GUEST POST: I’ve Learned a Thing or Two: Lessons from My First Novel by Michael Graves

1. People are touchy about religion. My debut novel, Parade, follows Reggie Lauderdale and Elmer Mott, two cousins trying to navigate adulthood. Along the way, they accidentally burn down a church, win the lottery and create their own glamorized religion. Within Parade, Reggie crafts recipes for a well-lived, spiritual existence. He writes passages such as: “You should be good. I do not mean good at your job. I do not mean good-looking. You must be good to the people all around you. Say, “Hello.” Let strangers pass before you. Say, “Thank you.” Give someone your last root beer sucker. Say, “Excuse me.” Hold the door for another. Say, “Please.” Allow someone to use the lavatory first. Say, “Good day.” Lug a lady’s grocery sacks to her automobile. Say, “Good evening.” Shovel the snow from your neighbor’s walkway. My suggestions could go on for countless cards. But you understand. Just BE GOOD. Goodness always multiplies. It will lighten us all. So, just try, okay?” All in all, Reggie creates his own, modern-day bible for any human. One character proclaims that these recipes echo lessons learned in preschool. Shouldn’t religion and spirituality be so simple? Can we not just be good? To me, it’s a no-brainer. During my book tour to promote Parade, attendees appeared active, even heated during our discussions. One gentleman inquired if Parade argues that religion should be deconstructed to a more unified and primitive state. The answer is this: sort of. In fiction, religious solidarity is possible. In reality? Probably not. Organized religion creates segregation. There are Christians and Baptists and Mormons and Jews. Who has it right anyway? I don’t know, but I do know we are spiritually divided.  During another event, one young fellow pointedly asked, “Why you gotta be talkin’ about Jesus and fucking on the same page?” I replied, “Because, why not?” I hope Parade inspires readers to be a little bit nicer.

2. High heels are murderous. Once Reggie becomes a preacher of pop star proportions, he begins to don only high heels and white briefs to his sermons/parties (at times a white cape is included). As a writer, I had to figure out what that feels like. For instance, how does he sit at a bar? How does Reggie strut across a slick patio? With zero shame, I will tell you that I borrowed a pal’s high heels and stamped about my house, researching dutifully. I discovered that it takes a great deal of practice. Stairs are a physical puzzle! You must beware of hazards, including chairs and area rugs! All comedy aside, it was a fun experience. That’s what Reggie claims in the novel. High heels are fun, so just wear them. Also, he likes the sound they make on linoleum.

3. The music of the Spinners will alter your existence. While writing Parade, I concocted a lengthy, yet precise playlist of songs that either represented my characters or were featured in particular scenes. Elmer Mott, specifically, is quite a music fan. He is emotionally vintage and socially old-fashioned. This, I felt, had to reflect in his personal soundtrack. After some investigation, I discovered R&B, soul supergroup, The Spinners. Their deep, cool, seasoned tracks personify Elmer. “The Rubberband Man” sounds like Elmer’s very best Saturday. “Could it be I’m Falling in Love?” tinkers with all the yearning his heart is capable of. Featuring Dionne Warwick, “Then Came You” is anthemic, perfect for Elmer’s diner lunches, tag sale sing-a-longs or long limousine rides . Simply visit your favorite music provider and you will be floored by the wonderfully hefty catalog of The Spinners.

4. I figured it all out (and you can too!). Writing a novel can be harrowing and dismal. It is also wondrous and freeing and a shit load of fun. That’s why we do it! No one, despite their pedigree, can tell you exactly how to create anything. Is fielding advice from mentors and peers useful? Absolutely! Some claim you must commit to the process of writing every single day. Others say you should read at least seventy-five books per year. One scraggly gentleman once told me I must “eat, sleep and breathe” the writing life. Comparing notes is always a good thing. What can I tell you? Everyone’s method is different and there is no singular way for writers to accomplish their literary and artistic goals. Everyone has their way. For instance, I often write in spurts. Grueling editing sessions are my true joy. I take notes on a regular basis and journal frequently. Also, as a reader, I’m incredibly lazy. It takes a great deal for me to engage in a serious relationship with a book. See, all of this is my way. It doesn’t have to be yours. Your way is your And yes, you will figure it out. I promise. Just keep at it!

5. I am supported and loved. After the release of Parade, I took a moment to soak up my blessings. I was astounded by the amount of love being thrown my way. Of course, this includes my husband, parents, siblings, friends. Also, I was championed by my publisher, Chelsea Station Editions, and many writer pals, including Tom Cardamone, Laurie Foos, Michael Carroll, Jason Anthony, Belle Brett and too many more to mention. I’m a very, very lucky writer.

6. Perhaps I’ll do it again? The process of writing Parade felt exhilarating and also, absolutely draining. Since publication, I had vowed to write only short fiction going forward, but now…I’m not certain. There are stories in my brain that are aching to be told and perhaps, they will reveal themselves to me in the form of a novel. In addition, I’ve always wanted to venture into creative non-fiction. I don’t know. Never say never? Stay tuned.

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Michael Graves

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Michael Graves is the author of the novel, Parade. He also composed Dirty One, a collection of short stories. This book was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist and an American Library Association Honoree. His fiction and poetry have been featured in numerous literary publications and anthologies. Visit his official website: www.michaelgravesauthor.com.

To purchase a copy of Parade and/or Dirty One click on the images below:

parade

Reggie Lauderdale suffers from a crisis of faith. His cousin, Elmer Mott, dreams of becoming their hometown mayor. Both boys are stuck in suburbia trying to be adults… but they aren’t sure how to bethemselves yet. When a twist of fate sends them fleeing in a stolen limousine, the cousins escape to Florida where they meet a retired televangelist, who inspires them on a path of glitzy sermons and late night parties. But are the celebrations sincere or deceptive? And who is keeping tabs? Who is watching?

Parade is a tour-de-force, comic tale of religion and government.

Dirty One

Set in the 1980’s, Dirty One follows a pack of adolescent characters who live in the acid-drenched, suburban town known as Leominster, Massachusetts—the plastics capital of America, as well as the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed. In the story, “From Kissing,” a sixth-grader named Butch has his first homosexual tongue kiss during a monster truck show and, after a bout of the flu, he is convinced he has somehow contracted AIDS. With “Curls and Curls,” nine-year-old Lee hates his kinky, brown head of hair and is seemingly possessed with magic, casting spells to unfurl his evil tresses. In “A Snow Day,” eleven-year-old Cassidy longs to be the next mega-watt, teen pop star, but is forced to deal with her crazy classmates, her gay father, and her dog that continually vomits in the driveway. “Do It” follows a tween named Denise as she seeks her first sexual experience with a boyfriend who can never remain erect. Denise strives for high school greatness while her gay best friend is crowned king of all local paper routes. These selections join five more, constructing the remarkable world of Dirty One.

Read more of Michael’s fiction below:

Eclectica‘Black Doll’

Soft Cartel‘The Keepers’

Post Road Magazine – ‘Balloons’

You can find and follow Michael at:

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