Hi peeps, we have debut author Jeff McKown popping in today with his debut release Solid Ground, we have a interesting guest post, a great excerpt and a brilliant giveaway, so check out the post and click that giveaway link! <3 ~Pixie~
As Conor McLeish’s fortieth birthday approaches, the life he’s always dreamed of has finally taken shape. He has a steady day job, a debut novel, and Will, his Buddhist boyfriend of nearly a decade. He should be happy. The trouble is, Conor wouldn’t know happy if it smiled, winked, and offered to buy him a drink. With a hard-earned penchant for self-sabotage and an unfortunate Jameson habit, Conor frequently finds a way to disappoint himself and those he loves.
Solid Ground is a story of personal evolution—how we are each sculpted by the past, carved out of childhood, shaped and molded by what we’ve done and by what’s been done to us. For better or worse, who we are is the unavoidable sum of it all. But how we are, how we choose to love, and whether we stand alone in the end, that—at least in part—is up to us.
Write Where You Are
I am an extrovert. As such, I have traditionally done my best writing in places like airport bars and coffee shops, where the opportunity for human contact is high, but the expectation is low. I wrote the first draft of my novel, Solid Ground, in these bustling environments, but in the fall of 2012, my designated barstool in my neighborhood Starbucks let me down. I had somehow become easily distracted and unfocused, and I was bogged down in the second draft of the manuscript. I shared my frustration about the slow pace of my progress with my friend and writing mentor, Jeff, who recommended I take a sabbatical. Jeff has seldom steered me wrong, so I immediately began researching reasonably priced options for a writing getaway.
Now, as I said, I’m an extrovert. When I talk with others, both strangers and friends, I feel invigorated and alive. I like to engage and find out what everyone else is thinking. Did you like the movie? How’s that dark beer? What’re you in for? The subject matter is less critical to me than the opportunity for interaction, which is the primary reason spending a month alone and “unplugged” in a secluded cabin in the northern California redwoods scared the hell out of me.
For four weeks I lived in a remote wooded area on the outskirts of Arcata. I had no phone, no television, and no Internet. I spent every day alone. I walked the majestic forests, reflected on life, and to my delight, I edited three hundred pages of my first draft. (I also watched the entire Showtime serial killer series Dexter on my laptop, which in retrospect was possibly not the right choice for isolated cabin viewing.) Seriously though, I was spiritually and creatively rejuvenated by my time in Arcata. And when my month was up, I packed my manuscript, said a fond goodbye to the family I’d rented the cabin from, and I returned home. Home…where the same distractions I’d faced before still waited to drag me away from my story. Every. Single. Day.
I had forged some positive writing habits during my sabbatical and I molded them into regular life as much as possible, but my retreat hadn’t provided me with a silver bullet to slay the twin demons of procrastination and diversion. I set about my daily routines, and I returned to writing at Starbucks and at the desk in the spare bedroom of our condo. Over time, I completed the second draft, and eventually, I finished a third draft and a fourth too. A myriad of life distractions arose at each step of the way and I fought them, as I still do. Because I want to be a writer.
I wouldn’t trade my cabin experience for anything (and I’d go back in a heartbeat), but life isn’t like that month in Arcata. Most of us don’t have uninterrupted hours each day to write and edit, and most of us write at kitchen tables that are nowhere near the redwoods. I’ve discovered that, for me, everyday writing life is everyday life—with a job, a spouse, and enough tennis and whiskey to distract me for a lifetime. But if writing books (and finishing them) is important to me, then I can’t wait for the perfect creative circumstances to arise. Like every other writer, I have to carve out writing time and then discipline myself to use it. Arcata was a remarkable experience of inspiration and growth. Ultimately though, to finish my novel and have it published, I returned home and committed to the real work of writing in the only setting that matters—butt in chair, hands on keyboard.
Solid Ground, Jeff McKown © 2017, All Rights Reserved
I was never worth much. Growing up, I wasn’t particularly clever or funny or handsome. I didn’t sing like an angel or say the darnedest things, and I was never the adorable kid in the tiny plaid vest and bow tie. I played Little League for a while, but I was mostly tucked away in right field, which in retrospect didn’t matter much since no one was there to watch me. My mother was too busy drying out my father to have time for shit like that.
Don’t misunderstand, I wasn’t a bad kid. I didn’t light fires or torture cats. I just wasn’t a kid anyone fought for. If it weren’t for my grandmother, I might never have known there was anything decent in me. June was my one true believer, the only one who waved my flag, tattered piece of shit that it was. She was busy with her own life—sipping whiskey at blackjack tables and flirting with strangers—but she found time to pay attention to me, which in the end is all a kid really wants.
Some people learn from their childhood bullshit. They overcome nearly insurmountable obstacles and get invited to appear on Oprah, where they shine like beacons for the rest of the less fortunate. Others just grow up and make one awful mistake after another. I’ve always been somewhere in the middle, half fuck-up and half hidden-heart-of-gold, the kind of guy you love in spite of the horrible shit he’s done.
I heard Will through the screech of grinding metal parts and the clatter of a thousand porcelain dinner plates crashing to the floor. “You have to let it go, Conor.”
“I can’t.” I glanced down at my phone.
“You can, but you won’t.”
“Who even taught her to text?” I took one hand off the wheel and mashed my reply into the small, flat keyboard.
“Pay attention to the road.”
“I’m being careful.”
“Jerking the steering wheel back after you swerve out of your lane isn’t being careful.”
“I’m using the little bumps in the road the way you’re supposed to—to make corrections.”
He shook his head and sighed. “If you have to keep texting, let me drive.”
“Calm down. It’s bumfuck I-10 on a Saturday morning.” I checked the rearview mirror and turned my attention to an incoming text.
“Bitch,” I whispered as I pounded another reply into the phone.
“Nice. She did give birth to you.”
“It’s not my mom. It’s Aunt Doris.” The phone beeped again and my eyes darted back to the screen.
He rested his hand on my thigh. “Try not to get so worked up. It’s not good for your heart.” I was barely middle-aged, but Will was ten years younger than me. It was a difference he liked to play up.
I smiled and rubbed the top of his hand. “You make me feel lucky.”
“Show your gratitude by keeping me alive all the way to your mom’s house.” His voice was soft and earnest, as though by not sending him to his death in a fiery crash I was doing him a solid.
“Is it too late to turn around?”
“Just keep going.”
Driving across Florida isn’t all palm trees and pink flamingos. There’s plenty of that shit down south, but up north there’s plenty of rural nothing. My dad calls this lonely stretch of the Florida panhandle the “Eglin Desert.” Other than the desert’s namesake air force base, there’s just mile after mile of pine tree-lined interstate, and a light sprinkling of highway exits, each of which leads nowhere and offers little more than a depressing, albeit useful, combination Exxon-Burger King-convenience store.
I looked at Will, seeking his permission to check the phone. Two raised eyebrows implored me to stay focused on the road.
I checked the rearview mirror again, turned up the radio, adjusted the air conditioning vents, and then finally snatched at the cell phone in the console, knocking it to the floorboard in the process.
“Fuck.” I fished around blindly on the floor mat.
“Let it go.”
“Not a strength for me.” I hunched low in the driver’s seat, keeping one hand on the wheel as my other hand traced methodical rows across the faux carpet beneath me.
“Jesus Christ!” He thrust his hands onto the dashboard as we veered center and a twenty-ton Peterbilt rocketed toward us. I jammed the brakes and jerked the wheel, steering us out of the overgrown median and back into our lane. A rush of blood raced to my temples, blurring the outside world.
I took a long slow breath and eased the car to the shoulder. “Fine. You drive.”
Jeff McKown writes fiction. In his work, he is especially fond of exploring tragic flaws, unfortunate circumstances, and the small moments that matter. In life, he obsesses over tennis, politics, and whiskey, not necessarily in that order. He endeavors to be a better Buddhist — which hasn’t always worked out that well. He lives near Monterey, CA with his partner Paul and their best friend, Kyle. Solid Ground is his first novel.