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DRAINING THE SWAMPS OF BABYLON--Brian C. Lockey, Upmarket Fiction

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Brian C. Lockey


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.



           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.”



            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.

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