The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reviewed FELLOW MORTALS on Sunday, and the online version has a long, rambly transcript of a telephone interview I did with the reviewer.
If you are an unknown author trying to get a first novel published, it helps to make your protagonist a bit of an outlier — an undiagnosed bipolar Amish vampire, say. But a quiet tale that turns on the fortunes and misfortunes of the small group of ostensibly normal people who inhabit a short, suburban cul-de-sac? My hat is off to Dennis Mahoney for successfully ushering to market his beguiling debut novel.
The literary journal Zyzzyva reviewed FELLOW MORTALS this week. A zyzzyva is a South American weevil.
“Fellow Mortals is a thoughtful examination on how tragedy can change different people in different ways. But it also reveals how we often avoid confronting the fear and pain that manifests in our thoughts. When Sam Bailey finds himself lost in the forest, he is “thinking to himself, it’s all right, it’s all right, because he doesn’t want to say it out loud.” In Fellow Mortals, we can commiserate with that feeling.”
Prior to walking in the door, my heart was like a crazed sparrow flying around my stomach, but I calmed myself down with deep breathing. This actually worked for a change.
I sat and watched the news show unfold, and then they sat me in a chair during a commercial break and wheeled the big cameras over. I deep-breathed again. I was stone-cold comfortable for the first minute of the interview, and then I caught a glimpse of myself on the monitor and forgot to breathe altogether. But I managed to make it through and flubbed only a single word, pronouncing “guilt” as “gult”. All told, I think it went pretty well.
A local reporter thought I contradicted myself on the subject of inspiration.
“Where did you get the idea of the neighborhood fire?” he asked, referring to FELLOW MORTALS’ central crisis.
“It just popped into my head one morning at the drugstore,” I said, “along with the general structure of the whole novel.”
Ten minutes earlier, I’d said that fiction writing—for me, at least—is a craft like any other, requiring discipline and practical skills. Writers are more like carpenters, with specialized tools and patient labor, and less like dreamy lovers frolicking with Pan in the moonlight.
“So which is it?” he asked. “The muse or the toolbox?”
There are so many lousy ways to answer that very good question…
Our son’s birthday is right after Christmas. This typically results in Too Many Gifts, especially because he’s the only grandchild in our section of the family. My wife had the great thought of giving his room an overhaul instead of simply buying him regular birthday presents, and he was excited about the idea.
He was turning nine and we hadn’t altered the decor of his room in years. It was babyish and messy, with random stuff all over the walls, a bad layout, and an uncomfortable color scheme. Here it is beforehand (but after the mess had been cleaned out and piled in the hall):
I built him the pteranodon before he was born. He wanted that to stay.
He asked for a room that felt more grownup, and we wanted to make changes we could easily adapt for future rearrangements or needs. We also wanted to do it on a modest budget. After measuring the room and drawing up half a dozen plans, we found one that worked.
The bed would go partially into that unused closet, and the dresser would stand alongside it, between the bed and the door, with a short bookcase on top. This would give him plenty of clothes and knickknack storage space, and would create a defensive wall between him and the outside world, which of course would be totally rad at any age. I’d build another bookcase for the back corner, where he could arrange his Hardy Boys collection and various necessary items. He’d have a reading chair with a side table. His electric guitar would be accessibly displayed. And to cozy everything up, we’d paint the room a rich chocolate brown, with a highlight of dark orange in the old closet.
First I built the bookcases:
My wife painted the room and we put it all together. Our son bought a cheap artificial ficus tree at the local craft store (we were gathering materials for a Leif Ericsson helmet; more on that another day) and thought it would lend the bed nook an excellent forested quality. We gave The Improbable Octophant prime placement on the wall. The arrangement and color scheme made the room remarkably warmer, and he’s been terribly happy with the result. Our dog Bones likes it, too, and is more inclined to visit at night.
I’m hosting an hour of songs related to FELLOW MORTALS tonight (2/4) at 11pm EST, with a replay this Saturday (2/9) at 8am EST. I’ll talk between songs and sound professionally stilted. The show will be streamed live here:
Our great local bookstore, Market Block Books in Troy, NY, is hosting the FELLOW MORTALS release party this Thursday (Feb 7) at 7pm. I’ll be there signing copies. There will be coffee. If you live around Troy, I hope you can make it. If you don’t live around Troy, this is one more reason to lament living elsewhere.
Note: You can, in fact, purchase e-books at local indie stores. If you do so, I will be happy to gouge my signature into your reading device with a sharp metal object.
Whether or not you can attend, the book is available everywhere tomorrow.