High Desert Rats: Where I'm Coming From

The sun rose this morning, and that means I have to go on regardless of who ends up in the white house, so I am still releasing a book this Friday.

The new novel in Battle Rattle and Other Stories is called High Desert Rats, and I have a few things to say about it; it's important to me that people know what they're getting into when they open up the book. 

In High Desert Rats Sean (the narrator) is in love with Derrick (the Derrick from Battle Rattle), but they live in a community in the year 2000 (Conan O'Brien anyone?), and people were not as free to be open about their sexuality as it seems they are now. These boys live in a world where there are not a lot of opportunities for work without a college education, and, as people ought to see clearly by now, not everyone wants to or should go to college (and when there is not enough work for those who can't go to college or choose not to....) These boys don't go to college, and like their fathers, this leaves them with few options. Sean wires airplanes for fourteen hours a day, and Liam works at a newspaper because his mother was able to get him a job there. Derrick moved out to the desert, away from a dying town in West Virginia, because Sean told him there was work for Derrick in California. There is no work for Derrick, though, and this is what makes Derrick want to join the Coast Guard despite swearing he would never join the military.

Here is a picture of my mom and I at the airport before I moved to California. I had hope then. I have hope now. I ended up coming home, and the joining the USAF, and even though it wasn't what I wanted, my life has been better because I had to do something difficult.

Here is a picture of my mom and I at the airport before I moved to California. I had hope then. I have hope now. I ended up coming home, and the joining the USAF, and even though it wasn't what I wanted, my life has been better because I had to do something difficult.

This is similar to my own life in a lot of ways. It's fiction, of course, so there are elements that are changed in order to make the story better. But I escaped what would've been a dead-end for me by joining the USAF in 2000, and I did leave the Mojave Desert and nearly join the Coast Guard (and flip off Ben Stiller in the parking garage by Studio City Yogurt: at least I thought it was Ben Stiller; I'll never know for sure.) And sixteen years later, the book I wrote that is based on my experiences during the summer of 2000 in California is being published alongside a couple other books that I've been lucky enough to share with the world already. 

I felt weird the first time I sat down in a graduate classroom, and although a lot of my friends and professors were welcoming and made me feel like I belonged in those classrooms as much as third generation academics did, there were still moments that infuriated me. Like when a student said that a mechanic in a story was "too smart to be a mechanic", or when someone made a joke about how all republicans are stupid (some of my family members are republican and even though I often disagree with them, they are not stupid people), or when someone acted like I was an asshole because I didn't understand something I'd never encountered before (i.e., that whole making people feel like idiots because of their ignorance rather than taking the time to help them understand something; if you don't give a person a chance to understand where you're coming from or just straight up dismiss them because they don't know something you know, then you are part of the problem too).

What I've come to understand during my vacation in the world of academia, is that the people and the places I "escaped" are right where I left them. And some of those people I left behind have been hurting for a long time. I haven't been hurting the way they have because I was able to get out and do something that I was good at, and I feel blessed that I had that chance. Not everyone gets out, and not everyone wants to leave; that doesn't make them stupid. 

High Desert Rats, the novel that's included in Battle Rattle and Other Stories is about people like that, people who are trying to survive the best way they know how. Working class white kids, humans capable of good and bad, who are playing by the rules of the world they were born into. And they are powerless to change the rules on their own, just like the rest of us. 

Battle Rattle and Other Stories will be available to order on Friday. Thanks to all of you who've contacted me about signed copies. I'm looking forward to getting them out to you.

The sun's out here, the sky is blue, and when Shannon wakes up, we're going to the zoo. It'll be "real" winter before long, and who knows how long it'll be before going outside will seem like a good idea again.