Between the Covers With Flam Grub

Flam Grub the new novel by Dan DowhalMy new novel Flam Grub launched last night. I guess with this book I’m not a rookie anymore, and certainly I’ve been in the fiction-writing business long enough now to notice some fairly common questions that get posed when you tell people you’ve written a novel.

One thing often asked is: “Where did the idea come from?” I can be a cynical and sarcastic bastard at times, and it takes considerable effort to bite my tongue and not say something like, “I don’t know. I found it in a basket on my doorstep and adopted it, but there was no note.” However, in this case there was an actual “ah-ha” moment. It came as I watched a TV commercial featuring a celebrity name-alike (as opposed to look-alike or sound-alike). It hit me that, with some twists, onomastic synchronicity would make a great subject for a short story, to which I gave the working title of Name Droppings. Well, a couple of years, 39 chapters, and 120,000 words later I had my not-so-short — but I like to think more interesting — story.

The other question you get asked all the time is: “What’s your book about?” That’s actually a fair question, and you might imagine it’s an easy one for someone who’s been labouring away for years on a book to answer. Unfortunately, as I’m sure many of my fellow writers will attest, it’s not. I know I constantly struggle to summarize the substance of a somewhat quirky and multilayered novel into the proverbial abbreviated elevator pitch.

I could say, for example, that Flam Grub is a dark, sometimes funny, coming-of-age story about an abused, talented boy who must come to terms with the name he bears. Then again, you could say the same about Harry Potter.

But, having had to prepare for my book launch, I have had considerable time to reflect on the subject. So, then, let me tell you what Flam Grub is about.

It’s a story of despair … and of expectation. It is a story of abuse, and of redemption. It is a story of spirituality, and of sensuality. It is a story of inner darkness, and of the light that burns within us all.

Flam Grub is about the way we cling to hope, and how things often look hopeless.

It’s about the desire for conformity, and the need for individuality.

It’s about the caprices of fate, and about making your own luck.

It’s about the names we’re given, and the names we make for ourselves.

It’s about the words the hurt us and drag us down, and the words that are crafted into beauty that lifts us up.

It’s about pathological introversion, teen angst, the power of literature, isolation, suicide, lust, odd names, strange fortunes, religion, villainy, love, death, and transfiguration — with some fine tailoring and necrophilia thrown in.

There, that explains it, doesn’t it? No? Okay, try this.

One of the advantages an author has is that, much like a medium can commune with the spirit world, we can commune with the world of our characters. So I went straight to the source. I went to Mr. Grub himself, and asked, “Hey, Flam Chop, what would you say the book is about?” Not surprisingly, Flam’s answer came in the form of verse, his way of reminding me that the book is also very much about the power and the beauty of poetry.

The Boy Beneath the Table
by Flam Grub

Entombed in tomes, well versed in poems,
A bookworm turns pages on a buried life,
Hiding under the table from domestic strife.
While mother Mary scolds and dad leaves bruises,
You suck up love from the breast of muses.

Stay on your guard as you creep through the schoolyard,
Kids may be cruel, but more so is fate,
Cursing you with a name you hate,
You play the ghost, but the name’s what haunts,
Two perfect syllables for jeers and taunts.

If you think you’re better off dead, then go ahead,
Put an end to your worries, stop wailing,
Climb up on a concrete railing,
Hurl yourself down on the traffic below;
But, damn Flam, suicide’s no bromide for a tortured soul.

Fate twists and warps, and delivers you a corpse,
And while you yearn to know your maker,
You dig the job of an undertaker.
To die, to sleep, aye there’s the rub,
Fame calls a name; Do you hear it? ‘Flam Grub.’

There. I know what you’re thinking. Gee, Danny, with all that, I don’t have to read the book now. Actually, one of the things that make books so unique and influential as an artform is that each reader brings her/his own experience to the consumption of the material. So, if you haven’t already, I encourage you to read Flam Grub and to find out for yourself what it’s all about.