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There Are No Heroes or Villains

Michael Reed Author Interview

Michael Reed Author Interview

Songs from Richmond Avenue is a novel about characters that could be found in any town. The main character is a journalist that knows all the questionable characters that hang out on Richmond Avenue in Houston. Why was this an important book for you to write? 

I felt like it was important that if I was going to write a book at some point in my life, I get on with it. Since the age of about 20 years old, back when I was a journalism student, I had always just assumed I’d get around to writing a book. I guess the older I got the more not writing a book bothered me.

Fortunately, a few years ago, I became unemployed for about eight months. I say fortunately because that’s when the book started taking shape. I was drawing unemployment after a publication I worked for went belly up. I looked for work online in the morning and when that got boring, which happened pretty quickly most days, I started writing a couple of short stories based loosely on some funny things I’d witnessed riding metro buses or walking through my neighborhood. One morning I stuck a couple of these short stories together and decided to have them come from the voice of a single, first-person narrator. Then I decided to have the narrator go to a bar. That is the essence of the book. While it didn’t take a long time to actually write, there was fairly long span of time between when I started and completed it, because I set it aside when I got another job. Maybe there’s a lesson in that, but I hope not.

What were the morals you were trying to capture while creating your characters?

That’s a tough one since I really didn’t approach Songs From Richmond Avenue with any thoughts of trying to espouse any particular point of view. This isn’t really a moralizing kind of book that takes sides among its characters or proclaims one vantage point in a conflict is right and the other one is wrong. I think the moral perspective might be not to be judgmental of others. There are no heroes or villains in the book, just people with strengths and weaknesses having good and bad moments. I think the book may share its basic moral underpinning with film noir. These characters live by their own loose moral codes and the protagonist, despite his many trials and close calls, doesn’t come away having learned much of anything from his ordeal.

How did you decide on the title of this novel?

Initially, I thought the book would be more a series of individual character vignettes, loosely held together by the fact that they all frequented a fictional dive bar called the Relix Club on Houston’s Richmond Avenue.

There was originally going to be more of a secondary plot involving a down-and-out musician who occasionally hung out at the bar. There were also bands and singers who appeared there, so I came up with Songs From Richmond Avenue, using “song” as a metaphor for each of the character’s lives. When I changed courses a bit, the book remained Songs From Richmond Avenue, primarily because I liked how it sounded and couldn’t come up with anything better.

What is the next story that you are writing and when will it be available?

It’s a book that, hopefully, will be available in about year. This will be largely dependent upon whether I write a little more frequently once baseball season is over. I’m about halfway through a story that bears some similarities to Songs From Richmond Avenue – hapless characters, drunken debauchery, bad company, worse decisions. The setting will be far less urban, but what isn’t less urban than Houston? There won’t be a first-person narration this time either. It’s had a couple of working titles, both of which are terrible, so I won’t mention them.

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Songs from Richmond Avenue

If the adage “nothing civilized ever resulted from the drinking of beer” requires further proof, one needs look no farther than down Houston’s pothole-infested Richmond Avenue. There, the blurry-eyed denizens of the Relix Club wile away the hours engaged in their two favorite activities – drinking and betting.

Until recently that was good enough for our storyteller, a journalist of questionable work ethic, who undergoes an epiphany following a bus stop meeting with pretty Michelle, a woman he declares has “skin so perfect I doubted she even had pores.”

Could she be his redemption? Maybe, but first he’d better contend with her baseball bat-wielding former beau, her nihilistic stripper roommate and the suspicious death of a friend, who fancies himself the father of Brute Generation poetry.

Mostly satire, often wildly unpredictable, the only real long shot in Songs From Richmond Avenue would be for its protagonist to put down his beer long enough to learn anything of true value.

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Songs from Richmond Avenue

Songs from Richmond Avenue

Songs from Richmond Avenue by Michael Reed is a dark novel about characters that could be found in any town. The main character is a journalist that seems to know all the questionable characters that hang out on Richmond Avenue in Houston. He meets a beautiful woman named Michelle that he becomes infatuated with from the start. Michelle could change things for the journalist, but not before he gets caught up in some seriously crazy shenanigans that include kidnapping, booze and roommates. Among everything else, you get to know some barflies who have very interesting stories and a love for alcohol and bets.

This story isn’t long, but packs quite a bit into such a small package. I can imagine this story set in any small local dive bar. There would be those regulars that have extremely colorful stories that are darkly humorous. The writing is unique and paints a descriptive image of all the characters in the book. Each one has personality and detail that many authors gloss over. His descriptions made it easy to visualize and even smell each and every one.

There will be a number of readers who will identify with the different characters and most likely sympathize with them as well. I felt as though I was getting a glimpse into someone’s real life experiences, not the work of fiction. The journalist doesn’t even have a name, yet throughout the story I didn’t even notice. I made it pretty far in before thinking, “Hey, what the heck is this guys name?”

“Songs from Richmond Avenue” could almost be called a drunks love story, as the journalist finds himself wishing for a future with Michelle. He may not exactly be a romantic character, it’s love just the same. Throw in some depressing thoughts while mixing in some humorous parts and that sums up this story.

It took me some time to really get into the story. Michael Reed has a unique way of developing his characters that takes a bit of adjusting to. Once I got farther into the story and got use to the craziness, I was in for the long haul and wasn’t bothered in the slightest. This is definitely not a light and airy read, but I think that is part of the appeal. I had to read slower than I usually would have with any other book which made me connect with the locations and situations. I honestly don’t want to tell you too much, so that you can have the same experience as I did. The antics that take place are so off the wall I wouldn’t want to ruin the fun for the next reader!

While it did pick up later, it was a bit hard to get into at first. Many readers I know would put down a book they weren’t drawn into from the beginning. While I know that a slow beginning doesn’t mean anything, that doesn’t make you not feel a bit frustrated. I would suggest anyone who enjoys dark humor and crazy drunken stories to give this book a shot.

Pages: 185 | ASIN: B01N039ZM7

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Bar Nights

Bar Nights (The Mire Man Trilogy, #1)4 StarsBar Nights by Dave Matthes is the first book of the Mire Man Trilogy, a chronicle of the life of Arlo Smith. Arlo comes home from work to find his wife and another man in the throes of passion on the kitchen counter. He decides that’s as good as a divorce decree, packs a bag, and walks out. In the driveway, his daughter and her boyfriend spark his rage, and he trashes the young man’s car with a baseball bat before he leaves. Arlo drives until his car breaks down, walks to a roadside bar, and stays. The owner, Vance, hires him as the janitor and gives him a tiny apartment above the bar.

Arlo doesn’t want to start over. His soul is already crushed by his former life and marriage, and in this bar, ironically named Purgatory, he has the freedom to be as drunk and indolent as he cares to. His only pleasure is in music. While he gets drunk in his apartment, the piano player downstairs fills his room with music. almost every night. He clings to the music but doesn’t want to meet her. When they do meet, she becomes the catalyst that forces him to face his life, his lies, and the hell he created along the way.

The plot of the story is simple, but there are so many nuances that I’d compare it more to Jazz than literature. Some of the barflies that come and go are character studies of people on the edge, or close to it, and reflect Arlo and Vance’s personal demons. The flow of the chapters adds texture and rhythm. The language is lyrical, sometimes pulling me out of the narrative just to appreciate the prose. Finding these gems was something I enjoyed while reading the novel.

Outside my window, the snow fell like the ash from a volcano…. I remembered looking out my window on Christmas morning as a child, and seeing the snow…. Little moments like that stole me from time to time. Burps and hiccups of nostalgia. A staple of regret temporarily sewing the rips and tears shut.

The author uses chapters in an unorthodox way, some as short as two words. Sometimes this works beautifully, but on occasion, a chapter seems more like a side note, or stray thought. I felt that the novel was repetitive in places, revisiting events and even phrases a few too many times, but in retrospect, some of that was clearly intentional. Addicts can be stuck on emotions or trauma, and that broken-record effect gave more realism to the characters.

Arlo is locked in a vicious cycle of self-hate, addiction, and depression that is reflected in the people he meets. Through Arlo’s eyes, we meet the patrons at the bar, his interactions with them colored by his personal misery. He’s afraid to meet Constance, the piano player, for fear that his illusions will crumble. Of course, fate intervenes, and he finally meets her by accident. They’re not in love, but they need each other to get through the desperation of their lives. Constance shoves him toward rehab, trying to save his life before he kills himself or becomes just like all the other drunks at the bar called Purgatory. Even that irony isn’t lost on Arlo.

This is a book for adults, as the language and situations are not for readers who are easily offended. It’s an examination of addiction and desperation that doesn’t sugar-coat anything. The author doesn’t spare any of the senses on this dive into skid row, and I could see, feel, and smell every detail. If you like Bar Nights, also pick up Paradise City, the next book in the trilogy.

Pages: 209 | ISBN: 1506198961

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