Writing The Modern Primitives

A Nub of an Idea

I was an undergraduate at CSU Monterey Bay in the Teledramatic Arts and Technology program (an over glorified term for radio, television and film broadcasting mixed with computer technology) in 2001. I had started The Modern Primitives after finishing my senior Capstone project. The genesis of the idea came from a real event the year before.

The Cherry Bean Coffee House and Roastery was my regular hang out where I spent hours people watching and eve’s dropping. A good friend of mine was hanging out down there by himself when a couple of wanna be bikers showed up and jumped him, breaking his nose. The fight happened over a girl. Some minor comment he made to her while she came threw his line at work the day before. Something her boyfriend took as an insult. The Swordsman (no kidding, real spelling) were a ragtag group dressed in cutoff denim vests and cheesy back patches with a California rocker across the bottom.

The group was infamous downtown for driving up in a car full of guys, jumping out and beating the shit out of anyone who didn’t have the balls to fight back. For those of us who wouldn’t take any shit, they just ran their mouths. When I heard the news of the beating, the first thing that ran through my mind was getting some revenge. But my buddy wanted none of it. So I took my anger and rage and poured it into 25 pages of what would later become the screenplay.

The Birth of a Novel and of Children

I had finished the screenplay for the Modern Primitives in February of 2003 when my youngest son Leif was still an infant. Daerius was four and between the two I simply found it impossible to write. Life was calling and I had to make a choice. So I put the screenplay away and gave up the emotional roller coaster ride of screenwriting, filmmaking and chasing Hollywood.

I spent the next six years running the family security company. My life was safe and secure. The money was great and I had plenty of freedom, but I still couldn’t find the motivation to write. I spent all my free time with my kids. Wakeboarding Monterey Bay (Pebble Beach mostly), starting Salinas Pop Warner, watching Daerius play Hartnell Little League and many, many family trips to Oregon. Then came the big move to the Pacific Northwest in December of 2007 and another year working on a new business. No desire to write.

In October of 2009 my family took a trip to Lake Tahoe for my buddy Stephan’s birthday. A fun filled weekend of boating, barbecues, hot tubs and much needed social interaction. It was a twelve hour drive from the Portland area and I had a long night of driving ahead before we would reach the cabin. It finally hit me that it had been six years since the last word fell from my fingertips. I was frustrated and angry with the Hollywood system. I was disappointed that I hadn’t been working on my craft. I was inspired by a fire that burned with such vigor that I began the novel the day after we returned. Three months later it was done. Rough but done.

The First Scene I Wrote

The first scene I ever wrote was the one in which Scott leads his friends in the home invasion of Rick’s house. I got the idea from reading the uniform catalogs that used to come to my mother’s house and from my love of the television show COPS.  I thought about how most people would respond in the middle of the night if they are woken up by screaming police officers blinding them with flashlights. I thought maybe it just might work if you screamed loud enough, moved swiftly and took control of the prisoners with authority. It was what I wanted to do to the guys who broke my buddy’s nose. The rest is fictional history.

The Last Scene I Wrote

The last scene of the book is the last scene I wrote. I don’t want to give away the ending, so you’ll have to read to find out.

The Title

The title came to me in the first few days of writing. I knew early on that I wanted to tell a story about gangsters and about a close group of friends. I wanted a sense of tribal community for the group, because really that is the emotional bond that holds modern street gangs together. Ritual. Initiation. Fellowship. Mythology. Legacy. Every family has these elements. Every gang does too. I wanted to create a story about surrogate family bonds that are often stronger than those of blood. I very much felt connected to my own friends in that way.

I had seen the pictorial book, Modern Primitives, the self-described anthropological inquiry into a contemporary social enigma published by Re/Search Publications in the early part of 1992. I was fascinated with the piercing and body modifications. The concept of non-tribal people searching out for a sense of tribal communion in a post-modern industrial age. The work had been the center of many, many conversations while hanging out with friends who were getting tattoos and piercings during that era.

I chose the title as a duality. First as a representation of the tribal culture found on both the street and online among what seems to be an increasing mainstream acceptance of the body art and modification culture. Misfits around the world rejoice in inclusion as they show off their work with pride. What I found to be even more disturbing about the title was how it represented the current state of criminal street life. Prison and street gangs are tribal in nature. Primitive and cruel. Using violence to enforce power. So to the average middle to upper class American, these gangsters must appear like savage tribes men battling in the urban jungles of our modern cities, suburban towns and rural communities. They seem somehow removed from our daily lives. What is normal to us. But they are out there. In our communities. Waiting.