From Grief to Adventure: Four ’til Late
In October 2007, I lost my uncle. Chuck was more like a cousin or a big brother to me, born only 5 years before me. He died young, and I’m older than he ever was now. He used to say we were relatives by birth, but friends by choice. He’s who loaned me stacks of science fiction and fantasy, introduced me to new authors regularly, and was responsible for my education in Blues and Classic Rock, road trips, and booze.
When Chuck died, I had a mass of grief I didn’t know what to do with, at first. I wrote on Livejournal about him. I toasted his memory with Irish whiskey. I told stories and made fart jokes like he always did.
But Chuck wrote as a hobby his whole life. I hadn’t dedicated myself to it like he had. It was his passion, though he really only showed his work in critique groups and workshops. He never published anything, and it was all missing when he died.
I thought that was one of the saddest things about his passing. He left nothing of that passion of his behind. So I decided I’d write a novel in his honor.
It had to have a road trip in it, because that was his kind of real life adventure, hitting the road to go exploring, without much of a plan beyond an ultimate destination.
Being me, my book couldn’t be just any road trip. It had to have a science fiction or fantasy element to it. I’d been hunting ghosts with my wife Amy and the Indiana Ghost Trackers for years at the time, so I thought I’d make the main character a ghost hunter. Books were what Chuck and I shared, so there had to be a fictional book in there somewhere, so Brett the ghost hunter had his massive paranormal reference called Ghosts. Chuck teased me about ghost hunting, so the character I based on him was the skeptic of the book, even in the face of astounding, unbelievable events.
Oh, and since he adored Hunter S. Thompson, I gave that character “Gonzo” as a nickname.
Since I could think of no better place to find ghosts, I sent these two, along with friends, on a haunted road trip through Memphis and on to New Orleans. Those places also provided the soundtrack, the beat of the Blues blending with the sound of the engine and the tires on the road.
One of the best presents Chuck ever got me was a CD set of the complete works of Robert Johnson. I played those songs over and over as I wrote, and memories of real road trips floated up and fueled the story as it hummed along. One song, “From Four Until Late” kept jumping out at me. I had four main characters in the story, and the double meaning of “late” wasn’t lost on me, they drove late into the night and faced death along the way. So, the title of the book became Four ’til Late, and the others in the Road Ghost trilogy (to be released by Seventh Star Press later this year) also took their names from Robert Johnson lyrics. Sinking Down came from “Crossroad Blues”, and “Me and the Devil” was from, well, “Me and the Devil Blues”.
So I took grief and turned it into something positive: a novel dedicated to the memory of Chuck, the music we shared, road trip excitement, and even some “spirits” of the non-paranormal variety. I wrote it for Chuck, and for myself, and writing in his honor has ignited my own passion for writing, a passing of the torch. I hope you join in the adventure and have a good time along the way.
Hey, could you chip in a little for gas? The van’s a bit of a gas guzzler.