I don’t want to give anything away but the ending is very emotional. Were you always committed to that ending or did you consider alternatives? Did I consider alternatives!? Did I consider alternatives!? That’s probably all I did for the better part of last Summer. While everyone else was out at the city pool playing Marco Polo, I was locked in a hot, sweaty office trying to conjure up the big “Hollywood” ending. I swear, I must’ve gone through a dozen, maybe more, iterations; everything from a hurricane ripping through the rehab (which would’ve been a tad unbelievable considering the rehab’s location in the Rocky Mountains) to an airplane falling out of the sky and flattening the patients…you name the ending, I considered it.
It wasn’t until I went back to the beginning and completely re-wrote myself into Monty that I finally realized his choice in the end was really my choice, which I had been avoiding. I was looking at all these external things—hurricanes, fires, airplane crashes—to end the story, when all I really had to do was look within myself and ask the simple question: What if it were me? How would I react to a similar tragedy?
As I said, the answer was a little tough to swallow, especially for someone with the three years sobriety. But it taught me a very valuable lesson about myself and my recovery, which is…the path to recovery is a life-long journey, and if I ever want to get there, I can’t just settle with being clean and sober. I have to work on myself…work on becoming a better person, because if I just settle with not drinking, then guess what? One of these days, I’m probably going to end up drinking. It might be in response to some kind of tragedy like Monty experienced, or it might be something small like losing a job or not getting my next novel published. Either way, I’d better start putting in a little more effort, or else my fate could be Monty’s fate one day.
There were many times during your book when I felt pushed to tears. Did you anticipate such a heavy reaction to your book? Anticipate? Probably not the word I’d use. But, hope? Yes, I definitely hoped that readers would have a strong emotional reaction. After all, the story is about addiction; cunning, baffling, and powerful. It has taken fathers from daughters, sisters from brothers, mothers from sons. It doesn’t care who you are, where you come from, or how much money you have. It’ll destroy your life indiscriminately and with complete abandon if you allow it.
I’m willing to bet that most people out there know someone who is or has been affected by this this vicious disease. These are the people that’ll have the strongest reaction to the novel. They’ll be able to recognize themselves or their loved ones in at least one of the characters in the story, perhaps more.
For example, one reviewer, Ashley, had a very strong response to the scene where Dave steals Suboxone from the detox trailer. The reason, as she explained later, was because she had just been through absolute hell with someone very close to her, who was attempting to get off synthetic opiates. And one of the medications they were prescribed to help with the withdrawal was, in fact, Suboxone. Unfortunately, Suboxone, like Methadone, has its own addictive qualities, and, as a result this person ended up abusing the Suboxone to the point where you were forced to take it away and administer it to them yourself.
Its personal connections like this that make literature the most emotive art form there is, above all else, even film. Think about it. When you watch a film, whose version of the story do you think you’re seeing? Someone else’s, usually the director’s. But when you read a book, you’re bringing your own experiences and your own imagination to create an experience that is not only powerful and visceral, it’s personal.
This is why Monty’s story is not just my story. It’s everyone’s story. Dave’s denial is a brother’s denial, a father’s denial, a son’s denial. Angie’s desperation is a mother’s, a sister’s, a daughter’s, and on and on and on.
It’s why I love to read and write.
Do you have any writing rituals? As a matter of fact, I do. Before I even power up the laptop, I always go out and grab some coffee, usually a quad latté; hot if it’s morning, iced if it’s the afternoon. I know, I know, eight shots a day…not very healthy. But what can I say? I’m an addict. I traded alcohol for espresso. I find it stimulates the imagination. I’m actually sipping a latté as I write this. The key is to not go overboard. Just like alcohol, you can get seriously ill from too much caffeine. In fact, my acting teacher and I trade stories all the time about our past addictions. He used to be a caffeine addict, but not coffee, as you might expect. His poison was Diet Coke. I know, I know, it sounds benign. But get this; he used to drink 216 ounces a day. That’s 18 twelve ounce cans! It’s the first thing he drank when he got up in the morning and the last thing he drank before going to bed at night. When he finally quit, he said he had a migraine for six days, threw up for three, and was in bed for two. It sounds a lot like one of my alcohol detox’s. Crazy stuff.
WHY Write a book like this? It’s a very serious subject. Great question. I’ve been asking myself the same thing for nearly three years now.
As you may have guessed, a lot of what’s in the novel is based on my own personal experience with addiction and recovery. In fact, when I first got started on the manuscript, I really only had one year of sobriety.
Writing was something I’d always fantasized about doing, but was always too afraid of failing or being rejected. Fortunately, my near suicidal battle with alcoholism supplied me with a more courageous outlook on life, not to mention loads of rich story material. So, I dove right on in.
I knew I wanted the book to be about my experiences with addiction, but I didn’t want it to become just another recovery memoir. For one, I felt there were already too many memoirs out there on this topic, and also because I really wanted to learn the craft of writing fiction.
Of course, I injected a lot of personal details into the story, and ended up with a sort of fictional/memoir hybrid. It was a pretty surreal experience, because I ended up having to relive all the mistakes I made through the characters, especially the main protagonist, Monty. You see, Just like Monty, I hinged a lot of my recovery on people external to myself; people like my parents, my brother, my sister, my girlfriend. I figured if I could stay sober for them then I wouldn’t have to do it for myself. Unfortunately, this really only works in the short term. Eventually, you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and decide whether you want to forgive yourself and move forward or continuing lying to yourself and eventually die alone.
It was a very difficult and an emotionally painful exercise, but was probably the best thing I could’ve done for my recovery. By stepping back and watching Monty destroy himself and those around him, I was able to learn a lot about myself and my own shortcomings. What I learned is that I still have a ton of work to do before I can say I’m truly recovered.
Are the characters based on real people in your life? Will people recognize themselves in this story? Yes, the characters, although fictional, are amalgamations of people I had met not only through rehab and recovery, but also through my childhood. I picked the best and worst qualities of people from my life and rolled them into one, all-encompassing “super character.”
For example, my antagonist, Dave Bell, is based on a bipolar crack head I met at a recovery facility in Anaheim, California, as well as a sadistic track coach I had at my high school in Pensacola, Florida. I changed the names around to protect the innocent, but used a lot of the story background and personality defects of both real-life people.
For example, my track coach was this former all-American track athlete who got hit by a drunk driver one night while he was jogging. The impact was so powerful it sent him fifty yards through the air and completely shattered his pelvis, along with his dreams of ever making it to the Summer Olympics. When I first met him, he was a resentful, borderline psychotic/adrenaline junkie, hell bent on proving he could still win anything he put his mind to. Whether it was a hot dog eating contest against our four hundred pound wrestling coach or a toy drive for needy kids during Christmas; he always had to come in first at everything. Second place to him was just first loser.
I remember he would race us up to the track meets in this yellow hunk-of-junk he called a school bus, always trying to beat his previous time and set a “personal record”. Sometimes, he would get that thing up 20 mph over the speed limit. He’d the whip the turns so fast you could actually feel the wheels starting to come up off the pavement.
There was also an assistant coach, let’s call him Farley, who was either mentally challenged or just a really, really slow learner. He looked like a bloated, 350 pound version of that Chucky doll from those old horror movies, and used to hang around the school and gawk at all the cheerleaders. I think he may have actually been homeless. I think coach felt sort of sorry for him. He took him in and gave him a job as an assistant track coach. Personally, I don’t think the guy should’ve been around children. A lot of the girls complained that he would grope them as they dismounted from the pole vault. It actually became a pretty serious issue. I think some of the parents may have even filed a lawsuit.
Anyway, Farley became my inspiration for Dave’s son, Larry, who is also mentally challenged and quite a bit mischievous. I thought to myself, what if my high school track coach and his mentally challenged assistant were crack heads? And worse yet, what if they ended up in rehab with me? What kind of shenanigans would we get ourselves into?
This premise became the jumping point for the “Dave and Larry chronicles”. It was a ton of fun. Writing the two of them together was like writing a depraved version of an Abbot and Costello routine. You wanna laugh…but feel guilty about it at the same time.
Genre – Literary Fiction
Rating – R