I always draw inspiration for writing and solitude from the mountains. My work is rife with mountain imagery and water.
Today’s excursion to Twin Falls in the Central Cascades was no different. A glorious day and abundant water made the falls spectacular. Lucky I brought the big camera to take some photos.
I’m starting off 2013 with an amazing review I received yesterday from Indie Reviews. She sent a follow up saying that the novella and stories will be in her Best of 2012 list as well. Thanks for this very thoughtful and lovely review!
The novella, The Narrows, Miles Deep, is the beautifully written and heartrending story of Eric Morris and Roy Bancroft, lovers who parted ways some four years ago when Eric joined his family’s business as a trucker and relocated from Utah to Las Vegas and Roy remained in Salt Lake City to be near the mountains and continue working in a small engineering firm. Eric and Roy have arranged a reunion camping trip in The Narrows Zion National Park in the hopes of rekindling their relationship.
Set primarily in Salt Lake City and southern Utah the story takes place during the 1980s and both begins and ends in the present but unfolds in a non-linear retrospective fashion. The story is divided into four parts tracing the lives of Eric and Roy, their respective childhood and adolescence, their relationships with family and friends, their first meeting and the evolution of their relationship through the first person narration of several secondary characters, among others, Eric’s parents, Roy’s father and Eric’s best friends. Characterisation in further heightened through Roy’s extremely intimate third person introspection and through Eric’s somewhat more muted thoughts.
Great insight into both Eric and Roy is gained through the alternating narratives and voices of friends, family and old lovers, and complemented by the introspection of the main characters as Eric and Roy are explored from all sides. As the story unfolds the circumstances of both characters’ lives are revealed and the layers of the events and life experiences that have shaped them are slowly peeled away.
We learn of Eric’s struggle with his commitment to his Mormon faith in the face of his religion’s blatant homophobia and overall hypocrisy and his inability to reconcile this with who and what he is, as well as his fear of coming out to his family, leading him to abandon the Mormon Church altogether and distance himself from his family. In many ways this struggle defines Eric and influences his life choices and decisions, which ultimately impact his relationship with Roy, as he is hesitant and fearful of fully revealing himself to his lover.
“When Eric came off his mission he moved to Salt Lake City and began working and going to school up there. He came home from serving the church different. After two years, he was still gentle and sweet, but was unsure of himself where most of the other local boys came back with plans, married old girlfriends, started families. Eric just wanted to get away. I didn’t understand, but I suppose the thing to do was just let him be. I wish I had gone slower when I was his age. I didn’t want him to miss a thing.”
We also come to know and understand Roy’s deep emotional pain caused by the loss of his twin brother, abandonment by his mother and his father’s failings as a parent brought on by his own pain at the loss of his son and wife. These losses have had a seminal impact on Roy and his ability for emotional intimacy. Roy prefers his solitude and is initially quite tentative in his relationship with Eric. And yet by his own admission, his meeting of Eric stopped his world on its very axis and in Eric he finds solace from the loneliness he’s felt his entire life.
“Eric’s touch came back to him. Like his mother’s: lightly on the forehead. He began to think of her, to equate her smell with the smells of the canyon. He’d lost the specifics of her years ago so that now she came to him unfocused. The weight of her shape lingered in his mind, however, and he could remember her warmth when she bent over him before he went to sleep, or came up behind him to see what he was doing at the table. It was her warmth that wouldn’t leave him. Years went by and no matter what he did it still clung to him until last night, when it was replaced by Eric’s. He felt a kind of freedom now, a lightness. He brought his hands together as if in prayer. He smiled, and then wept.”
As the story takes place during the 1980s the spectre of HIV/AIDS hovers and looms throughout as an ominous intruder that will impact the lives of the entire cast of characters.
Mr. Schabarum’s writing style is literary and poetic, but at the same time quite elemental in nature cutting to the heart of Eric and Roy and their hopes and fears as they navigate both their lives and relationships without melodrama or cliché. I was completely immersed in this story from the very first paragraph and read it in one sitting. Far from muting the emotional magnitude and impact of their story, the unassuming and introspective qualities of Mr. Schabarum’s writing achieve the opposite and provide for an extremely powerful reading experience.
The Narrows, Miles Deep is a multi-layered story with several emerging themes. As much as it is a story about the Eric and Roy’s journey and relationship, it is also a story that interweaves such themes as coming out and coming of age, homophobia, religion, parenting and family relationships, life choices, HIV/AIDS, loss and letting go. Ultimately, the overarching theme of this story is about the fragility of love. I truly loved this story and despite its tragic ending, found much beauty in the sadness of Eric and Roy’s journey. While unrelated, the three accompanying short stories are equally well written and carry with them similar themes as the novella.
I am excited at the discovery of Mr. Schabarum’s writing and look forward to reading his debut novel The Palisades. I highly recommend The Narrows, Miles Deep without any hesitation.
The Narrows, Miles Deep by Tom Schabarum is available at Amazon.
My friend and fellow writer, Andrea Jarrell, recently sent me a questionnaire about my next big writing project as a process of getting started and moving forward with our writing. It’s fall now, and I’ve begun to write again when I can’t sleep. And I’ve been reading some great books lately (The Absolutist, In Sunlight and In Shadow and The Light Between Oceans), listening to wonderful music, (Paul Buchanan, Ben Howard, The Head and the Heart, The Lumineers) and watching some fascinating movies (The Master). So things are percolating…
Here’s the questionnaire:
What is the working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
So far, it’s the sequel to Airstreaming, which left off at a point of departure for the main character. I need to see where she goes.
What genre does your book fall under?
Literary Fiction | Women’s Fiction
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Elizabeth Olsen with darker hair would play Linda. Matthew McConaughey would play Jack because I think he’ll reappear. But the McConaughey of late, because he’s doing far more interesting work than he was doing with Kate Hudson.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Linda sets off in her Airstream to discover who she is, and becomes enmeshed in the Los Angeles music scene during the 70’s.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I’ve just begun the first draft of Eucalyptus, but it took 10 years to write the 1st draft of Airstreaming. I’m hoping that it won’t be near as long.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
My Antonia, Just Kids
Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I have to find out what happens to Linda once she’s taken her independence and how life treats her. And I have to find out what happens to the Airstream trailer that is given her.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I’ve always found the 70’s music scene in LA fascinating, but rarely written about, so from what I know having grown up in LA and aware of the music scene then, and what I’m researching, I’m hoping to make it just as fascinating for the reader. I love music, and I love writing women characters, so for me, it’s a win win.
Andrea Jarrell is a fine essayist, fiction writer and works as a communications strategist for many fine colleges and institutions across the nation. You can find Andrea’s fine blog here: http://www.andreajarrell.com/blog/
A week ago, I had occasion to travel over the mountains to Bend, OR and meet with RG Coleman, a wonderful person who has written about AIRSTREAMING for me, and who is a writer herself. She told me that people have been dissuading her from writing a novel, and that it wasn’t something that she was comfortable with. I told her to write, write the novel, and don’t let anyone tell you not to.
To me, the act of writing is an act of discovery on so many levels.
When I was young, I used to climb mountains like a mountain goat: fast, with a lack of trepidation, and a need to get there in a hurry. I was unburdened by pain, shortened breath, or a heavy pack. I just climbed mountains out of a need to get to the top, take a look around and then spy the next one that needed conquering. I was no mountaineer, mind you, but enjoyed what hiking brought me in the form of solitude, the chance to think, and the need for perseverance.
Writing a novel is much like climbing a mountain. It’s like putting one foot in front of the other to get to the top, taking a look around/or at yourself, and then going back down the mountain until you are finished, spent and worn out, but changed by the experience.
The first novel I wrote, my writing sessions wore on deep into the night and early mornings. I worked in utter darkness; my Macintosh SE screen the only thing lighting the room. I wanted that claustrophobic feeling that permeated the book, and the darkness worked. Trusting the body to bounce back in the morning for my regular job was not an issue. I was young. Four years seemed like nothing. And it took me 3.75 percent of those years to get to the mountaintop to figure out the ending of the book, and only another .25 percent to finish it.
First books are like your first trip up a mountain. Your need of conquering it, of proving to yourself that you CAN do it overwhelms the experience of actually hiking it.
The second book’s genesis was relatively shorter at two years. But I wrote furiously because I was writing about death, and about its transcendence, and thinking about all the friends, lovers and family that HIV/AIDS affected. It had to be a shorter period of time to live in that space because it was so entirely dark, and a hard place to be. I lived like a monk in those two years. No dates, no sex, no interaction with potential lovers and people. I only ventured out with a few friends, and I kept people at bay as best I could despite still having to work. The metaphor of the mountain works here too, if you want to spread it on thick: the vast openness of land, the space between civilization and nothingness, the claustrophobia of trees and granite’s destitution.
The time it took to write THE NARROWS, MILES DEEP was like a sprint comparatively. But reaching the top was fraught with torn-up chapters, deleted scenes and characters, an entirely thrown out manuscript. Getting to the top was an emotional journey deepened with depression. All around me friends were dying, and their ghosts fueled the hours of writing the book. But once it was finished, I put it away. No one read it. I was too raw from writing furiously, and didn’t want people to see my darkness. I’ve always felt the book was of a time, but now it seems relevant again if only because I’m getting older, and people are dying again from all sorts of things and leaving me behind.
If the first two books seemed like weekend hiking adventures, or even a day hike, by comparison, AIRSTREAMING was like a 10-year trek across the Himalayas. It took that long. The act of writing this book needed the time, and the experiences I had during that time to resonate with me. I started the book as you would climbing up the mountain: fresh, invigorated by a new challenge, and a different path. But I was older now, and after the first quarter of the novel, I ran out of breath. I’m not sure why, but looking back, I believe that I wasn’t sure about what to say. My memories had dried up. And, more importantly, I wanted to tell a story that was outside of myself, which was my main focus.
Over the years, there were fits and starts up the mountain. I returned to the manuscript and finished a chapter, the switchbacks got steeper and seemed endless. Life got messy. The story was always churning around in the back of my mind, however, and so I’d go to the manuscript every so often and write a sentence or two. Then my life got to a point where I was either going to finish or abandon the work altogether. Luckily, I’m not the type to abandon projects. I’m older now and shorter of breath, but I can still do some heavy lifting. And the strange thing that happened was that AIRSTREAMING ended up being about me on some important levels.
To Rhonda I say this with all the hope in the world:
Writing a novel is putting one sentence in front of the other. It’s as simple as that, and as difficult. Reaching the summit of your dreams, and giving yourself over to the downslope of getting them on paper is hard. Letting go of a novel into the ether is harder still. But there is another mountain ahead, and it’s getting near time to lace up my boots.
I’ve spent many days in Big Sur. I’ve been drawn to it for years given its many moods and changing landscapes due to the weather. No other place exists in my mind where the landscape is as disarming and mysterious when the fog rolls in. Landscape plays a big role in the characters of my novel, The Palisades. The fog permeates the book just as rain permeates the series, The Killing. Setting a mood and tone for a book or television series is much the same – people reflect the places they live in – some in mercurial ways, some in placid, more passive ways.
In using fog as much as I do in The Palisades, I wanted the reader to begin to feel claustrophobic in the lives of the characters. In essence, to wrap them in their stories and not let them out until each of them make their final decisions. I wanted the reader to feel the fog lift and dissipate when the characters worked out what they needed to do and it was fun to work in that mode. I remember vividly the act of writing much of The Palisades late into the night – working after hours in darkness to get at that feeling of closeness and only being aware of the small space surrounding me.
When I went to revise the book after many years after working with my terrific editor, Amberly Finarelli, I paid particular attention to character’s motivations as it related to what was happening in and around them weather-wise. But I also didn’t want to overdo it and found myself removing sentences and descriptions that went too far. It’s important to ground the reader in the character’s existence but not to drown them in detail. It’s a fine line, and I fight the urge to overdo description constantly.
If I’ve done it right, however, then landscape becomes a sort of character unto itself, and it informs the novel and its characters, and it enhances meaning, which is the most important thing writing description, in my mind, can do.
The pleasure of remembering those days in Big Sur, where my skin sparkled with dense fog, and the landscape changed in an instant when the fog rolled away or swept over the hills remains vivid. I think this book is finding an audience as it’s continuing to sell well despite a definite lack of marketing effort on my part. But I do love this book – it meant a great deal to me as I wrote it, and it gains more meaning as time passes.
A note: The cover photograph of the novel was taken nearly 30 years ago on a camping trip with my friend, Sean Galland, a fellow photographer. I had it drum-scanned to digital for safe keeping over the years and finally put it to good use since it fit the mood of the book so nicely!
Wow. 100 postings. When I first started this blog, I didn’t think I’d keep it up given work and all the other things going on in my life, and my very nature of letting things fester, but here we are at 100 postings! I guess it’s a barometer of all that has happened, and the things that have inspired me since October 1, 2010.
At the time of the creation of Word Incident, my life was a mess. I won’t go into details, but trust me, it wasn’t fun. Now, a little over a year and a half later, EVERYTHING has changed for the better (see picture above).
What I’ve learned through social media is that connecting with people, though you may never meet, is exciting stuff. Just in the past three months, I’ve been connecting with wonderful people in the Airstream community as I’ve reached out, and they’ve reached out to connect around my novel. It’s been absolutely wonderful.
I’ve also had the chance to connect with people all over the world who’ve seen my blog and responded to a poem, an article, or my thoughts on Bruce Springsteen (thought I wouldn’t put him in here, did you : ) ). It’s an amazing tool, this blogging stuff. I’ve managed to stay apolitical or share my thoughts on religion, which Facebook has its abundant share of, not from me, but from a host of other people, but rather, I’ve tried to maintain this as a place of art, music, film, and of course, literary, both in the writing I’ve liked and the writing I’ve done. In October 2010, very few people knew I wrote and now everyone knows. It’s a daily part of my existence, whether writing down sentences or reading great fiction, and it was time to let the cat out of the bag.
As I did on the very first post, I encourage fellow writers to contact me so I can put something up about your work as well. Coming up on June 1, 2012, I expect you’ll hear more about my writing life, more about films, and certainly more about Bruce Springsteen. But as I travel more with my partner, John, I’m sure I’ll be incorporating that into this blog as well.
So stay tuned! Great times are just up the road. And to all you ‘streamers out there. We hope to be joining you soon!