Michael De Los Muertos
Author of Fire, Metal, Blood and Money
Interviewed by EvilG in June 2000
Please tell readers the background behind the book “Fire, Metal, Blood and Money” and why you wrote it.
I started writing the book for fun. Writing has always been a hobby of mine, and I had been toying for several years with the idea of doing a mystery. I even started writing it, it was a murder set in Portland called “The Mystery of Michael Steed.” I only got halfway through it before I gave it up. Strangely I did not write about metal very often, but one evening I was at a metal show, seeing the same people I frequently saw at shows, and it struck me that the metal scene would be a perfect backdrop for a mystery. Especially in a close-knit metal scene like Portland, most of the people know each other and have some kind of history together, good or bad. I sat down and tried to write an outline for it, borrowing a lot of concepts from the unsuccessful “Michael Steed” attempt including the character with that name. The outline was terrible. I threw it away, but something compelled me to try again. What came out that second time was the plot of Fire, Metal. I just ran with it.
How much of your real life experiences went into this book?
A fair amount. The plot is mostly made-up, but the background is genuine. All of the concerts that are depicted in the book are concerts I attended in Portland, with some artistic license. The Death and HammerFall show at the beginning was the best metal show I ever saw in my life. Most of the places described in and around Portland are real places, with a few exceptions (the “Red Chamber” bar being one of them). The characters have shades of real people, but I can’t say any one of them is really “based” on someone. What I tried to put into the book most verbatim from real life is the way I feel about things, particularly metal, and the people in the metal scene. All the emotion is genuine, I hope.
Without giving away too much of the plot, how much of this book do you think is possible?
Not only do I think it’s possible, I think similar things are already happening. A few months ago your web site reported that the police chief of Carlsbad, New Mexico shut down a Pissing Razors show because he didn’t want “those kind of people” in his town. The police aren’t portrayed very favorably in the book, but in real life Portland has become a major center of police oppression and brutality, and increasingly the victims are young people. There is a backlash in the mainstream against violent media, and even before that began, blaming heavy metal for “causing” suicides or murders was a pretty well-known phenomenon. I think there is a lot of potential out there for some very ugly repression against metal in general, and I think it’s closer to happening than we would like to believe.
Do you think metalheads should be paranoid or worry about groups like the PMRC etc…?
I don’t know if “paranoid” is the right word. I worry not about the power that these groups have, but the power that the mainstream, if properly motivated, would put behind them. Right now metal is still pretty much outside the realm of mainstream consciousness. However, it would take one explosive issue to cause the mainstream to notice it. It’s touched on in the book a little bit — I think school shootings could be such an issue. These tragedies shock the mainstream so deeply that they’ll tolerate extreme measures to stop them. All a group like the PMRC would have to do would be to convince the mainstream that heavy metal causes school shootings, and as we’ve seen, that’s not a difficult proposition to sell to the eleven o’clock news. Then it’s a matter of saying, “Heavy metal causes school shootings, and we’re anti-heavy metal. We can do something about it.” The mainstream can rationalize this. The thinking among normal people is, “Well, I don’t like the politics of this group or that group, but they’re effective in dealing with a serious problem, and I can’t argue with success.” The mistake we could easily make is thinking that it can’t happen here, or that these groups aren’t a threat because they could never convince a majority to support them. The point is, they don’t have to. All they have to do is keep a majority from actively opposing them. That’s how the Nazis came to power in Germany, and unfortunately I think something like that could happen here too.
Is a warning sticker on a CD a good thing, as in it attracts buyers? Or is it useless?
What we should not forget about the stickers is that they were never really intended to warn anybody about what was or was not on an album. They were introduced in the 1980s as a compromise by the record companies to forestall censorship legislation. The purpose of the stickers is entirely political. Whether it attracts buyers because of the sticker, well, I don’t know. I have never purchased or not purchased an album because of the sticker.
How long did it take you to write the book?
I began writing in November 1999 and it was finished in the latter part of March. It was a little unusual because I went all the way through without stopping. I’ve written other books before, none published yet, and what frequently happens is I’ll write for a few months, stop and leave the book alone for a while, and come back to it a few months later to finish it.
When you began writing it, was the end goal to get it published or were you writing for your own enjoyment?
I was writing for my own enjoyment at first. The idea to publish it didn’t even come up until well into the writing process. A friend of mine encouraged me to seriously consider it. I’m very glad I listened to her.
How did you get the book published and what were the major the major obstacles you had to overcome?
The book is independently published and that was the intention from the time the decision to publish was made. I didn’t take it to Random House or Doubleday or places like that. Doing it myself, by creating Buffalo Fetus Productions, I was able to make the decisions, not some editor in New York. Those kind of publishers are interested in pushing the latest trend, whatever’s on the best seller rack at B. Dalton’s. This is clearly the wrong approach for a book about metal! The major obstacle was finding a printing house who would do it for the right price, and then the extremely complicated process of getting the book in the form where they could print it — computer formatting, the cover, the graphics on the cover, etc. It’s tough to produce a book on a small budget, but Alpha Graphics in Portland really came to the rescue. I had some terrific friends who worked with me on this every step of the way and really got behind it, and I’ve mentioned them on the Thanks Page. That’s page 3 of the book, and in many ways the most important page!
Who or what is “Buffalo Fetus Productions” – what’s with the name??
Buffalo Fetus Productions is the publishing company we formed to produce the book. The name is a joke from my old dorm days at the University of New Mexico. We were hanging out in the dorm room of one of our friends who had a lava lamp. You know how when you first turn on a lava lamp, before it warms up, there’s a gob of that waxy shit that hangs there formlessly for a while? It was in that stage, and somebody (we were all drunk) commented, “That looks like a buffalo fetus!” For months, “worshipping the Buffalo Fetus” was the running joke in our dorm. We even had a fake “Buffalo Fetus Cult” with a big flag and everything. Just part of the dorm craziness. When I had to pick a name for the publishing company, I picked that one. I figured it would be remembered.
What’s next for you – another book? If so, will it be a “metal fiction” or have any of the same characters from Fire, Metal, Blood and Money??
I’m working on another book, and it is metal fiction. Whether we will publish it, I’m not sure — I really hope so! I’d love to do another one, if it’s feasible. I have lots of ideas, but for every one idea that works, 10 fall by the wayside. The idea I’m working on now would be a very different story than Fire, Metal, but it would still focus on metal. And yes, it’s quite possible some of the characters may turn up again. One of my influences is Kevin Smith, the director who made Clerks, Mallrats, Dogma and those movies, and although the movies are all different, many of the characters recur and the stories frequently reference each other. I like that.
How long have you been writing and is this your first book?
The answer to the first question is: since the age of seven. I always thought writing stories was fun, at least when the stories could be about aliens, monsters, and the kind of shit seven-year-olds think is cool. The answer to the second question is, yes and no. It’s not the first book I’ve written, but it’s the first one published. I have several old manuscripts lying around. Some are pretty good, and others suck. If I haven’t stopped writing them by now, I’m probably not going to.
Have you taken courses in writing at the post-secondary level or is this natural talent?
Thank you for the compliment! I took one writing class in college, but it was a seminar and not really a class. The professor, who was barely older than the students, used to bring her dog to class and then sit there while we regaled each other with the weirdest, sickest or most sexually explicit stories we could come up with. Truth is, while criticism of particular pieces of writing I take very seriously, I’ve ignored just about every piece of advice I’ve ever been given about the process of how to write. I know virtually nothing technical about it. I couldn’t diagram a sentence if you held a gun to my head, and I wouldn’t know a participle if I was fucking one. So in one sense you could say I really know very little about writing.
What is a typical day like for Michael De Los Muertos…do you write constantly or is writing an activity outside of the 9-5 routine?
I wish I could tell you that I was a little heavy metal Hemingway, living in a beachside bungalow where I could write, drink and listen to metal all day. But that’s not the way it is. I have an 8 to 5 job at a conservative company where I have to submerge my metal identity, and it’s really like living a double life. When I’m not working there’s still a lot to do — phone calls to return, metal shows to go to, etc. — so writing usually gets done late at night, on weekends, or holidays. That’s all right, because I usually do my best work after midnight, frequently after I’ve had a couple of drinks!
Would you agree that metal is not only music, but a lifestyle? Your characters sure live it, so do you?
I would definitely agree. Metal is a lifestyle, and I think a little culture all its own. We have our own history, our own traditions, our own customs, and what I call “social physics.” Yet metal is also about individuality, thinking for yourself, fighting the trends, and being your own person. The challenge is finding the balance, and there is one. I have no choice about being a metalhead. Truth is, I probably couldn’t stop listening to metal even if I wanted to, it’s ingrained so deeply in me. In the book, Michael Steed comments that the only way to get him to stop listening to metal is to put a bullet in his head. And Tanis, he goes away to law school and tries to join the rat race, but his place is truly with the metalheads, and he knows it. I think — I hope — these are themes that a lot of readers will respond to.
What kind of metal or metal bands do you have the most respect for?
I love all kinds of metal, particularly power and death metal. I most respect bands who never lose sight of why they play metal, do it because they love it, and refuse to compromise that. Most people who play metal started out as metal fans, and if you stay a fan, you’ll stay true. I respect bands like Dismember or Manowar, they’ve been around forever, they do their thing very well, and album after album you get exactly what you expect and what you want. I also respect bands like Testament or Rotting Christ who experiment with different styles, who do a lot of innovative things from album to album and evolve a lot from where they started, but who never lose sight of why they continue to play metal and why they love it. What I don’t respect are the bands who make a couple of good albums and then decide that it’s not about metal or doing what you love, it’s about the money, or chicks, or MTV or whatever. Those kind of bands are very damaging to the scene.
What are your thoughts on the black metal scene and the association that some people have with it and church burnings?
I think the black metal scene has been the source of a tremendous explosion of creativity and new ideas, and I think that scene brought us farther in 10 years than any other genre. At the same time I think the price of that advancement was appalling — just ask Euronymous, for instance! Whether it’s good or not, whether it’s fair or not, things like church burnings, murders, racist bands spouting hate, etc. will probably be associated with black metal for a long time to come. It’s a part of our history that we have to come to terms with, and we must be aware that, just like in the book, that history can come back to haunt people who had no part in making it. The events in Scandinavia in the early 90s are too recent for us to be able to think objectively about them. In my opinion, a totally fair evaluation of the black metal scene lies at least 10 years in the future.
Besides being creative in the writing arena, do you apply your talents to any other artistic endeavors (art, music, etc…)
Painting is another hobby of mine. I’ve done a number of oil paintings, some of which I’m happy with and some I’m not. I considered doing a painting for the Fire, Metal cover but I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew. I have no musical talent whatsoever. It would be fun to be in a band, but I know my limitations.
If you have any further news on your book or other items that readers might be interested in please let us know!
Well, you can keep tabs on developments with the book through our web site, www.firemetal.com. We update it when we can with some fun stuff, for instance, just this week we put up “Jonas’s Home Page.” Jonas is a pretty colorful character in the book, and I thought it’d be fun to make the kind of totally twisted, off-the-wall web page he might make if he were real — a nightmare of barely-adequate HTML with lots of annoying animated graphics, links to weird sites, a cheesy “self-portrait” done with Windows Paint, etc. We have far more ideas for the web site than we have time to create! In the meantime I’ll be sure to keep Metal-Rules.com updated.