An interview with Bob Calhoun from The Write Stuff series:
Bob Calhoun is a San Francisco Bay Area author, journalist, and former punk wrestler and peepshow emcee. Since 2015, he has recounted his city’s most gruesome and lurid events in his regular SF Weekly column, “Yesterday’s Crimes,” which inspired him to tell the history of the Bay Area through its crimes in his latest book, The Murders That Made Us (ECW Press). Calhoun’s earlier punk wrestling memoir, Beer, Blood & Cornmeal: Seven Years of Incredibly Strange Wrestling (ECW Press), is a national bestseller that Wired.com called “breezy and hilarious.” Bob’s work has also appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Salon.com, RogerEbert.com, Gawker and Bold Italic. He and his wife Rosie live in a very suburban home in the East Bay with way too many cats, both feral and domesticated. Follow him on Twitter: @bob_calhoun.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I tell them, “I research rich people and figure out how to get money out of them,” because my day job is in fundraising research, or prospect research. I think my bluntness might be a little frowned upon in the industry but using all the approved lingo to describe what I do has people asking “what?” way too many times. In the end, it’s easier to let people believe I’m able to afford to live around here with my writing. Why break up the fantasy really? Their fantasy is my fantasy.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
If they’re talking about writing, I usually fall all over myself telling them there’s no money in it. Like really, there’s no money. I figure that weeds out the fortune hunters though. If they still want to write about whatever it is they have inside of them that they need to let loose upon the world, then I’d share my successful query letters with them and tell them to do crossword puzzles when they have writers’ block.
What’s been most important to your writing: education, or the real world? Why?
The real world because it gives you something to write about. I used to wrestle dudes in Sasquatch suits while drunks threw food at us. If you can’t figure out a way to spin a tale out of that, then all the M.F.A. programs in the world ain’t gonna help you.
If you could give advice to your 15 year old self, what would it be?
I say, “You’re going to be okay man. You’re going to do everything you want to do and meet people you could only dream of meeting. And you’ll have a wonderful wife who gets you and likes you for all your weirdness. Don’t get discouraged and keep writing and creating.”
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
I consider myself successful. I’ve published four books. Most people are lucky enough to just get one out there. I don’t always feel successful though. I’m not sure any of us ever really feels successful though. I mean, Jeff Bezos still thinks he doesn’t have enough money.
Why do you get up every morning?
Because I can’t get back to sleep.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
I don’t believe in Bigfoot but I’d really like someone to prove me wrong. How wondrous would that be? To find the elusive Sasquatch? Or the Loch Ness Monster for that matter, or Tessie, the Lake Tahoe Monster? Find us some kind of cryptid already. I’d also like to see universal healthcare and the elimination of gun violence but finding a real live Bigfoot seems more realistic right now.
What are you working on right now? Or: what kind of work would you like to do?
I’m still promoting The Murders That Made Us, but that’s becoming an art project unto itself. I’ve been doing socially-distanced street-corner readings and they’ve been going pretty well. I did one at Washington Square Park in North Beach and another by the Ferry Building and got to see so many people I haven’t seen in over a year now. Being vaccinated is stupendous! I did a couple of readings at The Menagerie’s Oddities and Curiosities Market in Alameda on June 19th and that went well enough that they’re having me back for their Haunted Halloween Market on September 18th. I’m thinking of doing another guerrilla reading in the Panhandle but I have some other readings in the works. I never thought there’d be such a live performance aspect to this book but there really has been. People are so hungry for the live experience right now and I’m happy to be there on a street corner or an outdoor food court reading and talking away.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
I wish we could find a way of “improving” neighborhoods without pricing out everybody who already lives in them.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
It involves live music, good food and a few too many cocktails. It helps if I wake up my neighbors while staggering down the street drunk and singing at the top of my lungs as long as that doesn’t land me in the drunk tank.
Have you ever seen a ghost? Or: what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
I had a vision of a hag in July 2019. I was in an unbearable amount of pain at the time. I dozed off, but woke up suddenly to see this woman in silhouette crouched directly in front of me. A key light slowly moved across her face to reveal that she was all withered and aged. She looked at least 120-years-old. This did not feel like a dream. It was so vivid. Now I knew it was sleep paralysis at the time but that didn’t make her any less real, any less ominous. I ended up going to the ER soon after that. It turned out I had massive internal hemorrhaging. I almost died a day after the hag visited me. I lost 50% of the blood in my body and it took me months to recover. It was even hard to write stories after that because my brain wasn’t getting nearly enough oxygen. It made me realize just how physical the writing process really is; how much energy it takes to put words on a page or screen. I got really obsessed with the hags in Jack Kirby comics after that. Hags are a reoccurring theme in his comics. They mess with Thor, the Black Panther, the Demon. Even Devil Dinosaur has to deal with this prehistoric hag. And the hags in Jack Kirby comics are always extremely powerful. Even gods and demons fear them.
If you could live in your ideal society, what would your average day be like?
I’d wake up and write something and people would want to read it, and they’d all have free healthcare.
Author photo by Teresa O’Brien Photography. Video © Jack Dooley, 2021.