I understand that an introduction to a novel, especially one written for a first edition printing by a relatively unknown author, may seem egotistical; this of course presumes a reaction to this book passionate enough to warrant such a pre-defense. I am willing to gamble my humility on this presumption. Stranger Will is a book that will polarize readers, and I believe setting proper context for this novel is important.

Stranger Will started with a newspaper article about dead bodies. I was in college, and for the first time in my life, open to outside influence. Sudden self-sufficiency coupled with my first completed year of university study forced me to open up to new ideas. Despite my historical defiance of the status-quo (or what I thought at the time was defiance), the university liberal arts program did its job and liberated me from my somewhatrigid thought structure. Where before I would have read the dead body article and walked away simply satisfied with its morbid imagery, I instead walked away with a sense of possibility. The article had potential, though I wasn’t yet sure how to leverage it. That would come months later.

My first years in college correlated with the most heated years of twenty-aughts Middle East conflict, specifically the invasion of Iraq. American’s were just beginning to feel the wear after having been misled into combat. Protests didn’t work for Vietnam. Protests didn’t work for Serbia and Kosovo. And protests weren’t working for the 2003-(insert final date here) Middle East situation. More than any other point of my life, I realized that the world was much greater than me. A line from Octavio Paz’s “The Blue Bouquet” (which I altered slightly and used in Stranger Will), comforted me immensely:

“I thought that the universe was a vast system of signs, a conversation between giant beings. My actions, the cricket’s saw, the star’s blink, were nothing but pauses and syllables, scattered phrases from that dialogue.”

Despite the negative context of the story, I felt this non-control to be an optimistic and consoling outlook. Paz’s line would become my mantra for dealing with a world that I truly could neither control nor understand. Apathy, for all its faults, at least relieves stress.

As a result of this realization, I decided to write what I eventually came to understand as a self-help novel for the wartorn. In Stranger Will the main character slowly learns that in order to be mentally and emotionally free he must accept being controlled. I am sure this sentiment would please ruling powers, from the upper manager to the throned king. However, my intention is not to feed those powers, but instead to warm the subverted.

That dead body article ultimately became the basis for my protagonist’s job. William Lowson cleans crime scenes. Such a macabre position forces William to come to terms with control the way I’d had to during the Middle East situation. Fellow writers may already sense the inherent difficultly with promoting Apathism. How can one express passion around a topic that is passionless by definition?

I met this challenge on two fronts: genre and sentence style. Noir literature was born and popularized of the years preceding and during the great depression. Not surprisingly, noir literature deals with emotionally- and physically-damaged morally-ambiguous protagonists made so by a physically-damaged and morally-ambiguous environment. People were living bleak in the 1930s, so they wrote and read bleak. Pairing noir conventions with Stranger Will‘s oft-subdued and minimalistic language came naturally, yet nonetheless uncomfortably.

Perhaps my own personal interest in the behind-the-scenes miscellanea of a writer, even an obscure one, does enough to justify this defense. It is my name on the cover, after all. But I hope the need goes further than my own interests. Even if that need stays confined to my family. My kid may read this one day. I plan to be senile by that time, so justifying this book won’t be possible. So, for you Jameson, know that I love you (I finished the book before you were born. At the time of publication you will be just over two years old).

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CALEB J ROSS has been published widely, both online and in print. He graduated with a degree in English Lit and a minor in creative writing from Emporia State University in 2005. He is the author of Charactered Pieces: stories (OW Press), Stranger Will: a novel (Otherworld Publications, 2011) and, I Didn’t Mean to Be Kevin: a novel (Black Coffee Press, 2011).

Visit his official page at: www.calebjross.com
Twitter: @calebjross
Facebook: facebook.com/rosscaleb
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7 responses to “In Defense of Stranger Will

  1. Gordon says:

    Very insightful. If you ever do another edition of this book, maybe amend the introduction with this, or an afterword or something.

  2. Thanks for this Caleb, fascinating stuff. Even being close to this project, I didn’t know all of this.

  3. Okay, let me just say, for the record, that the only thing better than superhero origin stories are NOVEL origin stories. This was absorbing and great and now I have to get my hands on your book and read that sucker.

  4. Thanks everyone.

    Books are my Boyfriends is the best blog title ever. I especially like the pluralized ‘boyfriends,’ as though no book is good enough to tie you down for life.

    • Shucks, thanks dude. No book is good enough to tie me down for life, but there are those that make SUPER awesome boyfriends for 4-7 days, sometimes even a couple of weeks depending on length/general life business….

  5. Stephen Krauska says:

    Claire is now reading this and I filled her in on the scant details of your life story that I am familiar with. Notably, that you must have been working on this novel while your wife was pregnant. She thought that was a little fucked up and I agreed but then explained that the novel is not a manifestation of a secret plan or desire but rather a “creative sense of fear.” Taking something totally terrible and taking it to its furthest possible terriblity in order to make reality seem a little less terrible. It’s funny that I had that conversation yesterday and am reading this today. Way to be a trouble maker.

  6. Mark Kohut says:

    Nice. I want to read. But you are wrong, I’m afraid, about protests and the Vietnam War…

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