I am very sorry to hear of the death this week of Austin newspaper columnist John Kelso. As his former colleague Michael Corcoran said, “He loved his job and so he was better at it than he had to be.”
Kelso was the model for the character Wes Leonard in my story “Bad Guts” and my novel That Demon Life. When he interviewed me for the column below, he said that he approved. He even said That Demon Life was funny--as nice a thing as has ever been said.
Writer's Book Came Together Between Cab Fares
By John Kelso
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Lowell Mick White may be the only author to ever write a 182-page novel while driving a cab.
OK, so he wasn't really driving the cab around Austin while he was writing "That Demon Life", a book full of colorful, sketchy and disreputable characters you probably wouldn't want running your Brownie scout meeting. While writing, he was parked between fares.
"I sat there with my clipboard and a cheap notebook I got at H-E-B, and I'd write," said White, who, from 1998 to 2002, spent time driving around Austin in a Yellow Cab putting his book together. "I'd find a place to park and I'd write 'til I got a call and I'd pick a passenger up. Yeah, I did it old-school with a pen."
Macs are for sissies.
This guy is no slouch with the words. He was the recipient of a Dobie Paisano Fellowship, which includes a six-month residency at J. Frank Dobie's former Hill Country Ranch and a payment of $1,200 to write out in the country.
But most of the book was composed in the cab, on Austin streets. White says you can tell from looking at the structure of the book when the passengers climbed in.
"You might have noticed those little short subchapters. That's where I got passengers in the cabs."
This is one of those deals where life imitates art, or steam imitates steam.
"They sat naked on the mussed bed eating greasy chicken and drinking warm beer, and Richard felt like nothing in his life — nothing, nothing, nothing, ever — tasted better," it says on page 35. "He was just so damn happy."
Then, in real cab life, White remembers the time the drunken wealthy attorney got in the back of his cab and did a strip tease as he was giving her a ride home. He didn't say if he had tinted windows.
"Her friends didn't want her to drive and they put her in the cab, and I was taking her home and she was taking her clothes off," White recalled. "And when I got her home she didn't have her (house) keys, so I was taking her back to the party. I had no place else to take her. But her daughter showed up" and let her in the house.
It's not easy writing a book in a cab. Your cab is your office. White recalls the four slobs who got in the cab and messed everything up.
"I worried a lot of the time that I might lose whatever notebook I was working in, or that it might get damaged," wrote White, who is working on his Ph.D. in English at Texas A&M. "I remember once on Fourth Street some older drunk guys got into my cab, four of them, three in back, one in front, and the guy who sat up front plopped his fat middle-aged butt down on my notebook before I could move it. I totally lost my temper — started cursing, yelling, kicked them all out before I even started the meter."
It's a fun book. There's a little round judge named Cantu, who has the hots for a chick named Giselle, who has a gigantic bird tattoo on her back. There's Paige, who will nail every male that breathes. There's a defense attorney named Linda, who hates her job and thinks all the criminals should be lined up and shot.
White appreciates his characters and loves Linda. He says at a book signing recently when a reader came down on Linda, it made him kind of mad.
"This guy said, 'I didn't like Linda very well; she's not a very moral character.' I said, 'I lived with Linda in the cab for years, she's a very moral character. I like her.' "
Hey, at least she didn't throw up in the back seat of his cab, like some of his real customers.
I can't find a link to the column on the American-Statesman website. The story "Bad Guts" is included in Long Time Ago Good. And of course you need to read That Demon Life.
So—I finally finished the first draft of the sequel to Professed. Now what?
Well, revision, obviously. Which I will document on Twitter and Instagram.
Then—my plans will be a little different. As of now, I think I am going to serialize the novel on a website throughout 2018—fifty installments, beginning (tentatively) January 6th. Then, when the serialization is over, I’ll pull the website down and publish the book as a paperback and Kindle. I’m inspired here by the example of Tom Wolfe, who serialized Bonfire of the Vanities in Rolling Stone in 27 installments beginning in July 1984. A difference here is that Wolfe actually wrote the novel as it was being serialized—incredible pressure on a writer who’s seen as stonecutter-slow. (Another difference is that, uh, obviously—I’m not Tom Wolfe). So I will have the advantage of presenting a work that will be in pretty good shape—though I’m also seeing the serialization itself as a form of revision and extended workshopping.
Now the fun begins….
I feel good when I get close to what is probably the end of a long project—especially the project I’ve been working on for the last year, a sequel to Professed. I can see it the end—I think. It’s there. Might take a couple of more weeks to get there—or maybe three—or maybe a couple of months—or, who knows? Willpower is not the source of productivity. Life gets in the way of art, sometimes. But—the end is there, and it’s closer than it was at the beginning….
Follow along if you want: I’m documenting my daily progress on twitter @lowellmickwhite #amwriting
Of course, once I write THE END! in my notebook, it’ll just be the end of the first draft. There’ll still be a lot more work to do….
But I’ll think about that later.
In the meantime, work is also progressing on the long-awaited story collection. It will be out soon!
The new edition of Professed is lovely--as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside.
Read it! And once you've read it (of if you've already read it) go over to Amazon or Goodreads and say something (good, bad, whatever) about it....