Back on the Road with “The Road to Ithaca”

It’s over! It’s done!

As of the end of last week, my first-ever novel, The Showstopper, is through its edits and off to be checked out by an actual proofreader. It’s just another step on my quest to republish the novel this fall with a sharp new look and some updates that will not only keep it fresh, but will also be far more polished than it was the first time I published it as an inexperienced college graduate over five years ago. Very much looking forward to getting it back looking as professional as possible…but also to having a much-needed break from that novel.

However, there’s no rest for the weary, so I’m on to another project this weekend: my long-on-hold adult contemporary novel, The Road to Ithaca. And this time, it’s especially important because as of the end of this month, I’m starting my creative writing MFA thesis course. It’s only one of two theses I’ll be responsible for (I also have an MA in publishing one to do at some point), but I thought now that I’m done with The Showstopper, it’s time to go back to the novel I’ve been working on for most of my grad school program and that I’ve basically ignored for over a year now.

So what is The Road to Ithaca, you may ask? Here’s my summary so far:

“Odysseus Wyatt Turner–Wyatt to his friends, of which there aren’t many–is lost at sea, stuck at a dead-end job with no prospects and no future. But that’s about to change when he gets a letter from far-off Ithaca, New York, informing him that his estranged father has died and left him something in his will. Wyatt knows he has to act fast, or risk having whatever that something is yanked away by the rest of his no-good, selfish, greedy family.

His solution: enlist a motley crew consisting of his aloof ex-girlfriend and surfer-bro buddy on a wacky road trip across the country to claim what’s rightfully his. They’ll face many obstacles on their sometimes perilous, sometimes hilarious, and always ridiculous journey through the heart of America, including a grudge-bearing gang of women bikers who want Wyatt’s inheritance for themselves. But Wyatt will find the biggest thing standing in the way of his moving forward might just be himself.”

This is a story that was born out of a lot of different things and ideas. First and foremost, I love The Odyssey. The classic Greek adventure myth is one of my favorite stories of all time, and of course it’s archetypical: we see the same ideas used in uncountable stories the world over. I was fascinated by Greek myths when I was a child, but especially so this one, with its battles with cyclopses, ensnaring by witches or islands of mellow stoners, shipwrecks, homecomings, revenge, and justice. I also love a lot of the spin-off stories that have come out of it over the years, especially the Coen Brother’s Depression-era odyssey O Brother, Where Art Thou? Because of this, I’d always wanted to write a story that was my own unique take on The Odyssey, and a trip to Sicily a few years ago on a school retreat reignited my desire to do something with the idea.

In addition, people who know me well know that at times, I struggle with depression. My feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness have come and gone over the years, sometimes worse than others. I have my good days and bad days, as many other people do, and the support of my family, friends, and the other people in my life who care about me really help. However, at one particular time in my life a few years ago, I was for many reasons at the end of my rope. I was stuck in a deep depression, feeling hurt and angry much of the time, and I lashed out at the people I loved, driving away some friends and even family. Since that time I’ve worked hard to be a better person and tried to make amends, but I felt that my “quarter-life crisis” was an experience shared by many other millennials of my generation. Frequently, people my age feel lost in the tumultuous and confusing modern world, and often when we leave college and are confronted by the realities of our situation, our lives take turns we never thought they would–and not always for good. While I’m on a much better path now and am feeling happier than I have in a long time, I still remember my dark days and know that there’s many other young 20-somethings out there feeling the same way I was. I also know that most fiction that’s hot today is either catered toward teens and younger kids, or toward adults who are maybe 30 or older. The 20-somethings are a long-forgotten demographic who don’t seem to have a ton of people representing them (aside from the vague “new adult” genre that’s failed to take off in any meaningful way, industry-wise) and that’s something I resolved to do with my story. Even though many of my grad school classmates encouraged me to rewrite the story as a young adult novel so it would be more popular, I stuck to my idea, as I really do believe I can speak to this group of people and let them know they’re not alone in the world.

I also was very conscious of making my story another Percy Jackson or similar fantasy story, as The Odyssey is ripe with magical elements and monsters that could never happen or exist in real life. Besides, I’ve always felt the most dangerous monsters are the ones inside ourselves and that we create out of fear, anger, or regret. Because of this, my retelling contains no fantasy elements of any kind. While some of the adventures and misadventures of my characters may be trippy, weird, or otherwise out there, all the fantastical elements of the Homer myth have been replaced by more believable, real-life counterparts. Instead of sirens singing ships to their doom, I’ve created a casino scene in Las Vegas where the addictive nature of gambling is explored. Instead of a cyclops, I placed a one-eyed biker gang leader in the position of my primary antagonist–though you’ll hopefully find “Polly” just as compelling a character as Wyatt.

Finally, I want to challenge my audience with Wyatt’s character, and I don’t want him to be an easily likable guy. Identifiable, definitely, but likable? Not at first, for sure. Like me years ago, Wyatt is stuck in a rut in his life and doesn’t know how to get out of it. Because of this, he’s aloof, irritable, and sarcastic toward pretty much everyone around him. It’s obvious that he’s smart, and deep down that he wants other people to care about him, but he pushes them away at every opportunity because of the hurt he believes he’s suffered at the world’s hands. While some of that hurt is absolutely real, a great portion of it, as I’ve said before, actually comes from his own insecurities and fears, and his overcoming them is what this story is all about. Of course, there’s a fine line between creating a difficult but still solid main character that people want to like and root for, and creating someone whose bitterness seems to defy the logic of the story and make the audience not care about his problems. That’s the struggle I’m having as I try to reach a happy medium of depicting the stunted person Wyatt is and the brilliant, caring person he could potentially become. But let’s remember, Odysseus was far from perfect himself: he was stuck up, self-centered, and hopelessly brash and vain. Yet he made it home, and Wyatt will too–although what he finds, I can’t tell you just yet.

If you follow me on social media, stay tuned for some further sneak peaks of The Road to Ithaca as I start in on my second draft over the next few months. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me (including applying a year’s worth of beta-reading comments and edits to the manuscript), but I’m confident I can reach my destination and I hope you’ll enjoy the journey with me!

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