Sunday, December 11, 2016

Looking Ahead

I always feel a kind of heaviness at the end of the fall semester. Every year as it winds down, and as my students work diligently (I hope) on their final papers, projects, and revisions, I can't ignore the fact that it's the end of another year as well. With its shorter days and chillier air, December provokes sobering reflection on the previous months, and--like usual--I have very mixed feelings about this particular year. On the one hand, it brought some incredible joy--the publication of my second book, That Hidden Road, for one, and the all-but-improbable World Series win of my beloved Chicago Cubs, for another. Yet there has also been the bleak political landscape and all the mess stemming from what has been--in my opinion--the most chaotic and meanest Presidential election of my lifetime.

For these reasons, 2016 stands as a year I'll regard with much more ambivalence than normal. And of course, the New Year is an arbitrary point; the repercussions of the previous year always continue into the next. But right now, the fear and uncertainty is way too big to take on, so I'll concentrate on something a lot more manageable (and self-serving)--some upcoming events early in 2017 where I'll be reading from and/or signing copies of That Hidden Road. Sometimes all we can do is share a little bit of ourselves with other people in the hopes of making a connection, and it's in this spirit that I look ahead to these places where I've been given the opportunity to do so:

On Thursday, January 12, I'll be at Anderson's Bookshop in Downers Grove, Illinois, at 7pm. For more info, click HERE.

On Sunday, February 5, I'll be at Warwick's Books in La Jolla, California, at 12 noon. For more info, click HERE.

On Tuesday, February 14, I'll be the featured author at the "Writers Read" program at the Fallbrook Library in Fallbrook, California, at 6pm. For more info, click HERE.

In addition to their intrinsic rewards, I've always found teaching and writing to be distractions from the sometimes oppressive onslaught of daily life, and I'm certainly hoping that they continue to be in 2017.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

Well, it’s almost here. In less than three months, on October 1st, my second book—That Hidden Road: A Memoir—will be released. It’s the story of a lot of things (and I’ve excerpted parts of it on this blog), but the framing narrative is the two months that I spent crossing the U.S. on my bicycle. Incidentally, if you’re interested, you can read the first chapter ON MY WEBSITE and preorder the book HERE.
It’s hard to put into words what it’s like to hold an actual copy of this book; for me, doubting that it would ever see the light of day became a twice- and sometimes thrice-daily activity.
In truth, I thought the whole thing would be a lot easier.
I don’t mean the bike ride. I knew that would be tough and it was. No, I mean writing this book. Way, way back, I thought, How hard could this be? I blogged regularly when I was on the road, and I kept a journal, too, so the book was pretty much already written. All I had to do was string together the posts, add a few things from the journal, do a little editing, and ta-DA…a book!
Well, it didn’t work out that way at all, and I’ve been writing and teaching writing long enough to have known better. In fact, I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that in every way except for physical strain, the riding was a lot easier than the writing. It certainly took a lot less time. I’m reminded of something I wrote very late in the book, something about being incredibly innocent or stupid or (most likely) both as I stood on my bike, Rusty, at the beginning of the ride with no real idea of what I was getting into.
Turns out, that’s a pretty accurate way to describe writing a book, too. Not a single word written, and all those pages to go…
The truth is that I wouldn’t have gotten through either journey without a lot of help from a lot of people.
First, the ride. Deep thanks to everyone who helped me along the way—the people who stopped to see if I was all right or needed anything, the people who housed and fed me, the people who read my blog and left a comment or two, and the many people who just saw a guy with a ton of crap on his bike and decided to talk to him for a few minutes. All of them made a lonely endeavor a lot less so. I especially want to thank the people who were a big part of my trip but—due to the mercenary demands of storytelling—didn’t make it fully into the book: Brian and Angie McNeece; Eileen and Richard Travis and family; Jody and Dave Travis and family; Dave and Pamela Craig; Paul Winer; Daniel Young; Tom and Stanna Galbraith; Jake Heath; Karen and Jeff Wilson; Ron from Boulder (I never did get his last name); John and Sharlene Sampson; Bill Haddan and family; Alan White; Lance, Michelle, and Christian Freezeland; David and Erin Anthony; Eddie West; Christine North; and Chris Nielsen.
Special thanks to Jan and Bill Montgomery, who were the perfect guides through the “heart” of this journey, and to Tom and Ann McConnell, who were the perfect guides through the “tail” of it.
Thanks to all my family and friends who helped me recharge during my Chicago “intermission”: my brother Vince, his wife Jean, and their kids; my mom and dad; Pat Gonder and Teresa Aguinaldo; Jerry Karlin and Karen Klebba; Paul Sternenberg; Marc Kaplanes and Julie Hubbard. And a special thank you to Greg Hart for the dance and plane ticket (two separate things).
And the ride would have been possible but a lot harder without the work of whoever created the iPhone apps for “Track My Tour” and “Warmshowers,” so thanks, Anonymous Programmers.
Along those lines (and as regards the book), I owe a big debt to whoever created and maintains Google Earth and Wikipedia; both were instrumental when my memory or perspective failed, or when I needed to find out something about Dodge City, or the Irwin Cobb Bridge, or the Tennessee Valley Authority. I’m also indebted to Elliot Willensky’s When Brooklyn Was the World (Harmony Books, 1986) for helping to add a little color to my dad’s memories.
Big thanks and an even bigger hug to my favorite geologist, pseudo-sister, and dear friend Suzy Gonder, who patiently answered all my questions about rocks and geological time.
A big thank you to Lawson Mabry, who closely read and reread the sections about his family and its history and has offered nothing but hospitality and encouragement to me since I met him. Thanks also to Brian McNeece and Erin Anthony for their generous and rigorous readings of an early draft of the book. Big thanks to members of my Palomar family for the same: Barb Neault Kelber, Deborah Paes de Barros, Jack Quintero, and Carlton Smith. My colleagues are, quite simply, the best, and I’m also grateful for the friendship and encouragement of Leanne Maunu, Andrea Bell, Teresa Laughlin, and Jenny Fererro (to whom I might still owe a Clif Bar). And thanks, too, to my other readers: Pat Gonder, John Lucas (who also helped with the comics), and Colin Rafferty.
In terms of reading, I owe quite a bit to two assistant agents at two different agencies—Jennifer Herrera and Lena Yarbrough—who gave me invaluable notes that resulted in a much, much better final version.
Special thanks to Robert James Russell and the editors of Midwestern Gothic for publishing sections of this book. Many thanks to Hannah Krieger and the editors of the Georgetown Review for the same.
A big thank you to the good folks who run the San Diego Book Awards for honoring my work at a time when I needed some encouragement.
Huge thanks to Kevin Atticks, Alexandra Chouinard, Nicole DeVincentis (and her infinite patience with me) and all of the other hard workers at Apprentice House Press for their support, insight, and direction—all of which helped turn my dream into the reality of the book.
Thanks, too, to my Aunt Angie McConnell, who provided stories and details about my maternal grandfather. And a big thank you to my dad, Thomas Versaci, who patiently retold many stories, answered a ton of questions, enumerated details, and didn’t really care when I added some of my own. One of the gifts of this entire journey has been to sort through his memories with him.
As always, I’m deeply thankful for my students, many of whom were interested in my trip and some of whom had the energy and patience to read parts of this book—I’m thinking especially of Sarah Bates, Nolan Turner, and Deb Ebert. Working with all of my students inspires me daily.
And finally, I am grateful beyond words for Shannon Lienhart, Nick Versaci, and Tony Versaci—without them the book wouldn’t exist.