Well I finally did it. I was sick this past weekend and as I was laying on the couch I looked up and saw it there sitting on the shelf. My book. Southbound had it’s 3rd publication birthday last month and I must admit I’ve been thinking about it more lately. So i finally read it. Every so often I get lovely notes from people who read it and sometimes I get questions about certain parts of it. The two questions I seem to get most often are “was the scene in the Cal Expo chapter real?” and “Who is Maria based on?”
When the book came out I did a bunch of interviews and always kind of used the same answer for most questions. “The book is fiction and I use my backstory as a kicking off point. What it really is is a relapse fantasy. I felt it was safer to play out the relapse fantasy than to actually try the relapse.”
That’s all mostly true. There’s a lot of truth in Southbound but there’s a lot of fiction as well. I know that’s kinda vague but it is the truth. As far as those two questions above the answer’s are 1.) Basically true and 2.) She was kind of an amalgamation of two people in the racing business. Now you can all guess and I won’t tell you who! But it wasn’t that I was in love with those two people as the character Ryan was with Maria. It was more I found them compelling and thought they could make a compelling character using features of both.
So back to reading Southbound. When I say I haven’t read it, I just mean I haven’t read it in book form. I read the damn thing 500 times during the writing, editing, editing, and editing phase. I remember thinking all the time during the three years from first word to publishing “It’ll be so cool if someday I get to hold this thing in my hands and read it.” Then once I finally had it in my hands I never did. I tried starting it a couple times but I just didn’t want to read it. So this time I plowed through and found it to be a very interesting and emotional experience.
First of all, I didn’t remember writing a lot of the stuff. Some sentences I’d finish and think “did I really write that?” Some sentences I thought were corny or bad. Some I thought were good. Some I wished I could go back and edit right there and then. The parts that were the most emotionally triggering were when Ryan initially leaves on the trip, the panic attack and subsequent showing of his suicide attempt scar to Maria, and the end. In those three instances I definitely remember having emotions as I wrote them and reading them back I certainly felt the words and the memories of writing them and whatever similarities they may have had to real life. The one thing I did try and do was put my pain into Ryan. I think looking back I also wanted to punish him as I felt that I deserved to be punished.
I did spend a lot of yesterday thinking about the psychology of the things I did to that character and some of the bad things he did to other people. One thing I found interesting is there is very little mention of his father. Other than noting he’s dead and a story or two about him, there isn’t much. I thought about that a lot. And I came to the conclusion that maybe I wanted Ryan to exist in a world where he wasn’t always thinking about his dead father. Maybe I wanted to give him at least the peace of not dwelling on that.
He also wasn’t very great to women at any point in the book. I wonder if this was frustration from my own relationships not working out? I like to be alone and maybe I had him try and push those people away, similar to how I’ve done in my own life in regards to social interactions and relationships?
The book was certainly me processing the gambling, addiction, anxiety, and all that. But what I still think it is most about is running away. From responsibilities, from accountability, from family, from friends, from being seen. There’s a lot of shame in it. It’s very possible that I might digest the book differently than other readers for obvious reasons. But that’s what I got from it.
When I finished it I was pretty tired. There was a lot of feeling going on reading back through it. I’m still remarkably proud of it. I’m most proud of just starting and seeing through such a long term and big project. It was a TON of work. I’ve never worked at anything in my life as hard as I did on that book. Three years. I’m curious to see what happens if I read it three years from now. Maybe i’ll find it different than I did this past weekend? Maybe the same?