Goodbye, Rodney

I met Joseph Rodney Evans–or Rodney, as I knew him–while I was editor of The Weevil Eye, the Enterprise State Junior College student newspaper. He was a reporter for the paper, and a character from the beginning. He was as round as he was tall, with slick black hair and thick, dark-tinted glasses, continually wearing a black canvas duster.

That’s how I still see him, because that’s how I saw him nearly every day for three or four years, I suppose. After ESJC, we each moved on to Troy University, where we lived on the same hall in the same crappy dorm. I kept on with the newspaper thing, but Rodney had other interests. Still, we saw each other every day, and often hung out several times a week. I can tell you that Rodney was a good man–one of the kindest and most genuine people I’ve ever met.

Rodney died last Friday. I still can’t wrap my head around it. We’d reconnected several years ago on Facebook, and I was startled to learn that he was in bad shape physically. Rodney had won the kind of genetic lottery you never want to claim. His eyes were bad–I think he even lost one of them later on–and he was morbidly obese, on dialysis, and had heart problems. I find that last part terribly ironic. He had one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever known. There shouldn’t have been any damned problems.

Here is the difference between Rodney and myself: I am a bullshitter par excellence. Even today, I BS with the best of them. But back then I was all-world at bullshitting, and pretty insufferable because of it. Rodney was not like that at all. He was, as far as I can tell, completely anti-bullshit. He often made me uncomfortable with his naked vulnerability, because I’d learned to be something of a chameleon, to disguise my hurts and my pain–to put up walls and not let anyone in.

He was also one hell of a talented writer. Twenty years from now, some lucky editor is going to dig up old manuscripts of Rodney’s and go “Holy shit–who is this guy? He’s GOOD.” He was smart, and I had/have a healthy respect for the intelligent choices he made in his stories. He was, in many ways, ahead of his time. He wrote a lot of speculative fiction early on, about 15 years too soon. I think he would have been right at home in the new crop of magical realism writers that have come along recently.

I called him last year. Or maybe the year before. He’d posted something to Facebook that was sad, and I knew he was essentially homebound and might like to talk to someone. He didn’t pick up, so I left a voicemail. I didn’t follow up with another call. I know how it is with depression. Sometimes you’re hurting so bad and you want someone to reach out to you–but you want it to be the right someone. I figured I wasn’t it, so I let it go. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d called him back again and again, wish I’d annoyed him enough to answer the damned phone.

God, he was funny. Sarcastic without ever really being mean. And despite all of his physical challenges, I never saw him bitter. I saw him hilariously angry many times, but never bitter.

I want to tell you that at his core, Joseph Rodney Evans was a good man–a better man than I was, and better than I ever will be. And yet I’m the one with the house and the cars and the wife and the kids. I’m the one here still breathing. He’s not. And that’s a damned shame. He deserved every happiness, but got damned little of it. And now he’s gone.

I wish I could tell him thank you. Thank you for being my friend when I was so full of myself that I didn’t have many. Thank you for forgiving me when i was being an asshole. Thank you for making me laugh. Thanks for letting me be one of the legion of people who were able to call you a friend.

Rest in peace, Rodney.

Short story: Sarah Loved the Rain

Author’s note: This is a story I wrote before I’d ever been to Paris. It’s a short-short, and my take on a romantic story. I think it’s pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. It’s definitely something I wrote to get out of my comfort zone, so it works for me on that level. Other than being seen by a few friends, it hasn’t been published before. I think. Enjoy.

Sarah Loved the Rain

Short fiction by Bobby Mathews

The city was made of silver, or at least that’s the way it looked to us. The rain came down and washed the gray streets and streaked the tall slate buildings until they looked strange and mercurial in the twilight. Everything was tinged with magic, and why not? Two Americans in the city of light, walking along cobbled streets that were ancient when Ernest Hemingway walked along them nearly a century ago.

We walked along, our heads and shoulders protected from the soft, fluid chill of the rain by the large black umbrella I carried. Sarah was taller than me by a couple of inches, and self-conscious about it. She never wore high heels. She shortened her stride to match mine, and we meandered everywhere, watching flower vendors pack up petals and plastic wrap and dyes. In the gutters where they dyed the flowers, riotous color ran and mixed in a greasy rainbow. Continue reading

Running late

I’m running a little late today. The day job has taken over my life a little bit, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I enjoy the day job immensely, but sometimes it requires a lot out of me in order to do it the right way.

Regardless, onward and upward. Last year I read 71 novels and three memoirs, for a total of 74 books. I don’t think I’m going to hit that mark this year, but I’m trying to continue reading a good deal. Time spent with a book is much better than time spent in front of the TV (or internet, for that matter).

The hopeful part of me thinks that reading so much will motivate me to write more and better during this new year. And I think that’ll happen. But when I hit the very good novels–like, say, Stardust by Neil Gaiman–I see how much further I have to go. There are novelists out there that I can say I’m better than. I write better than they do, from an objective viewpoint. I know that sounds arrogant, but I don’t mean it that way. Even though I may write better than they do, if they’re a published novelist, they’re doing something I can’t or won’t do: drafting, re-drafting, polishing, submitting.

I have to put in the work to get the rewards. That’s just the cold, hard truth.

Author interview: Following up with Cassandra Rose Clarke

Editor’s note: Shortly after this interview was published, Cassandra Rose Clarke’s novel, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, was named a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award for best original paperback science fiction novel published in the U.S.

Cassandra Rose Clarke and I have been friends since she was 18 or 19 years old, and just dreaming of writing the kind of fiction she produces today. She’s published by Angry Robot (and its YA imprint, Strange Chemistry), and repped by the incomparable Stacia Decker of Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her books receive fantastic attention from places like Kirkus, and her novel The Mad Scientist’s Daughter has appeared on multiple “Best of 2013″ lists. I don’t know any other way to say this: she’s kind of a big deal. Earlier this week we sat down to catch up and talk about her transition from debut novelist (The Assassin’s Curse) to working writer.

B: You had your first novel published in 2012, but really came into your own in 2013. Exactly how many books did you have published last year?

CC: 2013 saw two novels (one adult, one YA) and two novellas (both part of the YA novel’s world). So yeah, 2013 was definitely pretty busy for me.

B: Basically, 2013 was the year that you transitioned from first-time novelist to what I’d term a working writer–someone who’s writing and publishing books with some regularity. What was this transition like for you? Continue reading

Short story: Daddy’s Girl

I love a good creepy story. I love it even more when I’m the one who wrote it. A couple of months ago, an idea popped into my head and wouldn’t let go. Since I couldn’t ignore it, I sat down and chased it with the cursor, and caught what I could. The resulting story, Daddy’s Girl, turned out pretty well, I think. In some ways, a spooky story is a simple affair. Find that one nerve that jangles in the dead of the night–you know, that one that makes your hair stand on end when you wake up at midnight and wonder if you’ve locked all the doors and windows before you settled in for the night–and jump on it as hard as you can, as long as you can. So here’s the story.

Daddy’s Girl

Short fiction by Bobby Mathews

Mommy isn’t moving anymore.

She’s just lying there on the floor, face turning from blue to an awful purple color. Daddy lunged out of his chair, knocking it backward against the dining room wall. He knelt beside her, calling her name over and over. I’m screaming for her–”Mommy, mommy!”–like I haven’t done since I was a toddler. I haven’t called her “Mommy” in years. Now I can’t think of anything else to call her.

Mommy didn’t say anything when it happened. She just pitched sideways right in the middle of supper, while she was trying to take a bite of mashed potatoes. The fork clattered to the floor beside her. Now Daddy is moving around her, tilting her head back and trying to breathe down her airway the way they taught us in CPR class.

I can’t move—I don’t know what to do. Daddy looks up at me, his eyes wild like an animal. He tosses me his cell phone. I catch it with numb fingers. Continue reading

What to expect for 2014

So for the last few months, I’ve been neglecting the blog. It just hasn’t been as … focused … as I’d like it to be. So we’re trying something new this year. And since this begins the first full week of the new year, it’s as good a time as any to start. The blog will update three times a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Here’s what you can expect on each of those days:

Mondays: A hodgepodge. This might be a book review, or thoughts on fiction I’m working on. It might be funny stories from life, or notes on stories I want to write. I might even announce personal news on days like today. You’ll never know. It’ll be a surprise to you, and sometimes to me as well.

Wednesdays: Oh ho. Now we’re getting into the fun part. At least once a month, I’m going to publish a new short story. I did it last week, on Jan. 1, just to kick the new year off right. But for the first few weeks, we’re going to have a new short story EVERY WEEK. Who says I’m not ambitious? The reason behind this schedule is threefold: 1) New, exclusive content is important to the life of any blog; 2) It’ll get me back into the habit of writing fiction every day, which is something I need to resume; and 3) I like to write and share stories. So there. If I become too focused on writing a novel that I can’t continue a weekly pace, the new story every month rule will still stand. Once the pace slows, Wednesdays will still be dedicated to exploring the art of fiction in some way or another.

And finally, Fridays: Author interviews. I’m very fortunate that I have some really good friends who have been published, are being published, or are self-publishing with degrees of success. I’m hoping to use some of my journalism experience/prowess to really explore interesting aspects of writing (as well as allow them to promote their work). For the first three months of 2014, I’m going to be interviewing novelists and exploring what traits, if any, they have in common. I may have to revisit this feature after the first three months, but I’m hoping to line up more and more authors as the year progresses.

Anyway, those are the details on the revamped bobthewriter.com. See you back on Wednesday, when I’ll share a creepy little story called “Daddy’s Girl.”

Cover reveal for M.B. Mulhall’s “Heavyweight”

MaryBeth Mulhall is one of my dearest friends, and she has struck a deal with Dreamspinner Press to publish her novel, Heavyweight. I read one of the early drafts, and it’s a good book, folks. I’m really proud for her. MB has self-pubbed a couple of books before this, but this is her first novel through a commercial publisher–it’s a breakthrough that many writers want, but never achieve. The novel will be released Jan. 23, 2014.

Heavyweight, a novel by MB Mulhall, centers on a high school wrestler hiding multiple secrets from his friends and family.

Heavyweight, a novel by MB Mulhall, centers on a high school wrestler hiding multiple secrets from his friends and family.

Here’s the cover, and let’s not forget the jacket copy:

Secrets. Their weight can be crushing, but their release can change everything—and not necessarily for the better. Ian is no stranger to secrets. Being a gay teen in a backwater southern town, Ian must keep his orientation under wraps, especially since he spends a lot of time with his hands all over members of the same sex, pinning their sweaty, hard bodies to the wrestling mat.

When he’s trying not to stare at teammates in the locker room, he’s busy hiding another secret—that he starves himself so he doesn’t get bumped to the next weight class.

Enter Julian Yang, an Adonis with mesmerizing looks and punk rocker style. Befriending the flirtatious artist not only raises suspicion among his classmates, but leaves Ian terrified he’ll give in to the desires he’s fought to ignore.

As secrets come to light, Ian’s world crumbles. Disowned, de-friended, and deserted by nearly everyone, Ian’s one-way ticket out of town is revoked, leaving him trapped in a world he hates—and one that hates him back.

The novel is a fascinating look at the fears that LGBTQ athletes have “coming out”–especially in their teen years. They worry (and probably rightly so) about how people around them would react to their sexual orientation. And sometimes they deal with that worry in unhealthy ways. Heavyweight is a gripping, challenging read. It’s listed as young adult fiction, but I’d say it’s fit for adults as well–especially adults who want to understand the challenging times LGBTQ teens face.

One last thing: I’m so proud of my friend MB. She’s one of those writers who really pursues the craft of writing with such passion that it makes me jealous. I wish I had half of her drive. If I had, I’d have probably written and published ten books by now. Take a look at her book. It’s worth a read. Or two.

Print and ebook copies can be pre-ordered at http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com