Ink Alt, the protagonist of my novel None of the Above, is no basketball fan. In fact, he often recalls the horrors of being out on the court with his CYO team, dreading the next poor decision he was bound to make. In college, though, his school improbably qualifies for the NCAA tournament, and he–ever the follower–becomes swept up in the excitement of the matchup with the Indiana Hoosiers. Thought this would be an appropriate post for the opening weekend of March Madness.
On Wednesday, March 6th, I read from my novel None of the Above at the Penn Book Center, an awesome shop in University City. Doug Gordon, one of the great champions of local writers in Philadelphia, arranged the event, which also featured the talented and funny Chris Ludovici. Chris’s novel The Minors, which came out about a year and a half ago, is definitely worth a look. Like my novel, it’s available through Unsolicited Press: http://www.unsolicitedpress.com/store/c8/Fiction.html
Happy to say that my novel None of the Above will be published this February by Unsolicited Press. The novel spans twenty-seven years (1980-2007) of the life of Increase Alt, a fearful, introverted sort who does a poor job of paying attention to things that don’t directly affect his life. Throughout grade school, high school, and college, his energies become more and more directed toward his own pursuits—the study of literature, the attempt to secure a girlfriend, the forging and maintaining of relationships with his male peers. Events happening in the world, in the country, and in his hometown of Cleveland—a Reagan-Carter presidential debate, the Iran Contra scandal, the AIDS epidemic, the first Gulf War—become important only when they threaten to pull him out of his comfort zone. As a highly-educated adult, he returns to the town of his birth to discover he still has much to learn, as both personal trials and traumas in the country (and world) put his maturity to the test.
On the way back to Philadelphia after the holidays, we took a side trip to Thompson, Ohio, site of Benjamin Orr’s grave. In case you don’t know, Orr was one of the frontmen (the dashing one) for The Cars, a rock-n-roll band that enjoyed great success from the late 70s to the mid-80s. A native Clevelander like me, he was the inspiration for “A Night at The Orr House,” a story from Here Is Ware, my new collection of stories.
My interest in the Cars goes back many years. Several of the tracks from their excellent first album were on the jukebox at the ice rink at the Brooklyn Recreation Center. A quarter got you three tunes, and “Just What I Needed,” Bye Bye Love,” and “Moving in Stereo” were in heavy rotation.
Candy-O, their second album, was very good as well, but the band became less interesting as time went on. Orr had a brief solo career, highlighted by a banal but commercially successful tune called “Stay the Night.” On the same album (I did not buy it!), there was this abomination as well, the first ten seconds of which should be ample evidence for why I lost track of the musician:
A few years ago–for reasons I can’t quite remember–I found myself listening to Cars tunes again. I became interested in Orr’s early career with the Grasshoppers, an obscure Cleveland group that was the house band for a local American Bandstand-like show. On Youtube, I came across his isolated vocals for “All Mixed Up.” I also discovered a video of Orr’s last interview, when he was dying of cancer. He sat among his bandmates in a Cleveland Browns jersey that only accentuated the amount of weight he’d lost. These and other details found a way into my short story.
Unrelated but worth relating: In the plot next to Orr and his parents, there was this humorous stone:
“Life is changed, not taken away.” In the afterlife, you’ll never lose your remote!
For the last five years, I’ve had the great fortune of co-organizing a reading series in suburban Philadelphia. Over that time, I’ve been amazed again and again by the terrific talent of the writers in our area. Some are connected to major publishers, but many work with small presses. No one, alas, is a household name. If you’re looking for gifts this holiday season (or anytime, really), check out this list of wonderful titles by local authors, most of whom were (or will be) part of our State Street Reading Series:
Kenneth Pobo: Bend of Quiet, When the Light Turns Green (poems)
Cynthia Dewi Oka: Salvage (poems)
Asali Solomon: Disgruntled (novel)
Viet Dinh: After Disasters (novel)
Rachel Pastan: Alena (novel)
Jim Breslin: Shoplandia (novel)
Rahul Mehta: No Other World (novel)
Eleanor Stanford: The Imaginal Marriage (poems)
Curtis Smith: Lovepain (novel), The Species Crown (stories)
Sam Gridley: The Shame of What We Are (novel)
Lise Funderburg: Pig Candy (memoir)
Louis Greenstein: Mr. Boardwalk (novel)
Carmen Maria Machado: Her Body and Other Parties (stories)
Randall Brown: Mad to Live (flash fiction)
Dilruba Ahmed: Dhaka Dust (poems)
Jayne Thompson: Letters to My Younger Self (anthology of essays)
Alan Drew: Gardens of Water (novel), Shadow Man (novel)