I don’t know if I should do this.
The heart of the matter is that I asked myself the above title question because I spent four years writing and rewriting a novel, and pieces of its story are so close to me—so personal—that I’m terrified to share them with the world; I’m terrified to share them with you. I’m afraid you’ll think I’m the main character, or you’ll think his actions are mine, or you’ll dislike me after reading certain passages. And if you do see me in these pages, then I’m frightened that you’ll think I’m the same person I was when I started writing the book’s first words four years ago, at age 27, in the throes of my solipsistic, spiraling, late twenties.
But instead of try to persuade you to purchase this book, I’m tempted to convince you not to. I’m tempted to dissuade you from reading even a single chapter. Not because I’m unhappy with the final product—hell, I’ve never been happier with anything I’ve ever written—but because I’m afraid this book crosses a certain line, and keeps going, and your subconscious might drag your perception of me over that line as each scene advances.
In truth, I am not the same man I was four years ago when I started writing this book. Not even close. And I’m not Jody Grafton, the novel’s broken and bruised main character. (Jody is far cooler and far more disturbed than I’ll ever be.) I have, however, felt all the emotions in this book, felt them down to my bone marrow. But I think you have, too. Sadness, grief, overwhelm, depression, anxiety, apathy, hope, joy, contentment—these are emotions we’ve all shared. I couldn’t've written this book had I not experienced these emotions. As a Decade Fades was written during the most trying period of my life, a period in which my mother died, my six-year marriage ended, my new relationships didn’t work out so well, my career no longer gave me satisfaction or purpose, and in many ways my life felt overwhelmingly meaningless. Jody Grafton experiences many of these events in his life, which gave me an outlet to exorcise my own demons. But then again, in many ways, I am Jody Grafton. And but so are you. We are human beings, mixed bags of thoughts and emotions and actions, righteous liars and honest cheats, sinners and saints, walking contradictions, both the darkness and the light. Ergo, this book is just as much about you as it is about me.
Are you sure you want to do this? I had to ask myself this question again today, because, truth be told, publishing this book might be a bad decision. It might be a mistake for me to put this much of myself—all my emotions—out in the open, naked and exposed, objects at which the public can point and sneer. Vladimir Nabokov said that a writer writes a novel to “get rid of that part of himself.” Throughout the last four years, that is what I’ve attempted: to rid myself of my old self—my former self, the parts of me that are no longer parts of Me.
Are you sure you want to do this? is also the first question I pose to readers who pick up the book for the first time. There it is, that question, muscular and unflinching on the blank page, staring you in the face as soon as you begin reading. It is not even the first line of the book; it takes place before the first line, a pseudo warning label of what’s ahead.
What’s It About?
While I was working on As a Decade Fades, people often asked, “What is your novel about?” I would joke, “It’s about 300 pages.” But in reality, I never had a good answer. Instead, I would contort my facial features and struggle to explain the novel’s narrative, its characters, or even its abstract ideas, like finding hope through crippling despair or attempting to get past one’s past. And while these descriptions are valid parts of the book, they are not what it’s about.
Once the book was finished, I set it aside for a few months and gave it an appropriate amount of time to cool off, time to breathe. When I returned to the manuscript this summer, I knew almost immediately what it was about: loneliness and bereavement. More specifically, it’s about the emotions that surround the loneliness of loss—loss of direction, loss of identity, loss of purpose, loss of passion, loss of home, loss of career, loss of love, loss of loved ones, loss of life, loss of self.
There is a line that appears eight times in this book: “People don’t know how to love the ones they love until they disappear from their lives.” Each time this line appears, the context is different. Ultimately, this is what As a Decade Fades is about: finding ways to deal with loss—to escape the past—and go on living.
The Writing Process
As a Decade Fades went through nearly 30 drafts and took on many different forms in the process. While the final version is a mere 283 pages, the book was roughly 950 pages a year ago at its bloated zenith. It was a bleak time when I peered down at that near-1000-page stack and realized that an ending wasn’t in sight. I knew that to find a meaningful ending, I would have to get rid of the excess.
Condensing the story down to its essence required me to jettison some 600+ pages, which turned out to be a gruesome, heartbreaking process. If you had 10 children, which 6 would you chuck overboard to spare the remaining 4? (Wait, don’t answer that.) But those murdered pages weren’t for naught. They served as an important part of the process; they helped form the now final novel. Without the complexities of an almost 1000-page monstrosity, I wouldn’t’ve had the stone from which I chiseled the final sculpture. I couldn’t’ve found the beauty without the banality.
It’s pretty clear that I haven’t worked harder on anything in my life. I spent many 3–12 hour days laboring on the prose contained on these pages. The final draft was closely scrutinized by more than a dozen proofreaders and two professional editors. And at the end of the day, I can look myself in the mirror and know that I could not have written a better book than the novel I’m publishing today.
It’s worth noting that As a Decade Fades is not a novel in the traditional sense. It is, more or less, a fragmented narrative of 24 stories—some short, some long—segmented over three distinct sections. This feat was complicated to maneuver around, but I found it necessary to structure the book this way for a myriad of reasons that are hard to describe (viz., if I could explain those reasons here, I probably would not’ve had to structure the book this way), but against my best judgment, I’ll do my best to explain…
1) Although I consider myself a fairly skilled fiction writer (I’ve written fiction appreciably longer than my well-known nonfiction), I do not think of myself as a natural novelist. Our post-MTV world is no longer a novelist’s world. The world doesn’t occur to me as a linear narrative; it’s fragmented and broken, and it’s up to us to put together the pieces of this flash-cut world as we see fit. Similarly, this book is not organized as a tidy linear narrative. It is fractured and parts of its plot are involuted and recursive and self-referential. Certain elements and plots are resolved in the traditional sense, while others are left without a neat little bow, and others still are left open to interpretation. The closer you read, the more questions you may have. But such is life.
2) Each of the book’s 24 stories functions on its own. Thus, any one story can be read as a standalone piece, and a particular meaning or lesson gleaned from that single story. When combined, however, these stories work together to form a larger narrative, relating complex concepts that likely aren’t apparent when the stories are read individually.
3) The way we read—particularly the way we read novels—is changing, and this book is my attempt to participate in that transformation. As a Decade Fades is a reasonably difficult book; it is challenging, but it also has a more significant payoff than, say, a blog or a self-help book or even narrative nonfiction. I wrote this book with this in mind: I want you to do some work, and in exchange for said work, there is a greater payoff.
4) You may have already read 6 of the 24 stories. Updated versions of 4 of the stories in my short story collection, Falling While Sitting Down, as well as 2 parts from of my novella, Days After the Crash, are in this book, tucked between their 18 counterparts. As noted in #2 above, these 6 stories will most assuredly shoulder the weight of a different context in the novel.
5) As a Decade Fades is somewhat (dare I say) avant-garde literature (I refuse to use the word postmodern, not because I dislike the term but because I don’t think anyone actually knows what it means). Its prose contains a certain amount of grammatical prestidigitation, and thus it is not meant to be read like a freshman college assignment. Much of the syntax is meant to take on the brain-voice as you get closer to the consciousness of a particular character (viz., I want to preserve an oralish, tumbling-words, out-loud feel to the work). Hence, you will often find omitted commas, long run-on sentences, extreme use of polysyndeton, passive construction, progressive tenses, unconventional compound contractions (e.g., “wouldn’t’ve,” “I’d’ve,” and “y’all’ren’t”), compound words that aren’t real words (e.g., “livingroom,” “coffeetable,” “bumpersticker”), paragraphs beginning with compound conjunctions (e.g., “And but so”), and other intentional grammatical faux-pas in the text. These devices are used to advance the story in a more meaningful/realistic way—i.e., used for your benefit, not necessarily mine. Stated in plain English, I basically pretty much write how I talk.
6) Because this book is about a musician, and much of it has to do with his writing process, I wanted to structure the book a lot like an album with a bunch of individual tracks (see #2 above).
7) With all that said, ultimately, this book is a novel, albeit a different kind of novel, one that welcomes literary fiction readers as well as people who don’t read fiction at all. It was written in a way in which anyone can read it, tweeze from it their own meanings, and relate to the emotions of its characters. It is an emotion-filled book, and it is my intent, if anything, to connect with readers via these emotions.
Want to know more? You can read the book’s synopsis on Amazon.
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Promo and How You Can Help
For all the aforemetioned terrifying reasons, I’m not going to any great lengths to promote this book. I’m not going to do any initial interviews. I’m not going on another tour right now. And I’m not going to email all my blogger buddies and ask them to review it on their blogs. Instead, I’m going to leave it up to you to get the word out if you enjoy it.
Here’s what you can do to help…
Purchase. I’d be grateful if you’d purchase a copy of As a Decade Fades.
Review. Would you be willing to write a review? If you enjoy this book, the most helpful thing you can do is write a review on Amazon.
Discuss. Want to discuss the book with me and others? Use the hashtag #AADF on Twitter or discuss it in our official Facebook and Google+ threads. I’ll post my favorite lines from the book in those places. Feel free to do the same; I’d love to know your favorite lines.
Share. This is likely the last fiction I’ll publish for a while. I will move on to something new, but it might take me years to craft whatever is on the horizon. Whatever is next, it’s sure to look radically different from this book. I’d appreciate if you’d share this with your friends via email and social media: