Posted by Literary Titan
Return to the Madlands follows Arlo in the final chapter of the Mire Man Trilogy and brings to a close Arlo Smith’s wild and messy journey. What was your inspiration for the wild journey you take readers on in this novel?
Trilogies, by definition, usually sum everything that has transpired throughout the course of the story, if not most everything up in the final entry, and while that was of course my drive for finishing the story, it wasn’t necessarily the inspiration behind it. I once considered not writing it at all, and simply leaving the ending to Book II the way it was, sort of like a… “…and he got away” type of ending. Maybe it was out of greed on my own part that I wrote a Book III, because I wanted more of the character, I wanted him to engage more in the world around him at a different time of his life. I wanted Arlo Smith to finally be presented with the fact that death is in his, quite possibly near, future, and what that would mean for him in terms of deciding which one of these new, completely unprecedented paths he would take. I wanted Arlo to be presented with a final choice concerning Constance, and work in also the idea that there are no actual “final choices” in life, or at least there doesn’t have to be. And I think that reflects in a few of the supporting characters throughout the book.
Arlo often meets many interesting people on his travels. Were there any characters that you especially enjoyed writing for?
Arlo’s father, most definitely, considering the parallels of their individual existences and their already established roughness in what they think/thought of each other. I toyed with the idea of writing more for Arlo’s father in a separate novel, or short story, and even considering throwing in a twist at the end of “Madlands” that tied Arlo’s father to a character in a past novel of mine. There’s so much time that has passed since Arlo’s father left him until now, so much history and mystery that anything could have happened. I like to think though that sometimes it’s best to leave the mystery as it is; the idea of ascertaining the truth is not always as romantic as wallowing in the unknown.
Arlo meets his estranged father and forms a tentative relationship. Why was this event important to Arlo’s development?
Arlo’s chaos stems from his youth, and by extension if unintentional or not, his father had a hand in that. At this point in time, Arlo and his father, one has always assumed the worst had happened to the other, and in some ways, assumed they had been dead. So when they finally reunite, neither one of them wants to part with those assumptions because those beliefs have become such an essential part to their existences, that any interruption in said life has the potential to cause an insanity-driven rift. Neither Arlo or his father, in the beginning, wants anything to do with the realization that they are both still alive in the world. But as the story progresses, through intended subtlety and background “what-if’s”, Arlo’s father and Arlo himself in their own way begin to wonder if their reunion is fate, and even if it isn’t, why would that stop them from taking a chance at rewriting their futures?
How do you feel now that the Mire Man Trilogy is done? Did you accomplish everything you set out to?
I think I’ve said what I set out to say. The story’s been told and I don’t have any intentions of returning to Arlo’s world. That doesn’t mean any of the other supporting characters may or may not get a spot somewhere down the line, though it’s mostly unlikely. For me, “The Mire Man Trilogy” is a brief glimpse into the mind and heart of a people-watcher; someone who enjoys the company of people only as much as he can tolerate them. It’s a story within a story within a story within a story, and it could be that, more or less, to anyone who reads it. And even though it was me who wrote the story, I’ll never look at a glass of whiskey or listen to a piece by Miles Davis the same way again. People have said to me that they could never expect Arlo to have a happy ending, and maybe they’re right. I like to think of the ending of the trilogy as a reminder that it’s not important whether or not you leave the world on a happy note, but rather you instill in the people around you, and the people you’ve crossed paths with, some measure of self-inquiry, instead of simply letting the world and everything that it could be, slip through their fingers. Finding life’s answers isn’t as important as never giving up the search for them.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will that be available for readers?
Currently, I’m working on another volume of poetry and short stories alongside a novel. My fourth volume of poetry/short stories is titled “Slaughterhouse After-Party” and the novel is tentatively titled “He Showed Me All the Neon Tombstones and Together We Embraced the Abyss”, which is written in episodic form, in that each chapter deals with a different story in the life of the main character, who writes obituaries from the point of view of the deceased. Every chapter has to deal with a different client/family. The main character also has horrible anxiety and depression, for which he takes medication for. That medication has had a strange side-effect in that it more than occasionally causes him to hallucinate a version of himself, calling himself Chauncey, speaking in an English accent, with skin painted over its entirety, a deep, royal blue. Chauncey basically exists with the intention of mocking or critiquing every move the main character makes. So there’s some psychological bafoonery at play, along with the melancholy, always-present scent of death. Neither of these two books will be available for a while…maybe not for another year or two, depending on the stability of my own particular sanity.
A decade or so following the events of “Paradise City”, Arlo Smith finds that he is still somehow clinging to life. Fueled by the revelation that Constance may also still be alive and waiting for him somewhere out in the world, Arlo Smith, now feeling older than ever, decides to make one last stand against himself. Obliging to the last wishes of a recently-deceased love one, and perhaps succumbing to his own obsessions, Arlo embarks on an open road quest one last time in hopes of finding what he’s been searching for since that fateful day near the end of his high school years. What he discovers is an unexpected , and obligatory companionship with his estranged father, self-exiled in a lonely Nevada town, and more revelations that could either cement his perception of his very existence, or tear it down completely, rendering him beyond saving. Feeling the promise of death in one direction and the lure of Constance in another, Arlo is forced to decide to stay or leave… to obey the itching bones of his lusts, or to do what is right… and finally put to rest what may have started him on his path to damnation all those years ago.
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