When I was finding my writing voice back in high school, my teacher Ms. Wagner told us that if you’re ever stuck, just write what you know. That may sound stupid, trivial, and a little elementary, but I’ve found it very helpful.
In the two years I wrote On The Border, I used this on multiple occasions. From the character of Jason being my old manager Jason to stopping in places like Michigan and Washington DC, not only do you get a fun tour out of it, but you get glimpses of things that are important to me.
One pair of characters near the end of the novel–you know them as Joe and El–are actually based on my great aunt and uncle, who are two of my favorite relatives (sorry other relatives).
Why did I use them as characters? Because they fit exactly what I needed, and honestly? Their characters give a breath of fresh air to all the other side characters in the story. When my mom finished reading my book, she came to me and said, “The way you described them both… it’s perfect.” Even changing their names (slightly), she knew exactly who they were.
Joe and El aren’t necessarily characters so much as they are fictional manifestations of my great aunt and uncle. And if you’ve read OTB, you may or may not have wished you could meet the pair in real life.
Unfortunately, for the past eight years or so, the real life Joe (known to the real world as Wish) has battled health issues and come out of everything with his smart ass attitude still in check. Much like life, however, it caught up to him in the end, and he passed away early Tuesday morning. Sad, yes, but when he was put on hospice they gave him two weeks to two months to live.
That was back in June.
Friends and relatives had so many extra months with Wish. Heck, my brothers and I drove back there two weeks after the diagnosis to see him one last time and unless you knew what was going on, you would have had no idea he was sick at all.
So here are some thoughts, and a little background information on one of my favorite parts of On The Border in the wake of Wish’s passing…
Have you ever had the overwhelming feeling of the blues? Sadness, melancholy, whatever you want to call it. It’s that feeling when your entire chest aches. As if your lungs and heart are being compressed together in a scalding hot vice that’s constantly, slowly constricting. Because of it, your mind cannot focus. You jump at every noise, every thought. You take a deep breath, as deep as you can, and the pain dissipates for but a brief moment; it feels like you haven’t been breathing properly until that point.
I had this feeling when the man I came to know as Robert Crum placed the barrel of his gun against the back of my neck in that coffee house bathroom. I knew it was all over in that singular moment. And I knew there was nothing I could do.
These are words I just now wrote for the sequel to On The Border, temporarily titled After You. In case you didn’t know, I write to work through emotional struggles, big and small. The above passage describes exactly how I’m feeling today…minus the whole gun against the back of my neck part.
Yesterday was my Caribou Coffee‘s last day of existence. I knew I would feel sad, but I did not think this would happen. It’s one of those thoughts of, “How many more things have to change in my life?!” because the past two and a half years have been ridiculous. That’s not fair to ask. Life is constantly changing.
The four hour shift was about what I expected it to be. When I walked in, Sam was cleaning over by the coffee scale and Alex and Miriah worked the counter; Seth was in back working on paperwork and inventorying everything that was left. He handed me a list of things to do:
- Deck scrub built-up areas
- High dust—thorough, but not too thorough
- Assist Sam and Noelle
Last week, I put up two posters at my Caribou advertising my book signing. While not many people paid attention to it that first shift I worked, this past weekend was a completely different story.
So many regular customers asked about it. People I had never seen before asked what it was about. A handful of people asked if I could set a copy to the side because they won’t be able to make it on September 21. Most people congratulated me on accomplishing something at such a young age.
My particular Caribou Coffee closes eight days later on September 29, converting into Peet’s Coffee and Tea. While I haven’t been there since the beginning of the Caribou timeline, I’ve been through four different regimes of managers/workers. I’ve grown up at the store, and it seems only fitting that something like this happens at a place like that so close to its end and the start of something new.
I feel like I’m never appreciative enough of the love and support from those around me. And sometimes it’s hard when it’s a regular customer who only really knows me by my silly trivia questions or the songs of the day on my name tag. Their quips of congrats and general questions about my book are some of the most heartening things to hear for an aspiring author.
It doesn’t take much to get discouraged in the self-publishing world. Before I put up the posters, I had stopped checking my CreateSpace numbers for how many books I had sold through Amazon because they barely ever moved. I was giving away more books than I was selling. But I checked my numbers after my shift on Saturday, and I was surprised at how quickly they jumped.
I have orchestrated this whole thing on my own, and it doesn’t feel like a big deal to me until those customers tell me how excited I should be. And that’s what keeps me going.
I’m excited for next Saturday. I’m excited to see who shows up. I’m excited to see my support system at Caribou come to life. And I’m excited to see how many people take an interest in my book. It has been my baby for well over two years and now that it’s out for the public to consume, I’m ready to indulge everyone and hope that they don’t hate it outright.
And if anyone has any ideas as to what I should be doing at this (aside from signing books), please leave a comment! Suggestions are much appreciated!
It’s finally here!
That’s right – I’m having a book signing! It’s at Caribou Coffee in Rochester Hills, Michigan! I have been told that yes, we will still be Caribou at that point and not to fear!
In case you don’t know, this particular Caribou Coffee has been my home since April 2007, so it’s only natural that my first ever book signing is someplace that has watched me grow and mature. I’m honored that the manager is completely for this and super excited to do something like this.
So if you live in the area or really want to get a book signed by me, mark September 21 on your calendar! And if you need to buy a book beforehand, you can find them right HERE.
(And if you think the poster is awesome, you should follow Josh on Twitter: @JHowardDesign)
Ladies and gentlemen, you only have three days left to enter the free book giveaway on Goodreads! I’m giving away ten free copies of On The Border. The giveaway ends on August 31.
Don’t be like Homer Simpson when Mr. T is at the mall: “The entire day, I kept saying, “I’ll go a little later, I’ll go a little later…” And when I got there, they told me he just left. And when I asked the mall guy if he’ll ever come back again, he said he didn’t know. Well, I’m never going to let something like that happen again!”
Enter now before it’s too late!
Welcome to the second edition of “Musical Inspiration” posts for On The Border! Now that the book is out there and now that some of you may have picked it up and read it or started to read it, music posts make a little more sense!
The playlist on my iPod for On The Border is well over fifty songs, and it keeps growing. Sometimes it just hits me when I listen to a song. So without further ado…
The Eagles – “On The Border”
If you didn’t notice, the title of this song and the title of my book are the same. “On The Border” is also on my “Favorite Songs” playlist, and the lyrics just always reminded me of somebody on the run from the law, or being unfairly treated by the law while they’re just trying to do their own thing.
JD McPherson – “Signs and Signifiers”
Truth be told, I am madly in love with JD McPherson’s music. I stumbled upon him through CD Baby when their monthly newsletter said he sounds like James Brown. He sounds like he’s straight out of the 1950s (try the song “Scratching Circles”), and there is only one song on his album Signs & Signifiers that I sort of don’t like (hint: it’s “A Gentle Awakening”). Heck, I actually didn’t like the above song very much for a while, but it grew on me.
Fangirling aside, this is one of the slower songs on his album, and the lyrics just fit Cassidy’s predicament:
“I’ve got signs and signifiers, gossipers and liars
Twist me every way they want to go
What looks like a raging fire are your dreams and desires
Ending up like ashes on the ground.”
Gregg Allman – “Just Another Rider”
This song was actually the foundation for the sequel I wrote during last year’s National Novel Writing Month. But I hate how that turned out, and the lyrics fit for OTB anyway, so I added it to both playlists (oh yes, there’s a playlist for the terrible sequel that I will seriously edit before even considering putting it out there).
Eric Clapton & JJ Cale – “Missing Person”
Okay, so this one may work a little better for Jason’s side of the story, but since it’s about Cassidy, it works. Trust me, in the two months Cassidy and Jason are apart, Jason is trying incessantly to find Cassidy again, and that’s all I’m going to say about it.
“She up and she left/Now she’s gone/She didn’t even give me a clue/Didn’t write me no notes/Send me no letters/It’s true/She is a missing person/where are you?”
Fun. – “Some Nights”
This is the most recent addition to the playlist, and every time I listen to this song, I love it just a little bit more. It’s definitely the newest song, too. I mean, just look at the artists in this post and the others… you can tell I’m living in the past.
Anyway, I like the lyrics in “Some Nights” because they feel like they describe someone who doesn’t quite know where to go or what to do with their life despite how hard they’re trying.
Stay tuned for another edition of “Musical Inspiration!” My life revolves around music, hockey, and The Simpsons, so it’s only natural that music has a very profound effect on my writing.
Who doesn’t like free stuff?
That’s one thing that always got to me when we used to do a lot of free drink samples at Caribou Coffee. When someone came up and ordered their drink and we offered them a free sample of something else on top of what they ordered, seventy percent of the time, they turned it down.
Who doesn’t take advantage of free samples?!
With that being said, when it comes to books, the price of them can add up. Just ask me–I have a serious problem when I go into a bookstore. I go in for one book and end up spending $50 or more. It just…happens. I don’t know what goes on, but I leave with more than what I
So why not take advantage of a free book giveaway? If you have a Goodreads account, all you have to do is take thirty seconds out of your day to enter your name and address and wait until the giveaway ends on August 31.