In an earlier post, I commented on how important music is to me. Music has a large influence on my writing. To highlight this, my editor, Erika, created a Spotify playlist of many of the songs that I've somehow referenced in The Suicide Flowers, The Arbiters, and Going Home. Check it out below, play it, and let me know how the playlist makes you feel.
My father died twenty-four years ago today. I was twenty-three years old. Really, still just a punk trying to find my way in this world. I'm still lost. My father was a highly-skilled smoker - one of those professionals who inhale the smoke with great proficiency and adoration. He was only forty-nine when he died. He had this uncontrollable smoker's cough that would possess his whole body when it came - he'd choke and cough so violently that strangers would think he was dying right there before them. By age ten, I no longer heard the coughing - it was just an extension of my father, like a laugh or a sneeze. My world changed drastically when the cigarettes took him. His death gave birth to something inside me. I was a very poor verbal communicator when it came to my feelings, so I took to writing my feelings down. My very first poem was about him. He used to always call me rabbit, as in Peter Rabbit. I miss being called rabbit. The poem is below and at one point, I had a band named Southpaw and we recorded a song version of this poem. It came out good. During his final weeks, he was hooked up to a ventilator and couldn't speak. We used a dry-erase board to communicate until he could no longer communicate with us. I used to sit in his room for hours just watching him die and often sneaked out of the house late at night to visit him. At that point, there are no visiting hours, you can visit at any time for however long you like. The poem below is the conversation I had with him years after his death, based on my feelings at the time of his death - feelings I didn't understand. At age twenty-three, I was just becoming a man - just getting to know him for the awesome man that he was - a man that I could never be. I will never be a good a man as he was and that breaks my heart. But, I was glad to have met him. The words in the first stanza of the poem go both way. Read them from both mine and his point of view. The last stanza is what I've been struggling with all of my adult life. They're such simple, powerful words I still don't understand.
It's sad to me that good writers rely on the suffering they endure, often going through it alone - despite the family and support that surrounds them. I continue to write about my father, but have learned to write about him on a more subconscious level. To illustrate my point, The Suicide Flowers is just me trying to work through my father's death through the plot points of Raeburn, Gabriel, Isabelle, Spencer, and Bunny. I am all of these characters and I have many points of view. Mostly, I am Raeburn, trying to find my way in this world. Me and my dad are the true suicide flowers. I won't spoil the story if you haven't read it...
Ultimately, my father had a deep impact on who I am trying to be today, and that's beautiful.
I miss you, Peter Conrad.
I was glad to have met you.
I never realized we had so much in common.
We were men, we were boys,
We were the world with all its joys.
This world is big - you should see it.
Stay in my world, because I really need it.
Take care of her. Oh, I will.
Yes sir, I'll make sure she's well.
I should go now. It's getting late.
I'm tired and I've stayed longer than I should have.
And you said rabbit.
My name was rabbit.
You said rabbit.
Where shall I go? Who shall I be?
Image of you? Image of me?
It's been so long, you made the trip.
But it was good to have met you.
Where shall I go? Who shall I be?
Image of you? Image of me?
It's been so long, you made the trip.
But it was so good to have met you.
I find a lot of inspiration in music. Sometimes I'll hear a phrase or a word in a song and it will inspire me to use it in my own work. I'll give you an example. This Damien Rice song is a beautiful love song. It makes me sad and happy at the same time. I especially like the line, "there's still a little bit of your song in my ear." What a fabulous line. I'm going to use that idea, except I'm going to turn it around so that one of my characters, "put a little song into her ears." Look for it in The Arbiters, my new novel coming out next year. And look for other song lyric homages in my other novels.
This book changed my life.
I was introduced to Quo Vadis? by my dear friend and bibliophile, Charles. I will never understand literature the way he does. His criticism of literature goes far beyond the surface, plot points, and themes. Charles is my literary hero. He loaned me his copy of Quo Vadis? some ten years ago while we were researching The Franklin Sex Scandal. The idea was to retell Quo Vadis? using themes and events culled from TFSS. What came to fruition was my third book, The Arbiter's Nephew. Well conceived, poorly executed, it was the first book I had ever adapted. I simply wasn't ready to write the book. Some ten years later, I have embarked on a full rewrite of The Arbiter's Nephew, which is now titled, The Arbiters.
I am really enjoying rewriting this book. I feel free - not tied to Quo Vadis? in any specific way. I've set the book in 1985 Los Angeles, specifically in the drug world. On the surface, The Arbiters is a crime drama. Unless you are a savvy reader acquainted with Rome in the time of Nero, or have read Quo Vadis? (or have seen the beautiful 1951 film), you wouldn't know that The Arbiters is an adaptation of Quo Vadis?. Sometimes, that's the point. When Apocalypse Now first came to the theaters, not too many people knew it was an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's (no relation damn it) Heart of Darkness. Someday, I hope to see my re-envisaging of Quo Vidas? on the big screen. The book will be available in the spring of 2015. I have Charles to thank for helping me to read beyond the words, to look for the story that is beneath the actual story.
Here's a sneak peak at the cover:
When I first began playing golf, I really sucked at the game. I only wanted to learn how to play golf so I could fit in with the business people I was attempting to emulate. Good businessmen and women played golf. I would go to the local driving range, buy a couple buckets, and smack at the tiny balls until I was frustrated enough that I wanted to wrap the golf club around the closest tree. But then something miraculous would always happen – I’d hit that golf ball so perfectly long and straight that it negated the frustration and I would keep trying. Soon, more and more balls would fly gracefully into the deep blue sky, toward the retaining net that surrounded the range. When I got onto the course and played the game with other people – people always better than me – I discovered that I still sucked at the game, but the people I played with were happy to help me in any way they could by showing me how to stand or how to grip the club or where to hit the ball. Every now and again, I’d hit the ball perfectly – its arc and flight flawless. These hits were perhaps one out of every ten, but they were just enough to keep me going – just enough motivation to keep me striving to become a better golfer. The better I became at the game, the more I practiced, the more comfortable I got with the equipment - the more I was satisfied. In many ways, learning to play golf is the same process as writing.
I’m currently in a phase where I’m rewriting all of my earlier work. I’ve recently completed rewriting The Suicide Flowers, which was my earliest novel. I wrote it when I was just learning the craft of writing. Ten years later and a million written words later, I decided to give the story and characters more depth and meaning. I’m about to do the same with a story called The Arbiters. The basic structure and characters are all there, but because I now write with a broader palette, I’m going to give the story the literary attention that it deserves. At 49k words, I anticipate adding at least 20k words, and fully rewriting what I’ve already written. I’m very excited to begin this journey because all of my characters are real to me. I like to tell people that my best friends are in my novels. I laugh with them and cry when bad things happen to them. I guess it’s because my characters are all extensions of the person that I keep locked up inside me… it’s been a long time since I last visited with Marcus and Sein (pronounced Sane). I’m eager to find out what’s new with them.
Finally, speaking of the whole golf analogy, I’ve republished my book of poetry, short stories, and essays. The name is 104070. I’ve included all of my earliest works, including songs I wrote for my band, Southpaw, and short stories that have acted as character development for other bodies of work. I’ve kept these short stories as original as possible as a way to document my journey as an author.
...comes in the form of poetry.
I’ve been asked to answer the question, “what might the literate arts be said to be good for?” Well, I’m not able to answer such an informal fallacy. This question has no answer because in order to answer this question I would be following an agenda and I do not wish to follow an agenda. This is a loaded question.
I cannot answer this question because as I sit here at the computer I am reminded that it’s been over ten years since I last saw my daughter and I wouldn’t know how to express the love that I’ve had for her all of these years with merely words.
I cannot answer this question because as I write this blog my wife is planning on quitting her job, taking out a massive student loan, and moving to England to complete a degree in a field where there are few jobs and I don’t know how to tell her that I’m as scared as hell.
I cannot answer this question because as I sit here pondering the literate arts I am reminded that the next time I go to the theater I shall have to remind myself not to use my phone in any manner lest I be subject to lethal action. I wouldn’t know how to articulate myself out of the situation.
I cannot answer this question because as I watch the children get off of the bus outside my window I think that no matter how many times innocent children are slaughtered at school there is a group of people in this country that will come to the defense of the murderer by quoting the edicts of an outdated Constitution.
I cannot answer this question because as I continue to write novels and screenplays and poetry that nobody reads I wonder what exactly it is that I’m creating with the written word. Do I create works of relevance or do I merely muck about in a hobby that has done nothing but prevented my suicide?
I cannot answer this question because as I sit here contemplating the suicides that have cemented other artists in history I am afraid that if I had the talent to write a suicide note, then it just may present me with the capacity to go through with it.
I cannot answer this question because despite the Surgeon General’s written warnings on the cigarette cartons and the scientific data that prove that smoking cigarettes kill these words cannot bring my father back from the dead because he smoked too many cigarettes.
I cannot answer this question because of the assortment of love letters that I had carefully and thoughtfully written as a young man and the relationships that could not be saved from an eventual and predictable demise.
I cannot answer this question because of the words of Jesus Christ and countless other religious martyrs that expounded on the humanist virtues of loving one another as you desire to be loved and forgiving those that sin against you and the religious followers that twist their words to fit their own hate-filled agendas.
If we, as a species, truly believed that our words alone could provoke righteous action or inaction, then there would be no need to defend the humanities. It must be concluded that regardless of what is written, the human race will continue to ignore the literate arts. Time and time again we are reminded of this fact. Parents continue to use their child’s love against each other. Capitalists will always dream up new and improved methods of separating us from our money, as are exemplified by the college degree and student loans. Groups like the NRA continue to rally around an outdated Constitution and when school massacres devastate a community they blame the event on mental illness and not on the ease of obtaining weapons and the problem we have with violence in this country. Children will still become smokers despite the efforts of government agencies that provide proof that smoking kills and religious extremists will still twist the words of their holy books to fit their personal, hateful ideologies.
However, I could not imagine a world in which we lived without the literate arts.