Monday, August 21, 2017

"Fender" by Brent Jones

by Brent Jones

Fender by Brent Jones

Author Brent Jones stops by for an interview and to share an excerpt from his latest novel, Fender. You can also read my review.
For another book by this author, please check out my blog post on The Fifteenth of June.

How far must we travel to find our way home?
Nothing could have prepared Brennan Glover for the car crash that claimed the lives of his wife and six-year-old daughter. Stricken with grief, the only things that get him through each day are breaking his sobriety and clinging to Fender - the family dog and the sole survivor of the crash.
Desperate to distance Brennan from tragedy, his two closest friends take him on the cross-country road trip they had always talked about. But what begins as an effort to mend his broken heart ends up unraveling a secret that changes everything he thought he knew about his family. Can a journey of six thousand miles lead Brennan to acceptance and new beginnings?
From finding the good in an often cruel world to learning to say goodbye to those we love most, this sophomore release from author Brent Jones is sure to leave readers longing for home, wherever that may be.

Brennan sat on the living room floor staring at his polished shoes, his back pressed against the leather sofa, a bottle of Jim Beam in his left hand, a lit cigarette in his right. Traces of afternoon sun peeked through lush drapes, adding a hint of color to an otherwise dark and empty room. He tilted the bottle back and flicked ash in an empty drinking glass between his legs, trickles of silver smoke rising up past his face. He was too stricken with grief to hear the front door open.
“You here, Bee?” Rocco entered with Franky in tow. He lowered his head, taking in the scene before him. “We’re so sorry.” He offered Brennan a sympathetic frown, his forehead wrinkled with worry. “How’re you holding up?”
Brennan flicked more ash in the drinking glass without responding.
Rocco let out a deep breath, added, “It was a beautiful service.”
Brennan kept his head down, making no effort to suggest he had heard Rocco.
“Should we come back later?”
“It’s all right if you wanna be alone,” said Franky.
Brennan raised his eyes with pronounced difficulty. He was immediately turned off by their concern, which looked a lot to him like judgment and shame. Rocco, evidently concerned about his drinking, and Franky, concerned because Rocco was concerned. “Go ahead,” said Brennan. “Say it.”
“Say what?” asked Rocco, exchanging a glance with Franky.
Brennan dropped his cigarette in the glass, raised the Jim Beam to his lips. “Say I shouldn’t be drinking again.”
“What you’re going through right now, Bee, I understand—”
“Oh, you always understand, Rocco. Don’t you? Not thisss one, though. You fucking can’t. You didn’t loosh yer family.” Brennan could hear himself slurring.
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“He’s saying he’d be fucked up, too,” Franky chimed in. “That’s all.”
Brennan hadn’t taken a drink since the day his daughter was born—hadn’t smoked a cigarette since that day, either—and he knew drinking himself senseless was no way to honor her memory. Just this one time, he had told himself. I need this today. But so far, it had brought him no peace. It only heightened his sense of hopelessness.
A faint jingle echoed down the hallway, getting closer, a senior beagle with a limp and fresh stitches emerging at last. Franky knelt down, extended his hands. “Fender,” he said in a singsong voice, scratching behind the dog’s ears. “Who’s a good boy, Fender? Who’s a good boy?”
Fender parked himself at Franky’s feet—not out of obedience or affection, but sheer exhaustion. He was normally playful and energetic—even at twelve years old—and never allowed anyone to enter the house without barking to alert his humans. But at that moment he whimpered, sullen and subdued, rubbing his snout against Franky’s leg.
“When’s the last time he ate?” Rocco asked.
Brennan shook his head.
Rocco motioned to Franky. “Why don’t you take Fender out for a bathroom break? Maybe fill up his food and water bowls, too.”
Franky nodded and Fender followed him out of the room.
Rocco sat on the floor next to Brennan. “Listen, Bee, I get that this is tough.”
Brennan rubbed his temples and said nothing. He was a sensitive man, emotional, fragile at times, and now near speechless. He could almost feel himself shutting down, giving in to the pain, letting go of the world. It felt like he was drowning in a sea of sorrow, violent waves of grief washing over him, and he was losing the will to keep his head above water.
Rocco touched Brennan’s shoulder. “Me and Franky want to take you away for a little bit. It’d do you good.”
“Yeah.” Rocco motioned to the Jim Beam. “I think now’s good. You’ve been outta work for a couple months. I’ve got vacation time saved up at the office, and Franky can walk away from roofing anytime. We were thinking of taking that trip to California we’d always talked about.”
“We talked ’bout ’at shit when wurrr kidsss.”
“Yeah, I get that, but we could still do it. We’d make a road trip out of it, just like you, me, Franky, and Colin—” Rocco winced, having unintentionally drudged up the past.
“My family was just kilt in a car crasssh,” said Brennan. “And you think the best place furr me ish out on the open road?”
Rocco nodded. “I do, Bee. You need to get away and clear your head.”
Brennan listened without speaking, his line of sight again lowered toward his shoes. Tears spilled down his cheeks.
“You can’t stay here by yourself. It’s—it’s too much. It’s too much for anyone to have to handle.” Rocco glanced at Brennan through narrowed and swollen eyes. “Our hearts are heavy, too, and we all need to grieve. But nothing good can come of you sitting here alone and drinking. You need something to take your mind off it.”
Franky returned a minute later. Fender hobbled behind him, his movements labored and graceless, his eyes wet and dark. He positioned himself near Brennan in slow motion. Fender was the last member of the Glover household to see Rosie and Abby alive, and the only survivor of the crash that killed them both.
“Did he eat?” asked Rocco, gesturing toward Fender.
“Not much.” Franky changed gears without blinking. “What’d he say?” He asked the question as if he and Rocco were alone in the room.
“Bee says he’s gonna think on it,” Rocco said, standing. He looked down at Brennan before walking out. “You will give it some thought, right? That’s all I’m asking.”
The house was quiet again, but Brennan was certain nothing could silence the storm in his heart. He ran his finger over the tattoo on his left shoulder through his shirt, as he often did during difficult times. He knew its intricacies by heart—the anniversary of Colin’s death inked in a simple script. He once thought losing his best friend had prepared him for anything life might throw his way, but now he knew better.

Praise for the Book
"I enjoyed and highly recommend Fender - and I have little doubt this book will tug at the heartstrings of anyone who reads it." ~ Dana
"The novel Fender by Brent Jones was amazing. This is the second book I have read by this author and I am impressed [...] I could relate to many of the characters in this book, they were well developed and I felt invested in each of them, especially Fender. The manner in which the story unfolds triggers sympathy and compassion by the reader. The story will impact you positively and give you important life lessons/experiences to think about [...] Overall, I liked this novel even more than the previous and I cannot wait to read what the author has in store for us next!" ~ Karley
"This second novel written by Brent Jones makes me want to read more by him. Keep them coming, Brent!" ~ Beth
"It's another out of the park hit for him. [...] Brent's books are very inspiring and you can identify with his characters." ~ Denise Levendoski
"Brilliant second novel from Brent Jones." ~ David H

My Review
I received this book in return for an honest review.

By Lynda Dickson
Brennan is in mourning after losing his wife Rosie and his daughter Abby in a car crash. The only one who survived the crash is his twelve-year-old beagle Fender. Worried about Brennan's self-destructive behavior, his friends Rocco and Franky convince him to go on a cross-country road trip from New York to California. Brennan reluctantly agrees to the road trip, as long as Fender can join them. What follows is a tragic-comic series of events that proves that the journey is more important than the destination.
The current day story is intertwined with flashbacks to how Brennan met Fender, his relationship with Rosie, and his friendship with Rocco, Franky, and the absent Colin. We learn the role Fender played -  and continues to play - in Brennan's life, and how Fender saves him on more than one occasion. It's nice to see how Brennan grows over the course of the book.
As well as being a story of family, friendship, and forgiveness, Fender is a delightful travelogue, mirroring the author's own experiences on a cross-country trip taken with his wife and two dogs. This explains the remarkable detail of the seemingly mundane experiences Brennan and his friends encounter along the way. I especially enjoyed Franky's interaction with the Mormons.
Full of humor and pathos, this is a story about the redemptive power of friendship, and how one dog can make such a big difference.
Warnings: coarse language, sexual references.

Interview With the Author
Brent Jones joins me today to discuss his novel, Fender.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
There's some strong language in the book and some suggestive sexual themes, but no explicit sexuality. There are references to drinking alcohol and a few instances of violence. If this were a movie, I would say it would be PG-13.
What sparked the idea for this book?
I wanted to combine two seemingly different experiences I've had into a single work of fiction - my love for my dog, Gibson, who has helped me through some difficult times, and a cross-country road trip I took with my wife in 2015. Those were the starting points. From there I had to figure out how to weave a story around those ideas.
So, which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
The idea for the novel came first, but the character's story allows those starting points to be explored more fully. The open road becomes a symbol for new beginnings, and the dog, Fender, becomes a symbol for hope.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
Because the book is set over a cross-country road trip, it meant the scene was constantly changing. Combine that with revealing backstory from a decade before, and it made it quite challenging at times to keep the story flowing in one cohesive narrative.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
It is an emotional story, and if I'm able to provoke a reaction from the reader of any sort, I feel like I've won. In the end, I'd like readers to hug the people closest to them. We're all just fleeting memories in the end.
How long did it take you to write this book?
I've rewritten this book start to finish at least three or four times. The original draft took close to four months, and then longer to get all the revisions and rewrites done correctly.
What is your writing routine?
It varies. I like to write in the morning because I find my mind most active then. But sometimes, depending on how the mood strikes, I'll start my day with a bike ride to clear my head, then start writing in the afternoon. I'll write for 4-5 hours a day before my creativity goes stagnant and I lose my focus.
How did you get your book published?
I self-published it through KDP and CreateSpace. The audiobook version will be coming soon, and it will be published through ACX.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Anyone can be a published writer - the world of self-publishing made that option available to us all. My best advice? Write often, read often, and publish something you wrote, even if it's just a short story, to start. You have to start somewhere.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I'm an avid cyclist. I also take boxing lessons and play the guitar. I love to read, to hang out with my wife and dogs, and I've been known to play the occasional video game.
What does your family think of your writing?
They've been very supportive - my parents were both ARC readers for Fender! My wife helps me work through revisions and promote what I publish. She's the best.
That's great. Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
My childhood? Well, I grew up in a home without a computer and, at the time, the Internet wasn't really a thing, either. My father worked at a paper factory, and he often brought home notebooks and scrap paper for me. I spent a lot of evenings and weekends doodling and writing short stories.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
Not really. I always liked to write, but I didn't start enjoying reading until I was in my twenties.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Sometime last year, when I realized my work as a freelance social media manager brought me no joy. I thought I could maintain the same freedom and flexibility I did as a freelancer while doing something I enjoyed - writing fiction!
Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
I imagine so. I grew up in a working class family living in a blue collar city, and I think those types of characters make frequent appearances in my work. I relate to people with real world problems better than trust fund kids.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
I love this question because I don't have a clear answer to it. Three authors whose writing I'd love to emulate - all who happen to be Canadian - include Douglas Coupland, Mordecai Richler, and Nelly Arcan. How much have they influenced what I write? I can't be sure. But all three are excellent at writing flawed characters and character-driven stories.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I was overwhelmed with the amount of positive feedback on my first novel, The Fifteenth of June. I published it without expectation - it was my debut! I figured a few people might like it, some might not, and that would be that. But between Amazon and Goodreads, that book has close to 100 reviews online now, most of them four stars or better. I've been invited to a number of local events at libraries and book clubs where people have come out to see me because they enjoyed my work. It's a strange feeling. And every now and then, someone will reach out to tell me that my characters swear too much and the female characters I write are shallow and overly sexualized. Meh. Can't please 'em all.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
Fender is my second novel. I have a third in the works, as well as several short stories.
Sounds great! Thanks for stopping by today, Brent. Best of luck with your future projects.

About the Author
From bad checks to bathroom graffiti, Brent Jones has always been drawn to writing. He won a national creative writing competition at the age of fourteen, although he can’t recall what the story was about. Seventeen years later, he gave up his freelance career as a social media manager to pursue creative writing full-time. Fender and The Fifteenth of June are his first two novels.
Jones writes from his home in Fort Erie, Canada. He’s happily married, a bearded cyclist, a mediocre guitarist, (sometimes) vegetarian, and the proud owner of two dogs with a God complex.