Valdez Fisher Can't Stop Won't Stop Grinding For His Self-Published Book
Although it's a blindingly sunny summer day just before noon, inside a murky Northeast Baltimore pool hall it feels like a dreary 3 a.m. A heated round of table tennis goes down in the ping-pong room, but the hall practically echoes thanks to its emptiness. All potential sharks and casual players have long split. And Valdez Fisher is just about to begin his daily four-hour workout.
"After work I usually come here and play," he says with his personal pool cue in hand, rocking a three-finger billiard glove, and setting up a game of nine ball. "I'm not that good. I just really love the game."
Around his midnight-to-9 a.m. gig as a bail bondsman on East Lexington Street, the 32-year-old father of two found time to write and self-publish his motivational self-help book I Ain't Bitin' My Tongue. And since he put it out in August 2005, Fisher has hawked his book to everyone he thinks should be paying attention. Everyone.
He has sent out more than 35,000 e-mails to local media. In addition to City Paper, he has e-mailed The Sun, The Examiner, Baltimore Afro-American, Baltimore Times, USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Boston Herald, and more. "I don't think there's any publication I haven't contacted" he says.
Fisher's e-mail address was probably added to Oprah Winfrey's spam filter months ago. "I've sent e-mails out even to the sports sections," he says. "Just on the off chance that someone will get it and take it to the right department. So far you're some of the only people who have shown interest."
The fact that Fisher has hustled as hard as he has for as long as he has makes this congenial local author rather remarkable. Most people stop banging their heads against the proverbial wall when the wall doesn't budge. But it's easy to understand why Fisher hasn't received much attention yet. Even by the low standards of self-publishing, Ain't Bitin' looks amateurish with its large type and a cover photo that looks like a camera-phone self-portrait. And during this era when anybody can pay to have his or her writing published as a book, who has the time to wade through it all to separate good writers from inflated egos? Books do get judged by their covers.
The real kicker is that once you get past the self-publishing stigma, Fisher reveals himself to be an interesting writer whose story is fascinating, just maybe not in the way that he tells it. "It's about the residual aftershocks of poor choices," Fisher says of Ain't Bitin'. It's a phrase he mentions often, though it's not exactly clear why. Maybe Fisher just thinks it sounds cool, or perhaps he simply can't think of a better expression. In any case, "the residual aftershocks of poor choices" is so much the central theme of his book that he he should have titled his book that.
"I mean, it's a passageway through my life," Fisher says. "I was young, I fell in love with this girl and I married her, we had children, and everything was there. And then infidelity set in."
On a simple level, Fisher's book offers a moral lesson that many of us already know: Choices are critical. Fisher assumes the role of confessional moralist as author. He tells his story as cautionary tale, calm and collected, and seems proud to dish out the dirt on himself. He's proud because after he stumbled he picked himself back up.
The basic story is just what he says above--he was in love, he got married, had a great six-year relationship, fathered two beautiful little girls, and then threw it all away to get laid. Even though Fisher's divorce was some time ago--he says he and his ex have been "officially" over since 1999--and he has since remarried, it's obvious by his demeanor that his poor choices continue to haunt him.
"You can apologize but you can never retract what was felt at the time of the infraction," he says. "It's irrevocable because once it's out there it's out there."
In person Fisher possesses a childlike quality, partly because of his round face and chunky frame but also due to his absolute honesty. His blunt sense of right and wrong is the type of reasoning you expect from a child, one who tells you straight-up that "hitting people is bad" or that "talking to people is nicer than screaming at them.
"That's why we have to watch what we say, how we interact with each other, how we address one another, how we treat one another, because sometimes these scars can linger forever," Fisher says. "I'm not glad it all happened, but in a way I'm glad I ended up with more substance to share. Some people want to just see their name in print, but the bottom line is that the most important part of public speaking or writing is having something to say."
Fisher has plenty to say. A good deal of Ain't Bitin' reads like a journal, with Fisher articulating the personal revelations he's had, as well as critiquing African-American men and black people in general. "The response [to the book] has been good," he says. "[But] I've offended some people. I've received letters in from African-American readers who were offended that I said that a lot of inner-city families don't have $500 saved--but that's real, isn't it?"
It is--and that's his point. Just as his sense of honesty draws clear lines between right and wrong, Fisher's vision of reality is inviolate. It is that which matters most, and his declarative statements about how he interprets reality at times eloquently reiterate common sense. "African-Americans are the undisputed heavyweight consumers of the world," he says. "We buy everything--phones with navigational systems built in, rims that keep spinning after the car stops. And that stuff is fine if that's what you want to do--but are your priorities in order? Are you a homeowner or are you going to be renting for the next 60 years? Is your credit straight? Have you taken the money you've spent on these rims to repair your credit? Have you gotten a copy of your credit report and begun to eliminate these judgments? Do you have health insurance?"
Fisher isn't just preaching to hear his own voice. As a bondsman six nights a week for the past 10 years, he sees firsthand the products of poor decision-making. "Every now and then there's someone driving with a suspended license and they had no idea the license was suspended, but that's the exception," he says of the people he meets on the job. "Predominantly, my clients are African-American men between 18 and 35, and it thrives on old money. What I mean by that is that we've bailed out these people's grandparents, their parents, and now were bailing them out. It's a revolving door of poor choices."
Poor choices--his book's reoccurring theme appears again in his conversation, right before he goes into the hustling. "[My book is] all about choices," Fisher says. "Workplace disgruntlement, wealth management--it's life in 119 pages. That's what makes it so unique. It's large print, it's concise, and it's comical, and I designed it to be that way. I don't like to read boring stuff and I'm sure nobody else does either.
"This is a gambler's game," he continues, setting up another nine-ball game. Fisher himself doesn't gamble, and watching a dude who hustles his book like mad rack-up a bona fide hustler's game is pretty hysterical. You suspect that he realizes it, too, because right after he takes a shot he moves seamlessly into discussing the high stakes and low payoff of being a one-man ad campaign screaming into the wind and not being heard.
"Overall, I am very disappointed in the media," he says. "They're quick to cover crime, [but] they're reluctant to assist a 31-year-old African-American male in the spreading of a motivational book designed to enhance the quality of life. I've written a motivational book that brings an awareness to choices, to the sanctity of marriage, the many ways we neglect our children and not even realize it. People only focus on the negative."
As he gets going, the calm, collected Fisher momentarily evaporates, replaced by Fisher the West Baltimore boy, complete with thick local accent. "I help people," he says. "You know I even have my own scholarship? Every year I get high-school kids to write me a letter, just about them, and I pick the best letter and give that kid $1,000 out of my own pocket! But I bet you if I went and robbed a bank it would be on every channel in the country, like, `Local writer goes berserk.' What could've happened? Why is he doing this? And they'll be like, `We want to interview him.' I'm telling you--I'd be on every channel."
Part of his frustration is fueled by the simple truth of it--the man has a point. But it also comes from Fisher's belief that his book could be invaluable to the community, especially because he feels that people waste too much time reading crap. "I don't believe in fiction," he says. "I'm sure people will disagree, but fiction is no more than a sedative, something that helps people escape from reality. And we have to be dealing with reality on a daily basis because it's never going to go away. People escape into books about eroticism and science fiction, but at the end of the day, where's the nutritional value for the soul?"
Fisher presents his soul nutrition as a breezy read, perfect for sixth graders, though he goes a little buck-wild with his thesaurus sometimes--"Malevolent commentary is especially destructive, when it derives from mouths of people we trust," he writes. He manages to make a few interesting points about the psychology of domestic abuse, money management, communication, and marriage. The book is basically advanced common sense in super-florid language that is ideally suited for kids who don't have anyone around to tell them that you shouldn't cheat on your spouse, that you need to be aware of your credit score, etc.
It can, and does, speak to young people. "Every family I bail out, I offer a book to," he says. "I'm not a pressure salesman, but I tell them that if they have a young child in their home at an impressionable age, they might want to take a look at this. One family called me back and said their daughter never read a book in her life and she read mine cover to cover."
Some of Ain't Bitin' is, frankly, a little weird--randomly personal and intimate the way teenagers' journals are. After four chapters of autobiography Fisher includes a few poems, some photos of his family, a list of his favorite words--the "Valdezinary"--and transcripts of his e-mail conversations with stunt man Lance Warlock, the son of world-renowned stunt man Dick Warlock and author of his book's forward. Lance Warlock is probably best known for his uncredited role as "Radio-Carrying Teen" in Halloween 2. Seriously. ("I'm just a big fan of the Halloween movies," Fisher says.)
That's just Fisher, letting it all hang out. Good or bad, weird or funny, if he feels it then, for him, it possesses some element of honesty that makes it real. And that lack of self-censoring is what, occasionally, unwinds something that, through the prism of his experiential calculus, starts to feel like profound truth. "One of the major differences between African-American families and Caucasian families is that a lot of Caucasians are left something to have a head start with," Fisher says. "They're left property, trust funds. We leave behind nothing. Our idea of being prosperous is maintaining. The rent's paid, the car's paid, we doing good.
"We have to change our way of thinking," he continues. "That's not productive. If you die and you don't leave the next generation anything to give them a head start, you've really had a failed existence. It's a harsh way to put it, but it's real."
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