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September 9, 2010

Book Notes - Steven Gillis ("The Consequence of Skating")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Steven Gillis's fiction defies labels, but his latest novel The Consequence of Skating once again proves him a master storyteller. This is a book of big ideas lyrically told with great heart.

Jonathan Evison wrote of the book:

"Steven Gillis possesses that rarest of gifts, the voice that seems to flow effortlessly. This guy makes it look easy. Read the first three pages of The Consequence of Skating, and if you’re not hooked, go see a doctor."

In his own words, here is Steven Gillis's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, The Consequence of Skating:

The Consequence of Skating is my homage to the slippery slope. The majority of the book was written during the time my wife, Mary, was first diagnosed and then subsequently went through chemo, surgery and radiation for breast cancer. This was not a fun time for any of us - we have two school-aged kids as well - and the writing of my novel provided me with an anchor, gave me a place to hide and search for my sanity.

The novel revolves around Ludwig von Mises’ ideas of Human Action, the reason we make decisions, how we are always striving to improve our situation and cure a dissatisfaction. At the center of the narrative is Mickey Greene, an actor who has seen better days, has allowed a troubled affair and a sudden infatuation with drugs to undo him. Over the course of the novel, Mick winds his way through a course of actions which, if not designed to bring him redemption, offer him a reboot, a way to get his life back on track, even as the course he charts continues to unravel.

Although written in the first person, The Consequence of Skating is multi-layered with over two dozen characters weaving their way in and out of the plot. Rather than run you through the storyline in total, suffice to say there is sex and song, war and peace, heartache and dance, hope and despair, death and taxes, mountain climbing, computers and the internet, movies and plays, politics and politicking. Hell, there is a world in this book and Mick experiences all of it. For me, the most important theme in the novel is the application of integrity, the truth behind our actions that we can’t hide or lie about, especially to ourselves. Failure is fine, but cowardice and deception are ultimately unforgivable.

Upon finishing the novel, as the co-founder of Dzanc Books, I wanted to be sure I had written a worthy book, and contacted a handful of editors outside of Dzanc and received strong feedback and offers from their houses. Reassured, I chose to stay in house with Black Lawrence Press. (BLP had published my last novel, Temporary People, and acquired my story collection, The Principles of Landscape, which will be out next year; all of this prior to BLP becoming an imprint of Dzanc.) It’s never easy sending a book into the world, and the complications surrounding my life during the writing of The Consequence of Skating drew further doubts to my perspective. In this way, I was – and am – much like my character Mick. We are both blind leapers, both eager lovers, though not always generous or successful. We are both political in spirit if not deed. One of the major motifs in the novel involves Mick’s friend, Ted, who hopes to make sense of the world by presenting utilitarian courses of action to political hotbeds like Iran. Needless to say, Ted has his troubles, too.

Another central focus of the novel is the Ying and Yang of relationships – familial, sensual, friends and acquaintances – and how we respond to the needs of others and our own responsibilities toward them. Harold Pinter also appears as a major player in the novel; his writings and political activities. In the end, in writing The Consequence of Skating, I was looking to explore many of the things that make us tick as humans. I hope I pulled this off, though as Mick finds out in the end, not all the best laid plans wind up the way we first imagine.

To my relief, initial reaction to The Consequence of Skating has been strong. Then out of nowhere BAM I was hit in the gut by a really negative review from Publishers Weekly. This reviewer – anonymous as is PW's policy – hated the novel. I am a big boy and can take a bad review but this one went beyond the call, drawing into question the copy editing of the book – this though PW was as always sent a galley which is obviously an uncorrected proof – and referring to the novel as “thinly plotted,” again though the novel is without question a densely plotted book, more than any I have ever written. The reviewer also made a huge factual mistake in the review. And so it goes. Like Mick, I know shit happens and what can we do? Maybe the reviewer is right, maybe the novel sucks and I lost all perspective during the rough times in which she was written. If so, this is totally my fault. Still, the powers that be at PW - Cevin Bryerman and Louisa Ermelino - dismissed queries about the review, did not care that for the first time in the history of PW a reference to copy editing was made in a review of a galley, nor that there was a huge factual error in the review. (The published version of Skating, for the record, has been impeccably copy edited, and was before PW comments appeared regarding the galley.) That the reviewer might have a personal agenda toward me or Dzanc was dismissed by Cevin and Louisa and PW refused to release the name of the reviewer.

Who knows? Ultimately, who cares? If I were totally Mick, my response might be somewhat different. Fucking cowards, I might say. God damn careless and callous shits. Lets set their world on fire. But what’s the point? My wife is still recovering from cancer. Who knows what the future brings? I wrote a book. I put my heart into her. Who knows if she is any good? Maybe my head was up my arse the whole time. Safe that. Fuck it all. As The Consequence of Skating begins - “Here is what I know: The world is round not flat, though at every turn there are crack sharp edges.” That about says it. Ooobla dee, oobla da. Life goes on. What the hell? Onward.

Music List - As listened to and inspired by when writing The Consequence of Skating:

Anna Elizabeth - "Angels and Devils," "A Teenage Thing," "Silly Little Me," "What Happened to Real"

Forget the fact Anna is my daughter. She is a great singer/songwriter/guitarist and her songs blow me away. I listen to her play live and on CD all the time. She is truly an inspiration and the perfect match for the soundtrack to Skating.

Lou Reed, "Sweet Jane"

One of the all time great songs. "Anyone who has a heart..." Truly man. Song is in my novel and listened to many a time during the writing process.

Citizen Cope - Second and third albums

Unreal, urban soul. Rickie Lee Jones for 2010. Love him. Every song is the Beats put to contemporary music. If Skating ever becomes a film, here is the soundtrack.

John Mayer

Pop indulgence but the man can sing and play that guitar and his last album was vastly under appreciated.

The Decemberists

My wife loves them and I got totally turned on. Another group I listened to over and over while writing Skating.

The Sundays

Been a fan for 20 years. Mystical, the music works its way into my marrow.

Nickle Creek

Man I wish they never broke up. Their last album has some of the best musicianship and harmonizing. Love their stuff. I hope you meet someone your height/So you can see eye-to-eye/With someone as small as you. Damn! Here is what Mick wished he might have said.


This woman can sing the guts out of a cat. Love her phrasing, how she isn't afraid to be different. No one can touch her sound. Her voice is amazing. Can't wait for her next disc.

Steven Gillis and The Consequence of Skating links:

excerpt from the book

Hot Metal Bridge interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Temporary People
The Rumpus posts by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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