100 Creatives

Robert Hoekman Jr. on the Art of Building Motorcycles

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 54. Robert Hoekman Jr.

To call a recent day in the life of writer and podcaster Robert Hoekman Jr. scattered as all get-out would be no understatement. "I’m scheduling content interviews for one manuscript, coercing a chapter from another into readable condition, trying to lock down our last writer for the next Spillers event, scheduling the pre-show workshop, going for a run somewhere in the middle of all that, and, assuming UPS shows up, replacing the starter control on my Triumph," Hoekman says. "It’s been glitchy."

Such is the average to-do list when one juggles projects as the 42-year-old Phoenix native is wont to do. "I write books and articles," Hoekman says of what he's working on at the moment. "I have a novel in progress. I edit and write a column for Iron & Air magazine. I occasionally manage to eke out a story for Downtown Phoenix Journal. I also help other people write their books. It’s a madhouse of words around here."

Alongside Brian Dunn, Hoekman cofounded and cohosts Spillers, a quarterly short-fiction storytelling event at Crescent Ballroom that has a podcast counterpart called the Spillers After Show. Hoekman describes the event as a rock-star version of your typical literary gathering.  

"We handpick the talent, workshop their stories, plan the gig, prep the chapbook, do the marketing, host the show, interview the heck out of some brilliant and interesting people, and record every part of it for the podcast," he says. "It’s a thousand details, a thousand decisions, but on the night, Brian and I get to watch a couple hundred people show up and get totally immersed, and we get to walk away knowing we did something with meaning."

Hoekman has found a community in Phoenix, particularly in the Coronado district, which he says offers big-city proximity with a small-town sensibility. 

Lately though, the road has been calling. Perhaps that's due to the recent release (and success) of Hoekman's latest book, The Build: How the Masters Design Custom Motorcycles, which hit number one in its Amazon category. 

One of his interview subjects for the book was John Ryland of Classified Moto, who built the bike character Daryl Dixon (played by Norman Reedus) rides in seasons five and six of The Walking Dead

Ryland's bikes have a "gritty, post-apocalyptic vibe," Hoekman says. "I’d love to spend a couple of weeks with John and his crew hashing out my next ride, and then heading up and down 89A for a few days or months. Maybe not a lot of people think of motorcycle design as an art. I do. It’s instinct and fuel, just as valid as writing or sculpture."

I came to Phoenix with skin, bone, and curiosity. I was born here. But the last time I came back to this city, I came with the ambition to become part of it for once. I came to do something.

I make art because I have to. It doesn’t matter what I’m working on. Writing, to me, is high art. I use every text message, every email, every handwritten sticky note as practice. I don’t let up. There is no On or Off, no unimportant sentence. It’s all part of the practice.

I’m most productive when I’m interested. I’ll hunt all day long, jumping from here to there, this to that, until I lock in on something. When I do, say goodbye. I’m inside of it, and I’m staying.

My inspiration wall is full of photos of custom motorcycles, Arizona roads, places I haven’t been, effective writing. Really, I’m all about stories that leave a mark. Sometimes, it’s a book that gets me there. Sometimes it’s asphalt. I have to chase it any way it comes.

I’ve learned most from asking questions. I tend to lean on things that’ll move me in close to whatever has grabbed my attention. When people find out you’re interested in what they’re doing, they invite you in. Way in. Next thing, you’re shoulder-deep into something you’d never heard of five minutes before. It happens over and over. I just keep asking the question.

Good work should always lead to better work. I’ll co-opt Tennyson here. Good work means “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Otherwise, you’re done. Someone will move right past you, and you’ll be left there drooling like an idiot. No one wants to see that.

The Phoenix creative scene could use more value propositions. Art tends to do a bad job of selling itself. “Come support local art” sounds like a favor. Say what’s valuable about the event, the performance, the work. Make us want it. If we were better at that, the arts would explode. You’ll never hear us talk about Spillers as something that needs support. It’s a show. It’s an experience. And we work hard to make it a good one. That’s why people show up — not to do art a favor, but to have a high-caliber night, to be moved, to be affected. That’s our value proposition.

The 2016 Creatives so far:

100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
92. Sarah Waite
91. Christina "Xappa" Franco
90. Christian Adame
89. Tara Sharpe
88. Patricia Sannit
87. Brian Klein
86. Dennita Sewell
85. Garth Johnson
84. Charissa Lucille
83. Ryan Downey
82. Samantha Thompson
81. Cherie Buck-Hutchison
80. Freddie Paull
79. Jennifer Campbell
78. Dwayne Hartford
77. Shaliyah Ben
76. Kym Ventola
75. Matthew Watkins
74. Tom Budzak
73. Rachel Egboro
72. Rosemary Close
71. Ally Haynes-Hamblen
70. Alex Ozers
69. Fawn DeViney
68. Laura Dragon
67. Stephanie Neiheisel
66. Michael Lanier
65. Jessica Rajko
64. Velma Kee Craig
63. Oliver Hibert
62. Joya Scott
61. Raji Ganesan
60. Ashlee Molina
59. Myrlin Hepworth
58. Amy Ettinger
57. Sheila Grinell
56. Forrest Solis
55. Mary Meyer
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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski