Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Notes Toward a FAQ

1.) What is Bourbon Cowboy?

It’s the blog of David Ellis Dickerson, a writer and recent transplant to The City.

1.1) Why a blog?

I used to send out a Dave Update of my doings (and humor pieces), but I ran into so many people who were interested in getting e-mails that the list got really unwieldy. This blog, alas, officially supersedes the old Dave Update list—and I say “alas,” because I used to send out entire stories and complete humor pieces, and I’d rather not do that on this site, for fear that it will be hard to sell a piece to an editor if it already has a web presence. So I imagine this will consist of shorter pieces, or pieces that, for whatever reason, don’t seem publishable.

1.2.) Why is it called Bourbon Cowboy?

Because I like drinking and I dress like a cowboy.

1.3.) Are you an alcoholic or something?

Actually, my limit is almost always two drinks, unless someone else is buying. That way I’m still sober enough to get home safely. But I was raised a conservative evangelical Christian, and as an ex-fundy I now find the very ambience of a decent bar is endlessly thrilling to me. It’s like swearing: it has the odor of naughtiness without actually being evil, and I indulge in both tirelessly. (My favorite thing is single malt scotch, a single shot of which is so strong that you can nurse it in the same time that a less selective person can down three indifferent beers.)

1.4.) Why do you dress like a cowboy?

It was a look I toyed with on the cross-country trip that forms my book Travels With Ritalin. It was just for fun, and I wasn’t particularly wedded to the concept when I started. But near the end of the trip, money problems forced me to hang out in my home town of Tucson, Arizona for three weeks, and I realized how much I missed the Southwest and enjoyed being associated with its culture and music and whatnot. So I’ve been dressing this way ever since.

1.5.) How’s that working in New York City?

I barely rate a second glance. I was actually hoping to be more supercilious, but I underestimated the jadedness and/or insularity of the New Yorker-on-the-street. I get the occasional “hi, cowboy,” but no one has laughed and pointed or anything. (Admittedly, I spent much of my time in Chelsea, which may have a higher tolerance than, say, the Upper West Side.)

2.) What’s your new address and phone number?

I’m in Washington Heights, and if you’ve stumbled on this site accidentally, that’s all you need to know. For further into, contact me privately and I’ll tell you if I know you. Possible exception if you’re a lovely woman with a cute picture somewhere; I’m not ruling anything out.

2.1.) When are you moving?

The current plan is to move on February 17th, right after my last Friday in Tallahassee. I might leave on Saturday or Sunday, depending on how long it takes me to pack.

2.2.) Will you drive up, fly up, hire movers, or what?

Good question. I just checked MapQuest, and it looks like driving will only require 17 hours on the road, which is as nothing to an inveterate road-tripper such as myself, who just drove the entire length of I-10 and back, often spending as many as 14 hours behind the wheel with only nominal breaks. So I should be able to drive it in two days easily, putting me in Manhattan on the 19th or thereabouts.

2.3.) Do you have a job?

No. Thanks for reminding me. But I do have two books to sell, a third almost completed, a nascent Ph.D. in literature, an entire phalanx of extremely talented and generous friends the area, and—maybe most importantly—office experience. I expect to start by temping, which at least two other temps have assured me will pay enough for me to make my relatively modest (by New York standards) rent.

2.4.) Why are you moving?

That’s where the opportunities are. I have three goals I’m trying to pursue while I’m here: a.) to make a living as a writer (especially travel and humorous features for magazines); b) to write and perform comedy again (with an eye, like everyone else, on The Daily Show); and, in what may be the most quixotic dream ever, c.) to write and perform country-western styled hip-hop. Even if this last dream fails (and I can’t imagine it failing utterly), the story of my pursuit should make one hell of a funny book.

3.) What are those books you’ve written?

I’m currently peddling a nonfiction humor book called Travels With Ritalin, about my trip across the entire length of I-10 in June and July, right before Katrina hit. I also have two other books very close to completion: Songs From the Dictionary, a collection of light verse about unusual words I’ve run across, and By Dick!—a satirical novel retelling the medieval voyages of St. Brendan in search of America.

3.1) Wait—weren’t you writing a novel about the greeting card industry?

Yes, I tried, and it sucked. It turns out I don’t do realism very well, and the long-range planning and structure required to write a conventional novel is simply beyond me. (By Dick, like Travels With Ritalin, is a picaresque, which is a much easier plot for me to handle) Which is why I spent six years in grad school trying to write a novel for my dissertation and wound up, after six years, writing a book-length essay that’s essentially “What I Did On My Summer Vacation Three Months Ago.” My muse is subtle, but insistent: I work short and punchy.

3.2.) But . . . all that work! It would make such a great story? Are you giving up on it?

I may try it as a screenplay, since goodness knows “romantic comedy set in the greeting card industry”is a concept that damn near sells itself. And I know what’s wrong with the current book, so I have ideas of how to fix it. The chief flaw of my current draft is that the protagonist is wrong—I wrote about a nice young guy, when the comic conceit all but demands a bitter middle-aged one—and the conflict was one I wasn’t committed enough to. I had my protagonist trying to live whimsically and idealistically while being clamped down on by the un-funny realities of nine-to-fiving. Which means it was a story about an idealist being beaten into submission. Not funny, it turns out. If I change it into an arc about a beaten-down guy learning to love simple jokes again, it’ll be a lot more fun to write. But you know what’s more fun? Anything except a novel. So it’ll have to wait until I get a few other books out of the way and I have leisure to fall in love with it again.


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