Wednesday, January 1, 2014


It's not the writing that's difficult, it's the subject.

I should probably provide a bit of background first.  For as long as I can consciously remember, I've been a reader. And not just a "willing" reader or an "avid" reader.  I read to the point at which reading infringes meaningfully on the more urgent priorities in my life.  I read instead of grading papers, instead of keeping up on correspondence, instead of shopping for groceries or doing laundry.  I can't walk past a bookstore without walking in and buying something.   Nor are my tastes in reading highbrow or erudite, as would befit an educational professional.  I am a perfect omnivore; my brain wants EVERYTHING, from quality fare to the literary equivalent of roadkill.

Blame my mother.  An endlessly loving woman* who gave up her career to raise my younger brother and me, she suffused our childhoods with books.  Among my earliest memories is sitting on her lap in my pajamas, preparing for bed with a rendition of Dr. Seuss's "The Sneetches".  She paid the price over the years as the two of us would inevitably steal whatever book she was in progress through, start on it ourselves, and stash it away where she couldn't find it.  We wore out the shelves of the Topeka Public Library; my tastes evolved over the years through the adolescent sports novels of Matt Christopher, the Choose Your Own Adventure series, Madeline L'Engle, Douglas Adams, and ultimately and the end of my teenage years to the likes of Hunter S. Thompson.

A product of high school policy debate and extemporaneous speaking, I was a political animal in my youth, and I graduated college in 1994 with the ambition of being paid to write about my opinions.  Ten years later I would almost certainly have become a political blogger.  At the time, however, the only path forwards was through journalism, and I took a $250 a week job with a small Topeka newspaper as a business reporter.  As a journalist, I produced a huge quantity of quality fiction; my boss was forced to suffer an endless series of well-justified complaints that my exposes on local events were factually incorrect in multiple particulars.  I washed out in short order with a Kansas Press Association award for the editorial content that I crafted in my spare time, and wound up as a successful high school debate coach.

By the mid 2000s, blog content was exploding, both in quantity and in relative political importance.  A former student brought me in as a writer on his new project, The Crossed Pond, a political opinion blog of roughly libertarian symapthies.  As my job at a Catholic school precluded me from openly advocating a political agenda (it is in no teacher's interest to be seen as partisan), I produced content under the melodramatic pseudonym "Rojas".  We assembled an eclectic and impressive group of writers from all walks of life and were at the forefront of Ron Paul's rise to prominence in the 2008 Republican primaries; as a result we became a relatively successful operation fairly quickly, with upwards of 10,000 monthly visitors at our peak and nominations for multiple reputable blogging awards.  As Paul's star faded, however, so did our collective interest in producing new content.   The site malingers on, host now mainly to eclectic music videos and, every now and then, some insightful political writing by one or the other of the old guard.  It's worth the occasional visit, if you're into that sort of thing.

My own horizons began to change when, for the first time, I turned my hand to fiction.  Having always thought of myself as an editorialist, the option of serious work in the genre had never occurred to me, though occasionally I would find myself with an idea for a short story rattling around in my head.  In 2010, however, on a lark, I produced a short story for the Norman Mailer Writing Competition for high school educators.  The story operated around the conceit that the "light at the end of the tunnel" seen in so many near-death experiences was real; it was, in fact, the bait produced by the afterlife equivalent of an anglerfish, which sought to devour the souls of the gullible and unprepared.  The story was not quite what the awards committee had in mind, and it was squashed beneath a deluge of Oprah-esque abuse memoirs.

That might have been the end of it had I not thought to myself, you know, literary merit aside, the 16-year-old version of me would opt for the soul-eating fish over the incest survivor's story ten out of ten times.  And brewing in me, throughout the process, was another idea.  A much longer version of the anglerfish's story; a vision of an afterlife unlike anything else in fiction, where the interactions of soul and flesh produced an entirely new set of rules and adventures.  A world run not by a benevolent deity, but by powerful entities whose agendas are not necessarily congruent with the interests of the souls in their care.

That afterlife is taking shape in the Axis of Eternity novels, the first of which is, as I write this, in the late drafting stages.  It is exactly the sort of book that 16-year-old me would have devoured whole and begged for second helpings of.  And as the novel winds its way towards completion, I find myself faced with the fact that I need to make a spectacle of myself to get it into print.

No more, for me, the pleasant anonymity of opinions offered under a pseudonym.  I am told, by all reliable sources, that the modern author must assume the responsibility for the promotion of his own work.  This will not come easy to me; I have always been taught that to blow my own horn is vainglorious.  But here's the rub:  if I DON'T do it, a lot of young people out there are going to miss out on some very entertaining books.

So:  I'm Steve DuBois, a teacher, coach, and writer in Kansas City.  Welcome to the Redoubt, where souls like mine learn to forge new paths for themselves.  Feel free to join me as well on Facebook and Twitter (@Twitlysium) if you're so inclined.

I can't say for sure what's behind that light I'm chasing, or if I'll ever catch it.  But I hope you'll take the journey with me.

* who, within moments of reading the initial version of this post, emailed me a series of line edits regarding grammar.  The love of a mother may be unconditional, but the rules of our mother tongue are non-negotiable.

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