Currently reading : An interview with the iconic ex pro-skateboarder and writer Scott Hobbs Bourne
Scott Hobbs Bourne is the ex-pro skateboarder who after leaving his native San Francisco has moved to the eternally romantic Paris to pursue a new career as a writer. Bourne was one of the most celebrated personalities in the hard-edged San Francisco skate scene of the 90s and has now lived in Paris for almost a decade. Sang Bleu have interviewed Scott to find out more about his life since he became a writer and what drew him to this new lifestyle. His first publication A Room With No Windows played the part of a semi autobiographical account of his life as a skateboarder in San Francisco and the romantic endeavours that became intertwined with life.
Portraits of Scott have been specially created by CG Watkins for Sang Bleu .
Sang Bleu: The period in which you wrote about your life in A Room With No Windows was during a time when you were also an iconic pro-skateboarder, however there is nothing about this part of your life the novel. Why did you decide to neglect describing this considering that skating was such an significant part of your life?
Scott Hobbs Bourne: Skateboarding is a language entirely of its own. You either speak it or you don’t and only those on the inside know it. So I did not want to limit my readers by speaking it, but the point is that if you are a skateboarder I think that part of me is fairly recognizable in the writing. Not to mention the cover art is done by one of the most recognizable and influential designers/artists to ever come out of skateboarding. So there are obvious connections. On top of all this, my life in skateboarding at the time was pretty public. I mean you could see it or read about it in just about any skate related publication or film. The novel is a secret life, a behind the scenes glance into a darker me. My life as a pro-skateboarder had already been told.
Sang Bleu: How do you think the version of yourself perceived as a skateboarder reacts to how you portray yourself in the book? The novel is semi autobiographical but how much truth was there to the events that take place in the novel? At what point did fiction merge with your own reality?
Scott Hobbs Bourne: For me it’s the opposite way around. Weather you like it or not it’s when you have a public persona that you are portraying something. The performer or professional, is the actor, not the novelist, he is a derelict having a long conversation with himself in a private place, alone, without an audience, believing all the while there is some genius in that. He is deceived, delusional, and no longer reliable but he is himself. By writing in 1st person and using my own name I am taking responsibility for not only my actions but those of my characters. I am not hiding anything! In all honesty I am no longer concerned with fiction. I am trying to destroy what is false or false in me, and so as to not accuse anyone of anything or force them to do the same, I have had to call it fiction and play with the timeline. I have done this to protect the guilty and shame the innocent! Nothing is greater than fantasy, that is, unless you can make the fantasy real.
Sang Bleu: Your novel didn’t go through the hands of an editor, why did you not want your writing edited?
Scott Hobbs Bourne: As a matter of fact it went through several editors, but in the end I returned to many of my original words and mistakes. The novel itself has a definite problem with verb tense and this is part of the narrator’s problem and a big part of his story. Also a lot of the edits that were done ultimately destroyed the credibility of this character that I had worked so hard to create. Characters like the one telling my story don’t speak in perfect sentences and what these editors ended up doing in cleaning up my writing was destructive to the credibility of the story all together. I made the decision that my audience was more important than the one they wanted to sell me to, so I decided to keep many of the awkward sentences, strange dialect and tense swings and to go with a smaller publisher that could honor my wishes.
Sang Bleu: Could you tell us about the process you took as a writer while skateboarding, before creating a novel you had your writing published in skateboarding magazines. How did you go about getting ‘A Room With No Windows’ published? Was this something you went about once you stopped being a pro skateboarder?
Scott Hobbs Bourne: Mark Whiteley, the editor of SLAP Magazine for almost 14 years, basically asked me if I would be interested in writing a monthly for them and I went for it. So he definitely was the one that gave me the start as a published writer. I was already working on ARWNW but at this stage it was nothing more than notes. I traveled a lot, stayed on the road and made my living as a professional Skateboarder, so that is where I gave priority. Once I took distance from that, the writing took over and I put all my energy into it. The book was finished for more than 8 years before I put any real effort into getting it published. I had spoke with people, been through countless agents and publishers, but everyone wanted to make changes I wasn’t into, or wanted me to license it for a digital book, and set up a blog, things I would never do and might even destroy the authenticity of the storytelling. If it wasn’t for my wife I would have never looked again 8 years after the fact. And the publisher (19/80 Editions) gave me complete creative control. I am very happy with the book!
Sang Bleu: You have been outspoken about online publishing, what is it about it that you are so against?
Scott Hobbs Bourne: It’s not about being against something as much as being for something else and I am for a romantic interaction with the world. And…at present we are living in a time of great anti-romanticism. There is nothing remotely romantic about digital books, nothing human about them, physical and touchable. So I am resisting putting my words, my “art” in any format that detaches the reader from the flesh, because my story is about the flesh. I am saying “no” to anti-romanticism and that’s all. The best example I have to illustrate this idea is the stamp. Ever since I was young I have been enamored by them, how they come from around the world and whom they carry with them. A country’s most revered men, their doctors, scientists, inventors, musicians, revolutionaries, presidents, politicians, painters, astronauts, explorers, dancers and daredevils. Their kings, queens, conquerors, actors, poets, writers, playwrights, singers or sculptures cast out across the globe by way of the stamp. Certainly this is the highest compliment a country can bestow upon one of its men. Even appearing on currency seems small compared to a stamp, for money is only seen within its own boundaries. Often these tiny postal stickers relay historical events, architecture, animals and environment, but it is the men, and women that appear on them that are the country’s proudest achievements. They are the tiny bite size messages a country has chosen to be sent out to the world! These stamps are works of art themselves and are often done in delicate print on fine papers. They serve a cause or raise consciousness…but recently I have noticed that the world is running out of stamps and evidently, men to put on them! Their charm has worn off as we fall further and further into an anti-romantic relationship with our environment and with it so too goes the worlds aesthetic. The mail doesn’t even come any more and when it does the stamps have become barcodes, an ugly foreshadowing of the future.
Your “Desktop” is a computer screen filled with symbols of once tangible things. Everything from architecture to the automobile has lost its charm. What will the world be like without scratchy old records, dog-eared books containing underlined pages or personal notes from the one who owned it before, a crumpled old photograph that was used to mark a page, maybe a plane ticket stub from where it was bought on vacation. These things have charm, character, personality, and real beauty. They are romantic! It’s not just the stamp, the entire world is losing its adroit power to create, there is absolutely nothing charming about a barcode. To think we have traded these pictorial snapshots for barcodes is just mind blowing to me but it’s the best metaphor I have for the future. I want a world with nervous first dates, the well thumbed page, a hidden poem that’s been tucked away, lost love letters in an old shoebox, a record that skips in the same place every time or a role of film that has yet to be developed, a blind date, a pen on an empty page! If things continue this way, the future is going to be ugly… Cyber-sex, in-vitro parents… I say fuck digital books… choose romance! It’s just one way I am resisting a world that is changing into an ugly place to exist and I don’t want to just exist….I want to live…and I need beauty for that! I NEED Romance!
Scott Hobbs Bourne: I see online publishing having unlimited benefits for mind-control, surveillance, companies and consumers, but for literature, there is nothing but dangers, and anyone who has been following the issue knows this very well. (link)
Sang Bleu: There is a strong strand of erotic writing throughout the book. Were you interested in arousing the reader?
Scott Hobbs Bourne: What ever sexual adventures occur in the writing do so for the sake of the journey the author is on. I am not intentionally trying to arouse the reader and at the same time I am not avoiding or excluding any part of the journey and a large part of that journey is of the flesh, something that is completely vanishing from the modern world. You can relate this directly to a book being of the flesh verses a virtual book, which completely lacks it. Opening a book should be like spreading legs and staring into the galactic eye of human existence. Turning the pages and running your fingers over every sacred passage is or should be an erotic experience in itself. For me books are and always have been erotic objects.
Sang Bleu: How do you feel your descriptions of women compared to that of men in your book?
Scott Hobbs Bourne: The book deals heavily with abusive relationships of all kinds, and each character, weather male or female, embodies a different role in the human comedy. Each is also an exploit of what we will or will not do for money or love. This is the relationship the author is having with every character from the postman to the wealthy married woman he sees. He is sick of feeling prostituted just to fill his stomach, and his heart! This is why he can stand long hours at the illegal valet job. He isn’t breaking any universal law, but the law of mankind, which is prostitution! The same can be said about his relationship with Alexis. His only injustice is that he has fallen in love with her.
Sang Bleu: There was a recurring theme of women being described by their sexual organs or as ‘whores’ in the book, where men were described as ‘wolves’, how do you think that translated to the reader?
Scott Hobbs Bourne: It’s not my job to translate for the reader. I grew up in the church and always had someone trying to tell me what each thing in the bible was and how to feel about it, and that has never been the purpose of the bible. One should read it and translate it for his/her self. So too should every reader of any novel. Much of how I use words redefines them. I think my women are strong, proud and empowered. This is taken directly from the novel: “When I say, “whore,” I mean a woman bearing no shame, and that is what she lived in persecution for. It meant intelligent, strong and beautiful but most of all, it meant shameless. Her dirty deeds became mine and our acceptance of each other freed us both from the shame of the world.” I have also given the female anatomy many characteristics of fowl; an eagle, or bird of paradise, animals of beauty and power, capable of flight, but also agile killers. At other points the vagina can be a place to crush grapes, the magic where wine is made! All of these descriptions are deeply personal to me as well as poetic. The point for the author is that you never know what’s down there and when you enter a woman – what ever it is – comes up. Good dad, bad dad, no dad at all and it’s the whores that have lost this baggage, come clean so to speak and have allowed the author the same cleansing!
Sang Bleu: In comparison to this you create strong friendships with men and describe men or yourself as a wolf; what does this mean?
Scott Hobbs Bourne: I have always been amazed at how a man can be friends with another man for 20 years and never know something intimate about him that he will reveal to a woman in the first ten minutes he knows her! This is one of the subtle ideas I am exploring with my male characters and their friendships. Early on in the novel the author, somewhat arrogantly, describes the sorts of people in the world in two categories – Wolves and Sheep. He then goes on to define them and claim that he is a Wolf, for no other reason than the wolf takes responsibility for life. He devours what he likes without remorse or regret. And as we travel through the story – hopefully the reader sees a transformation, and without giving too much away I want to stop there.
Sang Bleu: Can you tell us about why you left San Francisco, what was/is it that you found in Paris as a place to create rather than in America?
Scott Hobbs Bourne: I just needed a change. I had been traveling all over with skateboarding and started to feel like no one at home had any real idea about the rest of the world, a sort of ignorant patriotism that started to really weigh on me. All those apple lovers that had never even had an orange kind of thing! San Francisco is an amazing city, very open and quite liberal and yet it also started to feel like a bubble. I had been traveling in Europe for a few years and just basically fell in love with Paris as a city. The architecture, cobbled streets, and monuments that seemed to educate as one walked among them. I didn’t come here thinking I could create any better but just to silence this loud cry that was happening in me. My story is American, takes place in America, and is written by one of its biggest patriots. I can’t rightfully give Paris or Europe at all, any credit for the novel. Even if it was written here it was born there! And I didn’t create this book as much as America did, her circumstances, ignorances, and closed-up closet apartments! Her promiscuous streets, poor, drugged-up alleys, crack corners and scraped sky…so many satellites that you can’t find a star to wish upon. The American Nightmare – everything gone too far!
Sang Bleu: Do you find a kind of romanticism within Paris that suits you as a writer? Have there been any American writers who have written in Paris that you admire?
Scott Hobbs Bourne: In all honesty, before I lived here, I was quite ignorant to a major piece of her literary history. I knew that Henry Miller and James Baldwin had both lived in France and had affairs with Paris, but that was about as far as my knowledge of American writers went. When I moved here I knew nothing about Hemingway outside of the name and to this day he is still not one of my favorite writers, but this city is littered with his name. Fitzgerald also has a big echo on these streets, but again, I am not a fan. Both of these guys seem to have had more image and legend than their stories do. I came here for no other reason than I needed beauty in my life and every single stone and street offered that beauty. I was tired of the fog, the seasonless state of California, and all the social/political protests that Americans make over every simple beauty. I needed seasons and sunshine. I needed women in high heels, dresses and dancing in the street.
Sang Bleu: I feel like you have lived a life of two opposite extremes. You have spent the first half of your life exemplifying a kind untouchable coolness as a pro skateboarder, the kind that many can only dream of and now you are existing in a space and profession, which is so completely romantic, and also quite unattainable. Is this something that you are aware of?
Scott Hobbs Bourne: I am probably far more aware of it than any man alive. Coming from the sort of community I came from I don’t think I was really allowed the luxury of dreams. If I wanted anything I had to fantasize about it. Which for me is completely different than dreaming. The dream was unattainable but the fantasy was a now sort of thing. And I have no doubt in my mind that I lived so long in the fantasy that it plain and simply became my reality. A sort of manifest destiny without fully knowing it. I wasn’t going to go to school, and the military was out of the question, and working in one of the mills my parents worked in was not an option either. I was heavily inspired by punk rock at the time and when I ran away to California I had the Minutemen in my head, D. Boon & Mike Watt: “No Hope, See, that’s what gives me guts!” Later it was Guy Picciotto screaming: “I thought life should be a chance to defeat statistics.” Well, from the beginning I was out to beat the odds and drew heavily from the guys I saw doing it – not dreaming about it! When I decided to dump what appeared to be a pretty dreamy life in San Francisco for one I fantasized about in Paris, many people thought I had lost my mind. I packed a bag, pulled my ole typer from my desk, and jumped on a plane not knowing if it was possible. The one and only thing I had going for me is that I had already had one seemingly impossible accomplishment under my belt. What was to stop me from the next? I had lived on the streets and beaten the odds, passed through what I call the Starvation Mile, which for me is the final mile and you never know which one it is, but often people give up in that last mile, they get hungry and come in out of the cold. Not me, when I want something I cannot be starved out, I know every mile could be the last one and I’d rather die crossing it than live like the others do. At 40, I have everything a man could ever want from life and that is no ones fault but my own!
Sang Bleu: Why did you want to become a writer after your career as a skateboarder?
Scott Hobbs Bourne: It wasn’t a conscious decision. It was more like I had been wanting to write this book for a long time and skateboarding had kept me from it for long enough. So at the point that I began working on it I had no idea that I was or could be a writer. Now it’s just a natural part of my life whether I am writing for a magazine or for myself.
Sang Bleu: What is next for you as a writer?
Scott Hobbs Bourne: Much too much! I’m shopping a screenplay at the moment and am about to start looking for an agent for a second novel. Todd Bratrud and I are working together on an illustrated poem called Soothsong. It’s 50 verses of my words with 50 of his drawings. I have also begun writing a children’s book that my son’s godmother, Hannah Hooper of GROUPLOVE, is illustrating. It’s about a cat named Pirate that takes up with a bunch of chickens. There is much on my mind and much more to come!
You can buy A Room With No Windows here