There’s a series of blog posts all answering the same set of questions going around like a chain letter — in part, it will see something of a tentacle-end here, as I have been less-than-diligent about making certain friends and associates were lined up after me. There are two, however, folks perhaps more interesting than myself who will be taking part fairly soon, one a longtime T2Her who may or may not be living under an assumed name wherever he happens to be these days and the other a newer acquaintance/coconspirator living close by here in Guitar Town, as the highway haulers call it (find them at the end of what follows, a self-interrogation regarding my “long thing” long in the works). Gretchen Kalwinski gave me the big hand-clap over the turnbuckle to set me out on this, fyi — her addition to the “Next Big Thing” blog chain (whose name perhaps strokes my elementally narcissistic tendencies very nicely, thank you) you can find here. Well worth the time.
What is your working title of your book (or story)?
Shining Man, not that guy up there (yeah, that’s me)
Where did the idea come from for the book?
A couple places:
The extremities of bright light and darkness, the wild metaphorical possibilities of the activity of standing in traffic as a life’s pursuit, the character’s somewhat misanthropic but ultimately vulnerable and empathetic nature — all of these stuck with me through the years as I went about other business and watched a near-decade of war, greed, etc. takes it toll on the people and places around me. As the toll was becoming readily apparent in 2007, I was living in Birmingham, Ala., and picked the story back up for a long-ish amount of time before other projects intervened.
What genre does your book fall under?
Literary fiction, I believe, though Amazon at one point not so long ago had my first novel, Sons of the Rapture, categorized as “Men’s Adventure” or something similar — I suppose that might fit too!
There are some elements of mystery/noir, but they’re utilized to either satirical or character-building purposes, ultimately.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Are you serious? OK, I guess you are. The only actors who could potentially play the narrator that I can actually think of and name are way too old to do so by now, which may tell you a little about my connection with a lot of U.S. popular culture at this point. Actually, on second thought, the gent who played junkie/brit rock’n'roller/budding father figure Charlie in Lost I can sort of see as physically resembling my mental image of the character. Eh…
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A young man, learning of his father’s disappearance and possible death, flies off on a series of goose-chases to which he is unwitting, works without meaning at one gig after another and ultimately drops out of the mainstream of American life when he’s able to see with clarity the very simply reality that he’s not the only one dealing with the many barriers erected in front of his pursuit of meaning, happiness. (Long sentence, I know — I need to work on that. Gretchen did much better.)
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Are you serious? OK, once I finish it I’ll deal with that — the last two book projects I’ve undertaken (click through the image at the right for the latest) have been entirely self-driven (with pro bono help, of course — thanks again, everybody), and it’s very time-consuming to get all the pieces of a quality project together. If I can get help, I will take it.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Technically, I haven’t finished the first draft. But much of the material with this one has been rewritten over and over as I slowly move forward with the story. I’ve been working off and on since 2007 with this material, after the original short in 2000. The six years have been interrupted by those two book projects (in terms of writing, editing and producing), a full-time job writing for a couple magazines, and more, so saying I’ve been working on it for six years is not telling the whole story.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
As noted earlier, Invisible Man is a definite structural/broad-thematic inspiration. It will have some similarities to a number of first-person-told novels of coming of age or, rather, late coming of age and adjusting badly to adult life. Barry Hannah’s Geronimo Rex, maybe.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Cf. “where did the idea come from”/similar question above. Much of the inspiration these days is self-propelled, a matter of will, you could say, and creating the time to do the work. The Occupy phenomenon got me back into it in earnest a year and a half back, actually, supplying a sort of real-life corollary to a plot/thematic element I had long been struggling with how exactly to approach. Life is more interesting that fiction, reality catches up with fiction, all that.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It involves in its latter half or so a NASCAR driver and his team — Turner Bascombe is some senses intended as a contemporary version of wildman stock-car circuit pioneer Curtis Turner, one of the old driver-owners active mid-last century. Bascombe is something of an impossible figure in the reality of top-level stock-car racing today, being a successful driver-owner in an era of big-money multi-car teams and what-have-you, but I find the notion compelling and the potential for such a character great. I grew up near Charlotte, N.C., after all, home of most of the NASCAR teams, and a good bit of the novel is set there (the narrator spends a part of the book on the pit crew of the team after a chance meeting with Bascombe during a freeway traffic stand in Alabama on the eve of the Talladega race). I have an old affection for the racing pastime/sport/waste of perfectly good oil.
Chuck Beard is the proprietor the East Nashville-based East Side Story bookshop, dedicated to Nashville-based writers, primarily, and artists. He’s also the author of the novel Adventures Inside a Bright-Eyed Sky.
My relationship to NASCAR is a mite complicated, as is any southern expat’s, but it essentially fits the following parameters:
1. I don’t usually much care for NASCAR fans, unless they’re related to me.
2. I was raised on a steady diet of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, but when Earnhardt died I was a long way from Calvary Baptist in Charlotte, NC, and I was mostly laughing at news of the regional television coverage his service received (delivered via a fitful, sobbing telephone call from my redneck brother).
3. Chili goes well with it.
4. Beer too.
Mid-February and the first race of the season, the grand Daytona 500, came on quick this year, but I met it in plenty of time to call over a few of my friends for our inaugural end-of-Speedweek hangout at my place: plenty of chili, plenty of beer, and Erk, a nonfan, as it goes, but a man with a large beard and who shares the name of the famed Georgia-bred football coach (formerly of the GA junkyard dawgs’ defense and lately of GA Southern Uni) Erk Russell and whose mind is evermore open to pretty much anything, really, and particularly the idea that a latent homosexuality pervades much of men’s professional sports and its enthusiasts, an idea very hard to discount at any moment — Erk makes a hell of an argument. And Henry David Cocteau, whom we call HD, also a nonfan but from NC, which makes us brothers, of a sort, in Chicago — his attraction to NASCAR is all regional nostalgia, boyhood memories of sitting with Pop by the gas fireplace talking Earnhardt bump-steer and old Richard Petty lore. And, finally, Mort’s a new-NASCAR enthusiast if I’ve ever seen one, wears an earring and everything with his DeWalt cap — his enthusiasm for Matt Kenseth seems to spring from his loyalty to DeWalt tools, not that he ever uses them, of course (he does live in Chicago, city of big service, and works in a bar far — metaphysically, if not geographically — from any garage).
We were primed. Or at least I was. My brother, however, was ecstatic. He lives for this shit. Good ol’ boy Dale Jarrett, among the “old guard” of drivers, had won the “shootout” pole position-determining race of the previous week and thus was starting the main event right up front and my brother had been calling me daily in the week preceding the race with news from South Carolina and the near-psychotic fandom that resides somewhere in his left brain. He “couldn’t fucking wait” for the beginning, when Jarrett would by all means necessary whip the living shit outta every other driver there. Yes, to hear the boy talk you’d have thought that DJ was already a shoe-in for victory. When race time arrived, chili beginning its fourth and final hour of simmering, beer on the back porch cooling naturally in the Chicago winter, after a viewing of the unfortunate singing of none other than former beauty/porn queen Vanessa Williams and countless other hapless losers, Me and Mort — HD and Erk hadn’t yet arrived — watched Jarrett promptly lose near 20 of his spots due to a quickly failing engine or other auto component. My brother called and was cursing, over the phone. Mort invoked the great Dale Earnhardt when I passed him the receiver, my brother in mid-curse, as he said, “That’s racin’.”
I listened to the attendant yowl, Mort painfully pulling the receiver away from his ear, with equal parts glee and empathetic consternation, for the NASCAR fan is like his favorite driver and competitive to a fault, but likewise ever mindful of the always present possibility of death. My brother hung up when he finally realized Mort had put the phone on the floor, where my girlfriend’s cat had proceeded to sniff at it and then to screech a little at the boy’s voice blasting forth. And he wouldn’t call back again, not even when Jarrett was charging through the racing field toward the front at the end of the race, when it looked like Jarrett might actually contend for this one. It was a shame, too, cause had he called to gloat it likely would’ve blown up in his face just like Jarrett’s chances for victory: I never lose an opportunity to get one up on my brother, and in being a racing fan it was too easy. The highly partisan fan suffers with his driver. I was relatively nonpartisan, if occasionally I pulled (along with the rest of my small crew here except for Erk, who didn’t give a shit either way) for Mark Martin, another old guard veteran who we were partial to on account of the tragedy of his main corporate sponsor, Viagra. It’s not something we’ll even much talk about, you know, until Martin creeps into the top five, maybe, or say it’s getting late in the race and the little ticker that goes perpetually across the top of your television screen might be telling you, lap by lap, that the old man’s creeping up toward the front and then, with maybe 50 laps left in whatever race, you might feel compelled to put all shame aside and raise a toast for the victims of erectile dysfunction the world over, to raise a toast for the blue #6 Viagra Ford of Mark Martin, native of Batesville, Arkansas.
Yes, the old boy Dale Jarrett finished 15th after creeping into the top ten and I imagine my brother was none too pleased. But Martin, well, let’s just say that me and HD and Mort spent the last twenty laps of this year’s Speedweek silent as elves, our eyes and minds locked on the events at hand. Martin was shifted back and forth between second and third and fourth places in the final laps, before a wreck back in the field and ensuing caution period, after which point the youthful power trio of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, and last year’s championship winner Kurt Busch fought it out to a Gordon victory. The driver of the Viagra car finished sixth in his last ever Daytona 500 (he’d announced his impending retirement earlier in the year), but it wasn’t such a bad showing. Me and Mort and HD were all down, a little, though the drinks probably had something to do with it. Erk was beaming, always a joke at arm’s length, if not at hand. “Martin blew his load, didn’t he? Or maybe he just couldn’t get it up,” Erk said. We all scowled at him and went out back for a smoke.
Take the day onward, we figured in our sudden dysfunctional camaraderie. Young and defeated all. On to the Rainbo, a bar close by where we knew some people, even if we had to take the traitor namesake of the great Georgia football coach. Erk came out onto my porch as we all lit up our second cigarettes and invited himself along, but it didn’t much matter. At the bar, Erk even joined in on a toast to Martin’s failure, likewise our own. If we ever grew up and got married and started careers and all that, God help us. I wouldn’t remember much after said toast, anyhow. Hell of a way to start the season.