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Brian Lockey

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    Professor of English Literature at St. John's University, NY

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  1. Brian C. Lockey DRAINING THE SWAMPS OF BABYLON Upmarket Fiction Comparables: The Odyssey meets ’70’s counterculture and Southern Rock in my 97,000-word upmarket novel, reminiscent of Roddy Doyle (The Commitments), Dana Spiotta (Stone Arabia), and Nick Hornby (High Fidelity; Juliet, Naked). Hook Line: A former Rock ’n’ Roll singer makes an improbable journey home to help his aging father and reconnect with the love of his life—but before he can resurrect his music career, he must revisit the Devil’s crossroads that beset his youth. Pitch: Having grown up amid the chaotic 1970’s Florida music scene, Whitman Whitaker was once a Rock ’n’ Roll singer, whose band Whitman’s Lilacs rivalled Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Now, more than twenty years later, he finds himself a jaded college professor living anonymously in Northern California— divorced and alone, drifting on an ocean of malaise. From out of the blue, the love of his youth, Ticiana “Tish” Tecedeira, convinces him to return to his hometown Gainesville Florida, eventually persuading him to sing a few of his old hits at the music club her family owns. Against all odds, he becomes a YouTube sensation. But in the wake of his sudden internet popularity, rumors of fraternal conflict and secret seduction re-emerge from a past Whitman thought long buried. The mystery of what destroyed the life of Whitman’s best friend and musical partner, the tortured Stephen Crane, still haunts him. Was it Stephen’s morbid obsession with the premature death of his childhood hero Duane Allman? Or the escalating feud between the two frontmen? Or was it all caused by the jealous rage of Whitman himself? In the midst of the chaos and violence that follow, Tish may prove to be Whitman’s only hope of finding redemption. With her help, perhaps Whitman can somehow avert the “crossroads” fate that awaits him. Prose sample: Suited up in his waders and fishing vest, Whitman Whitaker was resting along the southern bank of the Lower Yuba River. His hat was turned down over his face, and the fly rod he had borrowed stood beside him, propped up against a California buckeye. He held the oblong medallion suspended above his face, his fingers wrapped in the chain to which it was attached. When the sunlight struck its surface, it shimmered around the edges like those metallic wind chimes he remembered from the Florida of his youth. From below, he watched the miniature relief of Saint Christopher on its surface swinging back and forth, spinning and dancing in the rays of the sunlight. He closed his eyes, trying to remember the day that he had given it to her. Whitman had no idea where his friend Terrence had puttered off to, and then he heard him stumbling and splashing in the water a few yards downstream. Earlier that morning, the two of them had driven up to a place Terrence knew east of Yuba City, where they had rented a small motor skiff. They had steered up the river, and then they fished the shallows, and now Terrence had sidled over to the riverbend, casting into a deep pool of water on the other side of the river. Whitman was conscious now that Terrence was watching him. “You finished for the day?” Terrence called out to him. “Yeah, I guess I’m finished.” “You lazy bastard, Whitman. It ain’t even noon, and them trout, baby! Them trout is still a-bitin’!” Terrence was ribbing Whitman in typical cartoonish fashion, rendering the Southern drawl he sometimes detected in the cadences of Whitman’s speech. Two days earlier, Terrence had arrived back from a conference at the University of Florida, where he confessed he heard only faint traces of that accent. While he was there, he apparently went poking around the town of Gainesville to see if he could find it. Eventually he made his way to the Swimming Pool, the club where Whitman’s Lilacs had gotten their first big break. That was how he found out that Whitman’s old flame, Tish, was still the manager there. “You think she wore it all that time, huh?” Whitman asked him. “She said it gave her luck. And that she treasured it once. She wanted me to give it back to you. Told me she thought you might be needing it.” Terrence was explaining it all a second time now. And since surveying the sensitive terrain of Whitman’s past engrossed him to no end, he was happy to do so! “She thought it meant we were engaged, I guess,” said Whitman, still holding the medallion suspended before his eyes. “And I guess that’s what I meant when I gave it to her.” “I really think she might be waiting there for you, Whitman,” laughed Terrence. “’Course, given what I know about your past, she might not be the only one.” “She isn’t waiting for me anymore, if she ever was,” said Whitman irritably. “She’s just superstitious. She was always that way.” Bio: Professor of Renaissance Literature at St. John’s University in New York City and the author of Law and Empire in English Renaissance Literature (Cambridge UP 2006) and Early Modern Catholics, Royalists, and Cosmopolitans (Ashgate 2015). His peer-reviewed articles have appeared in Renaissance Quarterly, Journal of the History of Ideas, and English Literary Renaissance, and he has been awarded fellowships from the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Newberry Library, and the University of Notre Dame. He is currently serving as judge of the Bainton Literature Prize, awarded to the best monograph on Renaissance literary history by the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference. Half of this book is set in central Florida, where he grew up listening to the Allman Brothers Band, Tom Petty, and the Outlaws, while the other half is set in Northern California, where he worked for four years.
  2. This is really well-written and a fascinating read, creating that sense of forbidden territory, which drives the reader to keep reading while feeling guilty for doing so. I did wonder about the age of the narrator. But more than that, what was somewhat confusing is that there are so many unnamed characters here, which is obviously a necessity since the protagonist does not know any of them but it does make things a little confusing at times. One suggestion would be to have Chris introduce by name the man who unchains the protagonist at the beginning of this, and then you can use his name. Another suggestion is to have the protagonist name them according to characteristics (before he knows their names). For example, if the man who takes off his chains is bald, you could have the protagonist refer to him with a kind of dark humor as Baldy or since he is fat, as Beer Belly. Before the Protagonist gets David's name, he could refer to him as Blondie. You could make up more creative names depending on the appearance of a particular character. The final thing is that some details are not necessary and would work better being implied. When David gives the protagonist a fork, your reader doesn't need the following sentence to understand what the Protagonist could do with the fork: "I accepted the possible weapon." It's made clear in David's dialogue above that the fork might be made into a possible weapon.
  3. As Pat said, the scene you draw here is vivid and interesting. I wonder if it wouldn't be more effective to have these characters, Fred and Jacky and Ella, converse in dialogue during the first few paragraphs so as to keep your reader "in the scene". They seem like fascinating characters, and even if some of what they say ended up being incoherent to the reader, it might be more effective at conveying what you want to reader than splitting the scene like this. They could either mention the time before, or say something that invokes the time before. And then after said dialogue, you could talk about what it was like in this place before all of this happened.
  4. Glad you enjoyed it! Also, you are correct about Ticiana (regarding Portugal and Florida). Now I do see how it could be confusing, and I do appreciate you pointing out the possible confusion regarding her origins. You make me realize that I need to clarify early on that, like Whitman, Ticiana is a Gainesville FL native, although both her parents are from Portugal (thus Portugal being in a sense "her country, not his.")
  5. No problem. I just wanted to add that I really like haunted feeling of the pitch. This is a wonderful general conception for a novel, with several ghost mysteries going at once. What did Emma do to make herself feel responsible for her husband's death? What does Nantucket have to do with their past? The past ties with the butler? The mysterious past of the disabled writer? As a reader of this, given the way the first chapter ends, I would be primed to receive some information about the significance of Nantucket within her past.
  6. I just noticed something else: Italian men are not typically known as being "phony-acting." Typically, in the Anglo-American world, the stereotype of Italians is either one of cheating or machiavellian or manipulative. In other words, exactly like Nancy, per your description here, which might open some other doors for you. Hope my comments help as well. I really like the entire set-up here. My other question though was who are they waiting for here? Initially, I thought it was both Janie and the mystery man who were both arriving on the same flight, but looking over it again now, I'm not sure if it's just him. So then where is Janie? Maybe just clarify these details. I agree that the airport thing is a little strange. I assume they are at another airport than the Atlanta airport. It would be good to make it clear what city or regional airport they are in.
  7. The writing is really strong here, and the dialogue is also pretty convincing. I have two remarks/ questions: 1. In the contemporary time-period (there is mention of Covid here), when I have not seen a record store in ages, how is an Indie record store managing to make a profit and also employ four employees (Darby, Spacey, Conrad, Mark)? Can't Indie fans get their music over Spotify and the internet like everyone else? I think you'd be better off just making Mark and Conrad two burn-out dudes that loiter around the store. Second, I like Mark and Conrad's dialogue, but it would be even better if it revealed something about Darby's personality or current situation. When she says, "To each their own," wouldn't it be better for one of them to say something sarcastic about the judgment calls that caused her to fail on Wall St? Something like, "And yet we still revere you, O Wise Queen Solomon, for it's precisely that kind of judgment call that made you such a success on Wall Street!" It might not be quite this, but something that ties their dialogue back to the humiliation that she feels from failing among the big wigs. 2. "Twit Coin" does not sound like a stock (i.e. equity). It sounds more like a crypto currency. Crypto stocks usually end with something like "-base," as in "Coinbase." Crypto currencies usually end in "-coin." There are a few places which I think need correction: Top-40 was one sub-genre Spacey would not go. : -->go for? or do? Darby’s ex had terrible taste, but she was rediscovering her own inner music snob. -->Darby had never really minded that her ex had had terrible taste, but now she was rediscovering her own inner music snob.
  8. It's a great idea for a book in general, and it's a great idea to begin the book with the birth. Maybe leave more to the reader's imagination. In the first few sentences, for example, you don't need to describe her "heavily pregnant body" since it becomes clear by the end of the paragraph what state she is in. Leave the reader wondering here and just describe her "heavy body." Also, as the above commenter said, the dialogue seems off at certain places. Too many details are given through the dialogue, when I think they could be better rendered through reported speech. For example, in the following, the reader might be given a somewhat broader context within which to situate the guard's reaction to the afterbirth: Anne became aware that the midwife was trying to explain to the guard about the afterbirth, but he seemed to have no idea what she was trying to tell him. Finally, the midwife directed his attention to what was still happening between her legs, and he seemed to understand. He abruptly left the cell lest he be forced to witness more, shutting and locking the gate behind him. Generally, of course, I prefer dialogue, but at certain moments reported speech seems to work better.
  9. This is an interesting situation for the opening of novel: the clash of the local and familial and provincial on the one hand and the foreign and exotic on the other looks to offer real potential. Especially at the end of this, your reader is really interested to know how the family dealt with the revelation about the "elephant in the room." That said, the very beginning paragraphs are a little confusing and disorienting for the reader. You've got the grandmother narrating, talking about her daughter-in-law and then mentioning someone named Janie (who is not the daughter-in-law but rather the grand-daughter), and as a result it's very hard to keep it all in your head. Plus there is a fourth individual being introduced, the mysterious Italian, and a fifth, the father of Janie and son of the grandmother. And all of these five characters are being introduced at the same time. Perhaps this is not the very opening of the novel, and there is more before this that clarifies this series of relationships? If not, I might begin the novel from Janie's perspective so as to offer the opportunity to provide more context. These characters seem like they know each other well, so perhaps Janie could be imagining the kinds of things her judgmental and hypocritical mother might be saying and her grandmother's perception of them. And along the way you could provide more context. You note that Janie also knows this dark secret about her mother, and is probably, at the back of her mind, reminded about it by her own romantic life, but perhaps she never lets it come to the surface of her consciousness. After all, she is embarrassed for her mother and especially for her father, who has been humiliated. She wants to defend his honor and the honor of the family and most of all, she wants herself to be nothing like her mother. This would allow you to fill in more of the details and introduce and contextualize the entire situation more gradually. Examples: Talking about her mother and grandmother: I could almost hear the conversation between them, with her pretending she doesn't understand why a man would fly across the Atlantic to visit her daughter. It was that shrill voice of hers, that never failed to betray that corrupted soul. "Of all the men to bring home to her parents," she would ask them. And mixed in would be her infernal ignorance: "And not any Italian--not one from say New York or New Jersey. One from Italy itself!" And all along, that traitor's heart of hers that almost led her to...well, it was almost unspeakable what she had done. In any case, I certainly don't care what she thinks. I don't owe her any explanation. Whatever fulminations erupt from that cancerous hole at the front of her face are her business and her business alone. With some relief, my mind turned to grandma. Grandma alone understands. She alone had peered into the darkness that was my mother's heart and lived to tell the tale. Even as Dad had remained willfully blind to it all, she alone saw through the facade. She had grown up during the Depression and knew enough about low-lifes and cheats to spot a grifter from a mile away. Yes, it must have been that hard life she once led that allowed her to see through it all. Then along the way, you can give background about the mother and the father in more detail. "In contrast, my mother was born in a mansion outside of Savannah Georgia."
  10. This is a great situation for a novel: a mystery about the death of an intensely mourned spouse, the implication that Emma feels immense guilt, the friend and relative who is trying to trying to get her to move on. I really like that this is the anniversary of the death so that the explanations of the past come naturally as the scene unfolds. This would be a time for remembering so it makes sense to give some of the background here. I really like the idea that the supernatural will be involved and, in your pitch above, the idea of ghosts are both good motivators for the reader to read on. I also like the opening line of chapter one and the way it connects to the wishing on the star at the end of the chapter. All of these are really positive here, and I think there is enough here for the reader to be motivated to keep reading. But I do think there are some things that might make this scene more effective. The dialogue could be more somber in some places. Three years after such an important death, the feeling of death could be more intense and darker. Important deaths can cause the person who mourns to feel dead and distracted inside or alternatively even to feel the presence of the dead, particularly if they feel responsible as might be the case here: "Sometimes I close my eyes, and it's as if he's sitting there beside me. I keep some of his old shirts in a closet at home, and it's the smell of them that sometimes make me doubt that it ever really happened. And now suddenly I realize how much I hate coming to her apartment because that smell is suddenly all around me. Brother and sister: the same facial expressions, the same blood, the same corporeal fabric. I always found them to be so different, but perhaps all along they were the same in ways that I could never fathom. And now I wished I had never come here." Or "Once we were married, I never visited Jane without him, and now it is his absent presence that haunts me in her apartment. I see him now, sitting there before us on the couch, telling us about how Jane crushed their father's glasses and he was the one who took the blame. How long ago did that happen? Perhaps he has just wandered off to the bathroom or to check the car in the street below, and he will be back before I open my eyes." In other words, she might be more oblivious to what's happening immediately around her in her conversations with Jane, or only notices Jane's antics obliquely, but instead she seems a little too aware of and annoyed by Jane's antics. People are often much more tolerant of the antics of close friends or relatives in the wake of such a disaster, because they now realize what's really important is life itself, no matter how annoying that relative might be at any particular moment. They are just thankful for the company, even if they would never admit it. The idea of allowing oneself to get drunk on such an anniversary also strikes me as a bit too much. Jane might get drunk, even if she doesn't intend to do so, but Emma might remember too much to allow herself to lose control like that. "I almost envied her in her drunken state, but in the weeks and months after he was gone, I had spent too much time losing myself to drunken oblivion to allow myself once again to lose control on the anniversary itself."
  11. The opening chapter, which shows the malaise of the protagonist and his recurring dreams and which introduces his first and only true love, who unfortunately lives on the other side of the continent: The Heart Also Whispers A Rock ’n’ Roll Odyssey Brian C. Lockey Part One: California Chapter 1 It seemed an azure Mediterranean Xanadu, in which he found himself. Above him stretched a rib vaulted ceiling. Around him the windows and walls were decorated with ancient furnishings and azulejos, these latter depicting an infinite and interlocking series of mad cupids and blooming hearts. Through an open window, the ruins of a medieval castle were visible, teetering on a coastal promontory, kissed now and again by the surrounding spray of surf and slow breakers. Once she had brought him to such a place after the band had performed a series of live shows in the U.K. and France. Yes, he was certain now that it was some palace he had once visited near Lisbon Portugal. It was the dream again, for the dreams that Whitman Whitaker could remember well were almost always the same. Or at least the essence of the dream was often the same. This time, he was to conduct the interview at the head of a long ornate table. To his right sat Bob Dylan and to his left was Jose Afonso, who was known in Portugal as the Portuguese Bob Dylan. The interview had not yet begun, and Whitman found himself trying to explain to Dylan that there had existed other Bob Dylans out in the world—poet songwriters, that had exceeded the real Bob Dylan but had had the misfortune of coming of age at the wrong time or in the wrong place. This particular Bob Dylan had had the misfortune of doing so in a tiny insignificant country on the edge of the Iberian Peninsula! “If you knew Portuguese, or if you knew someone who could explain his lyrics and his music to you,” he heard himself saying to Dylan, “you would admit the truth of what I am telling you.” Dylan was smoking a cigarette, which in turn was filling the room with billows of foul-smelling smoke. Holding court in that palace, he seemed more amused than offended by Whitman’s comment. Whitman looked over at Jose Afonso, the diminutive and bespectacled folk singer whose lyrical songs had inspired the Carnation Revolution against the Estado Novo. She had once told him how the Estado Novo was what the Portuguese called the government founded by Antonio de Salazar, the dictator of Portugal who had died in 1968 but whose autocratic regime had lumbered on until 1974. Interesting, his dream-self thought. Salazar had been a lesser known but more effective dictator than Francisco Franco in Spain. Just as Jose Afonso was a better Bob Dylan than the real Bob Dylan, so Salazar had been a better Franco than the real Franco. Which in the dream that he was having was something of a revelation! Suddenly, everything in his dream world had a certain logic to it. For his part, Jose Afonso was also smoking a cigarette but somehow his lungs were generating considerably less exhaust than Dylan’s lungs were emitting. “Does he speak English?” he heard Dylan say from beneath the drifting penumbra of smoke. “He speaks only Portuguese,” Whitman said. “Can you translate something to him?” “I can try.” “Tell him that I’ve been a secret admirer of his music since before I could remember,” Dylan was saying. “Tell him that I think the world of him. Tell him that the meek shall inherit the earth. And that I’m okay with that.” Beyond the wafting billows, Dylan nodded serenely as if the world suddenly made sense. “It’s more complicated to say something like this in Portuguese,” Whitman heard himself say. “But I’ll try.” But when he did try, all he heard was a low gurgling emitting from his throat. He awoke to find the sound to be that of his own snoring registering deep within the recesses of his mind. He had been enduring various incarnations of this particular dream for months. In the dream world, he could sense her presence. He was there in Portugal because she was there. Portugal was her country, not his. Two hours later, Whitman was half-awake and still mulling over all of this, when as if the unconscious could extend itself into the conscious world, he was suddenly hearing her voice on the other end of the telephone. On November 1, 2005, at precisely 9:30 AM Pacific time, Marie Ticiana Tecedeira called him on his home phone. “Happy Birthday!” she said. It was his day off from teaching so he was still in bed. He sat up against the headboard. He could not remember the last time he had heard her voice. Ten years ago, perhaps. The same voice, but a different place along the river. “Do you remember what you always said about turning fifty?” he heard her saying. “I remember.” “About how you weren’t faking it? About how you were one of those who really didn’t want to live to grow old!” Amid the distraction of that familiar song from the ‘60s reverberating discordantly in the background, he nevertheless perceived the apprehension in her voice. Now she was laughing in that overwrought way that was once so familiar. “Do you remember what I asked you?” “I remember,” he said. “You asked me, ‘how old is old?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know. Maybe fifty, maybe sixty…’” “No, you said fifty!” she laughed. “You said fifty! There were no ‘maybes’ in what you said. And here you are! I’ve been waiting a long time for this day, and here you are!” “It’s not pretty,” he said. “Wait till you get there. Wait till you get here.” “But according to you, I’m not old yet,” she said. “I still have six years, Whitman. Six years to die. Six years to grow old.” Later she was telling him about her life since the last time they had spoken. “I’m still working for the Bastard, managing the Swimming Pool,” she said. When he had heard her call her father “the Bastard” the first few times, he had assumed that she hated him, but later he realized that it was only that her father probably really was what they had once called “natural born.” He had visited her grandmother’s house in a small town in central Portugal, where any mention of grandfathers elicited uncomfortable silences among those that understood English. “The Pool’s the Pool,” she added. “It’s hardly ever full now, but we’re still here! Still going strong!” The Swimming Pool was the live music club her father had established in Gainesville Florida in the early 70’s. Her father had called it the Swimming Pool for a number of reasons, not all of which Whitman could remember. “The kids still love the tribute bands. We had the Whitman’s Lilacs tribute band play last week. Can’t remember their name. Whitman’s Leaves or Whitman’s Dreams or something? Anyway, we had a good crowd. You would have liked them. The lead singer is your spitting image.” “My spitting image,” he said, trying to imagine the scene there at the Pool, where it had all begun. “Your spitting image,” she laughed. “If you had shoved him off the stage, and started singing in his place, no-one would have noticed. That’s how much he looks like you.” “I can no longer pretend that I’m a twenty-something. I’m fifty. And soon I’ll be a fifty-something, Tess,” Whitman explained, using the old nickname he had once invented for her. Everyone else seemed inclined to call her Ana. Eventually, Ticiana asked about his wife and their daughter. He told her about the divorce. “She went back to Los Angeles,” he said. “Elissa went with her. It’s not complicated.” “I’m sorry to hear that, Whitman.” “Are you with someone now?” “Off and on,” she said, suddenly sounding tired. “The truth is, between the club and looking after the Bastard, I don’t have a lot of free time these days. But someday I’ll send you a book on dating after forty. It’s the story of my life.” “But I just turned fifty,” he said, trying, without success, to engage her flagging attention. “I need a book on dating after fifty!” “You never knew what you needed, Whitman. That was always your problem. You just never knew.” There was a long pause, before she said finally, “I have to go. I have to get ready for this weekend. We’ve got DJ’s and bands coming in on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I have a bunch of calls to make.” He could sense now that she was still on the phone, silent, waiting for him to say goodbye. He thought he heard her sigh and then whisper something under her breath. Either that, or what she said had been muffled by the ambient music or by whatever way she had positioned the phone at the other end of the connection. Whatever it was, he could not make it out. Perhaps she had said nothing at all. With the vivid effects of the dream still washing over him, in all likelihood Marie Ticiana had said nothing at all.
  12. The Heart Also Whispers 1. Whitman Whitaker must try to save his job at the university, and when this becomes an impossibility, he must restore his career as a Rock ’n’ Roll singer. Most of all, he must return home to Gainesville where Ticiana, the love of his youth, keeps the fires burning. 2. Whitman faces three antagonists within a narrative that unfolds in alternating chapters recounting events during his youth and during the present. Having grown up fatherless in Gainesville Florida in the shadow of Duane Allman and Tom Petty, Stephen Crane was once Whitman’s best friend as well as the principal songwriter for Whitman’s Lilacs. Later he became Whitman’s bitter rival for control of the band. Eventually Stephen did something unforgivable, leading to an epic struggle among the bandmates, which ended with Stephen’s death and the ruination of Whitman’s own musical career. Having put his musical career behind him, Whitman now has a second opportunity to ruin his life. As an instructor of creative writing at Saint Ignatius University in Northern California, Whitman now faces a second antagonistic force: the Committee on Faculty Misconduct, whose members have become aware of allegations of transgressions of professorial conduct committed by Professor Whitman Whitaker with a female student. Ultimately, one last antagonist stands in the way of Whitman resurrecting his musical career: a young singer in a cover band named Cassidy Frick who suspects that, twenty years ago, Whitman murdered Stephen Crane. Cassidy wants Whitman’s old girlfriend Ticiana, and he wants the band’s missing demo tapes, but most of all, he wants to defend the memory of that Gainesville legend Stephen Crane. 3. Titles: The Heart Also Whispers Her Heart Also Whispers Heart Murmurs: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Odyssey Whispering at the Crossroads 4. This novel combines three genres: Rock ’n’ Roll fiction, campus romance, and the Southern Gothic: Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia (A novel about a genius Rock musician, who grows up to make music only for himself.) Thomas H. Carry, Privilege (A jaded professor at an elite university falls in love with his graduate student.) Tim Dorsey, Naked Came the Florida Man (A novel about Florida eccentricity.) 5. A jaded college professor, Whitman Whitaker, while struggling to keep the job he hates, makes an improbable journey to his childhood home, where he overcomes the ghosts and devils that haunt him by reconnecting with the love of his life and resurrecting his music career. 6. First Secondary Conflict: The infernal wreckage left in the wake of Stephen’s death caused Whitman to sever all ties with his hometown of Gainesville, including his relationship with the love of his youth, Ticiana Tecedeira. But he still dreams of “Tess,” as he called her, sometimes swearing that he can hear her whispering to him from across the continent. When he returns to Gainesville, he discovers that Tess has found a way to preserve their past together by staging cover bands of popular ‘70’s and 80’s music at the club she owns and manages. It turns out that she has already forgiven him for his past, which teaches Whitman a crucial lesson about humility and forgiveness. Second Secondary Conflict: Whitman experiences pangs of guilt for the manipulative way in which he drove his best friend and former bandmate, Stephen Crane, to self-destruction. He unexpectedly finds a way of atoning for a past life filled with jealousy and rage (as well as more recent transgressions) by resurrecting the musical group that he and Stephen founded in his youth. 7. Setting: The opposition in the novel between Silicon Valley, California and Gainesville Florida makes this a tale of two cities. Northern California is cosmopolitan and rich and progressive and dogmatic, while Central Florida is rural and working class and laissez faire and violent, although because Gainesville is also a university town, it is obviously transforming rapidly. This is the beginning of the Big Tech conquest of the world, and the Valley’s tentacles are beginning to reach all the way to small Southern towns. Whitman’s problems begin in earnest when a video of him singing some of his old hits shows up on the new internet video site called YouTube and he unwittingly becomes one of the first viral video memes. Like Homer’s Odyssey or any other epic narrative, this story points to the future as well as to the past. The novel is set against a historical transition period: the first stage of hyper-globalization and connectivity (2005), when people still imagined that they might preserve something like a personal life that was not being registered in clicks and monitored by giant internet corporations. The novel begins November 1, 2005, at the dawn of the YouTube Age. The first half is set in Santa Clara where Whitman Whitaker holds a position as professor of creative writing at the fictional Saint Ignatius University. Beginning with chapter 4, every other chapter recounts the memories of Whitman’s youth growing up in Gainesville. Whitman associates his Gainesville past with his mother and with Stephen, both of whom have been problematic figures in his life. The pattern of alternating chapters lasts until the end of Part One, at which point (in the present time), Whitman finds out that he will indeed be brought before the Saint Ignatius University Committee on Faculty Misconduct because of his transgression of rules regarding proper faculty-student relationships. Within the past narrative (set in Gainesville), the last chapter of Part One recounts the Black Mass that teenage Whitman and Stephen conducted in order to sell their souls to the Devil, including their confrontation with Satan himself who appears to them in the form of a Diamondback Rattlesnake (a reptile common to central Florida.) With a few exceptions, Part Two is set in Gainesville, where Whitman goes once he discovers that the university has forced him to take a leave-of-absence during the investigation of his conduct. The first chapter of Part Two recounts Whitman driving from California to his father’s house in the Duckpond neighborhood of Gainesville (where incidentally Tom Petty grew up). Whitman tells his father that he is on sabbatical and offers to help him write his memoirs of the Korean War. In Gainesville, war is an important parallel to the violence and aggression of Rock groups in general and between Whitman and Stephen in particular. After all, in 2005-6, we are four years into the War on Terror, and American soldiers love Rock ‘n’ Roll! Most of the action of Part Two transpires at Ticiana “Tess” Tecedeira’s music club, named the Swimming Pool because Ticiana’s Portuguese immigrant father made his fortune by building swimming pools for Orlando and Gainesville residents. Part Two is all about Whitman and Ticiana, who represents a different kind of cosmopolitanism, one rooted in a reverence for the past (her own past with Whitman, the history of Rock music, Portugal) and for a place (the small town of Gainesville).
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