I was one hundred pages into writing my debut novel in March of 2020 when the keyboard on my laptop broke. The "k" key kept sticking. No problem, I thought, as I rebooted the machine only to face the password prompt field filled entirely with errant k's.
The Apple Store was, of course, closed for the foreseeable future and I was trapped in Virginia helping my mother through the last stages of cancer. The poorly timed misfortunes sound like a concocted plot summary, but unfortunately this post-modern country song of a scenario was my actual life.
To make matters worse, my Mom was binge watching the annual TCM St. Patrick's Day McMovie Marathon (C) at a high enough decibel-level to drown out the constant hum of her oxygen concentrator. Then the grocery shortage panic hit and I went out to the grocery store and bought in bulk the only cut of beef still available: corned beef.
So there we were, eating St. Patrick's Day dinner for a month while the oh-so-sweet chords of "Look to the Rainbow" cranked through the house and my Mom withered before my very eyes.
I got to thinking about the disparity between expectations and reality, especially pertaining to the idea of Hollywood and the dreams it sells and the actuality of existence as lived by those who mainline tinseltown fictions.
The idea for Shillelagh of the Valley came suddenly and the full text executed over the ensuing three months.
It was ripe in my unconsciousness--a bitterly optimistic marathon of yearning that charts the bleakly riotous rise and fall of a dreamer as he summits the film industry only to get sucked down through the drain.
Years of thankless editorial and stringer copywriting paid off in the tactical execution of a narrative strategy built in opposition to tired, old three-act hack pieces. I've said it once and I'll say it again: having specific page demarcations for very specific mood moments removes any spontaneity from fiction narratives so that book/film execs can feel comfortable making critiques. It's becoming a sterile medium. Watch film or read boilerplate novels today and you'd be hard pressed to muster an iota of surprise. You know damn well what's going to happen, because you've been on this ride many times before.
Shillelagh was more than a novel for me, it was an exercise in knee-capping reader expectations to make for a shocking experience. More to the point, like Hunter S. Thompson and Rum Diary, the idea was to create a work that could and should be read at high velocity. Something to be burned through, like a life in LA.
At the end of the day, the idea of "the shooting script for LaLaLand rewritten by Bret Easton Ellis or Day of the Locust, but written by Bruce Wagner" was a profoundly unsexy prospect for publishing industry insiders. So I elected to self-publish if only to retain control, get the work into the world, and feel like I could move forward.
Cover design and layout were a joy to execute when all was said and done. Though I long resisted print on demand production, LuLu was an amazing boon for kicking out a custom book.