By Kevin S. Giles
I often wonder why I didn’t write more as a boy, or if I did, where it all went. My father, forever inclined to purge the attic of anything resembling sentimentality, might have pitched whatever I wrote. Or, maybe, I hardly wrote at all?
Writing seemed painful then. I realize now that was my first lesson about this craft of putting words to innermost thoughts.
In 1965 – the year that my novel Summer of the Black Chevy takes place – owning a personal computer seemed as far-fetched as landing on the moon. My mother had a black Royal typewriter with big round keys that clunked when pushed. Until I was a high school junior I didn’t know how to type anyway, and writing on tablets echoed homework, so I kept stories in my head and went to hang out with friends.
I’ve learned since that hanging out with friends sometimes remains preferable to toiling alone at a keyboard engaged in deeper explorations of myself. That’s the craft of writing. It comes from within, some days more social than others, often mirroring a writer’s mood. The catch is this: yes, writing is lonely, but the writer who lives, talks, listens and observes knows something about what he’s writing.
You get the idea.Take me to Kevin's books: One Woman Against War, Summer of the Black Chevy, Jerry's Riot
When I began writing Summer of the Black Chevy I recalled what I had seen and done as a boy. The book is fiction, but memories are fact, and those recollections come in handy when a writer sitting all alone reaches for a scene, or phrase, or anecdote.
Jack Kerouac is one my favorite authors, so I’ll quote one of his best lines from On The Road, his definitive personal story about the Beat generation:
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
I’m quite sure that I never heard of Jack Kerouac when I was busy being a boy in western Montana in the 1960s. Maybe all the magazines talked about him. I don’t know. I was too busy trying on life for myself.
Kerouac’s book was known as a roman à clef, a novel about real life. Such novels barely disguise the true characters; Sal Paradise in On the Road was Kerouac as everyone knew him and Dean Moriarty was Neal Cassady, another Beat figure.
I can’t say that I’m Paul Morrison, my protagonist in Summer of the Black Chevy. I know only that he somehow resembles me, in the way that a writer identifies with memories from his youth. Certainly Paul’s tribulations weren’t mine, at least not in the literal sense. Ah, metaphors, such powerful instruments.
So my life as a boy was a writer’s life, because I was out doing things, and thus accrued real life as writers should. A writer’s life draws from real life, even in fiction. Write about what you know, our English teachers told us.
Summer of the Black Chevy is all about a drive into the past even if we find the signposts weathered with age. They’re not unreadable, though, when we step out of the car to look closer.
Whether the road we backtrack to our youth looks recognizable depends on how far we dare to travel – and whether we let our imaginations lead the way.
Kevin S. Giles is an American journalist and author whose books have roots in his native western Montana. He published One Woman Against War in October 2016. Two other books take place in his hometown of Deer Lodge: a novel, “Summer of the Black Chevy” (2015) and the nonfiction work, “Jerry’s Riot: The True Story of Montana’s 1959 Prison Disturbance.” (2005)