With great pleasure, I’m happy to announce that next year on September 10, 2019, The Story Plant will publish my new novel WHEN I GOT OUT.
Almost five years to the day after the publication of WHAT IT WAS LIKE, my new novel continues the complicated, dangerous journey of the notorious “Ivy League Killer.” The teenage narrator of WHAT IT WAS LIKE gets out of prison after forty years, hungry for redemption and payback, and enters a world as unprepared for him as he is for it.
I’ve never worked as hard in my life as I’ve worked on WHEN I GOT OUT (and I still have time: my copy editor should give me lots of help … and I’m already finding some things.) To paraphrase Paul Valery, “A work of art is never finished, only abandoned.” But people liked WHAT IT WAS LIKE and I have a genuine opportunity to make something good, even better.
I wrote WHAT IT WAS LIKE without ever thinking about a sequel, but after I was finished with that story of teenage tragedy, I saw that there was another story to tell, a story of personal redemption that would also let me consider contemporary America. After forty years in prison, my “hero” gets out in 2010 – a stranger in a strange land – and has to cope with a new, more difficult America than he has ever known: digital America, stressed America, angry America.
All he wants is a normal, anonymous life, but somehow a normal, anonymous life eludes him. (And, frankly, “normal” and “anonymous” wouldn’t make for a very exciting book, and I think WHEN I GOT OUT is an exciting book.)
One thing that energized me about writing WHEN I GOT OUT was to make it logically follow WHAT IT WAS LIKE, while writing it as a completely different, stand-alone book. I had a lot of difficult fun, creating a new novel that would stand on its own, yet could complement and “complete” and even correct WHAT IT WAS LIKE.
Setting up the contrasts and the similarities was hard work that, after a while, came easily. WHAT IT WAS LIKE is a young-man-on-the-make’s book, WHEN I GOT OUT is about a difficult, damaged man, trying to remake—and redeem—his life. WHAT IT WAS LIKE was a Long Island book; WHEN I GOT OUT is a Westchester book. WHAT IT WAS LIKE was all about the Sixties; WHEN I GOT OUT is about today. Both have the same tunnel-vision first person. Both have the same structure: good times, then bad times, then something really bad happens and there are serious consequences. Both novels are “documents,” addressed to legal authorities. And both novels are ultimately about love.
What mainly concerned me was telling a good story, and keeping the reader entertained. “So what happens next?” Telling a steadily unfolding, roller-coaster of a story while honoring a what-it-was-like close observation of inner reality is my goal.
I have high hopes for WHEN I GOT OUT when it is published next year, but the writing of it alone has been reward enough. As the Chinese proverb says, “The journey is the reward.”
With all horrible things happening in our country, but with the good things, too, WHEN I GOT OUT is my contribution to the discussion, in the guise of a compelling, exciting, satisfying human story.
I’ll have a lot more to say about this five-year project during the next year.
But September 10, 2019, is the day.
Onward and upward.
A little about Paul Valery -- I went through a huge Valery period. Any resemblance is purely accidental.
And as Alejando Escovedo sings, “My hands are turning numb/But I’ve still got to strum/My velvet guitar.”
Alejandro Escovedo, Velvet Guitar, Continental Club, November 25, 2011