Donald Charles Davis lives in “El Lay,” as he likes to say, where he scratches out a living as a writer. One of his literary endeavors is a popular blog called The Aging Rebel.
Due to the constant swirl and flow of cause and effect, he decided to publish some of the blog posts in a book. Selecting 50, he buffed and polished them a little – not much, because he doesn’t believe in re-writing. The result is The Aging Rebel: Dispatches From the Motorcycle Outlaw Frontier. The book is selling well on Amazon, and has received some remarkable reviews.
Almost simultaneously (two days later), another of his books appeared and instantly hit the true crime bestseller list on Amazon. It’s called Out Bad, a singularly imaginative and evocative title. Out Bad is the true story of “Operation Black Rain,” a three-year undercover investigation of the Mongols Motorcycle Club. ‘Black Rain’ was the idée fixe of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. By dint of relentless (and some would say, reckless) research, Davis reveals what really happened before, during, and after ‘Black Rain.’
Sometimes authors are almost as interesting as the books they write. In rare instances, they are actually more fascinating than their books. Not much is known about Davis, since he keeps a pretty low profile. So I thought I’d find out just what makes him tick.
What made you think you could write well enough that people would pay money for what you’d written?
I was working as a laborer in a battery factory. It was an unpleasant job – particularly when the batteries would explode. One lunch time I walked to a nearby, daily newspaper and applied for a job on the loading dock. I had just bought some new, acid-proof work clothes so I looked fairly reputable. The personnel woman got me confused with some guy who had recently graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism. I guess Columbia graduates dress poorly. I took some tests, wrote a trial story and got hired as a reporter. The checks cleared. People have been paying me for my words ever since.
Do you have a specific writing style? If so, how do you describe it?
I have a style. It usually sounds like me, although I have worked hard enough and long enough at my craft that I am minimally competent at things like voice changes and other technical stuff like that. Most people describe my style as “easy and conversational.”
How did you research your book Out Bad?
Out Bad is based on more than 100,000 pages of court filings, discovery and other primary sources, about 300 hours of video surveillance and wiretaps, secondary sources like news clippings, and numerous interviews with defense attorneys, prosecutors, local cops, authors, reporters, ATF Agents and analysts, prosecutors and numerous members of outlaw clubs including the Hells Angels, Vagos, Mongols, Sons of Silence, Loners and Pagans who had first hand knowledge of, and in many cases witnessed, events described in the book. I found other sources, too. Sometimes the sources found me. That’s the short version. Researching the book was very difficult. Many of the government documents remain secret today. Many of the interviews were conducted in dark parking garages. At the time I interviewed a Mongol named Bouncer Soto for example, Bouncer had been a federal fugitive for about 20 months.
Are you now or have you ever been a member of a so-called outlaw biker club?
I am not a member of any motorcycle club. I am a former member of two outlaw motorcycle clubs. One club blew apart and disbanded after a double murder. The other club is still very much in existence. I am not going to name either one.
Why are people attracted to outlaw biker clubs, such as the Hell’s Angels or the Mongols?
You don’t want to put an apostrophe in Hells Angels. Any Angel will tell you there are many hells.
One of my goals in writing the book was to try to describe that attraction. Both members and observers of outlaw clubs are attracted to the motorcycle outlaw frontier for different reasons.
Men join motorcycle clubs out of longing and love. Motorcycle clubs are brotherhoods of men who have left themselves no choice but to stand apart from the world at large. The joy of joining a motorcycle club is the joy of crossing a wasteland to find one’s own tribe. Nine years after Daimler invented motorcycling, Stephen Crane wrote a black headline that describes this joy:
“I stood upon a high place,
And saw, below, many devils
and carousing in sin.
One looked up, grinning,
And said, “Comrade! Brother!”
Men are saved by motorcycle clubs as they are saved by religion. Anyone who has ever ridden with a club immediately grasps the comparison. For some men a club patch is the first thing they have ever won in their lives and the experience of putting that symbol on their back is transformative. Those who were weak become strong. Those who were lost belong. The meek become bold, the reckless responsible. The older the prospective recruit the greater the accomplishment.
Outsiders, people who adore Sons of Anarchy for example, possibly you but certainly people you know, are attracted to motorcycle outlaws because they are the you that you bind in chains. They are the chaos to which civilization must never be allowed to descend. They are the show. They are the you that you wish you were when you are humiliated or overwhelmed or bullied or condescended to or made to admit that you are small.
What is your current writing project?
I have a website called The Aging Rebel. There seems to be a more robust audience for biker books than there is for literary fiction so right now I am working on a bloody, comic, biker novel called Scooter Trash. I largely support myself by writing copy for internet content mills for a penny a word.
Who designed the cover of Out Bad?
I did. The cover photo is a still from a video taken by a very nice, generous Mongol. I am in the center at the back of a pack. It was just before the helicopters appeared overhead and the California Highway Patrol cruisers showed up.
What was the hardest part of writing Out Bad?
It was an excruciating piece of work. I got death threats from people I believe were ATF agents. My favorite was “Somebody should shove a little steel in you.” I liked the onomatopoetic alliteration in that one, which is why I remember it. It sounded like a stabbing. It reminded me of Robert Herrick.
Many of the documents I looked at are still officially sealed. There was not just one but four Mongols cases, which spawned two Pagan RICO cases and a RICO case against the Outlaws Motorcycle Club. I also paid attention to a couple of cases involving Jay Dobyns and the ATF. I kept waiting for these cases to end but parts of them continue to this day.
It was distressing to watch men I had grown to like and admire go to prison. The ATF denied me access, of course, but also illegally ignored many, many Freedom of Information Act Requests. I did not have the means to sue them.
No literary agent was interested in representing the book. Several agents told me I was “naïve about outlaw motorcycle gangs.” My personal life fell apart. I lost everything. I was homeless for awhile. The only reason I finished the book was because I had promised some very admirable and decent guys that I would. They are all tough, strong, fierce guys but explaining the book business to them is like trying to explain to a four-year-old that there is no Santa.
Outside of writing, what is your favorite way to spend time?
I like to ride my motorcycle, which is good because I no longer own a car. I lost that. I only have a motorcycle.
From whence comes your sense of self-worth? Is it innate? Does it emanate from your writing?
I have every reason to be humble. I have been close enough to death enough times to understand that every breath I take is a gift from God. I write so that after I die, when God asks me what I did with the life he gave me, I will have something to show him. If I had any other talent, like selling used cars, I would pursue that instead. My life has been interesting enough that I have fairly solid opinions about who I am, who I am not and what I can and can’t do. Like, I am not a celebrity or politician.
Do you spend a lot of time re-writing?
No. I sit down, write my words and hope to do better the next time.