Life-long resident’s fiction tale is Queens to the letter— Self Defense for Radicals

Self-Defense for Radicals: A to Z Guide for Subversive Struggle

By Leigh Remizowski
NY Daily News
February 16th, 2010

From the very first page of his latest novel, you can tell the author hails from Queens.

The tale by Michael Zezima, a life-long resident of the borough, in his ninth book, “Dear Vito,” begins on the Q101 bus. Then, his main character walks down Steinway St., into a juice bar. On the wall is a framed Daily News article featuring its specialty drinks.

Next, the author, better known to readers as Mickey Z, describes the eclectic blend of languages his protagonist, James Hemming, hears on his walk home: “The Astoria streets were a bustle of immigrants – Greeks, Hispanics, Middle Easterners, East and South Asians – and this mix resulted in a strange noise, rarely heard anywhere in the world.”

Zezima, 49, is a writer and blogger who was first published at the age of 21. Of his nine books, two are fiction. When he writes nonfiction, Zezima often focuses on social issues, he said.

In his fiction, like the newly released “Dear Vito,” he writes about what he knows.

The novel’s main character is a personal trainer, and Zezima worked for most of his life in gyms, teaching martial arts. “Dear Vito” takes place in Astoria, where Zezima lives with his wife.

The novel tracks Hemming as he writes letters to Vito Bratta, of the 1980s metal band White Lion, and impersonates the former rock star in air guitar contests.

Zezima chose Bratta as the object of Hemming’s obsession because of his obscurity.

“What’s fascinating about Bratta is he quit at the height of his fame,” he said. “And in James Hemming’s twisted mind, Vito is God, and that makes it even more absurd.”

The novel chronicles Hemming’s attempts to find fame by taking on Bratta’s persona and his ill-fated encounters with the female character, Indigo.

The novel comprises several vignettes, which Zezima put together by assembling shorter pieces he had written over the years.

“As chaotic as the novel may be, I think it better represents life than the more traditional novel,” he said. “We like to kid ourselves and say life is linear.”

In his own life, Zezima has an affinity for the unconventional.
He has written books about war propaganda, activists in the service industry, and an alternative history of World War II.

“I always had this curiosity about the world,” he said. “That naturally led to not accepting all the mainstream explanations to things.”

Even though Zezima spends his time traveling to speak to other activists and teaching Wing Chun to fellow martial artists, you can just as easily find him walking down the street in Astoria, sporting – heretically – a Yankees cap.

“In some sense I’m just a blue-collar guy from Queens,” he said. “Those are my roots.”

Back to Mickey Z.’s Author Page