About John Ames
John Ames has a master’s degree in English from the University of Florida, where he was a Ford Fellow. After graduation, he built a rustic house and lived for several years on the edge of a spiritual community located near Gainesville, Florida. John’s search for enlightenment ended when he decided that he was too far from a movie theater. He moved inside the Gainesville city limits and taught English and film for thirty years at Santa Fe College.
He has produced and acted in numerous short films and videos, including the cable TV series the “Tub Interviews,” wherein all the interviewees were required to be in a bathtub. For ten years he reviewed movies for PBS radio station WUFT. He has appeared as a standup comedian and has designed and marketed Florida-themed lamps. He coauthored Second Serve: The Renée Richards Story (Stein and Day, 1983) and its sequel No Way Renée: The Second Half of My Notorious Life (Simon & Schuster, 2007), and Speaking of Florida (University Presses of Florida, 1993).
His recent book is a coming-of-age novel titled Adventures in Nowhere.
You can visit his website at www.johnamesauthor.com
About Adventures in Nowhere
On the bank of a river sits a moss-covered mansion, moldy and foreboding. Yesterday it was a cheerful bungalow with a dog lazing on a sunny porch. There is no predicting what it will be tomorrow. A young boy sits on the opposite bank, his brow furrowed.
Adventures in Nowhere is told from the wry perspective of ten-year-old Danny Ryan whose realm is 1950s Florida, long before theme parks crowded out the possibility of real magic. Danny refers to his neighborhood as Nowhere, because it seems trapped in time, some parts on the verge of rebirth and others slowly falling apart. Among the things falling apart is the Ryan family, which is dominated by a schizophrenic father who makes every day an adventure, yet Danny keeps his good humor, seeking escape on the nearby Hillsborough River or in the little community of Sulphur Springs with its puzzling mix of the glorious and the shameful. These outings provide Danny a diverting blend of comedy and drama.
But Danny’s adventures take a fateful turn when he begins seeing a mysteriously changing house across the hyacinth-choked Hillsborough. Is he going crazy like his father? Though he feels terribly alone, Danny comes to realize that he has faithful allies among Nowhere’s eccentric inhabitants: Alfred Bagley, a quirky youngster whose fondest desire is to become a junk dealer; Abigail Arnold, an intellectual eleven-year-old with a penchant for blunt talk and red candy lipstick; Donna, a young woman of supernatural beauty and unfathomable motives; Al Gallagher, proprietor of Al’s Swap Shop, a business that is more than it seems; and Buddy Connolly, a confident teenager who prompts Danny toward an odd but powerful salvation.
Adventures in Nowhere is an absorbing story of the search for self, allowing a reader to live for a while in the mind of a remarkably thoughtful and intense boy caught at the final edge of childhood.
Interview with John Ames
John, thanks for joining here today at Paperback Writer.
Thanks so much for having me.
We just wanted to ask you a few questions about your life as an author.
Q: Do you write on a computer or with pen/pencil and paper?
In my writing life, I have done it every way possible short of a flat rock and a piece of charcoal. I even tried dictating, thinking that I would have someone transcribe my words, but I made so many mistakes that I could not stand the idea of a transcriber hearing them. On my first big project, I wrote in cursive on a yellow legal pad and paid someone to type it up for me. With that method, I could at least black out my most idiotic blunders. These techniques were ways of getting around my terrible typing. I received instruction on the typewriter while on active duty in the army, but the instruction never took. Back in the mid 1980s when the first PCs came out, and I realized that I could so easily correct myself, I immediately spent what for me was a great deal of money to get one. The day I started composing on a computer was one of the greatest days of my life. Even so, I am still terrible. A student came into my office one day and watched me do something on the computer. She laughed at how grotesque my typing was and said, “I thought you’d be a lot better at that with all the writing you do.” Years ago, I watched an interview with William F. Buckley. He was asked if he used a computer, and he waxed eloquent about the joys of writing with one. The interviewer said he had found that when he wrote philosophy, he had to use a pen because that way he felt more connected to what he wrote. Buckley’s response was, “Then I feel sorry for you.” I didn’t like Buckley much, but I agreed fully with that sentiment.
Q: Give us an example of a typical writing day.
For me, anything important has to be written in the morning. That’s when I have my greatest energy. I usually start about9 AMand go on for up to four hours before I need to rest. I think this is fairly common among writers. I remember reading that Somerset Maugham was talking with another writer and mentioned that he didn’t drink. The other writer asked, “What do you do in the afternoon then?” and Maugham replied, “I play bridge.” Rather than playing bridge, I am most likely to be doing something to my house in the afternoon. Recently, I remodeled my kitchen.
Q: Do you work from an outline?
Not exactly. I start out knowing the theme, the setting, some of the characters, and some of the action. For example, I knew Adventures in Nowhere would be about change, and I knew the main character would find out that change can bring relief but will invariably impose a loss at the same time. With that much of a plot in mind, I put the preconceived characters in the environment I imagine, and I start them off. Then one thing leads to another.
Q: Have you ever abandoned any books/novels in progress?
Yes, several, but the one I felt worst about was an attempt to write a very commercial book. I called it Snakes from Space. The plot involved an alien invasion in which the aliens take the form of snakes. When cornered, they explode. I was having a lot of fun writing it, but one night, I turned on the TV and saw a movie called Killer Klowns from Outer Space about an alien invasion in which the aliens take the form of clowns. Under certain circumstances, the clowns’ heads begin to spin, and they explode. Naturally, I could not continue with Snakes from Space.
Q: Biggest Career Surprise
I think getting my first publication was my biggest surprise. Like so many beginning writers, I stumbled onto an opportunity.Gainesville,Floridawhere I live was abuzz with the news that Renée Richards, famous transsexual tennis player, had come to town to train. Before I met her, I saw Renée in the super market, which was a very satisfying sighting, but I thought that would be the extent of my contact with her. However, a friend of mine, who is famous for having his nose in everything, made her acquaintance and discovered she was having a problem writing her autobiography. My friend was aware that I was writing, though I had published nothing since I placed a news story in the college newspaper ten years before. That did not stop him from saying enthusiastically, “I have a friend who writes.” He set up a meeting, I gave Renée one of my lectures on plot development from my English Lit class, and before I knew it, I was her coauthor. A year later, I had my name on a book.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Since my career as a novelist has come to fruition rather late in life, I will be happy just to be alive in ten years. Beyond that I have no great expectation.
Read the Excerpt!
“Boys, what’s going on out there?”
Alfred went stiff at the sound of his father’s voice, his uncontrollable mirth replaced by dry fear.
“Come out of the weeds,” Mr. Bagley said. “Walk this way,” he added, using one of his favorite phrases.
It was a command that could not be ignored. Alfred rose up and proceeded like a robot toward his father. Danny raced ahead to do damage control.
“Hi, Mr. Bagley,” he chirped. “Do you know where we could find some fleas?”
Mr. Bagley eyed him suspiciously and rattled his key chain.
“Fleas?” he asked.
“We want to see if we can kill them with tobacco stems. Alfred said you could, but I don’t believe it.”
Mr. Bagley shifted uncertainly.
“Tobacco stems won’t kill fleas,” Mr. Bagley said, looking over Danny’s head at Alfred, who was moving toward them ever more slowly.
Danny wished Alfred was quicker on the uptake, but he had been undone by the magnitude of his crime. Tobacco and matches together. To Alfred’s way of thinking, nothing could possibly stand between him and his father’s belt.
“See, Alfred, I told you. Fleas don’t care about tobacco stems.”
“Huh,” Alfred said, still yards away and slowing by the second.
“You’re wrong!” Danny shouted.
“Don’t raise your voice, Danny,” Mr. Bagley said. “People might think you were angry.”
“Yes, sir. Sorry.”
“Tobacco stems don’t kill fleas, but they do drive them away. Do you mean to say that you boys were out in the weeds looking for fleas?”
“Yes, sir!” Danny said before Alfred could incriminate himself. “We left the stems back in there. Want me to go get them?”
“No. We can do without those tobacco stems. Don’t you two have anything better to do than look for fleas? If that’s the case, I think Alfred could spend his time studying the Bible in his room. What was so funny?”
Danny was much relieved now that Mr. Bagley was coming to the point. Apparently, he had not seen or smelled smoke; rather, he had heard suspicious mirth coming from the weeds, and for Mr. Bagley, where there was mirth there was a good possibility of ungodly behavior.
“We have fleas at my house,” Danny said.
“Is that so?”
Danny could see that Mr. Bagley’s interest was piqued. This was excellent. Now to go back and soften the lie.
“We’ve seen a couple.”
Mr. Bagley was crestfallen but not completely.
“Where there are two, there can be many more,” he said. “And Alfred was laughing at the fleas in your house?”
“He couldn’t control himself.”
“Is that right?” Mr. Bagley asked Alfred, who had arrived on the scene in a glazed-over state, having heard nothing.
“Yes, sir,” he answered automatically.
Alfred could be counted on to answer ninety percent of his father’s questions with “Yes, sir.” Danny felt that things were falling into place nicely, and he iced the cake by assuming the melancholy demeanor of a kid with flea problems. Mr. Bagley looked him over reflectively.
“You’re welcome to have lunch with us, Danny,” he said after a moment. “Come inside, boys.”
With that, Mr. Bagley moved off toward the breezeway. The looking-for-fleas-in-the-weeds story was patently ridiculous, but adults believed kids to be capable of incredible stupidity. Danny often depended on that fact of life
“What happened?” Alfred whispered.
“You laughed at the fleas,” Danny said through clenched teeth.
“The fleas?” Alfred replied too loudly.
“Anybody can have fleas,” Mr. Bagley said over his shoulder.
“I didn’t know you had fleas,” Alfred whispered and started to giggle.
“Alfred!” said Mr. Bagley sternly.
Alfred shut up immediately, and the boys followed Mr. Bagley into the house where Mrs. Bagley was laying out the lunchtime meal in the dining area adjacent to the kitchen. If Mr. Bagley had not come home for lunch, as he often did not, the meal might have been sandwiches, but today she had fixed slices of ham, lima beans, greens, and fresh biscuits. As always, there was sweet iced tea in wavy glasses with silver threads running through them. Mr. Bagley took his favorite seat, with his back to the kitchen so he could look out the window.
The moments just before a meal at the Bagley house were always agonizing for Danny because everyone had to hold hands while the blessing was said, usually by Alfred. Every now and then, Mr. Bagley would delegate the chore to his wife or would do it himself. Danny cringed when Mr. Bagley did it. He was an impressive man, too portly, but with strong features and a wealth of dark curly hair. His voice was commanding, and when he lit into the blessing, it was enough to send a chill down your spine, altogether too much religious fervor for a simple midday meal.
Occasionally, Mr. Bagley would ask Danny to say the blessing. This was awkward because the Catholic Church was very specific on the subject of whether or not Catholics should pray with Protestants. The correct answer to that dilemma was “not.” So, just being in the room while Protestants were praying was a dangerous situation, and when you acquiesced to the hand-holding, you were probably increasing your time in purgatory. Danny figured if you actually agreed to pray yourself, the ante shot up considerably, and he could not go that far. Besides, it irked him that Protestants had a “blessing” and Catholics had a “grace.” If a guy asked for a blessing, would it be polite to provide a grace? There were endless confusions in the matter of religion.
Today, however, Alfred got the call, and in his usual unaffected way ran through a quick recitation: “Lord, we thank you for this food, in Christ’s name, Amen.” As he was doling out the food, Mr. Bagley made conversation.
“I found the boys out in the weeds, Mrs. Bagley.”
Danny was amazed that the two addressed each other so formally. He assumed it was done for his benefit. Surely when they didn’t have a stranger in the house, they lowered the tone a bit. His own parents called each other “Mama” and “Daddy,” which, he realized, probably sounded strange to Alfred. Abigail’s parents called each other by their first names, Dick and Louise. Why couldn’t people get together on these things? It was like they were conspiring to make it confusing for kids.
“It’s getting hot, Mr. Bagley. Danny and Alfred were probably cooler out there.”
“That’s probably it,” Mr. Bagley said, winking at Danny and Alfred.
“I thought they might go swimming later if it doesn’t rain.”
Mr. Bagley looked at Danny.
“Should Danny go with that bandage on his hand?”
“I wouldn’t get it wet,” Danny said.
This was a complete lie, but there was no reasoning with adults in these matters. He had already had the bandage muddy and wet that very morning with no ill effect, but nothing could be gained by pointing that out. He would only seem careless. However, while Mr. Bagley was looking him over, Danny had a brilliant inspiration. He scratched his arm as if suffering from a flea bite. Mr. Bagley looked away.
“If his mother gives Danny permission, Alfred can go with him. Just to the pool and straight back.”
“Tell your father thank you,” Mrs. Bagley said.
“Thank you,” said Alfred.
“Thank you what?” asked Mrs. Bagley.
“Thank you, sir.”
“That’s all right, son. Be careful,” Mr. Bagley said.
The rest of the meal passed with Danny and Alfred on their best behavior so as not to provoke a change in the swimming decision; however, there was one singular moment. Midway through lunch, the biscuits were exhausted, and Mrs. Bagley got up to get more. While she was up, Mr. Bagley noticed his glass was empty and without bothering to turn around, he held his empty glass up over his shoulder and said sternly, “Tea!” Mrs. Bagley was fumbling with the biscuits and did not come running with her usual speed. “Tea!” Mr. Bagley repeated after five seconds, and after five more, he added, “Woman, walk this way!”
“I’m coming, Charles. Give me a moment, please.”
A combination of disbelief and anger crossed Mr. Bagley’s face, but in the next second, his glass was full, and he lowered it to the table in a state of confusion. Meanwhile, Mrs. Bagley settled into her chair.
Danny wondered if Mrs. Bagley might get the belt later that day.