Background Reading for My Novel, Part II: Leave Myself Behind

Leave Myself Behind

Right before I read Catcher in the Rye, I had the pleasure of reading Bart Yates’ 2003 debut novel Leave Myself Behind. I had read reviews of the novel and several folks described it as a gay Catcher in the Rye, which of course I could not appreciate then since I had not read Salinger’s classic masterpiece. Having now read both works I can fully understand the analogy.

Quoting the description that appears in Goodreads, “Noah York is a closeted gay teenager with a foul mouth, a critical disposition, and plenty of material for his tirades”.  Noah and his widowed mom, a somewhat crazy poet, have just moved from Chicago to a small New Hampshire town, where she has taken a teaching job. In addition to the challenges most of us go through at that stage in life, 17-year old Noah is struggling with the recent death of his father, his sexuality and adjusting to his new home and school environment. His crazy mom decides to undertake a major remodel of the Victorian home where they live and in the course of doing it, discovers a series of jars hidden in the walls, containing mementos and notes from the former owner. This really bring mom’s craziness to a new high. Meanwhile Noah has developed an attraction and romantic interest in his troubled neighbor J.D., who is even more closeted than Noah.

I won’t elaborate much more on the story but hopefully this may prompt some of you to want to pick up the book and read it. I couldn’t help but wonder if the author’s choice of the name J.D. was a conscious decision to tip his hat to Salinger and of course the book to which myself and others so favorably compare Yates’ novel. For me this book was a great find both from the pleasure I derived from reading it as well as helping me in writing my own first novel.

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Background Reading for My Novel, Part I: Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye

Since the protagonist of my novel is a gay 18 year-old I decided early in my writing that I needed to read as much fiction as possible that would in some respects mirror my young man’s issues and struggles.  I started checking out both Amazon.com and Goodreads.com for suggestions from others. The books I’ve been reading have had a young man in his late teens and/or a youngish gay man as the protagonist. What a great group of books I’ve encountered.

I felt an absolute must read was Catcher in the Rye – amazingly a book I had never read. (Am I the last person in the English-speaking language over the age of 14 to have not read this before now?) Holden Caulfield is of course the quintessential teenager suffering angst, alienation and rebellion. What a wonderful novel; I believe it was Salinger’s first. Don’t worry folks, I have no illusions that when completed my first book will be in that league. Besides being hilarious and enjoyable it was inspiring to read. I can now fully understand why it is a modern-day classic.

I’ve read that as recently as the early 80’s this was the most censored book in US public schools, ostensibly because of its vulgar language. In fact in 2009 it was one of the most challenged books according to the American Library Association. Vulgar language?? Give me a break!!! My God, network prime time TV programs, not to mention PG-13 movies and contemporary music have stronger language. Only shows I guess just how uptight and narrow-minded a large number of people are.

This is a very enjoyable and quick read and a book I would highly recommend. It is in fact I think a must-read novel for every literate person. Be sure to read or possibly re-read it.

A First Novel: How It All Started

I recently decided to write my first piece of fiction. Correction: My first piece of fiction was attempting to be straight until I turned 30. How long ago was that you might ask? I’ll deflect on that and simply say that I now have grandchildren so I think you get the picture that it was a while ago. I could write endlessly on that subject but that’s not what this post is about.

No, what I want to meander about is my decision to pursue a desire I’ve had since my sophomore year of college, writing a book or more specifically a novel. What prompted this late in life venture? Actually it all came about as a result of a dream I had 2 days before Thanksgiving. I awoke at 2 in the morning from a dream like none I ever had before. I don’t know about other people’s minds but when I dream it always involves someone I know – friends, family, living and dead, that sort of thing OR celebrities of some sort – actors, TV personalities, politicians, etc. Well this particular fantasy involved no one like that at all but rather several purely imaginary characters. It was a truly fascinating dream and when I awoke my first thought was “Wow what was that all about?” quickly followed by “I feel like I’ve just been watching a movie.”  I forced myself to stay awake for about half an hour, trying to recall as much detail as possible, randomly assigning names to the individuals who had just invaded my mind to help me recollect as much as I could when I got up 5 hours later.

When I did get up the next morning, after my usual AM ritual  (2 plus cups of coffee, watching the morning news to see what had happened while I was slumbering) I then went to my computer to try to put into words what I could remember from my odd but fascinating nighttime journey. Initially I had no intention of anything more than simply recording for myself the details of my fantasy and then bingo – the light bulb went on. I thought “Hell Ed how about doing what your college English professor told you so long ago you should do, explore and utilize your writing talent? Somehow you could never quite find the time to do it. Isn’t it about time to take the plunge?”

Thus began the remarkable journey that I am now 3 months into. In addition to writing my novel (which after all is my primary goal) I plan to post more info both here and on my website http://www.EdHartnett.com from time to time about how the process is going. This is a journey I eagerly embrace and I cannot wait until I have a finished manuscript. For now though it’s time to say Sayonara.