ROAD RASH by Mark Parsons is all about following your passions --- nothing is more important to 17-year-old Zach than drumming, and when he gets the chance to go on an epic tour with the band Bad Habit, he knows it's the opportunity of a lifetime. As Mark describes in this guest post, passion is hugely important in writing, too --- it's what led him to write the book in the first place! Read below to learn about Mark's inspiration for ROAD RASH, the "thought experiment" he used to figure it out, and the project he dropped to delve into YA.
If there’s a unifying concept behind the writing of ROAD RASH, it’s contained somewhere in the simple phrase “follow your passion”.
But not in the usual way. More in a fractal way, repeating in ever-reduced scale from the macro to the micro… from the overarching theme (never specifically delineated --- most people I know are pained by hammers to the head), to the broad narrative, to specific plot points, to an utterance by a character at a pivotal moment in the book.
But really, nowhere was this concept more important than in the decision to actually write the book itself. Until fairly recently, I’ve mainly been a non-fiction writer… lots of magazine articles, a couple of how-to-ish books, etc. (Okay, and an SF story that I snuck in under the wire before the late, lamented Aboriginal Science Fiction finally closed.) But otherwise, primarily non-fic.
And I thought I’d settled on what my next project would be ---another non-fiction book. One that “made sense” on the face of it: there was a potential market for this type of book, I was familiar with the subject matter and I felt it wouldn’t require anything dramatically new from me. So I started off in that left-brained, Boolean way that usually works well for these kinds of projects… I did the research, assembled materials and made notes, put together an outline and started drafting a proposal. At some point these things can start to feel an awful lot like doing homework, and that’s exactly what happened in this case --- it began to resemble a never-ending term paper. But I kept grinding away until my subconscious finally threw a fit. “Let’s do the thought experiment thingy,” my subconscious demanded. “Right damn now.”
The ‘thought experiment’ is a little game I (we) play when I (we) want to get down to what I (we) really want.
Okay --- let’s do it. I sat back on the couch and closed my eyes, trying to ease into that escape-from-the-world headspace. If I could be writing whatever I wanted --- with zero thought to anything beyond the actual writing itself --- what would it be…?
What you’re working on right now is fine, this professorial voice said into my right ear (of course, with its pipeline to the left brain). There’s a market for it, it’s in your wheelhouse and you’ve already started.
Then suddenly, in my left ear, I heard…
Dude! Don’t listen to that used-car-selling, market-wise SOB. If it’s really only about the writing, you want to be writing about me!
Me. You know --- that 17-year-old know-nothing/know-it-all/over-confident/insecure young guy who loves music so much he’d almost rather play drums than anything else?
‘Almost,’ I said. C’mon. You know you want to…
He was right, of course. He always is. The amazing thing is that I actually listened this time. And by ‘listened,’ I mean I canned the work-in-progress, put the folder full of notes and clippings away, opened a minty fresh Word doc and let the dude tell me his story…
Okay, so I was running behind. Again.
I hauled the last of my cases to the ancient freight elevator, slapped the button, and collapsed against the wall. Nothing. No light, no hum of machinery, no opening doors, and no hope of not humping my gear up three flights of stairs.
Why does this crap only happen when you’re late…?
We were off to the races. And you know what? Writing this band-on-the-road adventure was big fun. Maybe more fun than I’d ever had writing before, even. Yeah, it felt great (and mildly subversive) to use the expected sex/drugs/rock‘n‘roll paradigm as a way to take the soft bigotry behind all those drummer jokes I’ve heard my entire musical life and shove it back whence it came. (And really, why does virtually every book/movie/TV show about musicians feature the [typically blond, gorgeous and female] lead singer, or the [typically bad-boy, leather-clad, brilliant-but-haunted] lead guitarist? C’mon people --- how about a little love for the guys back there driving the whole damn bus?)
But beyond all that, there really was something to that ‘follow your passion’ thing. Just writing what I really wanted to be writing was payment enough. (I would have done it for free. Seriously. No need to mention this to my publisher.) For me, when the writing’s going well it’s like reading a book you’re really into --- you think about it during the day and you can’t wait to get back to the story, simply because you want to see what happens next.
And what happened next was that Zach told me his story. Of what it’s like to do your best and still get canned, for reasons having nothing to do with your ability. To work for such a screaming jerk that you’d rather nuke your chances of ever working there again than spend another minute under his thumb. To have your so-called best friend bail on you, with that most vile of excuses --- it’s nothing personal. To be an outcast. To have your ideas discounted because you’re the newbie, or the youngest guy, or maybe because you’re ‘just the drummer’. To choose ‘hard right over easy wrong.’ To not be threatened by a girl because she’s smarter than you. To follow your passion --- for your music as well as for that girl --- and see where it takes you… and maybe see where you can take it.
So Zach told me his story. And now I’m telling the world.
Follow your passion…
Mark Parsons is a musician, audio engineer and music journalist. He’s also the author of the YA novel ROAD RASH, published by Knopf/Random House, Feb 2014.
View the book trailer here. Follow along on their road trip adventure: @MarkHParsons