Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, August 26, 2018, 2:42 p.m.
I listened to a Johnny Cash song that had slipped my mind.
I feel I know exactly how Cash wrote it. He was in his tour bus, heading through the country, probably in the mountains of the Appalachian chain, and he saw an old barn with “See Ruby Falls” painted on the roof. He picked up his guitar, started strumming a familiar, easy chord progression and crafted himself a simple story about a fallen woman.
This may be untrue. I didn’t read it. It just makes sense that this was how he wrote it. It reminds me of another extemporaneously written Cash tune, “San Quentin,” which he wrote the night before he taped a famous album there.
Cash I ain’t, but I’ve written songs that way.
“No matter where you go, there you are” came from the sign-off message of a country D.J. “I Got Cash Money (and I’m Workin’ Steady)” was based on my exasperated reply to a fellow in a New Hampshire general store. “Furlough Blues” is a considerably exaggerated account of when all my fellow newspaper employees and I had to take a furlough back when the end of the business was just beginning.
It’s a similar process to the way my novels get named. I never have a title when I start. At some point, while writing it, one comes along. In fact, several come along, and pretty soon I settle on one.
I think the one I’m writing now is going to be The Latter Days, but there’s still plenty of time for it to change. My life has grown busier in recent months, and I’m writing it very slowly.
It could be this is a good thing. By the time I sit down to write another chapter, I’m well prepared for where it’s going to go. I’ve thought it through. I’ve taken the required “mulling time.”
Or, quite possibly, this could be a rationalization.
The Audacity of Dope occurred to me shortly after I read Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. The 44th President of the United States had no influence at all on the story. It was about an unlikely hero who had no desire to be one. His desire was to write songs, play them in small bars, and smoke weed. Riley Mansfield wouldn’t let himself be pushed around. Like it or not, he was a hero. He had the audacity of dope.
The Intangibles came from the slogans on a high school locker room wall. It was set in a time even more tumultuous than this one. Set mostly in 1968, it’s about high school football at the center of general upheaval in the South. It was a time when young people questioned everything, and for good reason, but the intangibles were their anchors, keeping them from straying too far.
Crazy of Natural Causes was about a man who lost everything and had to rebuild himself from scratch in ways of his own design. The conclusions drawn by Chance Benford were based on his untutored reactions to upheaval. It was the most original and offbeat of my eight novels.
Forgive Us Our Trespasses was the tale of a bad politician and a good cop and the impossible odds faced by the latter, Hal Kinley, in stopping the former, Denny Frawley, from being elected governor. Frawley exploits the law, covers it up, and surrounds himself with thugs, some of whom are in his family. The law Frawley exploits is all that can stop him.
I love a good yarn about a man’s frontier being fenced in. Cowboys Come Home, set at the end of World War II, is an unconventional, modern western. A pair of Marines come home hoping they’ll never have to use all they learned in the Pacific. They couldn’t be more wrong. The world has changed back in Texas.
I wrote two 2017 adventures – they’re my only novels that are linked to each other – about Barrie Jarman, a stock car racing phenom who is the modern equivalent of the moonshine-running hellions who built the sport. Barrie is a charming rogue with an adventurous spirit and a taste for forbidden fruit. FASCAR, the fictional ruling body, hasn’t seen his like in thirty years and isn’t at all ready for the figurative Lightning in a Bottle he brings to the sport.
Barrie’s life is no longer but a dream in the sequel, Life Gets Complicated, which was inspired by the words of a Statler Brothers song.
Life gets complicated when you get past eighteen / But the Class of ’57 had its dreams
Then there’s this year’s release, which is my most ambitious, most abandoned and revamped, longest, and most complicated so far and likely ever. From the time the term became popular in reference to gays being allowed to serve in the military, it occurred to me that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell applies to much more than that narrow issue.
Incredibly, little that has happened since I wrote it makes the novel less plausible. What starts out as a bleak depiction of a laid-off journalist turns gradually into the story of people trapped in a web of international intrigue involving politics, corruption, assassination, Russian collusion, and marijuana trade.
Current events damned near make it believable.
Whew. That’s why the next one’s about baseball.
Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.
The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.