Author Brantly Martin, once a wonder boy of New York City nightlife, has returned from exile, purgatory, marriage, overseas, and five or six other speculated places armed with a 200-plus page book that’s is the buzz about town. “Which is worse?” a savvy pal asked me, “To be in it or not be in it?” Pillage describes some days and some nights in the life of the model/promoter/owner club set in decidedly non-PG rated terms; there’s more sex and drugs than Woodstock. As I read it, I became increasingly revolted, then jealous, then revolted, then I laughed and was revolted again. It’s a rollercoaster ride through the world of the young, rich, beautiful, and passionately immoral. Brantly seems to have come to terms with his demons. He is actually married to a beautiful Italian woman and lives in Rome. He admits to being the main character of the tome (“Cracula”). He is super hush-hush about the identities of the other characters and wouldn’t give me even one. In this case, the names have been changed to protect the guilty — but I managed to poke my rather cute nose in some of the right places and came up with a few reveals.
The Reverend – Scott Harrison, Brantly’s ex-partner and Water to Africa crusader. Eroneous –: Eric Hower, who used to be known as Fat Eric (until he wasn’t anymore). Shout out to Colleen for making a man out of him. Lark Taker – Mark Baker; how did he find time to actually work? The Fireman – Adam Hock, because the Griffin honcho pisses on everyone.
I did get the names of the models who had drug smoke blown up their cute butts and other humiliating things done to them, but since we all imagine our models as beautiful, pure, and innocent, I decided to be a gentleman and not list their names here. However, the phrase “model behavior” needs to be rethought. I caught up with Brantly and threw him a few softball-like questions. I was sweet — after all the man’s been through a lot.
Why did you write the book? I tried to write a novel for years, but New York City, my profession, my habits, and excuses were more powerful than my desire. I’d bang out 15 pages, 20 pages, just start to understand the voice, the characters, the story, and then … one late night leads to another, which leads to painful days and the draining of creativity. I ended up bouncing around Southeast Asia for four months, first with a friend, then alone in Cambodia, where I wrote every day for five, six hours, and finished the first draft. Then it was back to New York, with a pit stop in Austin, for the rewrites and edits.
Some of the characters seemed to be based on real people around town. Who’s who in the book? To me the characters are the characters. It’s a novel, fiction, a satire. More caricature than realism. It’s not as simple as this character is X and this one is Y. If that were the case, then I suppose I’m Cracula — and I wouldn’t want that. I realize that people like to simplify things, look for shortcuts, find the lowest common denominators. I’m sure there will be some speculation around town about what’s true, what really happened, and whom did what to whom. What’s more, some people are bound to be offended and feel that the portrayal of a character is an attack on them. The truth is the actions, traits, and motivations that are highlighted and parodied as the most despicable in the characters are all part of my opera of failures and mistakes as a man — misplaced ambition, hypocrisy, disloyalty. As a writer, I don’t feel bad calling someone out for their actions and bullshit because it always stems from my own bullshit. The book is fiction, the events are fiction, but the rhythm and emotions are honest. How did you come to work in New York City nightlife? I grew up in Houston, went to college in Austin, and moved to New York in 2000. I showed up with one bag full of clothes, $500, and not one friend. I slept in Central Park the first night, ended up crashing with a friend of a friend for a few weeks (in a depression-era brothel, some of the whores still alive, paying $50 a month, rent-controlled), somehow ended up working in the nightlife. Jeffrey Jah and Mark Baker gave me my first job at Lotus. Karim gave me my first night — Tuesdays at Halo. I have a love-hate relationship with clubs and nightlife. But I have a love-hate relationship with all things, including myself. The one thing I have more than ever, though, is a complete respect for the folks around town who have been working and grinding in the scene for years and kept their sanity. It’s not easy — you know better than me. I haven’t always gotten along with everyone else in the nightlife, but I respect anyone that’s pulling it off (not that such respect is always returned).
Do you see Pillage as a film? I do, though it’s not a dream or a goal. I wrote a novel, not a screenplay. If the right person has the right vision, why not? I wouldn’t want to be involved in the process. I lived with Pillage enough.
I found the book funny and disgusting. What sort of reactions were you expecting, and what has been the feedback? I see it as a comedy. Yeah, even a disgusting one. Being my first novel, my expectations were all over the place. Chest puffing, insecurity, nausea, etc. The first reaction is always to the style. It’s not like most other novels — either in rhythm or formatting. It takes a few pages to get used to. After that, people seem to be responding to the humor, honesty, and visuals. Until last week, I hadn’t opened the book for about six months. I’ll be reading from the book Thursday at the Powerhouse Arena in DUMBO, then Book Soup in LA. on the 12th, and I needed to choose some parts. Jumping back into it after that much time off was a trip. I found the words creepy, sad, vulgar, desperate, and yes, disgusting. In a life with many ups and downs, Pillage was written during the most desperate and hopeless downturn. I think that’s evident. Two and half years later I’m happy, married, and living in Rome. It’s an odd life. What place does literature currently have in New York nightlife? I don’t see it playing a part at all right now. Maybe Pillage will change that. Obviously it used to, from Fitzgerald to Capote to the fellas in the 80s and early 90s. The books seemed to have gotten safer along with the city. Maybe the recession will bring out some fresh voices addressing things other than martinis, high heels, and pseudo-spirituality. If you lived anything close to the way Cracula lives, how are you still here? It is fiction. But … yeah. I haven’t always been the wisest of decision makers. You live, you learn. I’m a lucky bastard What’s next for you? The wife and I are launching a magazine, Grey. The first issue is out in September. I’m about halfway through a book of short stories, I’m really amped for these to get out. They’re in an entirely different voice than Pillage, different style. After that I’m writing a full-on science fiction novel.
After being away from New York for almost a year, how does the nightlife look? Promising. From about 2004 to 2008, there was so much mediocre crap out there. Everyone became a club owner, promoter, or self-appointed superstar. It seems there’s been a cleaning of house, with the veterans surviving. The bottle backlash is a good thing. When I started promoting, text messaging didn’t exist, and not everyone had a cell phone. If you did have a cell phone, it only held 50 numbers. You had to call people at home, have a conversation, then take care of them when they came out. If I did a party, I did the party. There were no “hosts.” And this was just in 2000 to 2002. You and all the folks I referred to were in the game much before then. My point being, it doesn’t matter how many mass emails, Facebooks, texts, or whatever other technology pops up … when times get tough, people want a real experience.