hundred blog posts online, I wrote short stories and articles. I wrote about everything I felt l was interested in, and then at the end of it all, I saw that I liked writing about social dynamics and human psychology relative to fictional scenarios. Chatting about the human condition and reality from my perspective had a ‘voice’ that gave me a different feeling as I was writing. All the writing I had done helped to greatly enhance my practical skills and allowed me to properly explore more complex topics.  So if you want to write, there is no getting around it, you need to write a lot, focus on topics that interest you, and don’t look back.

(12). The novel has been well received, are you satisfied with the results?
I can’t say I am just yet, the novel was just released and from the people who’ve read it so far, they find it interesting. I’ll see how things pan out after a few more months.

(13). The book is currently available on amazon.com, are there any other locations where the book may be purchased?
 It is strictly on Amazon right now. I’m trying to work with that online marketplace and then eventually branch out to other outlets depending on how successful the venture is.

(14). Do you have plans to conduct appearances and book readings/signings to promote your book? If so, where and when?
That’s definitely in the works. Trying to do some local stuff with book stores here in Jamaica, and if I travel anytime soon, maybe I’ll see if I can squeeze in a reading in some cool New York location possibly. It would also be amazing if I could organize a reading in Washington D.C somewhere, since the book is set in D.C.

(15). Is there anything you would like to say to the www.jamaicans,com audience, pertaining to following goals and dreams?
Goals are dreams with a deadline. Change dreams to goals and you will be in a better frame of mind to make the hard choices to move forward. Personally what I tell people to do is deconstruct whatever it is you are trying to do so that it is not daunting. Writing a novel? Figure out a per day word count to write the book that fits your lifestyle. In Stephen King’s On Writing, he says for his writing process he doesn’t go below two thousand words a day, which means he usually finishes a manuscript in no less than three and a half months. For me, some times I have five page days and some times I have fifteen page days, but when I’m in writing mode, I try to have a rule where I write at least “two pages” to keep the momentum going. This sort of rule works with different sorts of goals as well. If you want to lose weight, figure out the daily, weekly, and monthly requirements. Want to get more specific? Then figure out what you can do hourly. Make it simple, make it so impossible to misunderstand that you cannot fail, then put a date on it. This more than anything is what I tell people. If you want to learn a new skill, travel somewhere or increase personal efficiency, break down the goal into palatable steps. Then the “dream” it isn’t this massive, daunting, mountain anymore, it’s a hill. Sure it will still take effort to get to the top, and you might need some tools to assist you in getting there, but it can be done.