David Puretz | January 28, 2020 | Global City Press
Format: Paperback Original | 978-1-7333599-1-7 | Price: tk
Format: Limited Edition Hardcover | ISBN: 978-1-7333599-2-4 | Price: tk
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New York City – When escape becomes a first line of defense, is it possible to ever face life’s harsh realities? In his debut novel, The Escapist (Global City Press, January 28, 2020), David Puretz details one young man’s seemingly never-ending quest for his missing father. Weaving topics like mental health, family conflict and abuse, drug addiction, and sexuality throughout a frame narrative structure, Puretz delves into the internal and external calamities that shape the human life and mind.
The only thing protagonist Billy Chute excels in is escaping. After finding that his father has escaped his own life and disappeared, Billy quits his job and sets out to find him. But what he may really be searching for is a path to free him from his past and give him a purpose and future.
More than a story of self-discovery, The Escapist takes an intimate look into the psyche of an unlikely protagonist. Billy turns to writing as he travels the country, and uses writing, in part, as a way to heal, make sense of things, and forgive. Within the narrative, he explores the adversity of family and self, desperate to create his own identity, but drug addiction and the lasting effects of past abuse take him deeper into an escape than he ever could have imagined.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I was born outside Boston to two loving Jewish parents, an accountant and a social worker. I have an older brother and a younger sister, whom my parents adopted from Bogotá, Colombia, trafficked back to America by my father, the hero.
I went to Ithaca College in upstate NY where my affection for writing blossomed into what it is today—this little devil of a thing it is, isn’t it? I was part of Ithaca’s inaugural graduating class of Writing Majors. In fact, the major just celebrated its twentieth year. There have been many fine writers to have come out of that program since.
After college I attended a publishing certification program at NYU where I met my future boss for the next segment of my life. I worked at HarperCollins Publishers for five years in their Special Markets department. I lived in five different apartments scattered around NYC during that time. Had a fair share of infestations: cockroaches, mice, rats, bedbugs. Spent a lot of time reveling with my dear friends. The merry pranksters. My fellow 9-5ers. The Mommies and The Daddies we called ourselves. Now we all have kids and really are mommies and daddies. But I also spent a lot of that time alone. Did a lot of reading. A lot of television watching. A lot of sitting alone in movie theatres. My love for the writer Paul Auster continued to bloom. Man, was I moved by his work. Though no longer do I worship like I did back then.
Those were frantic times, lonely times. And my writing was slow-moving. But then I started seeing Charlotte. We’ve been together for almost fifteen years now. Married now with two kids. I fell in love with her quickly, and she has been a true partner. She filled that gap that I was feeling inside me for too long.
We moved in together in Brooklyn in 2007, but a year later, we quit our jobs, traveled around the country for 90 days and 90 nights. 14,000 miles trekking through this beautiful country. I think we traveled through 43 states. It was fucking rad. The trip was a big influence on the book, geographically speaking, anyway. Then we picked a new location to live. One with a slower pace of life, one with character and integrity, someplace beautiful, a city, but not the big city, a metropolis surrounded by nature. We moved to Burlington, Vermont, where Char went to grad school. I bartended and wrote. Got a writing grant through Vermont Studio Center.
A few years later, a good deal on an apartment in New York City landed in our laps, and it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. We returned to the big city, and I attended an MFA program in Creative Writing where a lot of the work on the novel was completed. I began teaching on the side. I adjuncted for a while. Now I’m fortunate enough to be teaching writing full time.
In my early twenties, I developed a particular affinity for self-reflexive fiction, metafiction, and metanarration. Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy was a revelation. I lapped up all of Auster’s stuff, his early stuff, anyway. And Coetzee’s Disgrace. And Slow Man. And Murakami. Vonnegut. Barth. Borges. Pynchon. I couldn’t get enough of frame narratives—stories within stories, coupled stories, sub-narratives, stories that abutted a series of others, stories about characters who were telling their own stories—of being sent down these rabbit holes as a reader and trying to find my way back out. I found this kind of story layering, when done right, rousing, fascinating.
Soon I was writing fiction about fiction writers who were writing their own fiction, and I wanted to see how deep of a rabbit hole I myself could dig. But these stories often ended up being just too confusing and abstract for readers, too bizarre. Readers had too hard a time connecting, empathizing, caring.
I still knew I wanted to write a story about a writer, but I was also—somewhat begrudgingly—coming around to the importance of reader accessibility. Eventually I returned to a short story I wrote when I was in college, and that was the impetus for The Escapist. The short story was about identical twin boys born to an evil scientist father who carried out psychological experiments on them, principally to see if he could cultivate, and in turn, exploit, their powers of psychic telepathy. Instead of developing that story line further, I decided instead to develop a character portrait and storyline for a troubled young writer who would craft such a story about identical twins and their evil scientist father. That’s how Billy, the protagonist of The Escapist, was born, an early version of him, anyway.
Now in its final form, many years later, The Escapist has no sub-narrative about the twins and their evil father. Eventually I realized that this story worked best when Billy’s writing was confronting his own, real, experiences. Billy reflecting on his own life experiences in his writing, on his relationship with his own father, just ended up being much more compelling than Billy’s fiction.
Keeping your readers invested in your story and in your characters should be a writer’s top priority, and it took me a long time to fully appreciate that. But The Escapist never would have happened if it weren’t for that original story about the telepathic twins.
How do you create your characters?
It’s hard to say where characters come from. Some of it is from my own experiences and some of it is from people I know or people I’ve met or people I’ve dreamt about. Many amalgamations thereof with nuanced flourishes. But I need to have fully fleshed out characters before a scene can be executed. Stories need to be character-driven. So that’s what I do. I put my characters behind the wheel. I let characters make the decisions. When I hit a crossroad in a story, the character I’m channeling reacts. And I don’t know what the reaction is going to be until the character gets there and is put into that situation.
What would your advice be for authors or aspiring authors regarding writing?
There is so much out there to deter you from pursuing this thing. It just gets harder and harder to make ends meet, to find the time and the place to work, to get published, to appease readers. Why would anyone want to pursue such an endeavor with all these cards stacked against you? It’s not worth it if you don’t love doing it. If you don’t love the process. I’ve had so many naysayers come and go in my life. So many people and things pushing me to quit. Perhaps that’s the hardest part. Being told that the work is not good enough (which translates in one’s head to I’m not good enough). You have to believe in what you’re doing and fight past the noise to get your story out there and into the world. The hard part for me now is letting go and moving on after being with this story for so long. But I can’t wait to get going with my next one. It’s like anything else in life: You’ll fail, you’ll learn, and you’ll go at it again stronger. That’s the key. As long as you’re willing to keep going at it.