Today is Southbound’s birthday. It was a year ago I started putting fingers to keyboard to write my book. I looked back in my old microsoft word records and it showed the document started on 10/10/12. I knew it was around this time, and when I checked, it was right on the anniversary. How bout that. This whole process has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I say that without hesitation. It started out as a fluke. I’m not a writer. I mean, I’ve always enjoyed writing and was an English minor in college, but basically my writing has all been horse racing related for work. But I always had this fantasy. I wanted to say fuck work, fuck everything, and load up all my money and head south to LA or Vegas and gamble it all. I was a gambler my entire life, and a sick one at that. Gambling was my muse, my love, my life for a long time. The ups and downs of that lifestyle are well chronicled in Southbound. When I tell you it’s a fiction book, in many ways, that statement is fiction. It’s me in there. And there’s going to be parts of it where people who know me are going to think “I can’t believe Jason did that.” But some of those moments I didn’t do 🙂 There’s plenty of fiction as well. I figure i’ll leave it to the readers to gauge what’s real and what isn’t.
But when Southbound started a year ago, I sat down and wrote a quick outline. I had played the story out in my head so many times I knew what was going to happen. I added in some things to help the story along, but mostly, I just started writing. It was all I did for weeks on end. The words and stories poured out. I would take tangents off of the outline and even though the outline started out as the backbone of the story, it quickly kind of went away. I would write at home, at the library, at school, in my announcers booth between races, everywhere. I remember getting close to finishing that first draft on Thanksgiving, and sitting in my car at the Starbucks by my uncle’s house typing away as the rain poured down. The first draft took just over two months to finish. I mean I was vigilant. I remember thinking in my naivety, well let’s run this thing through spell check and grammar check and i’m done! HAHA.
I spent the next couple months going through and revising and editing and at the end of january I ran it by my friend and author Willy Vlautin (if you haven’t read him, do it. He’s great!) I figured Willy would read the first chapter, maybe have some suggestions on how to make that better. Instead he read the entire thing and wrote back with some amazing notes and suggestions. He also gave me some really positive words of encouragement, which just sent me into super editing mode! I spent the next two months revising, editing, taking classes from amazing local writers like Vanessa Veselka and Tom Spanbauer. I read novels from Portland writers when I needed a break from my book.
I submitted to a couple of agents and smaller publishers, as I figured with my complete lack of writing history and the possibility that maybe my manuscript sucked, I figured no big publisher was going to buy it. I actually had one publisher ask for the full manuscript but they passed after that. Then one day in early April, maybe one of my favorite local writers, or any writer for that matter, Lidia Yuknavitch tweeted out “hey I have some time off if anyone needs a manuscript reviewed.” Lidia’s memoir Chronology of Water is something that is more experienced than it is read. You kind of fall in love with her imperfections and the way she spins a sentence. So I contacted Lidia and she agreed to read and critique my manuscript and to meet up and chat about it. A couple weeks later I got a reply back from her saying she’d finished and was ready to talk about it. She ended the email with “You’re a great writer.” I’m not going to lie, I cried like a baby when I read that. Lidia makes people cry. I’m convinced of it. I’ve seen her at readings and people cry when they meet her. I at least gave her the courtesy of crying after our meeting. I think the reason people cry when they meet her, is because after they read her books, where she sheds her skin and pours her soul onto that paper. You feel like she’s your best friend when you don’t even know her. (Random sidenote, her writing group partner Chuck Palahniuk was at the store where we met up. I got to meet him. He wrote fight club. It was awesome!)
Lidia had some amazing suggestions and critiques and I applied almost all of them. I’ll never forget the first thing she said that day. “This is you right?” I nodded and said indeed it was. “Then why the hell isn’t it in first person!” So for the next couple weeks, I went through and changed the entire manuscript, 82,000 words, from the point of view of the narrator to the point of view of Ryan McGuire. All the “he’s” became “I”. And it was the right move. Because it was me telling my story. No sense in making it seem distant. I think it brought the book into it’s own. It helped give it the realness I think it needed.
Well soon after I started contacting some other publisher’s and agents, and a great lady named Zara Kramer from Pandamoon Publishing contacted me and wanted to read the entire manuscript. A few weeks later she called and we had a great conversation about the book and about possibly publishing it. We haggled over some details but after a couple weeks I signed. We’ve done some great editing since then and the book continues to be a work in progress.
I’m so excited for it to see the light of day in a few months (January, 2014). I’m nervous about it as well. Not whether or not it sells or doesn’t sell, just putting out a lot of my past, my pain and my reality out there for people to see. I’m so proud of Southbound. It’s grown from a blank Microsoft Word Document and has been changed and altered to what is now. A lot of filled Microsoft Word Documents 🙂 Anyways, happy birthday little story.