Home from the frontier, a St. Petersburg writer goes through re-entry

So how's that new book coming? After a summer on the road, Jon Kile can tell you.

click to enlarge My son's spent the summer paddling in lakes, fishing and sleeping under the stars. Good luck with that, whoever-his-teacher-is! - Jon Kile
Jon Kile
My son's spent the summer paddling in lakes, fishing and sleeping under the stars. Good luck with that, whoever-his-teacher-is!

About a week ago my editor took a jab at me on social media for my summer hiatus from… well, from just about everything. As reported by Creative Loafing earlier this year, I was on a two-month cross-country road trip with my wife and two young children in a 2002 conversion van. I put my novel on hold; I put this column on hold; and I got knee-deep in “quality time” with the family unit. But I didn’t completely forsake writing. I have been chronicling our journey on the Don’t Make Me Turn This Van Around website. (As of this writing, the blog is still in Montana, while I’m on my couch in St. Petersburg.) My editor was giving me shit for “giving my writing away.” And she’s right. 

So I got back on the horse and wrote a piece about the environmental thriller I was reading while on my epic trip through the natural wonders of America. The end matter of the book had a quote from the author eviscerating “Industrial Tourists” — like me. In an attempt to connect my disjointed thoughts, I ended my essay with some pretentious reference to Ernest Hemingway and bullfighting. It wasn’t that bad. But it wasn’t that good either. I very badly wanted to write something solid. (Perhaps something that didn’t use the phrase “very badly” very badly.) My mind is mud. I can’t get going. I swear I’ve got Van Lag. One friend, a poet, consoled me by pointing out that Mercury is in retrograde. 

Apparently my ability to write will return when Mercury gets its shit together.

Two months on the road caused our family to lose typical social graces. The kids had no one to socialize with. We were filthy and accustomerd to eating things out of the dirt. And we didn’t see a television or newspaper for most of two months. We were like a homeschooled-Appalachian-Amish family. By the time we reached Oklahoma my wife was feeling so grimy she was taking naked sponge baths in broad daylight. In Nevada, our son — severed from technology — began reading books cover-to-cover. Our daughter — five years old — took all of three minutes to catch a massive catfish from a South Carolina lake, and threw an absolute fit when she didn’t get to clean and eat it. We struck fear in the eyes of day-trippers everywhere we went. During one free hotel breakfast in Mammoth Lakes, CA, our daughter spilled her apple juice. Five. Times. There are about a dozen gas station attendants from Amarillo to Seattle to Souix Falls who had to Google “boiled peanuts” after my son left their shops, crestfallen. My wife’s desperate attempts to maintain basic hygiene had her washing her hair in the Little River in the Tennessee mountains, and questioning whether swimming in her clothes in an icy waterfall in Oregon counted as doing laundry. In between moments of hilarity, the kids were perfecting passive aggressive torture on each other — and us. Their mind games are so frustrating, the Geneva Convention declared it illegal to leave them alone in an interrogation room with a suspected terrorist. It’s just too cruel.  

click to enlarge Doing laundry in a La Quinta bathtub in Utah gave us a tub of brown water and a pile of wet dirty clothes. - Jon Kile
Jon Kile
Doing laundry in a La Quinta bathtub in Utah gave us a tub of brown water and a pile of wet dirty clothes.

It’s almost just as hard coming home. Reentry isn’t easy. We saw so many ‘pit toilets’ in our adventure that the kids have no idea what that little silver handle on the commode does. I feel like we should all take the class they give inmates to prepare them for the outside world. God bless our kids’ teachers when school starts. The kids have been swimming in lakes, hiking in canyons, and paddling through gorges. Don’t be shocked if you catch them gazing absently out windows. 

But we were doing what everyone says everyone should do. It was the dream summer. Throughout it all, I was taking notes. I met enough characters to fill 10 novels. It’s way easier to steal colorful personalities than to invent them. The stoned Subway employee in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. The stage-coach driver in Virginia City, Montana. The rodeo mom in Bridgeport, California who saddled her daughter with the name “Paisley.” Oh, and the lady next to her giving her 18 month-old Mountain Dew. “He just loves it!” All these fine folks will come back into my life in fiction. 

And then there were the places. The beautiful: the haunted canyon of Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, and the lonely 10,000-foot pass above Ten Sleep, Wyoming. The odd: the truck stop in Washington named after “Miss India USA,” and the psychedelic funhouse in Santa Fe. And the spiritual: 800 year-old cliff dwellings in Colorado, and the millions of synchronous fireflies in — well, I’m not telling you where. My notebook is full of colorful settings. 

click to enlarge Here, in New Mexico, I demonstrate the distance at which you can't hear whether your kids are arguing, which is affected by elevation, terrain, humidity and temperature. - Jon Kile
Jon Kile
Here, in New Mexico, I demonstrate the distance at which you can't hear whether your kids are arguing, which is affected by elevation, terrain, humidity and temperature.

The conceit of this column implies that I’m answering a question: How is my new book coming? Well, it’s coming. I’ve neglected my next novel for the past two months, but it’s nearly ready to be published. And now I’ve got 10 more ideas in my mind — thus giving me the motivation I need to be done with it. So if you see a man wearing a dirty souvenir shirt from a national park, hunched over a MacBook in a coffee shop, mumbling about the difference between sagebrush and juniper, that’s me. I’m harmless.

But watch out for my kids. They bite. 

click to enlarge Is it me, or is there something spooky about that black van?
Is it me, or is there something spooky about that black van?

Bad genes forced Jonathan Kile to give up a life as traveling salesman. Good genes make him a fine and — some would say handsome — writer. His family travel blog Don't Make Me Turn This Van Around, is an international sensation. His first book, The Grandfather Clock is available on Amazon. The sequel, The Napoleon Bloom, will be out in shorter time than it took Harper Lee to publish her second book. 

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