The Adventurist on Independent Bookstore Day

Article by annalia

Since 2015, Independent Bookstore Day has been a celebration of cultural hubs around the country. For one day only, hundreds of indies invite their communities to a full day’s worth of activities and exclusive IBD merchandise, unavailable anywhere else.

A 10:30am, kicking off a full day of activities, we will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Curious George with our beloved former Kids Specialist Mary-Catherine as our featured reader! At 11am, the Houston ZooMobile will arrive with animals and artifacts on display.

Don’t waste the afternoon napping: come drink with us instead! From 2pm until 4pm, we will have free beer from Saint Arnold Brewing Co., plus free wine and coffee. Customers who use the hashtag #BrazosIBD on social media will receive 15% off their purchase!

The grand finale? A reading by UHCWP alum J. Bradford Hipps, from his debut novel THE ADVENTURIST. I spoke with him in anticipation of his book signing.

“I don’t think with novels there’s ever the one single idea,” Hipps says over the phone. One thing he did want to explore, though, was the idea of the office space. Not as in the movie Office Space or the TV series starring Steve Carell, but as an actual working environment. “A setting in an office usually takes a satirical lens,” Hipps says. Something is amiss, whether “the boss is a moron, backstabbing, whatever. That’s the default lens.”

But what if it wasn’t? What if instead of a pain or “song of praise,” going into the office was just that: a job? “Instead of treating it as this cartoonish or Orwellian environment, what if you just treated it like the day to day?” Hipps says. “You have your good days, you have shitty days.” Beyond that, there’s competition, affection, hatred. According to Hipps, “corporate America has all the aspects you want in a novel like nowhere else except the battlefield.”

Fitting, then, that the first line of the book reads, “More and more I have been thinking: What this country needs is war.” Not “torture chambers, and fathers killed in front of sons, homes burned while children scream from the attics,” though. No one wants that. What Henry wants is a genuine disruption, perspective that will allow him to change lanes without the woman behind him being outraged “that I would have the nerve, the gall to interrupt even for a moment her progress in the world.”

In a sense, he gets what he wants. His steady job (steady life) becomes unhinged after his mother’s death. “It’s interrupted Henry’s understanding of himself and the world,” Hipps says. “There’s no other way to put it.” When Henry’s mother dies, his feeling that he is “fairly rooted and packaged and placed” disappears. Losing one relationship, he contemplates another: what about his “long-standing crush” on a married co-worker? Does (or could) it mean something?

Hipps is not Henry but software development is something he knows well. Ten years into his software development career is when he decided he wanted to write. “My wife and I were living in Europe at the time and on paper, it was a great life,” Hipps says. “Amsterdam is a beautiful city, and all the boxes that you think you’re supposed to check to enjoy your life were checked.” Still, there was this “nagging sense” that he should at least try.

This is the challenge he gave himself: apply to “only the good ones, the ones that everybody talked about. And if I get into any of them, I’ll take it as a sign.” One of those programs—and the one he ultimately chose—was the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston. “You’re aware at any given moment that millions of people around the world have the same thought,” Hipps says. “And unfortunately for many of them, they’re not meant to be writers.”

Unsure if he was meant to be a writer, Hipps says he spent many years writing on the side, and trying to teach himself as much as he could without approaching a graduate degree. He remembers bringing a story in to night school at a class he was taking in Atlanta “and having this clarity, and in my mind, I was like ‘This is terrible.’” He “didn’t know that until I finished it and turned it in” but at least the intuition was there.

Why a creative writing graduate program? Because Hipps believes that “writing is ultimately an apprentice art” and “there are not too many ways to apprentice yourself outside of an MFA program.” That’s the practical side. On the philosophical side, though, he adds that he was “in a state of ‘I don’t know what I don’t know.’” Creative writing programs can “guide you to understand. Then at least you know what you don’t know, which doesn’t sound like much but is actually huge.”

Rooted in fiction (he insists “I never had any ability toward poetry”), Hipps began drawing the map for what became THE ADVENTURIST half-way through his studies. The first eighty-eight pages were his thesis. He remained “superstitious” as long as he could, though. “I waited for a long time, even for myself” to admit this document he was working with had the potential to become a novel.

Not that Hipps now hands out business cards that say J. BRADFORD HIPPS, WRITER. “I have a day job, like most writers,” he says. “A lot of writers teach. I work in software.” In fact, he works in Houston! “My wife just really attached to and liked Houston,” he says, though his mutual admiration for it is clear. “Houston is a big, weird rambling untidy city, which makes it I think uniquely suited in a lot of ways for writers,” he says. Unlike other cities where it’s easy to “hide in an echo chamber,” he says that in Houston, “you meet people from all walks of life, all classes. There’s a hive energy.”

What separates Houston from, say, New York, he says, is institutions like us! “I think Brazos is a hugely important part of [the city’s] literary intent and literary culture,” he says. Together with Inprint and UHCWP, “you have this ecosystem that just feels very naturally supportive of writers and people who want to write, and readers. It seems like it would be a hard thing to copy.”

Perhaps. Hipps hails from Minnesota, went to school in North Carolina then got his first job in Atlanta, transferred to Amsterdam. It says something of the city if Houston is the place he landed and intends to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. As for returning to the Midwest? “My blood turned to iced tea years and years ago. It’s just completely out of the question.”

The Adventurist: A Novel By J. Bradford Hipps Cover Image
Unavailable from Brazos Bookstore
ISBN: 9781250062239
Availability: OUT OF PRINT - Not Available for Order
Published: St. Martin's Press - April 26th, 2016

Pre-order your copy of THE ADVENTURIST to be signed on Independent Bookstore Day, Saturday, April 30, 2016 at 7pm

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