PUSHING THE RIVER — my third novel, set for release this October by Amika Press — currently lay in the trusty and capable hands of their graphic designer/production person Sarah Koz. If you are a writer yourself, and you are reading this, you know exactly what this means – that I am wandering around the various circles of Marketing Hell in a bleary daze, waffling between dutiful determination and dejected drudgery (and stooping to the lower depths of ill-advised alliteration).
How to bring the FUN back into writing – that has been the challenge I have posed to myself. And as I cast around with the beginning of the beginning stages of Writing a New Novel, I have been “trying out” various characters, almost in the same way a director might audition actors. Here follows a character who, out of the blue, inhabited me and began to tell his story:
First time I was over at Bert’s place, he yelled at me right through the screen door. “YO!” He yells, “come on IN.” Didn’t get up or nothing, just hollered. I was a little shook by that, to tell you the truth, cause all I could see was nothing – just like total blackness on the other side of the door, that’s how dark it was inside. I sort of followed the sounds, the music and rustling and all, down this hall til I could make out Bert like some dim faraway spirit.
Bert was sitting in the nicest chair, meaning the one whose stuffing was sprouting out of big gashes in both arms, and had seat cushion that didn’t even fit in the frame any more – that’s how caddywhompus and old and tore up it was; still, it was a damn sight better than any other place to sit in the room. Bert’s own dad, in fact, was sitting on the arm of what must have once been a couch. I figured it was his dad, because I knew Bert lived with him and because the guy on the arm of the chair was a lot older than anybody we hung around with. Anyway, Bert was sitting in the quote nicer chair, which I also thought was a little weird, because I mean, come on, it was his dad.
Once my eyes started to adjust to the near-darkness, I could make out that Bert was rolling a joint on his lap, using a greasy old magazine to hold his paraphernalia. I looked at his dad, and back at Bert, and Bert looked up for the first time and seemed to register that I was there, also for the first time, in the middle of this living room, I guess it was, while he was rolling a joint and shooting the shit with his dad.
“Oh, hey,” Bert said.
Man, I have never before felt like a stick-up-my-ass, stick-in-the-mud conventional, conservative prick, but I’m suddenly feeling all disapproving. Jesus, the one time my dad wanted to prove that he was as open-minded as the next guy, and to demonstrate it he was going to go get a marijuana cigarette that he’d been given by a friend ages before, and that he’d been keeping all of this time, and wouldn’t it be fun to get it right now, at Thanksgiving, and pass it around the table before dessert and coffee. I thought I was going to seriously lose my shit, partly because, needless to say, I was already high due to spending Thanksgiving with the fam in the first place. And when my aunt said, “Do we have to share the same one? I really think I’d like my own,” then, really, that’s just a Twilight Zone-type situation you can only hope comes to a swift and relatively painless end.
So, yeah, I’m feeling kinda judgy of Bert for taking the best chair in the room and for rolling a doob right in front of his old man and not thinking a thing of it, and also feeling pissed at myself for feeling judgy in the first place, and like of jeez, who knew, turns out I’m just a regular old middle-class honky white boy right along with the rest of them. So I’m kinda testy when I say to Bert, “I thought we were having a party here, man.”
“What do you think I’m doing here?” Bert says, holding up the doob, which is just about the size of one those small little cigars. “I’m getting ready!” He says this with some element of triumph. “Already mixed up the punch.” He gestures towards the fridge, which is, in fact, not very far behind him in this same room. “Grain alcohol and grape juice.” And he adds, with a giant ass smile, “Ohhhh, yeahhhhhh!”