Thursday, January 31, 2013

Chester Moore Built This

So I'm waiting for my morning class a few days back, stealing a little time to read something that doesn't require I slap a grade on it when I'm finished, and there's some dudes huddled campfire style in the college lounge.

They have a guitar, a slicknew Ovation.  They're playing a hiccup of a song here, another hiccup there, and handing it around.  They are bent on impressing each other and anyone within ear shot.  That's fine and good.  But I wasn't paying much attention to these guys and their perfect Ovation, their desperate craving for audience.

The security guard I'd often passed in the halls had moved from his usual spot by the elevator and was now just outside this circle of hip cats.

So now I'm watching this guard, a sixty-something man standing quiet as a church mouse and listening.  Whatever strange radar I have activates, and I make my way over to him.  No introductions, not just then.  We cut right to it.  Music.  He plays mandolin, I play guitar.  He grew up Old Regular with only singing and no instruments and I grew up watching my old man play a 1967 Silvertone in church bands with as much amplification as he could find outlets for.

He tells me he's Chester Moore.  I introduce myself.  Then he tells me he built his own mandolin.  It's in the trunk of his car.  Would I like to see it?

Merry Christmas to me.

While my students waited five minutes into class for me to show up, I stood in the parking lot and listened to Chester play.  I listened for as long as I could.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Next Big Thing: A blog post because K.L. Cook tagged me

I was pleased to hear from K.L. Cook, a good friend and mentor of mine, with a tag for the Next Big Thing Blog Post extravaganza a couple weeks back.  I was more than pleased to both hear from Kenny and to accept the invitation. 

Kenny is the author of three award-winning books of fiction. 

His most recent book, Love Songs for the Quarantined (Willow Springs Editions 2011), a collection of thematically linked stories, won The Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. His novel, The Girl from Charnelle (William Morrow 2006/Harper Perennial 2007), won The Willa Award for Contemporary Fiction and was named a Southwest Book of the Year and an Editor’s Choice selection from the Historical Novel Society, among other honors.  Cook’s first book, Last Call (Nebraska 2004), a short story cycle chronicling three decades in the lives of a West Texas family, won the inaugural Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction.

To learn more about Kenny, who served as a grand and generous mentor for my creative thesis while a grad student at Spalding University, please visit his website at

The idea of the Next Big Thing Blog sharing is that writers each tag five other writers and each of them writes a post answering a series of questions about either a published work or a work in progress.  I’ve published one collection of short stories, The Same Terrible Storm, but am choosing to answer the questions about my novel-in-progress, Brown Bottle.

I’ll thank Kenny again here for the chance to take part in all this wonderful sharing of writers.  It’s a fine idea.

Here are my answers to the questions:

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

The title of my novel-in-progress is Brown Bottle.  This title, more than any other book I’ve written or short story or anything, has always been solid.  Usually I work through a few titles, but this one has teeth, I think.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The book focuses on a character from a short story in my first book, the collection The Same Terrible Storm.  Wade Kingston, nicknamed Brown Bottle, is an alcoholic who is alone in the world without his nephew, Dennis.  The idea for this character and the novel I’m working on now, at least the seed of the idea, has firm roots in my own battles with alcoholism and becoming a father at a young age without a blueprint to look to from my own father – a war veteran like Brown – who struggled to play a role in my life.

What genre does your book fall under?

Most folks would categorize the book as either Southern or Appalachian literature, I suppose.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

The key characters are, of course, Brown Bottle and Dennis, but there are others who would be prominent enough to warrant a good casting decision, such as Stan Collins, Tucker Collins, Hen Collins, Dan Bell and Fay Mullins.  Here’s who I would see in each of those roles:

Brown: Ray McKinnon
Dennis: Logan Lerman
Stan: John Hawkes
Tucker: Walton Goggins
Hen: Robin Weigert
Dan: Timothy Olyphant
Fay: Brian Cox

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

An alcoholic war veteran seeks to spare his nephew from the dangerous lifestyle of a drug-addicted teen in Eastern Kentucky while road blocks along the way include drug-dealers, law enforcement and hired killers alike.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Neither, would be the short answer.  I don’t have representation, and Foxhead Books published my first book after contacting me in the fall of 2010.  I’ve since settled on a tentative agreement to have Brown Bottle published with Foxhead.  However, I’m reserving the option to shop the book around, as well.  This came about partly after I took a position with Foxhead Books as Editor in Chief.  Considering I’m now in an editorial position with Foxhead, the idea that I might have the book published elsewhere is a realistic possibility.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’m still working on the first draft.  Typically, I finish a first draft at about the one-year mark.  This book has been a slower process for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the juggling of teaching and working for both Foxhead and its parent company, Potemkin Media Omnibus.  It’s the good work, but there’s a lot of it!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’ve not thought of that before, but I’d likely include it with works such as Larry Brown’s Father and Son or something along the lines of Ron Rash’s Saints at the River.  But, in fairness, I’d also have to include works such as Winter’s Bone, which has drugs and drug dealers as primary players, and most works by Chris Offutt and Pinckney Benedict, which focus on Appalachia as more or less another character rather than just a setting. 

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

After finishing the story “Purpose” from my collection, in which Brown Bottle was the main character, I knew I wanted to write a full-length work focusing on Brown.  Brown was a character that stayed with me after finishing the story, a rare thing for me.  Since finishing that story several years ago I’ve always known I would revisit both Brown and Dennis again in novel form. 

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Brown, who is alone in the world without his nephew, Dennis, seeks to redeem himself to save the love he felt from his nephew when the boy was young.  The book expands on this theme to include Dennis at the center of a drug-related feud and Brown’s involvement as a result.  Ultimately Brown must face the possibility of sacrificing himself to save his nephew in every way one person can save another.  This lends me the chance to write about some of the social concerns in Eastern Kentucky without getting on a soapbox, while keeping the focus on strong characters and solid storytelling.  This is a particularly difficult thing to accomplish when writing about my region, so I think readers will enjoy seeing it done well.  

Yes, I googled myself. But look what I found!

I googled myself yesterday. It wasn't the first time and it won't be the last. I have a busy online life and so I like to see what...