Six years! SUMMER ON FIRE hit the bookstores six years ago today. The book that changed my status from writer to author. It was such a journey. It began in 2003 as my very first NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) manuscript. And it took until 2011 to see it through to the finished product.
Zach Carson is a loyal friend. But is loyalty enough to keep best friends together when one of them sets fire to the rural barn they use as the local hangout? Zach, Jeff Barsell and Arnie Wilson struggle to pick up the pieces when news spreads that a body was discovered in the burnt out shell of the neighbouring home. When the word murder is used by the local police, the stakes grow even higher. When the police start searching for their most likely suspect-none other than Jeff’s older brother, and nemesis, Marty Barsell-the boys decide to join forces and come up with a way to prove his innocence. But just how innocent is Marty Barsell? When Marty admits to being at the scene of the crime, the three friends enlist the help of Zach’s annoying sister, Sherry, as well as the sympathetic town eccentric, Ms. Halverton. But can they keep it together long enough to save Marty, and themselves, from imminent catastrophe? Summer on Fire is the story of friendships, and the lines we are asked to cross in order to keep them.
Some of the greatest compliments I have ever received for my writing can be found in reviews of my debut novel. I can’t even count the amount of people who brought up the movie STAND BY ME in their review of the book. This is one of my all-time favourite movies, based on Stephen King’s short story THE BODY. Every time Summer on Fire was compared to this movie, my heart grew another size.
After yesterday’s debacle here, I think I’m going to review a few of my characters. I really feel yesterday’s blog post was a train wreck. I started and restarted it too many times to count. In honesty, it took me three days of trying. In the end, I just said the hell with it and settled on the latest sloppy version.
Today, I thought I would introduce you to 5 of my characters. These introductions should serve as a way of displaying the kind of fiction I write. I will have one from each of my five published novels…each broken, and each irrevocably hopeful.
There are several soundtracks to my life. The one that runs the deepest, I have to admit, is all The Cure. They have been my favourite obsession since about 1980. Contrary to what those on the outside of The Cure universe believe, I have always found their lyrics to be inspiring and uplifting. Robert Smith chose to dip into the morass of ennui and sadness as a way to dredge those feelings up into the light.
I always feel better after listening to The Cure. They always had something for every mood and every moment. From the angsty relationship themed Boys Don’t Cry, to the manic chasing train driven punk wig-out of 10:15 Saturday Night, to the zany spirited uplifting Mint Car.
The sun is up I’m so happy I could scream! And there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be Than here with you It’s perfect It’s all I ever wanted I almost can’t believe that it’s for real
I really don’t think it gets any better than this Vanilla smile And a gorgeous strawberry kiss! Birds sing we swing Clouds drift by and everything is like a dream It’s everything I wished
Those are not Gothic kill-me now depressed angst-driven suicidal lyrics. The Cure might be one of the most misunderstood bands of their time. There were times in my life when they were the place from which I derived my joy. When you struggle with issues, you sometimes need to trick yourself out of your bed in the morning. When I was a teenager, The Cure were there to dig me up out of my pain. They’re the happiest band I know. And all I ever heard in the media about them were slit-my-wrist jokes about how sorrowful and depressed their stuff was. So not the case. Many things saved me, but nothing ever saved teen me like The Cure saved me.
Oh wait! 5 Characters. Right! I’m so easily distracted these days.
ZACH CARSON – SUMMER ON FIRE – Zach appears in my first novel, Summer on Fire. He is the friend who outwardly appears to be the most together. But he is also, in a way, the weakest link. Picture Wil Wheaton’s Gordie Lachance. He’s the hero of the story, but he is nothing like the hero of the story. Everybody knows the guy you want to be when you watch the movie Stand By Me is Chris Chambers…the coolest of the cool (played by River Phoenix). Even though Chris later dies, he’s the ultimate hero of that story. My Chris Chambers in this story is Jeff Barsell. I’m referencing Stand By Me here because it is mentioned in quite a few of the reviews for this book. Zach was broken in the most subtle way of all of my main characters. He wants to please everyone and he struggles with his moral compass. He wants to do the right thing but he also wants to remain loyal to his friends. Jeff Barsell is the real broken hero of this story. Jeff has a brother who bullies him and a father who beats him. He adores his mother. He knows that the trouble he’s gotten himself into could finish the job of breaking her…a job his father has been chiseling away at for years. When the boys accidentally set a barn on fire, the stage is set for a much darker revelation. The house beside the barn goes up in flames…and with it, the body of the old man who lived there. From there, we get to see the mettle of these three boys as they attempt to wiggle out of their predicament.
SEBASTIAN NELSON – SEBASTIAN’S POET – Sebastian Nelson is perhaps my favourite of all the characters I’ve ever created. He’s a boy who is forced to grow up at an all too young age. When folksinger Teal Landen appears on the couch one morning after a bohemian party at Sebby’s place, he quickly forms a bond with the boy. Sebastian comes from a broken family. He’s left with his mentally ill father after his mother takes off to her homeland of Montreal. With a father who can’t even look after himself–a father who is silently dealing with deep dark issues that threaten to kill him–Sebastian becomes the number one caregiver to his younger brother Renee. Teal becomes his saviour, but the distance between them is vast as Teal attempts to hide a truth from the young boy who worships him. This one takes place in The Beaches in Toronto…in the 1970s. It’s all Leonard Cohen meets James at 15. Sebastian is abused, neglected, and without a childhood to speak of. He is someone who should not be able to get up…but getting up is all he ever wants to do.
TOBIAS REASON – THE REASONS – Reason is the family name of the narrators in this one. The narration flips from chapter to chapter, from Tobias Reason to Maggie Reason. This is an entirely broken family. Maggie is insane. Her secret is so completely buried, she herself doesn’t even know what it is. But when she tosses her newly inherited house at Tobias, just to get rid of it, Tobias discovers the deepest darkest thing about a family so broken they might never be saved. Tobias’s older sister dies in chapter one…and on the surface this may appear to be the thing that breaks Maggie. But all along, there are hints that she was broken long before Deja died on her road-trip to the mountains she would never see. Maggie has no time for her youngest daughter, Annabel…so it falls to Tobias to raise her. But Annabel may in fact hold the key to everything that is broken. Tobias is abused, neglected, and without a childhood to speak of. But he is a character on a mission…he wants to save his mother, and in the process he wants to save his family. He will do anything to make this happen.
FRANCIS FRIPP – BURN BABY BURN BABY – Francis Fripp’s last name is a nod to mention—He has the last name Fripp as an homage of sorts to Grady Tripp from Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys. This novel marks the onward march of my own courage. I wanted to go deeper with this one, explore the darkness that teens experience on a deeper level. Francis is bullied relentlessly at school. His tormentor, Brandon Hayley, won’t be happy until he sees Francis completely destroyed. But Francis was broken before Brandon ever got to him. Francis was mutilated by his abusive father, who burned half of Francis’s body in a murderous rage. As broken as Francis is–both inwardly and outwardly–he has a deep love of life. You can just glimpse it if you look past the angst and turmoil he lives with every day. He loves his little brothers Paul and Simon like mad. Sure, he calls them, collectively, Paul Simon…but he does this in love. He sees only his burns when he tries to assemble a picture of who he is as a person. But the new girl at school might see more than that. It’s up to Francis to allow her to do so. His walls are so high, he doesn’t know how to take them down. Francis is abused, neglected, and without a childhood to speak of. But Francis wants to soar. And his unflinching champion, Trig, will do anything to see that he does so.
CARTER COLBY – HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN – Carter is a twin. He’s the loser mentally unstable half of the Colby twins. His brother, inexplicably, is the popular All-American boy. But in chapter one, Marcus Colby dies in a motorcycle accident on the way to school.Carter was a passenger on the bike and becomes even more screwed up when he has to survive such a traumatic experience. Losing his twin is the beginning of the horror, but he quickly learns that sharing a face with the most popular dead boy in school is not an easy task. People who never saw him when Marcus was alive now don’t want to see him. Marcus becomes dead Marcus in this story…as he begins to visit Carter on a regular basis. He has unfinished work and he needs Carter’s help to see it through. The ghost of Marcus is just as fabulous and put together as the living Marcus was. While Carter attempts to pick himself up from the wreck of his life, he works with Marcus to help make things right. He also unexpectedly falls in love with Marcus’s girlfriend, Melanie, and forms an unexpected friendship with the school jock, Justin Dewar, who also happens to be the victim from the truck involved in the accident that killed Marcus. Carter is broken, but in different ways than usual. He has no self-esteem. He lives in the shadow of greatness and can’t manage to get out from under it. He hates himself. But he finds hope in Melanie…and in the possibility of being made more whole.
I brought up THE CURE at the beginning of this post because I wanted to draw a similarity between their music and my novels. On the surface, all of my stuff is morose, sad, broken, depressed, angsty, and filled with ennui. But it’s also, like The Cure, filled with hope and joy. Or, at least, I hope it is. I always make an effort to put a little sunshine in my work. Because all things broken are not ONLY broken. My favourite quote, which is also the epigraph in my novel Sebastian’s Poet, alludes to this. From Leonard Cohen’s ANTHEM…
THERE IS A CRACK IN EVERYTHING…THAT’S HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN.
In all ugliness, there is beauty. In all sadness, there is joy. This is what I attempt to write in my novels. I love to see the crack…because without it the beauty would not get in.
CLICK ON THE NAMES BELOW TO VISIT THE AMAZON PAGE FOR ITS RELATED NOVEL:
Today is my good friend’s birthday! Okay, so he’s more an acquaintance than a friend, really. Okay, so he’s more a mentor than a friend, really. Okay, so I never actually met him…but I feel as though I know him intimately.
Happy 450th Birthday, Sir William Shakespeare!
I love Shakespeare. I finally dipped into this love for one of my forthcoming YA novels. My main character, Francis Fripp, loves Shakespeare and can quote anything from the bard’s work because he spent the lion’s share of his childhood in the hospital recovering from burns he received to almost half of his body. While it was his father who set him on fire for playing with matches, his father’s kind sister gave him The Complete Works of Shakespeare to read during his recovery. So, I really got to give the old Shaky Pear the nod in Burn Baby. (-: Shaky Pear. That’s what we called him in high school.
Did you know that many of the phrases we use every single day come from the man? It’s true.
How many times do you say the following phrases? If you invoke them, you are invoking Shakespeare!
A wild goose chase
Give the devil his due
Wear your heart on your sleeve
Vanish into thin air
What the dickens
Knock knock! Who’s there?
For goodness sake
These are just a few of the good man’s many everyday phrases. He certainly has achieved world domination in the English language phrasebook.
Raise a glass for old William today. He has brought us much joy.
Speaking of birthdays, don’t you just LOVE balloons! Wouldn’t you love for your job to be to sell cartoon balloons in town?! Couldn’t you just imagine yourself sitting on a porch swing somewhere blowing up balloons all day. Just letting them go and watching them fly!
After listening to Levon recently, I turned to my friend and said, “Wouldn’t that be the most awesome job in the world?! Selling balloons for a living.”
He said, “Der. That’s what you do. You play with words. You sell word balloons. You HAVE the awesome job. Dude, you’re living it.”
Sometimes I forget how fortunate I am. I get to do this thing I love to do. I play with words. I sit on the porch swing and watch them fly. I take a balloon and I go sailing.
Find your thing. Find your balloon. And when you do, enjoy the flight. You only live once.
Don’t forget to check out my novels on Amazon. BURN BABY and HALF DEAD AND FULLY BROKEN will release in the Fall of this year, but there’s always SUMMER ON FIRE, THE REASONS and SEBASTIAN’S POET…if you want to check out something now.
A short trailer for my 2011 young adult release, SUMMER ON FIRE. It is available through most major online booksellers, both as an ebook and a print book. If you go directly to MUSEITUP PUBLISHING and order the print book, they will give you the ebook for free!