Besides two quotes, one from The Prince and one from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” those are the first three words of my novel. They occur as a thought when the protagonist, Chance Sowin, crosses his parents’ front lawn and sees that the front-door lock has been shattered. He’s been there before, you see, and in several ways, all of which those of you who know that it’s a time-travel novel might be able to conjecture, but it’s more than that.
When I was eleven or twelve, I stole Stephen King’s Needful Things from my father’s small bookcase and began to read it. It was the first adult-level novel I had ever read, and it rewired me in some very important ways. Not only was it the book that confirmed my lifelong addiction to reading and words, but it was also the book that made me realize I wanted to write. I had read the Hardy Boys series and A Wrinkle in Time, but they never suckerpunched me quite like Needful Things did. I felt that moment in the same way I realized I wanted to go to grad school; moments like that come with some absolute and incontrovertible certainty.
It is, perhaps, not altogether ironic that my first novel begins with the same words as Needful Things. There are so many cliches to go along with it: the circle of life, and what goes around comes around, and etc.
Not long ago, if you’d told me that the end of the year would find me writing in my parents’ basement, I’m not sure I would have believed you. I’m reasonably certain, in fact, that I would have bristled and become defensive. Because not long ago, I was in Los Angeles and finishing USC, and not long after that I was living in Denver, and how would I have ended up back here? Especially when I’ve worked so hard, these past few years, to continue forward after surviving a setback that lasted several.
The answer is simple: this wasn’t back.
It took me a while to discover that, and I attribute the realization mostly to Butch Walker. Butch Walker was the lead singer of the Marvelous 3, who had one hit song, “Freak of the Week,” during the nineties. Like my other favorite band of the 90s (the Refreshments), the Marvelous 3 ultimately disbanded save the lead singer, who began first a solo career and then continued to tour with an eponymous band; the Refreshments have since become Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, while Butch Walker has joined forces with the Let’s Go Out Tonites.
I’ve been a fan of Butch for years; his live shows are absolutely hysterical, if only because his entire persona is at once the most genuine and the most sarcastic rock personality ever. It’s like how satire is best when the satirist knows his material so well and embraces it to such an extent that it’s pitch perfect either way you look at it, if that makes sense. Walker is a rawk god who at the same time pokes fun at rawk, and it’s rather brilliant (Here’s his website, by the way. You owe it to yourself to check him out).
I bring all this up because, not long ago, Butch Walker was staying in Flea’s beach house (yes, Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers), which caught fire during the California wildfires. In a very short time, Butch lost everything he owned, including the master tapes for every song he had ever written. So far as I know, he had been working on a CD at the time, which even had a release date, and lost much of it.
Still, he released a CD by that date. It’s called Sycamore Meadows, and you can find it here, where you can also buy three of his CDs together for under thirty bucks, which is about the densest collection of good rock music you’ll ever find. It really is a great CD; the opener, “The Weight of Her,” is like perfect Tom Petty, and it just gets better from there.
The second song is “Going Back/Going Home,” which finally gets me to my point (sorry. I tend to ramble, I know). Its chorus goes that there’s a difference between going back and going home, and I don’t know why it took listening to that CD for me to realize that, but it did. Through much of autumn, all I really kept wanting to do was hug my parents on Christmas and laugh with my friends at dive-ass bars, but I couldn’t reconcile that with the fact that it probably meant I’d be living again with my parents, which I did for several years and was never altogether thrilled about. There’s a term for it now (of course. Seems like there’s a friggin’ term for everything); they call it boomeranging, when kids go off to college but move back in with mommy and daddy after graduation. Mommy and daddy are often not altogether thrilled about it, because it apparently cuts their second honeymoons short by refilling a finally empty nest.
I’m lucky mine aren’t like that. I’m lucky they’ve welcomed me with open arms and have even appreciated that they can put me to work (over the past week, I’ve spackled a room and moved around heavy boxes, all while finishing my business plan).
Basically, they’re what’s changed my mind. Them and Butch Walker, anyway. I have a plan I think I can execute, and really, even though I’ve been here before, the whole point is that the story is how you tell it.
I’m getting better at that part.