The only award I ever won, and didn’t even enter, was for a poem called “Mr Whiskers and the Picnic Basket.” It was published in Hayden’s Ferry Review as a winner of the AWP Intro Journals Award. I was completing my MFA at UNC Greensboro at the time. Then it was republished at storySouth in 2004. This time of my life, in Greensboro, North Carolina with the terrific writing community of the UNC Greensboro MFA program, as well as the artist collective The Lucifer Poetics Group, was full of possibilities, wonder, and a sense of coming home as a writer. I mean, that is where my real writing life began. It was also one of the larger turning points in my life journey. Almost two years later, after a lot of personal therapy and marriage counseling, I reduced my life to 15 kilos and flew to South Korea to live. A few months after moving to South Korea, I signed my divorce papers. I also left the United States forever, although I have been back a few times to visit in the last 12 years.
It is 2018. So yeah, 14 years later, that one poem, “Mr Whiskers and the Picnic Basket,” rather suddenly infiltrated my novel manuscript The Autobiography of Don Whiskers, and that manuscript has already been infiltrated many times already. So, in other words, there is a lot of mutation happening. Various forms of alchemy.
For about six years, The Autobiography of Don Whiskers used to be called Never Mind the Beasts, the name of my MFA thesis, mostly coined by a good friend and fellow poet in the Greensboro MFA program, Dan Albergotti.
Never Mind the Beasts is also, of course, the title of this blog, in various incarnations since 2003.
Now my first novel manuscript has become The Autobiography of Don Whiskers. And Mr. Whiskers, from so long ago, is the main character. Of course, it is not quite the same character as the one in the poem. Don Whiskers has become fleshy and fully expanded and full blown. Me and not me.
The Autobiography of Don Whiskers is epic travels and immigration. It begins in Northern Ireland and then travels to Milton Keynes, England. Then Las Vegas, Utah, Washington State, North Carolina, South Korea, Poland, Turkey, England, and then the novel ends in Madrid, Spain. Part two picks up in Madrid. The autofiction of Karl Ove Knausgaard, as well as the surrealism of James Tate, Lukas Tomin, and Leonora Carrington, helped open up possibilities for this trilogy of novels in progress. Part one is called The Autobiography of Don Whiskers and part two, I am already 60 pages into it, is called Hermit Kingdom. It is a hybrid novel, a mix of various genres including prose poetry and flash fiction, but it is quite seamless as well. It is partly autofiction and partly nomadic surrealism. A nice blend.