Inside the Writer's Studio
Former pro skater Scott Bourne moved to Paris to write the next great American novel.
Photo by Tsuyoshi Nishiyama
The name of the book is a play on the fact that despite how skateboarding has grown, skaters have always been regarded by the general public as young, dumb and full of cum (granted many home-schooled California skaters are as dumb as the world has ever seen). and how shocking it is that we can read or count to ten. The truth is, though, that despite mostly being high school dropouts skateboarders possess a self-taught intellect coupled with street smarts that I'd hire over any college grad. Skateboarding has produced some of the greatest and creative minds of our time; fifty years from now art students at Cooper Union will be taught Ed Templeton and Mark Gonzales. I feel former pro skater Scott Bourne falls into that category and one day, if not soon, he'll be heralded for his literary chops.
Scott was always known to beat the piss out of whatever he skated or get the piss beat out of himself, often both. He charged at whatever he was skating like a bull at a matador and like the bull, much blood was shed. I was a huge fan of his skating and of that era of Consolidated Skateboards team with Alan Peterson, Karma Tsocheff, The Paez Brothers and Jason Jesse. But back in 1996 when Scott went pro for Consolidated skateboarding was altogether different. It hadn't been overrun and conquered by huge, corporate, outsider footwear companies. It was small. And special. Raw. Pure. Beautiful. As Scott describes it now, "If you are against corporate involvement then you just don't have a place in skateboarding anymore, unless you want to run a failing business like Consolidated has always honorably been. I don't want that to be a bitter bite at skateboarding, it's just the way of the world, play, pay or get raped... choose your place! But skateboarding needs Consolidated, it doesn't need, Red Bull, Shawn White, or The X Games!"
As skateboarding changed into the commercial abomination it is now guys like Scott, guys with integrity, became disheartened and chose to move on and make a new life outside of skateboarding. After ten years living in a room without lights or windows in San Francisco Scott moved to France, ultimately settling in Paris.
I often wondered what became of Scott. Modeling photos would occasionally surface and I'd be like, "Ok. He's doing that now." The truth was that he moved abroad to isolate himself in a world where he didn't speak the language so he could write uninterrupted. Years later he is married with a son, learned French and has completed his first novel, A Room With No Windows detailing the life well-lived in San Francisco in that dark windowless room. I'm halfway through it and loving it. Like Scott's skating it's raw and from the gut. I'm quite proud of him and joyous over the fact that not only can skaters read they can also write.
The book takes place more than a decade ago, right around the same time I was living in Los Angeles, the time in which my Skinema book was set. Recently I've been writing the script for my book to be turned into a television show this fall and as I read Scott's book I could not help but feel the similarities between both of our relocations from the East Coast to California. The main difference being Scott was lucky enough to be sober in SF, a place very similar to East Coast cities, where I was wasted in LA, a cultural void full of mutants. I caught up with Scott via email to discuss skating, his book and the similarities and differences in our adventures out west.
David Couliau made a short doc about Scott Bourne, if you want to watch it.
VICE: Do you keep up the happenings in skateboarding?
Scott Bourne: No, not at all. I am a doer and when I am doing, I am on it. If I am in than I am all in. if I am out, than I am all out and that's the way I like it. I have never done anything half-assed.
That map of Paris behind your desk I saw in David Couliau video, are those skatespots that are marked?
Hardly...those are all parks, graves, fountains, bridges and monuments where my lady and I have made love all over this great city. I write with maps using them for reference. A Room With No Windows takes place in San Francisco and for more than a year I had a map of the city over my desk. My second novel takes place in North Carolina and for quite sometime I had a map of the Ole North State over the desk. I put up the map of Paris as part of a study for a third novel I began work on, but instead it got taken over with our sexual adventures. We got away with some romantic evenings and soon we started marking them like heists. We have made Wilde love on Oscar's grave and run naked through the Tuileries. Our son was conceived on a night when we road our bikes out to the Gardens at Versaille, climbed over the wall, made love on Louis' lawn and then went skinny dipping in the castle fountains. I photographed it all and my journals are filled with our stories! These nights wrote themselves. You never know what is going to happen when you do illegal things.
Does writing afford for you to live?
I live strictly by ass kissing, bribery and prostitution which in actuality might have a professional title of "writer" but if you are asking if publishing a novel is paying the bills I will simply say "lay off the pipe" 'cause you in a dream!
I saw you've become somewhat of a known model in Paris. How did that come about? How does it differ from being in front of a skate photographers lens?
Money from skateboarding was dwindling. Contrary to popular belief, I never made the big bucks I am accused of having. I had been in Europe illegally for about 6 years. There was little I could do to earn money, but as a model I needed no visa. I wasn't ready to return to the states. A good friend of mine who is a pretty well known model said I should give it a try. He took me into his agency and boom...I'm a model. I've worked for Berluti and Margiela, L'Oreal, GQ and just about anything in between. It's modeling work. You know you're selling your ass and it's a lot easier than selling your name. It's not much different than skateboarding except for you don't have to jump down any stairs and don't come home bloody. It's just another corner to stand on until the dream comes in. I am a writer, not a skateboarder or a model... but a writer!
Photo by Tobin Yelland
It's the 4th of July. I believe you to be a patriot. In the video by David Couliau you say America has failed. I agree. But I'd like to know your take on how so.
I am not going to touch that at this moment, but I will say that I think it's crazy how America has the world brainwashed into believing it is the almighty doer of good. When I speak to people around the world about the U.S. government I am immediately called a Conspiracy Theorist and often laughed at. On the flip side when we speak of Russia, China, the Middle East or Korea, it's basically accepted that their governments are corrupt and controlled by money. What the hell makes people think that the U.S. is any different? It's a mindblower to me that the rest of the world is a cheat, but not the good ole USA, the country with the biggest computers and the biggest military. 99% of those flag waving fools have never even left The States. You can't be an apple patriot if you've never had an orange!
What do big computers have to do with anything?
They have everything to do with everything in the world right now. Everything you get or give for free on a computer goes into a server and is monitored by the people with the biggest computers. In essence liars have to have great memories so as to not mix up multiple stories and these sorts of moneymaking schemes are not possible without giant computers to sort out all the mega-pyramid schemes and pointless growth spurts of the financial service sector, it would have been impossible to swindle people on this level without giant computers sorting all the lies. The human mind is just not capable of this, but if you own the biggest, fastest computers that have access to everyone's information you can just look for money and find it. This is what happened on Wall Street and it sent a wave across the world. Stop giving away everything for free.
How long did you live in the room with no windows without hardly any light? And what physical and mental effects did it have on you then? And which still linger?
I spent 10 years in that space between tours. After a time I found that the room served me in several different ways. In one I could spend long hours even days in there just working, writing, reading or listening to records without any need or desire for the outside world. Other times I felt trapped, unable to leave, filled with some sort of magnetic depression that held me there. Basically this is what the book is about, the thing that happened there and was in there that I was unaware of. The reason why the room had been sealed off and what happened when Phares and I opened it back up.
After reading about your time in SF it seems like we had uncannily similar runs in California with the isolation and the booze and the women. They're comical in their tragedy. I find that some of my fondest memories of that time for me are of the most miserable moments. How about for you? What's a SF story that warms your heart every time you think of it?
I am a live and learn sort of human. I really believe that information without experience is simply data and does little good in application. That only experience can turn information into knowledge. Read as many books as you want about sailing but it is the man that cannot read but has spent 40 years on the sea that I am hiring to teach me to sail. My time in California is a time of my youth and I was raising hell long before I hit her golden soil. It's just that in California I was rewarded for my mischief, even marketed, where as in North Carolina...I was certainly headed for jail time. My story is I beat the odds, farm boy run-a-way to Paris runway and any other mad moment you could find between hitch hike and fist fight... I've seen the road, the rail and the runway! This is what my second novel approaches! A live and learn sort of mantra!
Scott Bourne jumping freight trains.
I told you I've been working on a script for my book Skinema. It takes place in 2000. Roughly the same era as when your book begins I believe. Was it hard writing this book from the point of view of your younger self? I feel like some chapters have old man wisdom of a modern Scott in 2013 and others are so simple and pure like that of a younger man's thinking. I find that's the issue I've been having with my script. A young and much stupider man wrote my book.
I wrote this novel when I was 30, still young and naïve! When I went back nearly 10 years later to edit it, I was amazed by the purity it had. It was a me that had long since died along the way and I left him there. The book is full of mistakes in the writing and the verb tense, but it is what makes the characters and the author's story telling credible. It's raw and real and because of this sort of naïve writing we feel the story more intensely. Your challenge is to keep the man that wrote the book, and not become the better man that could have never written it...
In what ways are you the same/different as the kid in the book all these years later?
I don't know. I still have that "no hope, that's what gives me guts" sort of punk mentality. I have always felt like I had nothing to lose so I just went for it, weather it be California and skateboarding or Paris and writing. If I want something there is little that anyone can do to keep me from it.
Do you ever wish you had the opportunity to apologize or explain yourself to the women that loved you back then while you were running wild on the city? I always feel like I should go through old phone books and cold call the women and apologize for all the nights of limp dicks due to pills and disinterest.
I never had the limp dick 'cause I never did drugs and didn't have my first drink until 27. In actuality I had the opposite problem. My dick was hard all the time and often left one woman's house and went directly to another's, which certainly is not good karma or ethics. But I can't apologize for anything. I was young and wild and I think that that was the man those women were in love with. That romantic young rogue that showed them things they had never seen on streets they had walked a million times. That's not to say that I might just be a delusional, egotistical fool romanticizing my behavior. I am willing to accept that, but I have pretty great relations with nearly all the past women in my life... and each and every one of them gave me something that I cherish.
How did you meet your wife? How did you know? How much does she know of the old you?
We met at a Halloween party. I was in a low-cut gold sequin dress, make-up, wig, purse, the whole get-up! She was in a bloody shower curtain with a knife in her guts. I asked her out that night, in that outfit. It took six months to get a date and after that night we became inseparable. We share everything and there is really nothing she does not know about my past. You can't be with me if you are a jealous woman... it's just impossible, I love women too much.
Do you ever look into the eyes of your beautiful children, as I do, and hope they never read your book so as to never learn just how dark and destructive their father once was?
No...it's the opposite for me. I am thrilled that my son may one day be interested enough in my life and work to spend the time needed to read a 300 page novel I wrote. Besides, it's just life. There will be pain!
Why the typewriter? I understand the romance of the machine and the music it makes as you dance along on the keys but to write, how many, ten, drafts of a book on a typewriter seems like pure madness and honestly a waste of time because of the speed of technology. I feel like I'm living on borrowed time and trying to make up for my years in California and time is the one thing I can not afford to spare.
That's it. It's all about the romance. Never before have we lived in a time of greater anti-romanticism than now. Everything is instant and valueless. I need romance. I mean I really do. I don't need speed that is often careless and blind, we've both done that. I have a reward when I sit at the typewriter and work, which is unlike spending hours staring into a mind numbing computer screen. I write everything by hand. Second drafts come out of the typewriter. I am not skipping a step in the process. You look at the work of any great sculpture, Dalou, Carpeaux, Rude, or my personal favorite Fremiet, and these guys have tons of sketches and drawings before they ever make a model. Then they make tons of models before they take to the stone. Modern man just takes to the stone. If you have written a novel on a computer the truth is that you only have one draft and you are really just proof reading, which is far different than writing. But when you rewrite an entire work, you find things you forgot, you transform the story and find the essence of the work, you carve your novel into stone where it stays forever. I have an original manuscript of my novel and even if it had never been published I could one day pass it on to my son and say something romantic like, "Son, here is the book your father wrote when he ran off to Paris and tried to be a writer... don't show it to your mother!" But that is not the story I have to tell. In fact, by the time my son gets that manuscript, it may be priceless and the most valuable gift I have to give... now that is romanticism and it's my reality!
So is A Room With No Windows the next great American novel? Are you following in the footsteps of so many other American writers who made Paris their home? And for someone who road the American rails like a hobo and saw the heartland of the country and enjoyed traveling so much will you make a return or is Paris now and forever home?
I don't know what A Room With No Windows is and it's not up to me to say. Only time will tell how it affects its audience or if it has an audience at all. But you are a fool if you think that by simply following "The Greats", will make YOU great. No great man has ever been a follower. You have to do more than cast your line out into the same water that Hemingway fished, to pull up The Old Man And The Sea. You have to do more than move in beside F. Scott Fitzgerald if you want to meet The Great Gatsby. But more than any of this I think that I did come to Paris looking for a life like I read about in so many wonderful novels that did take place in this city. And in all honesty, what I found or created for myself is far greater than anything I ever read about. So if my novels are a flop... who cares! I have my life! As for a return to America, well, I don't foresee a move anytime soon, but I have begun a book of short stories based around my restless youth, travels, California, trains, running from the law, and the fist fights with a thumb to the freeway. I think it is going to be called Short Stories From The Long Road.
Finally, what's next for you?
I have several completed books at the moment that I am just sitting on. I need to find and agent I can deal with for the simple fact that by publishing with an independent you are basically losing money, and I'd like to continue writing! I am spending a ton of time with my son and have begun a children's story, and Todd Bratrud and I are also working on a project together. He is illustrating a long poem I wrote called Sooth Song, which is basically about the future. I am also doing an eyewear collaboration with Vuerich B. that will have quotes from my book laser-engraved on the inside of the ear pieces. There's a lot happening and I am happy to have so much work.
Order Scott's A Room With No Windows from Amazon or from the 1980 Éditions
Previously - Help Put Strippers Through College
More stupid can be found at Chrisnieratko.com or @Nieratko