I describe myself as a ghost hunting wizard who lives in a bus. I’m also a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts,
where I study creative writing. It’s an emotional education. When I say that I mean that it’s unnatural to try and separate ideas from
the feelings we have about them. I know that scientific/philosophical rigor claims to do just that, but positionality informs us that
this is impossible. Moreso, that claiming it diminishes the perspectives of the people we other. Enough didactic introductions, let’s
look at the book and the process of writing it.
Writing Lemons: In an Orchard was a deconstruction of my experience as a white man. It was a meditation on a person I
hated, his entire family seemed a train wreck I had to pour-over every scattered piece of bloody shrapnel. I had to feel his pain and
confusion, and get to the root of it. At its most personal this book is a story of an estranged father, himself a broken boy, whose
comforts of success and privilege dissolve in front of our eyes. How he is transformed by the things he thought he’d put to bed
informs the emotional story of the book. At the beginning of the book, the narrator is described as a pile of human remains torn to
pieces by wild animals. By the end of the book, one has to wonder if he isn’t more alive than that.
I wrote the novel in Santa Fe, NM, as my first fall here became my first winter. I was living in this Thor El Dorado shuttle
bus built on an E-350 cutaway. I woke up every day and wrote. These were the days of the dwindling public assistance money from
New Hampshire. Work was something in transition. I was writing, but not for an income. I was writing more for the outcome. Dr
Bronner washed me in the Santa Fe river everyday from July to December. That river, or an analog of it, made it into the novel. My
body was a mess when I got here. Years of chronic pain and parasomniac episodes, combined with mid-life collapse, unpacking
themselves. I walked everywhere with a gnarled, vine-twisted walking stick. Slowly. As one pedestrian in Arizona remarked to the
back of my head, “in the middle of the damn sidewalk.”
The inspiration for the novel came from a short drive I took out to San Diego and back. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do
with myself. I came out to Santa Fe to study at St. John’s College, but quickly disabused myself of that notion. I was thinking, ‘do I
go back or do I stay?’ I decided to visit the Pacific Ocean. On the way back to Santa Fe, I drove through massive citrus fields in
California. There were just lemons as far as I could see for miles. I thought, there’s a novel in there.
I ruminated on it for a month until I found my narrator. He’s a sick man, a jerk, although he doesn’t think so. He
monopolizes the text with his travails, lost on the lemon farm, peppering his narration with pseudo-intellectual right-wing bigotry
and personal recollections, the meanings of which he seems almost verging on apprehending. And then there are the dreams. The
fever dreams of a man left to exposure, infection, and starvation.
Of course, he meets some other characters, denizens of the lemon grove who guide him on his path to be re-united with his
soul, which has been searching for him for a long time, as he is an old man. In dreams, we often encounter children. Jung tells us that
these children are manifestations of our inner child. Each time I encountered a child in my own dreams, I felt drawn in by
innocence, only to be murdered in some mythical way. I have been given the death touch by a six year old vampire. I’ve been
stabbed in the neck by a toddler driving a tank. This mysterious child figure plays as gentle antagonist to the narrator.
The reality of the story is a warped construction anchored in the concrete voice of the narrator. From the beginning, you
learn not to trust him. As his story becomes more fantastic, his disbelief reads as a credible account. I wanted his truth to be complex,
told in lies and irony. The magical elements of the story, when discredited by the narrator, feel like the most concrete part of the
story. The physical rigors of the lemon orchard itself, an alien terrain. A dream of nudity.
I hope readers pick up on the humor of the story. It was fun to write and I definitely laughed at some of my own bullshit. I
let the world around me be a part of it. The story would have been incomplete without the conversations I had with friends while I
was writing it. I was parked at the Patrick Smith Park on East Alameda when a drum circle showed up and started making rhythms.
I wrote them into the story and then got out of the bus and danced while they drummed, around my cane, like a magic staff. Music is
healing. Stories are healing. The river is healing.
I could not have written this book without Santa Fe. Even though New Mexico is not mentioned once in the text, the
theme of healing which permeates the subtext is one that I found here. I would love to hear from readers of my novel. You can find a
contact page on my website: ghostofamerica.NET Until then, I’ll be in the bus.
Thanks for reading,
Get updates delivered right to your inbox!