In 2012, I sold my first book, Heroes in the Night: Inside the Real Life Superhero Movement. I was riding pretty high on that one. Writing has its ups and downs. It’s a hard biz. But that moment in 2012 will always be an up.
And, of course, my immediate thoughts were: what next? Eventually my second book would be Monster Hunters, an exploration of the world of paranormal investigators. But before that was established, I had a few other ideas on Tea Krulos’ Second Book.
One idea was what would become American Madness, which ended up being my 4th book. My publisher at the time (Chicago Review Press) was not very keen on it, and in hindsight I’m really glad for that because the story was nowhere near complete at that time. So I put that project on the backburner.
Another idea I had was looking into writing a biography of the Violent Femmes. I don’t really ever want to be stuck writing about one genre or idea, so a music bio seemed like a good idea. Plus the Femmes were incubated, much like me, in this weird city called Milwaukee. Around that time I had written a short article on OG Femmes drummer Victor DeLorenzo’s current band Nineteen Thirteen. He’s a very cool guy, so I thought I might start there. But Chicago Review Press wasn’t keen on that idea, either. Editors!
I also had an idea for a book that would explore the relationship between humans and shark, working title “Man Bites Shark.” I envisioned writing about things like the shark fin soup industry, the impact Jaws had on society, the story of the guy who got bit by a shark but advocates for their conservancy, etc.
One day, and this was a real weird moment for me, I went with my sisters to the mall and was killing time wandering around Barnes & Noble looking at displays, seeing what was out there. A book caught my eye and I started flipping through it. This book was exactly like my idea, down to the chapter breakdowns and everything, it was uncanny. Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks by Juliet Eilperin is a great book, but it’s not mine!
And then there was another idea I had– CHESSBOXING.
I don’t know how I had heard of it, but chessboxing is an unusual sport that began in Berlin in 2003 and developed a following there as well as London. It spread to India, Russia, and other countries. There are American chessboxers but my impression is not a real huge following here. Anyway, as the name suggests, the sport intersperses rounds of boxing with rounds of chess. A player can win by knock out, checkmate, or point evaluation on punches landed and chess pieces captured.
What I imagined writing was admittedly a bit of stunt journalism– I would train to become a chessboxer with the goal of participating in at least one match and write about the experience. You know, “My Journey as a Chessboxer and Blah Blah Blah.” It appealed to me because it seemed like a great challenge to be sharp physically and mentally. I was sure there would be some kind of journey there to write about.
I had a big problem, though– I had zero experience boxing and only a rudimentary understanding of chess. I knew how the pieces moved, but had no concept of strategy, endgame, or anything else. I tried picking up a book on improving your game, but it read kind of like instructions to putting together something from IKEA. I decided instead to put a classified ad in a community newspaper I’ve written for, the Riverwest Currents, soliciting a chess coach. I got a response.
I don’t know what I expected, but Aqeel was a large, bald, black guy in a Rascal scooter, always dressed in a bright Hawaiian shirt. He told me he played “street chess” and that the first lesson was free. He taught me a move called the “Fool’s Mate” during that first lesson in which you unleash checkmate in a few short moves to your unexpecting opponent. I told him he was hired.
He lived in an apartment downtown, so twice a week for several months I took a bus there so we could hang out in his living room for a lesson. He had a constant stream of visitors who would drop by to give him food or ask to borrow $5 til Friday.
He was usually a good natured, jolly type of person. He was always commenting on my chess moves, either to psych me out or to offer a clue I was making a bad move. Some examples:
(On why I would sacrifice my knight): Well, like my mom used to say, sometimes you need to bring ass to get ass.
You make that move, you’re going to be badder than Michael Jackson (and not bad in a good way).
(After making a bold move) You wanna go there? Well then, in the words of Marvin Gaye, let’s get it on!
Other things I remember– he was an interesting person, for sure. He made an incredible homemade honey lemonade and he showed me YouTube videos of ambient sound that he said helped open his pineal gland.
Aqeel was teaching me some moves on the board, but now I needed to learn how to box.
Next Week: Ding ding ding!
Tea’s Weird Week, S5 ep08: Twisted Dreams
Tea talks to Christopher House about the upcoming Twisted Dreams Film Festival, a horror showcase here in Milwaukee. Then Tea and Heidi talk weird news about J.R.R. Tolkien, Predator vs Children of the Corn, “de-extinction” of the Tasmanian Tiger, a Jesus Christ simulator game, and QAnon’s latest cancer-curing contraption. Plus trivia and a closing track by The Unitaskers, “Philodendron.”
Listen here: Tea’s Weird Week, S5 ep08: Talkin’ Twisted Dreams (podbean.com)
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My latest books are:
Brady Street Pharmacy: Stories and Sketches (2021, Vegetarian Alcoholic Press)
American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness (2020, Feral House)