#debooze: Smith Henderson

Article by debut-author

Let’s set the scene:

You’re a debut author. It’s the magic hour—that time in the afternoon when the sun has set but light still dusts the sky. After years of struggle, your first book is forthcoming, about to enter the world. Tomorrow, there will be time for more stress—for interviews, for readings, for sleeping on couches as you tour the country and share your work with the world…but for now, take a deep breath, put on some music, and grab yourself a drink. It’s time to relax. It’s time to reflect. It’s time for #debooze.

In #debooze, we ask a debut author to reflect on their road to publication, and to also recommend some booze.

The Debut: FOURTH OF JULY CREEK by Smith Henderson

The Booze: “Deerwater”

FOURTH OF JULY CREEK began after my first weekend working at a group home. I can’t talk in much detail about the kids I worked with, the specifics of their abuse, the challenges of caring for them—that stuff is their story, and sacred to me.

But I can talk about how that experience affected me. How long, long hours with intensely disturbed but ultimately blameless teenage boys trying simply to cope with life would inform my brief stint in a Texas prison. How I saw those frightening and hardened men as an outcome for the boys I’d worked with a year or two before. How I began to see that I was but a few horrific incidents away from a lifetime of poverty or neglect or abuse. How the world visits upon us every manner of tragedy. How Bad Luck’s worst attribute is its self-multiplier, a cancer on a biography.

I saw some shit in that group home, and it was just the tip of the ice cube in the glass of whiskey. I drank beer after that first weekend, my mind revving like an engine that could not get past first gear. There were six empty cans of PBR in front of me, and I didn’t feel the alcohol at all.

When I was elbow deep in this novel, I was also reading voraciously. I believe in psychic ratios. You can’t have too much material or influence in your head, and you can’t run on empty either. But I was angry about all that I hadn’t read, anxious to dive into it and know it and let myself steep in it. So I drove all night with Barry Hannah (the work, not the man, though I did get to have dinner with him one night, to my great delight) or some Faulkner deep cuts. I read N. Scott Momoday and Jim Welch and Marilynne Robinson and the great, absurd Flannery. And so on. Man, did I hang with these motherfuckers. Hard. I sipped Old Grandad and water and stayed up all night with WOODCUTS OF WOMEN or NINETY-TWO IN THE SHADE or some other ripping badass book—something that would give me a clue on how to leaven all the heaviness of what I wanted to write about. I was looking for joy, mastery, artistic multipliers to take on the multipliers of tragedy.

Not for me to say whether I got there. I did my damnedest, especially in those final stretches when my personal life dive-bombed and veered like the clever, well-meaning fuck up I’d construed into a protagonist. When you’re all alone with an editor’s notes and you’re afraid to touch the damn thing in the absurd fear that you might violate some artistic Hippocratic oath to do no harm, you need the right drink at the end of the day. A drink that soothes but doesn’t cloy. A drink that kicks but isn’t trying so hard to establish its bona fides. So I settled into the following, which I have recently christened “Deerwater."

Deerwater:
Take one nice glass. Faceted and heavy, preferably.
Fill halfway with ice. Distinct cubes—avoid chips or small, broken pieces of ice from the bag in the back of the freezer.
Pour over enough Bulleit Rye to just float the cubes. Then another splash.
Top with ice-cold soda.
Dash of bitters if you deserve it.
Repeat as necessary, and get back to work in the morning.

Smith Henderson will be in-store Wednesday, Oct. 29 with his novel FOURTH OF JULY CREEK. Reserve your copy today!

Fourth of July Creek Cover Image
$26.99
ISBN: 9780062286444
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Ecco Press - May 27th, 2014

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