Where’s It All Going?

“Time isn’t holding up, time isn’t after us

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was”

 – Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime” 

I started writing Tattoos and Tans, my first book, in February of 2020. Since then, I’ve published the book, written three drafts of my second novel (coming out in October), started a digital publishing label, and moved to Belgium. 

Those are the big ticket items, anyway. Just below those wave tops are all kinds of other new and pretty significant currents running through everything. Meditation. Fitness. Learning French! I’ve got all kinds of shit going on. The interesting thing is I never really planned for any of this. 

I suppose it started when I finally quit drinking in January, 2020. Just in time for the pandemic. Man! I sometimes think of how totally fucking aweful the whole lockdown would have gone if I was still finishing my nights with whiskey and beer, waking up to headaches and tomato juice, and then doing it all again. On and on. Talk about in the nick of time!

I had written the outline of a little crime story called Tattoos and Tans, set in my hometown of Eunice, with no other intention than to send the chapters as I finished them to my good friend Toby, who still lives there. And who, by the way, did in fact open the town’s first tattoo parlor. The thinly veiled characters and improvised plot were never meant to serve any purpose higher than entertaining my friend. 

And I’m sure that’s how it would’ve gone down, if I hadn’t got sober. But the thing was, suddenly I had a lot more time on my hands, even without factoring in the pandemic. I found myself in my basement room in the evenings after dinner, and instead of doing shots of Gentlemen Jack and watching Netflix or whatever, I wrote. And I kept writing. 

Once the grip of the booze loosened, my long dormant dream of being a fiction writer re-emerged. And so the story picked up steam. Instead of five page chapters, the first draft of my novel was growing in twenty and thirty page spurts. Now, it wasn’t great prose. Especially the pages from the very first few weeks. But by March or April, or maybe it was May–by the springtime, let’s say, I had a first draft. 

Which was great, except that 1) we were moving to Belgium in July and 2) I had absolutely no idea what the next step in the novel writing process was. So what I did was I spent the remainder of my time in the U.S. learning about the process of writing a novel. I got a subscription to Masterclass.com and binged on the hours of instruction from David Balducci and James Patterson, primarily. I took a lot of notes. 

The other accidentally smart thing I did was buy a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. King’s book is incredible. If you are a creative writer and you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor. Anyway, so between the Masterclasses and the King, supplemented by Elmore Leonard and his 10 rules, I came to understand, in an academic sense at least, how one should/could/might go about producing a potentially viable piece of commercial fiction. 

And I wrote the first pages of the second draft of Tattoos and Tans in the inner room of an old house in Mons, Belgium, during the first hundred degree day the country had had in recent memory. A few months later, when I finished the second draft, the manuscript was still barely readable, but at least there was a structure to it and it was more or less clear what I was trying to do on the page. 

At that point I still had the traditional fiction writer’s fantasy in my head: finish the manuscript, use it to wow an agent, score a book deal. But by then I’d already learned enough about the process and proven to myself that I was capable of producing a novel, and so the idea of pivoting from that self-contained, disciplined work to a plan that basically relied on luck was not appealing at all. 

So I started researching “self publishing”, came across and read Write. Publish. Repeat, and I was a convert. As a proud rock and roller, the do it yourself ethic has always been appealing. The idea of putting my own work out there, of not bothering to ask for permission, of taking what I had learned and was learning and doing exactly what the book says–write, publish, and repeat–that idea took hold. 

It was a modest enough concept: finish the book, have it edited, get a cover design, and put it out there. But then I started poking around online for other works of fiction set in Louisiana. Even though I grew up there, I’d been living elsewhere for a good long while, so I wasn’t tuned into new fiction coming out of the state in the way I should’ve been. But the thing was, I couldn’t find any new books coming out of Louisiana. Not really. 

New Orleans was well represented, but my Google results didn’t show me a single piece of modern, commercial fiction from Cajun country. I kept looking. I asked around. I couldn’t really find any new books set or otherwise coming out of South Louisiana. And that’s when New Bayou Books occurred to me. Because somebody’s got to put out some new Louisiana literature. 

At this point 2020 was drawing to a close and, having settled into life in Belgium, though it was still pandemic-life, the lifestyle habits I’d developed in the wake of my drinking became more prominent in my life. I got much more serious about health and fitness. I meditated pretty regularly. I watched a lot of entrepreneurship videos on YouTube. It all came together with my brand new vision for New Bayou Books–I was going to kick start a revolution in Louisiana literature. 

I don’t like to read that sentence in past tense. So let me update it. My plan is still to kick start a revolution in Louisiana literature. The how of it all is still largely theoretical. There is also the problem of a spokesperson. I am obviously not the poster boy for Louisiana literature. I don’t live in the state, and, to tell the truth, my work’s not all that literary either. 

Nevertheless, I remain convinced that there are great writers in Louisiana that we will all want to read. The challenge of kick starting a revolution is the challenge of drawing those writers “out of the shadows”. I don’t exactly know how to do that. I’ll have to stick to what’s in my power to do. Which is to write new books, new blogs, and to keep developing New Bayou Books, one reader at a time. 

The funny thing about it all is, I never set out to do any of this stuff. It all just started with me quitting drinking and wanting to entertain my friend. But eighteen months later, I can look back and see real progress. I still don’t have a plan. I still don’t know where it will all be in another year. But I do know I’m having fun, and every connection I’ve made in the course of bringing the revolution in Louisiana literature to life has been a real gas. I’ll keep going, if for no other reason than I want to see what’s next! Are you with me?

Published by New Bayou Books

JR Reed started New Bayou Books to spark a revolution in Louisiana literature. The goal of the company is simple: to great writers out of the shadows to carry on the Louisiana literary tradition.

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