Sunday, September 16, 2018
Guest Post: Kevin Lucia writing as Gavin Patchett
Pre-Order link: http://getbook.at/ThingsYouNeed
Gavin Patchett's the Name...
My name is Gavin Patchett. I'm the author of half a dozen very forgettable science fiction media tie-in novels, and, more recently, the author of Things Slip Through, Devourer of Souls, Through A Mirror, Darkly, and my most recent release, Things You Need. I recently sold another novella entitled The Night Road. While I'm not ashamed of my science fiction stories, I'm certainly not especially proud of them, either. They aren't horrible, fans liked them, and they paid enough for me to write full-time.
My most recent work? I'm not sure if “proud” is the right word. Thankful is better. Thankful that, after ruining my mid-list career being a pompous, drunken ass, I've been given a second chance to write something worthwhile. Something meaningful. Especially the way things ended in my previous life, and the way I returned home, with my dignity and career in shreds.
My inglorious and perhaps inevitable return to Clifton Heights certainly wasn't the homecoming I'd always dreamed of. Like every kid who leaves his small country hometown to “make it big,” I'd often entertained visions of coming home as the “local boy who had conquered the world.”
I'd move into an expensive cabin on Clifton Lake, of course, where I'd spend the days in my office writing bestselling novels. Framed posters of my novel's covers would adorn the walls, between shelves filled with hardcover and limited editions of my ever-expanding body of work. I'd be a modest sort of celebrity, (not exactly a Stephen King walking around Bangor, Maine, but maybe a close cousin), never too proud to rub elbows with the folks I'd grown up with.
I'd frequently give lectures on Creative Writing at both Clifton Heights and All Saints High, and would be a regular at Arcane Delights, the used and rare bookstore run by Brian Ellison. I'd, of course, hold a signing there for each new book. They'd probably dedicate a whole row of shelves to my work. I'd do my grocery shopping at Great American Grocery, where I worked as a checkout clerk in my teens, but late at night, Sunday evening, so as not to be stopped too often by fans.
If I moved back to Clifton Heights single, I'd probably just focus on my work for a while, and wouldn't date much. But maybe one of the English teachers from either high school would be female and single, and there'd be some chemistry which we'd coyly dance around at first. However, we'd eventually bond over our love of books and writing. I wasn't egotistical enough to think she'd be my most adoring fan, of course. Instead, I envisioned her as being my toughest critic, the first one I wanted to impress with my writing, but also someone whose red pen scared the bejesus out of me.
Maybe someday I'd break from science fiction and write a coming of age story about Clifton Heights, one that somehow reflected all the interesting, odd (and downright strange) aspects of my hometown, while still being a respectful homage to where I grew up. And maybe, when the movie of that book became the next Stand By Me, they'd name the winding road leading up to my cabin Patchett Drive.
None of that ever happened, of course.
I did make one return to Clifton Heights early on in my writing career, after the book tour for my first book, a small-town thriller called Shades of Darkness. I was invited to speak at the Clifton Heights High graduation. I delivered a mostly forgettable speech about following your dreams and never giving up, and while the audience clapped dutifully at the end, I'm pretty sure most of the graduating seniors had fallen asleep sitting up. Nevertheless, at the time I was sure when I came home next, things would be very different.
Things were different.
Just not the way I had expected.
A humbling truth about life as a moderately successful mid-list writer. You can have a decent career and make enough money to write full time, have several books in print and on shelves across the country and even in a few airports, maybe even have several foreign editions of your books, but ask an average person on the street, “Ever read anything by Gavin Patchett?” and most likely you'll get nothing but a blank stare and a disinterested, “Never heard of him.” Ask someone who calls themselves a fan of the genre that author writes in, and odds are 50-50 (most likely less) that they'll say they've heard of a Gavin Patchett, but they'll also admit to never having “gotten around” to reading his work.
Surely that author is a big hit in his hometown, right? His novels on display in the high school library, where he spent his study hall hours all through school reading, as well as writing his first short stories? A whole shelf at the local bookstore dedicated to his work?
In all truth, if the average person in Clifton Heights had been asked ten years ago, “Do you remember Gavin Patchett? He's a writer now. Have you read any of his books?” the answer would most likely have been, “Gavin Patchett writes books? That's neat. I was to talking to so-and-so the other day, and I thought they mentioned he'd gone into advertising or something. What's he write? Hopefully, it's something like James Patterson or Nicholas Sparks. Really popular stuff like that. That's what I read.”
Suffice to say, when I returned to Clifton Heights ten years ago, my writing career in ruins, very few people in my own hometown were even aware I'd still been writing, even given my high school graduation address several years prior. And if they had heard of it, it had been a third-hand story as an aside quickly forgotten.
Believe it or not, I'd preferred it that way, because I was certainly not returning as the “local boy who'd conquered the world.” I was not moving into an expansive cabin on Clifton Lake, where I planned on writing a whole slew of bestselling novels. I was moving into a modest, bland, and inconsequential duplex in Hyland Court, on the East Side. I had no plans of writing anytime soon, and was about to willfully walk down that road to hell all failed authors fear is the ultimate end of their careers: a Monday morning interview at Clifton Heights High to teach high school English.
I would love to say that the next five years saw me slowly sober up, as I grew to love teaching. I would love to say I became a Mr. Chipps, a Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society, or a Mr. Holland from Mr. Holland's Opus. The truth of the matter is sadly very different, and not very inspiring. My first five years home I numbly followed lesson plans by rote, teaching paint-by-number units which filled the time and made the year pass relatively painlessly.
Most of my students were uninspired, and so was I. I received “adequate” and “meets expectations” on my annual teacher evaluations, and didn't feel anything either way. At the end of every year, the district offered me a new contract, and I dutifully signed my name, relieved to know I'd at least be employed for another year. During July and August, I taught an even more lackluster summer school course over at Booneville High, one which was designed by the county to pass students if they possessed a heartbeat.
I wasn't drinking as much as I had been at the end of my writing career, but I was certainly drinking enough that I woke up every Saturday and Sunday morning with a mild headache and fuzzy memories of sitting in front of the television the night before. A glass of whiskey before bed every night helped me fall asleep. I hadn't yet progressed to having a “water bottle” in the third drawer of my desk at school, or a tin hip flask I hid in my briefcase...but I have to wonder how much longer it would've been before I reached that point...
If it hadn't been for Emma Pital.
One of my brightest and best students. A talented high school senior, full of promise, who somehow saw more in me than what I was showing to the world. A student who believed in me enough to share in her writing the racial persecution her family was suffering as Arabic people in a small Adirondack town, post 9/11.
I failed her.
There's simply no other way to put it. I failed her. Because I was hiding behind my desk and the papers stacked on it, desperate to avoid complications, desperate to remain safely numbed by teaching and booze, I failed to stop what happened. Of course, the ultimate irony? My failure led to the rebirth of my writing career, such as it is today.
One of Alcoholics Anonymous' central tenants is that to find lasting victory over your addiction, you need to give up control to a “higher power.” Writing has become that higher power for me; writing, in particular, about this town, and the strange things which often happen in it. You could say I've “given up control” to this “higher power” of writing about my hometown.
However, if you've read my first short story collection, Things Slip Through, please don't think of Clifton Heights as the embodiment of a Creepshow episode. Do strange things happen here? Absolutely. But I believe that's true of every town or city. Clifton Heights may be a strange town, but our world is a strange world, in which strange things happen. I happen to live here, and I draw inspiration from these strange things for my fiction. This, of course, begs the question...
Are the stories I write true?
In Things Slip Through and my work in progress, The Mighty Dead, I speak about the uncanny similarities I've found between news stories and rumors around town, and the stories I've written. The stories in Devourer of Souls, Through A Mirror, Darkly, and Things You Need came from conversations with other people about their experiences (which may or may not have been true), but as I wrote the stories for Things Slip Through, I was never quite sure if I'd seen or read the news stories, or heard the rumors first, then wrote the stories...or if I came across those accounts after I'd written stories hauntingly similar to them.
Did they really happen?
Telling you if they did or didn't would be akin to a magician revealing his secrets. Where would the fun be in that? What I can share is several of my encounters with the odder elements of our town, and simply state that these encounters seem to inspire in me stories which, for one reason or another, hum with an unsettling resonance.
First, however, I'll share with you my story of what happened to Emma Pital, and how I failed her. It's a fictionalized account of what actually happened, as is much of my work, but it's how I deal with my anger and grief these days, instead of drinking. As I said, it has become my “higher power.”