Today’s post is an excerpt from my work-in-progress, tentatively title Monty & Me: From Fractured to Free, a Memoir. I am posting today as part of a larger synchroblog started by the wonderful Jim Woods. Jim issued a challenge at the beginning of the month to focus on writing that matters. What follows is my attempt to show that I’ve been doing just that. In doing so I’m uniting in solidarity with other writers from around the country, and indeed the world, who have similarly taken up Jim’s challenge.
Suburban white boy tragedy is still tragedy all the same. Look beneath the facade of the nicely painted house, the bushes trimmed just so, and you’ll find suburbia’s dirty little secret: despite their best efforts, not even the Joneses can keep up. They never could. There is a crumbling marriage, two boys to corral, a mountain of bills, and a man who wants out.
But nobody on the outside knows any of that; all they see is what they want to see: a happy family.
How did people live next to John Wayne Gacy all those years and not know the truth of him? Because he looked like such a nice man. And he was a clown for goodness’ sake! A clown! Everyone knows that clowns love children. But some clowns are scary, and like the whitewashed tombs Jesus spoke of, beneath the facade of the happy clown were dead men’s bones.
Unlike Gacy, there are wounds which do no seeming harm, but rather seek to kill the soul. Just because I grew up in suburbia, doesn’t mean–despite having a roof, clothes, food–that I grew up happy, well-adjusted, whole.
Suburbia is full of whitewashed tombs: the people living in them appearing alive, but dying inside. I know because I lived in one.
Let us look beneath to the fractured bones of my soul.
Because you see broken men beget broken boys–boys who grow to be broken men, further begetting brokenness of their own.
This is the story of Monty and me–of how I went from fractured to free.
1) When did you first know when you wanted to be a writer?
I wrote this play called The Artist (in the late 90’s, long before the recent Best Picture Winner). I don’t even remember the exact plot, but it was something akin to four people painting all of their sins on a canvas, and then someone else came along, making those paintings beautiful. I know it sounds kind of serious and ham-fisted (which it was) but it had a lot of jokes in it.
2) Who first validated that desire in you?
The audience for that play. It got a standing ovation after it was over (it played at the youth event) and afterwards everyone talked about how great the writing was. I realized what I loved most was putting the story together.
3) What does a workday look like for Rob Stennett?
Everyday is a little different. I do a lot of writing and directing. But I always try to craft fiction in the morning. If I don’t the day quickly gets away from me.
4) What is your creative process?
Before I ever sit down to write I think about the story. Getting ready in the morning, in the car, I try to really think about the scene that day. It helps me so the writing kind of explodes out of me by the time I sit down. Normally, I’ll have somewhat of an outline–but then I’ll get this great idea and I have to change a bunch of stuff in earlier chapters. When the story is FINALLY finished I revisit all the chapters and rewrite them. Then when I feel done I send them to my editor who tells me there is a lot more rewriting to do. Sorry. This suddenly doesn’t feel very creative. [Ed. note: no, but it sounds very real]
5) You are on staff at a church, right?
Yes, New Life Church in Colorado Springs. It’s a really great group of people and I’m happy to be a part. I’m the Creative Director: I direct productions, oversee video and graphic content, and whatever else needs to be done.
6) How do you balance your multiple careers? Family Life?
That’s the hardest part. I love all of it. I guess lately the key is really to schedule my time well. I work a lot during lunch. Sometimes I put on a cup of coffee at night and work more. I don’t know if I’m a very balanced person. But I’m a happy person. I love my family and love what I do.
7) Your work includes a lot of pop culture references, social commentary, and satire. What drew you as a creative person to those avenues?
Pop culture is what I love. I grew up on Star Wars,Beastie Boys, and whatever else you see in my books; it’s something fun to talk about. Some earlier seasons of the Simpsons had these really great episodes about faith and religion but used satire to tell their stories. I always thought “That’s something I want to do.” I want to write about faith, but put a satirical slant on it.
8) Your first novel is The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher. Can you tell us where the genesis of the idea behind that book originated?
When I was living in LA my wife and I went around looking for churches. I guess that’s when I realized what a strange place church was. I’d grown up in it, I knew how it worked, I knew all of the code words, but I still found it strange. I thought what would someone who never went to church before think of this place. What if he had to go for some reason? Or what if some guy who had no idea how a church worked tried to start one of his own? It was an entertaining thought. Felt like it would make a good story.
9) Who are some writers you admire, and why?
I love Tim O’Brien because I want to be able to write like him. The way he crafts paragraphs is a thing of beauty.
Kurt Vonnegut was one of the author’s that changed how I viewed writing. He was so funny and human and simple when I first read his books I thought, I didn’t know you could do that.
Stephen King creates these really simple everyman characters and puts them in just amazing situations. When people talk about getting Lost In a Book his stories are the first that come to mind.
Anne Lamott because she talks about faith in a way that makes it feel fresh and real again.
There are so many more, but that’s all I’m going to give you for now.
10) Can you tell us about your weekly podcast, 9 Thumbs?
It’s one of the highlights of my week. It’s three guys (unless there is a girl) talking about three things that we like. It’s fun to learn about new blogs, books, bands (among other things), and just talk about why we admire them. Internet culture can also be such a cynical place that’s it’s fun to just heap praise on things.
11) Any questions you’re never asked that you’d like to address?
Normally yes, but these questions were so good I have nothing to add. Thanks for having me.
Thanks, Rob, for coming by! Appreciate you taking the time!
Do you have any questions for Rob? Ask away!
Folks, you can find Rob on the Internet on his (infrequently updated) website: Rob Stennett, follow him on Twitter @robstennett, see his Amazon page here, and catch up with his podcast at 9Thumbs. By the way, Rob recently published a short story, entitled Chicken, about certain events pertaining to a certain chicken chain which occurred on certain day this past summer. Whew! That was mouthful. You can pick Chicken up here for $.99.
Update! Comment for a chance to win a Kindle copy of Rob’s first novel, The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher.