GUEST BLOG POST BY
When I sign copies of my books, I inscribe them with the line “rock ‘n’ roll saves lives” because it saved mine.
Backtrack to 1984 and my lost nineteen-year-old self. I had been a promising long distance runner in my youth, but my athletic dreams took a nosedive when I struggled to succeed at the next level. I quit my nationally-ranked university team and compensated by drinking heavily, often with the aid of Valium, which had been prescribed to me for anxiety issues. With running out of the picture I lost my identity. I did have music, however. I had always loved rock ‘n’ roll as a kid and with sports out of my life, I became obsessed with the punk and new wave scene, especially artists from the UK like Echo and The Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs and The Cure. My fervor grew to the point where I pleaded with my parents to let me study abroad. My grades were not strong enough for the London School of Economics, but I did get accepted into the University of Essex in Wivenhoe Park, which borders Colchester, an old Roman town about an hour’s train ride from Liverpool Street Station in London.
The year spent at the University of Essex inspired my first novel Wivenhoe Park, which was first published in 2013. I was lucky enough to experience firsthand the rise of The Jesus and Mary Chain, who remain my all-time favorite band and forge friendships that still exist to this day. I remain close to my best friend at the time, Marc, who inspired the Johnny character. People often ask me why it took so long to write an eighties coming of age tale. Like the novel’s protagonist Drew, my dream was to become a music critic. For the next few decades I published several fanzines and contributed to renowned magazines such as The Big Takeover, Skyscraper and Alternative Press. During this time, I also worked for a record label in Los Angeles and started my own, Elephant Stone Records. So, what triggered my journey into writing fiction?
In the back of my mind I had always loved coming-of-age tales from an outsider’s perspective. As a youngster I loved The Outsiders; Catcher in the Rye; Less Than Zero; and Bright Lights, Big City. Later in life, Kevin Sampson’s Awaydays had a huge impact on me. In 2012, my wife and I were in New Orleans with her mother-in-law Ellendea Proffer, who is an accomplished academic with a MacArthur genius award to her name. At this time, I was in a creative funk as the music industry had changed so much that my record label had been relegated to side hustle status and I had been sucked into a corporate day gig. Writing came up in the discussion and I remember telling Ellendea that I had always wanted to write a novel. She said, then why don’t you? Some four months later I completed the first draft of Wivenhoe Park, which a publisher friend loved. Almost a year to the day after that lunch in New Orleans, Wivenhoe Park was in print.
The idea of a sequel and, possibly, a trilogy floated in my mind as I was writing Wivenhoe Park and it came to fruition when I started outlining ideas for my 2015 novel Heartworm. Set ten years after Wivenhoe Park, Heartworm is a comedown novel. If Wivenhoe Park was my Psychocandy, celebrating the mad rush of youth, Heartworm is most definitely Darklands. What worked for Drew in 1985 is most definitely not clicking ten-years later as our protagonist supports a less-than-glamourous writing ‘career’ with dead-end office work, burying memories of his ex-wife with drugs and alcohol.
Heartworm is about Drew coping with rejection in his life and it was in fact inspired by rejection. The novel was initially pitched to Bloomsbury Press for their 33 1/3 series of books inspired by classic albums. Heartworm is also the title of the acclaimed 1995 album by Dublin’s Whipping Boy, a record with cult status in Ireland, one that has topped artists such as U2, The Undertones and Van Morrison in Irish music polls. While most books in the 33 1/3 are dry music criticism, several, namely Joe Pernice’s Meat Is Murder and John Niven’s Music From Big Pink are first-rate rock ‘n’ roll fiction inspired by the music and times of their subject matter. Heartworm the album was a lifesaver for me when I was going through my divorce in 1995. Like Drew, I had lived in Ireland and I wanted to capture the vibe of mid-Nineties Dublin and the angst of the Whipping Boy album, which paralleled what was going on inside me. When my Heartworm didn’t make the cut, it lit a fire inside me to say, fuck it, I’ll show them! As the famous Whipping Boy single from the album proclaimed, ‘We don’t need nobody else’.
The forthcoming Sunset Trip on Obliterati Press is Drew’s hope for redemption. The story begins in 1999 with Drew two-years sober, trying to stay afloat at a soul-crushing investor relations gig in Boston. Circumstances lead him to a record label job in Los Angeles. Will he stay above water or sink into a rock ‘n’ roll heart of darkness?
Writing this final chapter was a therapeutic experience for me. Just after the release of Heartworm I learned that I had a congenital heart condition and that if I did not have surgery, I would only have a year or two to live. On top of that, two friends in their mid-forties passed away in part from heart-related conditions. One before the surgery, one soon after. This triggered me to give up drinking, which at various stages in my life was quite problematic. I wasn’t comfortable with AA, which has worked for some of my rock ‘n’ roll friends, but I saw a counselor who specializes in drug and alcohol addiction for six months.
I have been alcohol sober for twenty months now and sobriety has changed my writing process. Wivenhoe Park and Heartworm were written on a steady diet of red wine and Benadryl while Sunset Trip was completed on a course of Moroccan mint tea and cannabis. The later doesn’t trigger me and was in fact recommended to me by my counselor who helped me kick drink. Speaking of Morocco, a visit to Marrakesh inspired the genesis of Sunset Trip.
My wife and I visited the breathtaking desert city in the autumn of 2017. At this time, I had loose notes for what would become Sunset Trip. One afternoon, while sitting on the rooftop of the riad where we were staying, the whole story rushed to me. I madly typed out the outline and when I came home, wrote the first draft in three months. I sent it to Nathan and Wayne at Obliterati and a few revisions later, here we are. In addition to publishing Sunset Trip in October, Obliterati will be reissuing Wivenhoe Park and Heartworm as eBooks in July.