A Kind of Christmas Story

After college and before graduate school, I spent about three years in the "real world." Even though I've found the academic environment to be a good fit for me, I think it messes people up if they have never been in an non-school environment. For this reason, I will try to scare students away from graduate school if they're showing interest while they are still an undergraduate. I try to chase them out into a real job of some kind so they can find out if they still crave school.

When I graduated from college, I did not want to stay in school. I wanted out. After a year or so, I decided to be a writer. What a marvelous and naive dream! I had some favorites back then, Richard Hugo, William Stafford, Raymond Carver, Wallace Stegner. All of them were college professors, they taught creative writing, but in order to be a writing teacher, you kind of have to be a writer first, and I wasn't quite sure how to do that. Raymond Carver advised young writers in one of his essays (I've lost track of which one) to get a job as a night janitor or security guard, which he says will give you time, silence, and solitude. Since that was the only advice I found at that time, I followed it, applied for a job cleaning banks. 

When the manager asked why someone with a college degree wanted to clean banks, I said, "I'm trying to become a writer."

She looked at me for a while, and then smiled. "I don't know what that means, but you look like a hard worker."

It was easy, meditative work. I'd go to my first bank around 6:30 after getting a cheese burger at Dick's (the start of a dire habit). Usually the bank would be empty and dark. I had a key, which made me feel strangely powerful.

I'd start with the bathrooms, which I hated most, and which were filthier than you'd think they'd be in a financial institution. This is also where I learned that the ladies aren't the immaculate angels they claim to be. After the bathrooms, I'd clean the break room, the manager's office, then head out into the main lobby of the branch. Vacuuming was last.

The big epiphany of those first few shifts was the discovery that my key opened everything but the vault and the safety deposit box room. What a massive amount of trust these people had put in me, without a background check. When you think of janitors, you think about that ring of keys on their belt. I didn't have a whole ring, just one key, but it ruled them them all. Moving freely through a bank at night made me feel like a guy in a heist movie. It was kind of a thrill. 

After cleaning everything, which took about ninety minutes, I would situate myself at the drive-thru window and use the type writer. I made it clear that I was using scrap paper, in case someone was reviewing security footage. There were one or two smokey plastic domes in there, but I had no idea if there were real cameras inside. 

From that drive-thru office, I would write. I mostly stuck to poems because I had another bank to do, but I'd also work out story ideas, or just free write. From my stool, I could see the neon of the neighboring retail shops, cars whizzing by, and in the background was the looped music, lite jazz, lots of nylon string guitars and soprano saxophone.

Come Christmas, the music shifted over to Christmas carols the day after Thanksgiving, the carols were mostly secular, and also mostly lite jazz. By the second week of December, the "Carol of the Bells" sounded like Casiotone version of an Edgar Allen Poe poem. It was a cold winter in Seattle, so occasionally a little bit of snow would swirl through the night sky, only to melt on the ground. 

The week before Christmas, I walked into the break room after cleaning the johns, and there were two men on the far side of the room, talking quietly. I recognized one guy, the branch manager, but not the other. The only reason I knew the branch manager was the fact that he kept a photo of himself and a deer he'd shot on his desk by his cup of ball point pens.

The branch manager did not look up when I came in. The other guy's eyes went to the floor, then back to the branch manager. Never over to me.

I thought of leaving, but no one said anything, I crossed the room and pulled the trash bag, tied it off, and reached down into the can for a replacement liner. The longer I stayed it became clearer to me that this wasn't friendly banter. Still, no one said anything to me, so I moved about the room, with my wheelie cart, cleaning as quietly as I could. Eventually, I got close enough to hear the conversation. 

The employee had been caught embezzling money. He'd been given responsibility for the vault and ended up skimming money off the final count. The branch manager outlined what was going to happen. "You're going to resign. This is your letter. You'll sign it and submit it to me. I will submit it to the regional office." The employee took the paper and looked at it. "You will repay the money you stole," the branch manager continued, "on this schedule." He handed the employee another sheet of paper. 

At this point the employee was openly crying. The branch manager ignored the tears. "We are not going to involve law enforcement at the point, provided you keep to your payment schedule. If you miss a single payment, or if you are late just once, we'll call the police. This is your warning." The employee nodded and said thank you. The branch manager handed the employee and envelope. "This is your final pay check. After this, we're done. Do you understand?"

"I do," the employee said. "Thank you. I'm so sorry."

"That's enough," the manager said.

"Okay, I know...You've been kind. You didn't have to—"

"I said, that's enough. I'm going to get my things. You need to leave, so I can lock up." The branch manager left the room, leaving the employee and I alone in the break room.

The man gathered up the papers he'd been given and then saw me. "Hello," he said.

"Hello," I responded.

"Merry Christmas," he said.

"Thanks, same to you."

"Are you going anywhere for the holidays, or are you staying put?" He asked.

"My mom and sister are coming up from Portland."

"That's good," he said, "Family is important, really important. Have a good Christmas."

"You, too," I said, "I mean, do your best."

I hated myself for saying that, and I was waiting for the man to cry again, or snap. The only thing that happened was the guy slowly crossing the room. When he got close, he clasped my hand and shook it vigorously for a few seconds. I can safely say his was the clammiest hand I had ever touched. I looked into his eyes, which were red-rimmed and tearful. He was dark-whiskered, and the day's growth make him look sick.

He said nothing, but his look was a question: "how much of that did you hear?"

In my head, I replied, "Enough. I heard enough." Then my thoughts broke away for a moment as a realized I was living through a Carver short story. This was the experience you needed in order to write stories like that, and to value them. You can't learn it by reading it; you can only recognize it because you've lived it.

He shook my hand again, and said, "We're going to her parents this year."

"That's good," I said. "Godspeed."

I actually said "Godspeed" to this guy, like I was some bit actor in a Shakespeare play. He dropped my hand and left. In the end, I think he didn't hear me. Would I have have been listening to the janitor after I'd been fired for stealing? The guy had a small box of personal effects, like everyone who's ever been fired in a television show. After he left, I got my spray bottle and wiped down the tables, then I moved on to the rest of the bank.

After I finished the job, I went to the drive-thru with my stack of scratch paper. Just as I was about to take my seat to try and capture what had happened about an hour ago, I looked over my shoulder at the smokey plastic dome. I remember saying aloud, "Not tonight," and then I remember thinking, I can't steal this story from this guy, when his next move is to tell his wife he lost his job. Then I wondered if he was going to lie to her, tell her he had some vacation he had to use up or they'd take it.

I left the bank and stopped at Dairy Queen for some fries and a sundae. I tried to write it there, in the booth, but it was already too late. I was out of the moment, and filled with sadness. After my little snack, I cleaned the other bank after checking all the rooms to see that I was alone.

Since that day, I have thought about this moment hundreds of times, I've tried to write it, too, but I never could. The thought for me was never about how crazy it was to see a guy get busted for embezzling. The thought was always: Why didn't they stop talking and wait for me to clear out or ask me for some privacy? Why did all of that go on with me in the room?

It took a while for me to figure it out, but the answer was that they didn't see me. I was beneath them, so I didn't register. I had to see this kind of thing go down in other contexts before I understood it.

How often does this kind of filtering happen? How often do we, because of our privilege, overlook all the people who take care of our messes? Even worse, how often do we look away, because we know that we're all brothers and sisters or indistinguishable from each other on the genome. And yet some of us are the mess makers and some of us are the mess cleaners? How often do we realize that it's unfair and unkind to divide ourselves this way, but we like how things have worked out for us, and we're unwilling to trade places.

Because of the time of year this story took place, Christmas often triggers my memory the most acutely. It makes me think about December 26th, Boxing Day, and its tradition of giving gifts to the help. It seems like a both a kind gesture and crappy one. Through the gift, or the tip, we reinforce the basic inequality of our culture.

I'm a tenured college professor now, which is a tremendous privilege, but I've been a janitor, and I've dug holes for a living, and I've driven a day care van, made pizzas, bagged groceries, and sorted recycling. Now I grade papers and go to meetings, and janitors clean my office. 

I try to "see" them when they are there. I try to talk to them, but it seems to embarrass them, so I've stopped. Sometimes there is more dignity in going unnoticed. 

My 15 Minutes of Punditry

I had a great 40 minute conversation with Lisa Carricaburu at the Salt Lake Tribune. She was working on an end-of-the decade piece on shifting cultural values and demographics in the state. It was cool that I'd come up on her radar. Here's an excerpt of my part in the whole thing. I'm keeping company with a U of Utah research economist, a BYU polysci prof, and a Salt Lake City community activist.

Cedar City writer Todd Robert Petersen explores Utah's changing landscape in his newly published novel Rift , the story of interconnectedness, conflict and isolation in a small Sanpete County town.

He is not surprised Utahns, such as those he portrays in his novel, are upset by changes occurring around them.

"You can't blame people for being scared," Petersen says.

But slowly, with enough time to think about it, "they come to realize maybe all this change isn't as dangerous as we think it is."

He sees the promise of a more diverse Utah in the young people he teaches at Southern Utah University.

"Their attitude, whether they're what I'd call 'high faith' or already on their way out [of the LDS Church] is 'bring it on,' " he says. "Utah is amazing. I'm so interested in what's next."

Here's a link to the full article. Should be live for a while.

Badass of the Year

I sort of hope I'll get one shot at looking this intense and half-crazy once in my life. Badass of the Year

There is a defiant grace in this image, and evidence that the man is pretty much nuts on some level that only comes out on a full moon. It reminds me of photographs I've seen of Beckett and Cormac McCarthy.

A man has to aspire to something.

This Writer's Life #1

Lately I’ve been asking myself how I actually became a writer. In some ways this question has come up because I turned forty this summer, and I am feeling that I can statistically figure on having less days left on this planet than I have already spent. This is a strange thing to think about, and it has caused me to go through the motions of a mid-life crisis of some kind—no sports cars or affairs with students. Really, it’s just made me a little more reflective. It’s almost not worth saying, but it has been a long strange trip from my teenage years in the wet hipness of Portland to my life here in the dry, un-ironic desert mountains of Southern Utah. Since I’m not naturally open to the obligatory soul-bearing required of most creative non-fiction (hence my orientation to fiction), but I thought I’d undertake this process as a simple inquiry into a few of the things that I really loved when I was younger and how those formed my artistic foundation. Furthermore, since I’m not particularly secure in the thought that anyone besides me is interested in this journey, I’m going to spill it out into the blogosphere. Mostly, I feel compelled to do this exercise in self-reflection because it gives me some reason to polish the ideas a little and keep my head in them a little bit longer than I would if I was just thinking them through on a walk or while cleaning the kitchen, which is my duty tonight.

When I was in about to head into the third grade, my best friend's father invited me and a number of the neighborhood boys to see the newest James Bond movie. This man’s name was Marc Berry, and he was an accountant for the Dammasch State Mental Hospital. It’s more accurate to call it an asylum, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was filmed there, for more reasons than the gentle, saturated light. The Dammasch has a really dark past, but Marc Berry was really pretty close to the best kind of person you could imagine. He took all of us kids in his VW bus down to the Multnomah County Library, arranged kick ball tournaments with brackets and awards ceremonies. He was a big cyclist and signed us kids up for the MS Bike-a-thon one year, complete with a months worth of training for the long ride that took a whole Saturday to finish. Later, after his divorce, Marc Berry’s brother shot him in the face over a dispute concerning the disposal of their parent’s estate, which included a very nice home in Malibu, California. It was obvious to me, long before I set out to be a writer, that Marc Berry’s life was nowhere near ordinary.

007Back in August of 1977, Marc Berry made a pronouncement that was time for “the boys” to see The Spy Who Loved Me. It was his sincere desire that we become initiated into the masculine world this way and not through the banality of organized sports (except kickball). He felt like this was a necessary rite of passage. Mr. Berry loved movies, all kinds of movies. Previously he had taken us to see Darby O’Gill and the Little People and The Apple Dumpling Gang. We had no idea than what this matter of The Spy Who Loved Me was going to mean to him, to us, and to our parents, who were, at best uncertain about our going. I should say that it was our mothers who seemed to be uncertain. It was easy to convince our fathers, and in the end a number of the fathers and about ten of us kids piled into vans and station wagons and made our way to the Valley Theater, purchased our bushels of popcorn and coke, unaware that our minds were about to split wide open.

The Spy Who Loved Me came out in 1977, which is very important because most other little boys of the day were obsessed with Star Wars. I was okay with Star Wars—I’m not a hater. We could say that I have a fond affection for the whole franchise, but it is not in my DNA like Bond was (or rather as Bond would become). What matters is that this point of departure from the norm marks a major fork in my life: one direction led to the comfortable common place nerdiness of boyhood in the 70s, the other plummeted into a dangerous vermouth-soaked international world of intrigue and and cold ward frisson. If I had followed the droids to Tatooine I would have become one sort of person, a good person, but completely unlike the person I am today. Instead, I skied over the edge of the Swiss Alps with Mr. Bond and never looked back.

(Yes, nerds. I know that the actual jump was shot in Nunavut, Canada).

In my creative life, I keep coming back to The Spy Who Loved Me for no good reason. It’s not a direct thing (I don’t for example, write or read thrillers), but it was more the tone and the hugeness of it. Like so many things from my childhood it sort of pales when I return to it, unlike Kubrick's 2001 or Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, which I recently watched again with my family on our forty-inch LCD screen. The quality of the restoration was better than when I saw it in the theater. I can only hope for the Blu Ray.

But I digress. The big change for me involved what happened after that fateful screening. After our MI6 baptism, the kids in my neighborhood became regular attendees of the James Bond Film Festival at the Guild Theater in Portland, Oregon. Once a year, this great old time theater (they used real butter on their popcorn) would run sequential double features of the Bond films for a few weeks each Fall.

spy_who_loved_me_2By the end of that first year, I was hooked. At the ripe old age of ten I could tell you how 007 liked his martinis, what his preference for wine and champagne were, that he preferred his caviar, like his revenge (on ice). I could rattle off the names of the Bond girls and the henchmen. I even knew the acronyms: S.M.E.R.S.H and S.P.E.C.T.R.E. My Uncle Bob found this so endearing that he would fling questions at me during Thanksgiving dinner when he thought I might not have my crib sheet with me. One time he caught himself off guard when the correct answers to his parade of Bond trivia questions were Pussy Galore and Holly Goodhead. Uncle Bob blushed deeply, and I thought my Aunt Joan was going to choke on a cranberry.

After I'd seen each of the films three or four times (Let me remind you that at this time VCRs were still the size of suitcases) I delved into the books, which weren’t common in new editions, so we headed down to Powell's Books, which unlocked an entirely new world for me. Powell's was not yet the juggernaut of hipness it is today, but it was a great place to find old paperbacks for a couple of bucks. I gathered up yellowed copies of Goldfinger, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and so forth, effectively cleaning them out.

If I had actually been more perceptive I might have noticed the sly grins of the cashiers selling boozy misogynist cold-war spy novels to a thirteen-year old in a Chewbacca t-shirt. I only suspect that this happened because, from my perspective now, I understand how this world of book store/record store approval works. I participate in the behavior myself as an English Professor who loves to catch students sneaking a few pages of unassigned Günter Grass or Cormac McCarthy when no one was looking.

What James Bond did for me was start me into the world of obsession, which I think is important for an artist of any kind.

Next Installment: How reading Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight made me quit comics.

Some Projects

I'm off to another conference (sigh). This makes three out-of-towns in October, which is really high on the "¡Aye Carumba!" scale. So high, it's actually prompting a change in behavior on my part: I'm planning to back off outward expressions of my creative life, at least for the moment. Rift is out, and there's a certain amount of work to be done there with readings and events and promotion, but other than that, I'm itching to make new things and finish old projects. This means I'm not necessarily going to say no to new projects and appearances, but I'm going to start selecting things that fit into the "create mode" rather than the "present mode." There is a time and a place for present, but I feel like I've been presenting myself into a place where my store of created material is becoming depleted pretty fast. The tank isn't on empty, but it's not on full either.

I want to finish a collection of interlocking stories I've been working on for a really long time. It's called Small World, and there will be six long stories of about 25-30 pages each. In each story a character and/or situation from a preceding story will take center stage. In fact, each successive story will add to the plot and subtext of the earlier stories. Yes, it is a little bit like LOST in story format.

I want to throw myself into the blog a bit more. I am working on short memoir posts. On my trip to DC this week, I'm going to be sketching these things out. I'm also working on some ideas about how a creative life and family life spark when they bump into each other. I'll have a long first post out this Sunday.

And finally I want to work on my retelling of the old folktale "The Little Red Hen." In my version, the hen asks for help from a pig, a cat, a goose, and a coldwar-era Soviet tactical robot.

A Night (or two) in the Gallery

I recently spent a couple of days in Salt Lake for the opening of a show I did with Utah painter, Jennifer Rasmusson. I've been mentioning this project for the last few weeks on Facebook and Twitter. Jennifer and I have been wanting to collaborate for a couple of years, and eventually one of the galleries that represents her agreed to the experiment. It was really one of the most enjoyable and challenging things I have ever done with my writing in a long time. Todd and Jen at A GalleryThe process began a couple of months ago. We shared our work and had a few long conversations about what was possible. After those first meetings, we set a few ground rules. First, we didn't want to create the show around the idea of illustration; the images and words had to be on an equal footing and not duplicate each other too much. Second, we wanted to influence each other so that we all wound up in a new place. And third, we wanted to explore the relationship of reading and looking, which is a really complicated matter, one I am really interested in looking into a little more deeply.

Once I had written a few of the prose pieces, we started thinking about how to represent the writing so that (a) it would present itself as something to be read, and (b) it would seem like a painting and not a book, zine, or other printed matter. We naturally went first to the idea of letterpress, which looks great, but has the problem of "aura."

Aura was described by Walter Benjamin as the quality in a work that comes from its uniqueness as opposed to having been mass produced through mechanical means. Items that are one of a kind demand a different aesthetic response than ones that are reproduced or even commonplace. He would have had a ball with the internet.

In any case, we didn't want things to look printed, but we wanted them to have the look of type so that viewers would be encouraged to read them rather than to take the words as images without meaning attached to them. This led me to some interesting thoughts on something writers at one time or another have to really address. I might have been primed by Michael Chabon's recent interview with Teri Gross in which he discusses the idealized reader every writer has to construct, the entity who will get the jokes and puns and allusions the writer puts on the page.

Books are mass produced and distributed (many copies of one thing), and in the case of a blog, like this one, many readers are brought to a duplication taken from a single copy stored in a server, so that an infinite number of temporary copies exist at any one time.

In a gallery there is, however, only one painting. That is, I gather, the whole purpose of the gallery. Yes, paintings can be reproduced, but the whole thing about a gallery, the aura they are trying to create, is uniqueness. When you buy this painting, you're getting an exclusive deal—that's the arrangement the gallery is selling.

One other interesting thing I had to consider in working on these stories meant to be seen in a gallery and not read in a book, is that the gallery is a social environment, like a theater. The other people in the gallery, the other works adjacent to it, all exert a force on the reading. We don't read in a vacuum, but we do often read alone, or in pseudo-loneliness: on trains, in waiting rooms, or on flights.

The NestI got the first sense of these pressures on the night of the opening. We have one large collection of work called "The Conversation" in which we matched small paintings with small story paintings that consisted of a short bit of dialogue. Some dude came in and bought two of the stories, effectively splitting them from the context of their partner image. As he walked off with one of the gallerists, the small crowd of about ten people went into an outrage. They said things like, "You can't split them up, you just can't. Make him come back and buy the nest."

Then, the next day, the night of the gallery stroll, a man came in right as the gallery was closing. He looked like a speed metal A and R guy, drove a white BMW, and his girlfriend looked like a cross between a bond girl and a cocktail waitress at Caesar's Palace. He took a look at the large diptych of Jennifer's on which I had written a field of words in charcoal (pictured above). It sold early the night of the opening to a beautiful young woman and her hip husband, who also bought my favorite story/image combination.

This guy took one look at the little red dot that means the painting was no longer available and said, "Aw, shit, man. I wanted that one." He stuffed his hands in his pockets and then walked around the gallery and said, "Who bought it?" When he realized it was uncool to be asking that, he said, "You don't have to tell me." One gallerist named the couple. Our guy said, "Her? Dammit."

The amazing part about it, was the painting was still there and would be for the rest of the show, setting the aesthetic. The works which were off limits were still there, flaunting themselves. Except in the rare book market, there will always be many other copies of a book, so it's not a big deal. With a painting, there is one, and that creates a lot of desire, in that context. It's really interesting to watch those pressures at play.

Needless to say, this experience was not only interesting but slightly intoxicating. My wife (she and I collaborated on paintings—a future post on that is coming) and I left, wanting to create, and you can't ask for a better experience then that.

Young Writers

I know that because I'm only forty, I am technically a young writer, but teaching introduction to creative writing now for seven years has taught me that there are even younger writers out there. They are not fools, but they are callow, and when their feathers come in, they will realize that writing, like flying, is as much work as it is joy. And, in fact, some of the joy is in the work. It must be in the work or you'll quit.

I'm just coming off the big push to get a novel done and out into the world, which comes with a lot of work: e-mails, phone calls, websites, tweets, and Facebook updates. There is so much of this non-creative labor in publishing that I now take time with my students who wonder about publication to make sure they understand that getting published can be a real monkey's paw.

They imagine a life where they have made so much money from their creation that they can retreat to their Scottish castle and dream in peace. Of course, the chances of that are somewhat like winning 24 million in Powerball and then having a meteor slam through the roof of your house and smash your head to smithereens while the ticket flutters slowly to the ground.

Last August, my wife and I were coming home from a family retreat to the ancestral cabin in the mountains east of Oakley, Utah. We stopped into IKEA for some cabinets, and as we were loading up, I noticed Brady Udall and his son Finn loading a whole kitchen into a U-Haul. He blurbed my novel, Rift, so after exchanging a couple of "small worlds" and "man it's hots" he asked about the status of the book. I told him I was in the last stages of editing. He said that's where he was with his second novel.

We chatted about how the publishing world is these day, which after the economic disaster of the last year and a half is just about as bad as every other non-essential business in the country. Brady used the "every man for himself." He was optimistic, but you could hear a tinge of the apocalypse in his voice.

The irony that we were having this conversation in the loading zone of an IKEA is not lost on me. Writers, along with other artists are always dealing with the marketplace, but we are less like money changers on the temple grounds than we are evangelists in the parking lot of Costco.

Since that conversation, I've been re-thinking my relationship to writing. I've been asking myself how much I really want a big book contract. I mean, seriously, if I got a call from Gary Fisketjon I wouldn't hang up on him, but I'm starting to wonder if there isn't something grand about being able to publish something on a human scale, something that keeps me balancing the hustle that large scale literary operations require with the niceness of the life I have right now. I just don't know if I'm ready for dog eat dogitude; I am really enjoying the relative slowness of my life.

In The Seventh Year

The school year is underway, and I am getting myself ready to dig into edits on the second half of my novel, Rift, which I'll be submitting to my editor sometime between Christmas and the New Year. I made a huge push on it this summer, rewriting significant parts of the opening 50 pages. This was based on some great advice I got from Alan Mitchell and Andrea Hallstrom, who were the judges who gave Rift the Marilyn Brown Award.

The big issue for me and this book has been the opening. It has gone through the most vigorous rewriting. The problem with big changes like this is that once you start chopping things out, you notice how connected they are to other parts of the manuscript. A novel is less of a modular creation and more of an ecological one: you pull out one part and way later in the story, you find the dead branch that you have to prune out. Take that out, and somewhere else you discover another dead patch.

This kind of detail work can get maddening, but it's also what makes me feel most like a writer. Lots of people have said something like this, but writing when you're in the flow, isn't writing. It's something else, something that is also good, but it's not the same as that thing you make yourself do out of discipline or love for the project or the craft or your editor. It's something else entirely, and I love it. Now that I am surrounded by little kids and a wife launching a successful career as an art teacher, I have had to set aside a lot of that flow-writing.

Life is a little too busy right now to get into the mood; however, I can do the detail work because it is so task oriented. I find that I really enjoy the way this work fights against the chaos of things as they normally are in my life right now. I'm sure that some time in the future, this kind of chaos will become some other kind of chaos, but for now, this is the joy.

Soon, I'll be embarking on the second half of my revisions. I had an absolutely spot-on read from William Morris (gentleman and scholar) of A Motley Vision fame. He reviewed Long After Dark in a way that is still almost embarrassingly generous. William is one of the most gregarious and thoughtful readers I've met in a long time. I subscribe to his Good Reads feed, and I'm amazed weekly at the breadth of his reading.

In any case, William made some great suggestions for the second half of the novel. He saw some patterns and loose ends that I have missed, and I'm excited to get into the work and develop some of the thematic threads I lost track of as I fought along through the drafts, trying to just get myself finished.

The long and short of it all is this: I'm feeling more and more like the project is coming to a close, for me. That's how it is with a book, once I'm done, then its on its own, which is the really exciting and nerve-wracking part. I've lived with this project since the fall of 2001, when I moved to Utah and started teaching at Southern Utah University. If you would have told me then, that I'd be spending seven years in a single project, I'd have kicked you in the belly. But here were are, in the seventh year, the sabbatical year. Hmmm, no rest in sight.

My 15 Minutes of Fame (Going Up in Flames)

This is what you get when you volunteer to be on the library board. Last fall we put on a community reading program through the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read program, which is one of the great things about America, proving that the Feds aren't all bad. And though my arrest here, was a mock arrest, it has a pretty serious side, for me and my book and my community.

The threat of some censoring action is there, but I feel, as did Ray Bradbury in his novel Fahrenheit 451, that this matter of burning books in that culture was the result of indifference and disinterest and not a matter of the governmant closing things down.


What we were doing here is trying to raise consciousness about the fact that there are more ways to "burn a book" than just burning a book. So, we staged a book burning, and we used some printer error copies of my first book, Long After Dark, as fodder. You can see the flames of the burning in the right hand corner of the page. I was to protest the burning of the book, and the cops were to tell me to calm down and take it through proper channels. Even though it was fake, I had a very visceral response to it. My pulse went up, and I felt like I was on my way to a McCarthy hearing, or to Guantanamo.

Actually, my biggest concern about my own book is that people will not read it. That there will be a general sense of apathy about it and the things that I care about that went into it. If someone wanted to burn it, that would be better. It would say that this book meant something, that it had the power to make changes.

But there is some danger in that, always some danger.