Turner Mojica has had a vast and varied career, from a former press liaison to Ted Kennedy to his work as a marketing consultant and public relations manager at Playboy, to his time as an international management consultant for ZEN Entertainment and for The Ronnie King Group he has assisted some of the most creative minds of our time in various different ways.
Can you tell our readers a little about yourself and your background? How did your early days encourage your creative spirit?
Well, my background is pretty simple. I’m just a little bit of country little bit of rock n roll. I was born in Costa Rica. I left when I was one, raised in the Washington metropolitan area of Southern Maryland, Northern Virginia, Charles County. My father was a United States Capitol Policeman, my mother was a pension analyst. My father was very stern, came from an Irish family of eleven. We lived in the D.C. area before we bought some property in Southern Maryland. We had a farm he got with his brother. His brother lived at the bottom of the hill and we lived at the top. It wasn’t a lot of acres, but it was enough. We grew corn. We had chickens, cows, horses. It was around nature. We just grew up that way.
We had pigs. Pigs became my best friends actually. One of my first short stories, that I gave to Dallas (Jack Ketchum) and he told me to never read again, was one that I called Miss Piggy. It was about my experience of befriending a pig. It was my pet, that I was forced to kill. But that’s life on the farm you know.
I know you are very close to your family. Can you tell us a little about them? What do you think is the most important thing you have learned from each of them?
My mother always inspired my education. She bought me my first book for a biography class that I had to do. I think I was eleven, it was No One Here Gets Out Alive which is about Jim Morrison. That changed my life. She bought me my first guitar, first paints, and things just started to flourish. She is actually born on November twelve and Dallas’ is on November tenth so we used to celebrate birthdays together. (laughs)
What did I learn from my father? From my father, I learned discipline, from my father I learned loyalty. I learned to keep on going forward, to make sacrifices, to enjoy what you have because he came from nothing. He was also in Vietnam. He didn’t see much action because my father has always been lucky. He got lucky with my mother, he got lucky when he was there. During the Vietnam War he was stationed in Taiwan, so he was basically in the place of R & R, but was not a partier. He was not a drinker. They used to call him Cherry because he was very clean cut, clean living. That’s the way he’s always been. It is funny because I spent all my life trying not to be like him and then the rest of my life trying to be like him. (laughs)
My mother is the matriarch of the family. She went through a lot. They had a lot, her father, my abuelo was an alcoholic and a jeweler and club owner. He wound up dying alone, but he did buy my mother her first pair of high heeled shoes. He had four children with my grandmother then he had another eight children with other women and women would leave their children at my grandmother’s door to raise, which he also did. Her name was Tita. We called her Tita, my mother is called Mita.
How did you come to be a press liaison for Ted Kennedy? What was the most important thing you learned from that experience? What were some of the most challenging issues you faced with that job?
My father was working on Capitol Hill as a United States Capitol Policeman and he got stationed right outside, he was on the Senate side, so every Senator knew him. I mean everyone, my father was charming. It was during a time in the ’70s where he had to make sacrifices for us and he would take ketchup packets and mix them with hot water and eat them with crackers during his lunch. He slowly moved above the ranks but he didn’t move above a rank of Sergeant or anything, he never really had an ambition to, my mother was the ambitious one. I would go there on the Hill when I was a little kid, I would call him on the phone and I would ask for Officer Turner J. E., John Ernest Turner, so it was pretty much open then. My first experience on Capitol Hill was all behind the scenes. The paintings and the marble floors and the immensity of everything, it was grand and big to me. He introduced me to Jesse Helms because my father has always been a Republican, to Strom Thurmond. I met all these people.
I needed to get some credit because I went to a private Catholic School, that’s why he had to make sacrifices. He sometimes worked three or four jobs. He didn’t sleep. He would fall asleep behind the wheel taking us to school (laughs). He would bite his finger. He is a hard worker. He would deliver Yellow Pages. When I was a kid, well I was in school, we would have to clean office buildings and even clean dumpster buildings for BFI International which was a dumpster truck company, that is when I first saw my first calendar of Playboy, which I stole. He was just like that, self-sacrificing, just did everything and anything for his kids but of course wanted to impress and be there for my mom. He was a disciplinarian, corporal punishment. I would get the brunt of it my sister didn’t. He was never a drinker or an abuser or anything like that but the man had a temper.
So anyway, we had to get credits to get into college. My father knew that there was this page program and that is how he got me a job as Senate Republican Page and my sister a job as a Senate Democratic Page, during the same summer which Congressman can’t even do. My father had parking space right outside the Botanical Gardens, which even Congressman don’t even get a chance to have because my father was a badass and knew everyone. He was kind and he never threw his weight around they just gave him everything.
What I learned at Kennedy was I learned behind the scenes how things get done. Things are not what they seem. When I worked at Kennedy I met a man Ben Binswanger who was the political director and personal aide to Kennedy. He saved me from law school. We would have lunches together and I wasn’t afraid to ask questions if I didn’t know something. A lot of the pages at that time partied, they smoked weed, I didn’t. I would drink but never while I was working because for me it was a huge opportunity. Anyway, Ben changed my life. When that term was up they offered me another term, because normally they give pages one set. I wound up working there for a while because everybody knew me. I was John’s son.
I know you also worked closely with the late Dallas Mayr (Jack Ketchum). How did you first meet him? What did you find to be his most enduring quality? How do you think your relationship with him has affected your life most?
What happened was, through the experience I went off to college. Actually, Senator Alan Simpson wrote me a recommendation to get into to Emerson College. I worked with Mike Fraser he was really cool. It got pretty badass because I was in college, I was working at Rock Club at the same time, and also interning. Things just moved that way and during that time after college, the only logical thing after graduation was to go to Manhattan. When I was in Manhattan I went to an alumni gathering and I met Dallas Mayr there.
I was introduced by an ex-girlfriend who also helped me get a job at Chanel, she always encouraged my writing. So he was hanging there with his entourage, and his people, and his girls and he comes up to me as I’m doing my thing and I’m drinking DeWar’s and he’s drinking DeWar’s and he says, “So, I heard you’re an amazing writer?” I wasn’t even writing. I mean I did, but I did short stories. For me writing is like, you are a writer, you got to be a writer. And from that point on we became friends and he became a father figure to me. I was there for him when he had no marketing, he had no image, there was no internet. There was nothing that was going on, he was very old school. He did not have email and slowly through our friendship, I started to convince him of the new way of doing things.
As soon as I started working at Playboy, of course, I tried to find one of his books which is called Joyride, that I could not find because nobody was pushing it and marketing it. I decided to do his first press kit and get him out there. I was young. I made mistakes. I pissed people off. But, I didn’t know better. I faked his death to get some press, I learned that from rock n roll. I did all kinds of crazy shit that he thought was funny at the time but then he got pissed off at me. (laughs) He would always get pissed off at me for the things that I would do regarding marketing, but I was always right.
When it came to the writing, he read everything that I’d ever written. He read my first book. He gave it back to me the next day. I went to Vermont to disappear for a month to write this book, left my job and everything. I think I was twenty-five this was after Playboy between gigs and he went through the whole thing. He gave me notes on every chapter and I was heartbroken because I was like, “What the fuck? He liked my short stories but then this book he said it didn’t work.” From that book, it taught me a lot, because I broke that book up into short stories and it just changed everything. But Dallas did fuck me, when I was in my twenties he told me that I had the makings of a great writer and from that point on I didn’t give him any writing and I started writing for everybody else and it was kind of like a cat and mouse game. I got scared. He encouraged me to take off to Italy. Which I did. I lived there for thirteen years, was always kind of with him and pushing his image and I helped him get published in Europe. Which started a chain of events that started to get his brand out there and he was revitalized.
I remember Dallas didn’t like the public so much. This was before he was doing all the festivals and everything so I had to coach him on public speaking because he had forgotten. I remember going to an HWA meeting in New York they are giving out some award. Dallas got an award and he just couldn’ t take it, man. He didn’t eat. He was in a corner all lit and I had to put him into a cab. Sometimes when you get recognition and you have been in the cavern for a while it is kind of hard to come by but then he got over that and things started to really rock n roll and move.
Now we’ve always had this “Idiot Bastard Son” ala Frank Zappa relationship that there was kind of confrontation. He’d get pissed at me, but he always loved me and I always loved him. He was just old school and I was young. The older we got and after everything, it is still that way.
I understand you recently wrote a book. Can you tell us a little about that?
I wrote a book, I co-wrote a book as of recent, after his death, and when you co-write something it is tricky because you are working with someone else’s thoughts and taking them and making them out of nothing. In this case, I had to take an autobiography which is basically diaries and journal notes and fictionalize it. So, of course, I put my own self in and now it’s in the hands of editors and maybe a lawyer or two and there is conflict. But it taught me a lot. It taught me to focus on my own shit. It really did and I keep on hearing Dallas through everything that I write.
So what I do after his passing, is when I write he is just forever with me. He is telling me to tighten the line. He is telling me it is just too much. He is telling me that all that is bullshit and he is also giving me personal advice with everything that I do.
I think we have to accept the darkness that we have and flaws that we have in order to choose better who we are, because he always said, “Choose who you want to be and be it.” He always said, “Words evoke.” And then he said, “Syllables evoke.” And I hear that. I hear the cadence when I am writing. I hear the flow, piecing the words together. Dallas taught the words to susurration. We were talking about pigeons. We traveled a lot together all over Europe and everything.
You are also an avid supporter of human trafficking rescue, recover and rehabilitation organizations. Can you tell us a little more about that? How would you recommend others that might be interested in supporting such issues worldwide go about doing so?
So what got me into trying to end human trafficking is that I came across, I mean I’ve always been interested in children’s rights and human rights, but it was this past project that led to my interest in the rescue and recovery of sex trafficking victims in Thailand and Southeast Asia that branched out into Latin America.
And that’s the part that we’re working on right now.
So in Costa Rica, we’ve branched out. Everything is on the down low because we can’t let anybody know what the hell is going on. And I’m organizing with the former ambassador of Costa Rica, to India, who we met over this topic and a university that’s here to make a difference. And we’re also working with informants which are murderers, ex-traffickers, I mean you name it. So we expose the underbelly but we’re not making a move yet. But something is happening.
You also work with musician Ronnie King. What it is like to work closely with someone who has worked with so many iconic artists? What do you enjoy most about working in the music industry?
My work with Ronnie was wonderful. We met and we just bonded. He’s a surfer and he’s a complete genius. I mean who would’ve known that you had this multi-platinum, Oscar, and Grammy nominated composer and producer who had no communication. And that’s the same way I met Dallas. I meet these wonderful men that have long histories, that work for everyone else but they don’t work for themselves and do their own shit. So I come in and I get to be like a spin doctor, organize their communication. Now it’s just not done. I mean they have to believe in themselves. They have to believe that it is possible, they have to believe that it can happen. And once that click happens then everything sort of explodes and I just guide.
It’s not easy working with artists because it’s like herding wild animals but not just wild animals like wild beasts. OK.
Because they’re all apex alpha predators you know. Some of them are old lions. Some of them are tigers. Some of them are anacondas. Some of them are eagles. It is just a little bit of everything but I can’t think of anything else that I would do. It’s bit me in the ass a lot getting screwed over like money wise, lots of lessons, and mentors that have turned on me that have come back. Well, Dallas has always been there for me. You know one thing is just acceptance. That is one of the things that’s amazing.
What projects are you looking forward to bringing into existence next?
What I’d like to do is I’d like to work on my next book and film. I’m doing it myself. It’s going to be on my own. Working with the different entertainment agencies in the context that I have. I think it’s about time for me instead of ghost and co-writing in and being behind the scenes to get out there a little bit more and I’m doing it more in Dallas’s honor. I think most of it is like a balance between different industries because with film you’re able to unite fashion. The visual for everything from writing which is preproduction. They go post-production, and then production. In post-production, you can put an entire like army together of deliciousness and goodness where things can actually happen creatively but then after that, it’s all marketing. You can’t do shit without marketing. That’s the mistake people make, they put everything into production but then they realize that with the production you can’t do anything without marketing. And that’s the kind of shit that I do in my sleep. Even though I’m more focused on the creative side.
How do you think you have changed most since your earlier days?
I think that what’s interesting now is I’m more into where it’s kind of, I’ve always been sustainable. Always been green before it was green. Now it’s about regenerative design and development which is the next step above sustainable. And that also implements the factors of culture which are education and also holistic and more of a spiritual approach to any kind of project and not only help the environment but help societies.
You hear that dog out there? That dog has been there every single fucking time. (As the dog howls in the background) I’m living in an art house right now. It is gorgeous. We reinvented this fucking garden.
I work closely with my muse. I prefer to keep her nameless. She has been pivotal in honing my craft and getting me focused and bringing back a fresh look and life and inspiration to everything that I do. I think that since how it used to be with communication and social media when it first started and what it does now it is like Millennials have a different way of looking at things. We were taught more structurally. You got to get a degree. You’ve got to do this, you got to memorize all this, you have to vomit it up on a test. But with a certain kind of millennial which is kind of like what my Muse is. Actually, in Silicon Valley, people are hiring people that haven’t graduated from college because those college graduates have to unlearn what is happening right now. So I think there’s something and this is all a part of regenerative design development which has been led by Dr. Eduard Müeller from the University of International Cooperation in Costa Rica, it’s an online university as well. It’s fascinating to me.
So a lot of things have changed. There is hope. It’s not as dire and bleak as it was. It isn’t. I think it was worse when we were growing up in the 70s than it is right now.
What do you think is key to a life well lived?
The key to a life well lived for me is I just think back to Henry Miller. The aim of life is to be aware and to be aware is to be joyously drunkenly serenely divinely aware. That doesn’t mean being lit all the time. It means just being aware of being in the present. Living the present knowing that all this is an illusion and it’s about compassion and sharing love. The more compassion, the more that you give the more that will come back. The more that you focus on the art and not getting the dollar the more the dollar will come. The more that we decide okay, this is what I want to do, this is what I want to be, as Dallas says, “Choose who you want to be.” We can be that but then we change along the way. (laughs) That’s something he never taught me. I had to find out on my own but I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had mentors from Dallas Mayr (Jack Ketchum) to Bob Beleson who’s the former Corporate Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Playboy to Dr. J. Gregory Payne who is an associate professor of communication studies at Emerson College. I mean to William Scharf the painter who is a contemporary of Rothko was part of the Rothko foundation until his passing right after, actually, he died before Dallas.
What do you do when you find that life has become a struggle?
So I think that what struggle is, struggle is remembering to keep on track. It is just keeping the paces. It is waking up and doing what you have to do creatively. We all have to pay our bills, the electricity, the mortgage, or what have you or put food on the table for our children. But I think that it is important for us, at least those of us that are artists, not to settle. A lot of us do and even when we become successful a lot of artists do decide to settle and they, not sell out. I mean to each his own. There’s no judgment. Everybody has their own circus. That is true. I have my own. I got a three-ring circus of like artists and people that I love and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. Money comes and money goes. It is an ebb and flow. I think the struggle is that.
Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?
In closing, I think, what is happiness? Happiness is one thing. It’s a state, right? What brings joy? Joy exists in a caress. Joy exists in giving to someone who doesn’t have. Joy exists in inspiring for someone who doesn’t feel inspired. That’s what joy is.