Living in the crudeness of Detroit, Michigan and working in the refinement of the metro area suburbs, first year teacher Conor Batey is having difficulty adapting to a world plagued by greed and vanity. In his college days, the response was to rebel against society through music and art, but with age creeping in and a recession on the lookout for those in the undeserving working class, he chooses the suit and tie life.
Quickly, however, anticipation rises and fears are avoided as Conor, together with his past musician friends, are offered a record deal for their fairly successful but recently defunct band Listless. The group doesn’t immediately see the value in this brief stint of regression and avoidance of their everyday existences. However, with adult/professional life during the recession looking so bleak and their past dreams so close to realization, they choose to take this one last chance to tour their favorite music venues and play with some of the their favorite bands.
Along the way, the band meets the beautiful young journalist Ellie Cruz who opts to travel with the indiepop rock group and document their sometimes funny and other times awkward jaunt around the East Coast. The story ends in a realization that takes the characters (and reader) right back to the start in this vicarious ride through the cyclical reality we call life.
Spending my formative years in the Rust Belt towns of Toledo, OH and Detroit, MI, from a fairly early age I and my friends knew all about the sudden changes in fortune people could see through fluctuations in the economy. So when the Great Recession hit in 2008, it was nothing new to us in the automotive capital. It was life as usual. We continued to struggle our way through college and eventually into the cutthroat workplace.
We had found ways to allay the intensity of our daily struggles through music and other art forms. We searched back into our hometown roots and found the genius of Motown, with its solid harmonies and its smooth bass lines! It’s almost as if its predictable chord structures and its established history provided that knowing of what’s coming next that all of us needed. We incorporated this past pop flavor into our music and played our way into some interesting music festivals around the country.
In due time, though, life did catch up with us. By this point, my family had moved across the country, my friends were leaving town for bigger, cooler, more vice filled locales (with character fading quickly), and I didn’t see any reason to stay. I moved to Raleigh, NC, where I rejoined my family and found the girl I want to spend the rest of my life with.
And this is where I am. There are certain elements of the past I miss and would love to retry, but there are more elements in the present that I enjoy and want to continue. In one last attempt to somewhat immortalize (and definitely glamorize) the past, I chose to write about fictional characters on a fictional final tour. The Listless is that story. I hope you enjoy!
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I had a pretty rounded out childhood, spending the first half in urban Toledo, Ohio and the later half in rural Curtice, Ohio. I went from walking through the seedy streets of the city to make it to school every weekday to hiking through wildlife reserves and riding tractors to cut the grass in the country every other week. Later in life, I went to college and grad school, gathering as much knowledge in the fields of history, education, literature, and information science as I could (no promises on how well it worked!) while at the same time playing music in cheesy rock bands. The vastness of these experiences have certainly helped me to gather in a little of what I like to write about.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
This part has changed in the past year. I wrote The Listless a while ago. At that point, I was living on my own in an apartment that had seen neither sweeper nor duster since long before me (and probably will go on that way till long after…). I would get home from teaching, eat a large dinner (thanks to having no time to eat lunch while at the school!), put on some Beatles in order to get in the mood to write about a band, get my laptop, and start typing!
These days, things are a little different. I’m married, living in a very well kept house (I wish I could say that was because of my own personal growth in cleaning ability…), and have much less time to work with. Now, when I get some time, I like to write in my office after work. I’m no longer teaching, though. I’m a librarian, so sometimes I get a chance to write a little from work (shhhh). I work at a much slower pace this way, but it makes for a better, more deliberate story anyhow. The next novel I’m slowly working on should be done and released sometime in 2014.
What do you like to read?
To be honest, I read much more non-fiction than fiction. I love politics, music, science, fine arts, history, biographies, philosophy, and nearly every other interesting topic you can take from a well written non-fiction book. I try to incorporate into my writing some of the interesting factoids I learn in these books. When it comes to fiction, though, my favorite reads are those that are written with such a casual fluidity that they flow like poetry yet they’re also filled with such an intensity that you have to force yourself to stop and rewind in order to take it all in. I feel like writers that have that effect for me are Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, Donald Miller, E. H. Gombrich, and many more like them. Each of those guys can (could) make a chapter fly by like a normal writer’s page.
What inspires your writing?
Students, co-workers, neighbors, family members, fireplaces, music, particularly bad days, particularly good days, fall colors, winter breaks, helpful compliments, challenging critiques, relationships, politics…
What is your favorite thing about being an author?
Being able to explain myself and what I believe in words (sometimes very copiously!) and being pushed to investigate and understand others and their beliefs so as to relate them accurately.
What’s next for you?
I’ve always been a pretty eclectic reader. And I definitely have no desire to be pinned down to writing in one genre, either, so I’ve started a couple of projects that are pretty distant from The Listless. Growing up, one of my favorite authors was Isaac Asimov. I loved his series sci fi. I’m certainly no Isaac Asimov but I thought why not give it a shot? I’ve started writing my own series of sci fi short stories that I might at some point put together into one novel. I’ve also started a new novel that I’m writing in a very very slow fashion set in the Asheville, North Carolina region that includes a journalist, a death, a town in turmoil, and an unexpected twist. If that sounds to you like just about every other contemporary title written in the past twenty years, I’ll let your imagination fill in the rest!
Anything else you want to say?
Thanks a lot for taking a look! If you want to check out The Listless, you can go to one of these links:
Take a look at an excerpt from the book…
I hadn’t seen Rachel’s face since the last box had been packed and the last jaded goodbye given. We weren’t like most couples. We didn’t have some angry fight that led to bruised egos and broken porcelain. We just knew that at some point along the way something had gone wrong. Unfortunately, our respective solutions to the problem were as incompatible as we had seemed to become.
When we first met as teenagers, working together in a local discount movie theater, it seemed like we had so many similarities: a common disdain for the status quo of middle-America, a love of non-fiction literature to understand more and more about this self-perpetuating disaster known as the world we live in, and a soft heart for our punk rock Chuck Taylor sneakers. Oddly enough, those juvenile sentiments were enough to get us through more than half a decade of toils and troubles.
During our work breaks, we would often sit together in the theater, watch and make fun of a film I had just spliced together and loaded in the projector. For a theater with mostly broken seats, small screens, and audio that sounded like it was coming from a nineteenth century gramophone, it did surprisingly well at getting the new releases. Though, to us the newness of the movie or the coolness of the actors didn’t matter much. We liked maximum amounts of dialog by eccentrics who were trying to make sense of a difficult and complex world and minimal amounts of cars that were too fast and being driven by goons who were too furious.
As we got older, leaving our teens and entering early adulthood, the differences in our lives and outlooks grew. While I stayed near home and went to the local University of Toledo, Rachel left the area for Oberlin College. It’s a small liberal arts college noteworthy for having been the first in America to accept women and African Americans. It made sense. While both of us disagreed with the inequality so prevalent in the world, Rachel was intent on doing something about it. She majored in journalism and communications and took every opportunity she could to get ahead. In an unprecedented move, the college named her the chief editor of the school newspaper when she was only a sophomore.
By the time Rachel was a senior, she had been sent on news assignments throughout the country, won concessions by two local industries after challenging them on their pollution habits, spent one semester in Columbus interning at the Dispatch, and been recognized as a significant tool for change by every important, tenured faculty member at that college. All the while, I quietly moved forward with my degrees in history and education and visited Oberlin every other weekend and on our breaks.
Some would ask how we lasted as long as we did even. Looking back, we moved farther and farther apart much sooner than our final breakup would indicate. At the time, it seemed like life was just moving too fast to stop and think about the present implications on the future. I was going to school, working, and playing in two bands that I really didn’t want to quit just because I needed more time to think. So Rachel and I just sort of ignored any problems and moved on, doing what we always did, both together and apart.
“Well, Mr. Batey,” Rachel said while displaying a big smile and stretching out her right hand towards me.
“Nahh, get over here!” I pulled her in for one of the big hugs I gave every time I hadn’t seen her in weeks. It felt good.
The club had settled down quite a bit by now. There were still some friends and fans hanging around looking for a chance to discuss favorite records and labels with Fred and Kurt. But a much more mundane atmosphere had come out of the fanatical mix of bodies and noise from earlier.
“You know, I got the arts and entertainment section at my paper to do a piece on your new album and tour,” she said as she took the drink I handed her.
“Really?” I said in surprise. “The Columbus Dispatch agreed to do an article about Listless? That’s crazy.” It was. The Columbus Dispatch isn’t just some local middle-Ohio paper. It’s high on the list of the most read newspapers in America.
“They should be sending a reporter out to your Toledo show.”
“Thanks a lot, Rachel.” I said while trying to disguise any obvious hesitation in my voice.
I wasn’t completely sure that I wanted too many people to know about my foray into the past. To me, this experience was about fulfilling a dream I had before I had given up on dreaming. Now that I was a teacher, I felt I had to at least feign professionalism for the sake of my students. Who could respect and trust an educator who couldn’t even look past and move on from his own adolescence?
“So, were you in the Ann Arbor area for some reason, or did you come all the way up here to see us play?” I asked after taking a long drink, long enough to avoid truncating my thoughts.
“Conor, have a little pride in yourself! Of course I came up just to see the band play. It’s the first night of the tour!” Rachel paused. She tilted her head and raised her eyebrows. “Buuut, I did also make some plans to meet with U of M’s Dean of Students.”
“Ahhh. There’s the quick little caveat that changes everything!”
“Well, I’m sorry, Conor, but as trite as it sounds, the news never stops.”
“And neither does Rachel Cohen!” I said with an obnoxious smile. “Hey, I’m glad you got to see the band one last time. And thanks for getting the word out in the paper.” I looked at my cell phone. “I should probably get going. We have to get up pretty early to take off for Chicago.”
“It was a great set, Conor. I hope this isn’t the last time I get to see it!” She buttoned up her pea jacket. “Goodbye, friend.”
Ouch. There it was: friend. The heart wrenching euphemistic moniker I was given post-relationship. So much for time healing old wounds—that hurt as much as it ever had. I thought about the incidents that led to my first encounter with that horrible title.
In the summer going into our senior year of college, things seemed to be making sense. We had been together for years, enjoyed countless numbers of memorable experiences, and had become a fundamental part of each other’s lives in just about every way possible. It was obvious what the next steps were: graduate, get married, and begin the rest of our lives together. I just had to think of the best way to get the ball rolling on all of this and do it with the few dollars I had to my poor-college-student name. The only way I knew how to get the kind of cash I needed in the time I needed it was through the overflowingly wet fountain of student loan dollars ready for the scooping.
With help from her fashion astute sister, I picked out the best ring my newly infused capital worth could buy. We chose a classic solitaire with both simple elegance and a shine that could light up any girl’s eyes at the right angle. After getting final approval from her dad, it was time to take what I thought would be the final plunge.
We set off for a brief vacation on Mackinac Island at the nexus of the two great divisions of land in Michigan—the Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula—and the two great bodies of water surrounding them—Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. On a cloudless day in August, we left our campsite for a bike trek through the island. Intently scanning the skyline for the most scenic yet remote place to stop, I finally saw a small secluded beach fifty yards off the bike trail mostly hidden behind a row of ash trees. Once there, I surprised her with a blanket and a picnic basket stuffed in the most awkward way into a backpack filled to its limits. I had attached it to my bike in as discreet a way as possible, but how it escaped detection by my student journalist girlfriend, I wasn’t sure.
After eating and drinking enough wine to feign confidence for even the most important of decisions, I got on one knee, opened up a little white box, and popped a question that would change our lives forever, one way or the other. With only a very brief hesitation, she cried, “Yes!”
Over the next nine months our moods went from “top of the world!” with wedding plans flowing and family and friends’ questions pulsating; to “shaken but standing strong” with progress being made and other plans being made to make plans; to… “why exactly did we think this was a good idea?” with wedding plans halted and family and friends afraid to ask questions. Our senior year, with its emphasis on decision making, had brought about the questioning of wants and goals, and for one us, it was enough to opt for an entirely new direction.
On the last day of our lives together, she said to me, “You’re gonna make someone very happy someday, friend…” Who knew such innocuous words could hurt so deep? I didn’t want to make someone else happy. I wanted to make her happy. So I let her go.
“Bye…” I said, standing at the Blind Pig bar counter with a fake smile and a sympathetic nod. It was amazing how similar this felt to the last time. Does it ever get better? Rachel gulped down the last of her drink and swiftly got back to her first love: work.