Friday, January 22, 2016

A Lounger-Sleuth and a Book Giveaway

Well, what do you know. It’s only the third week of January, and we’re already announcing our second book-giveaway contest of 2016. We surely won’t be able to keep up such a regular pace, but for now, Rap Sheet readers benefit. Any time you have the chance to score some free books has to be deemed an excellent opportunity.

This time, we have on offer four copies of The Finger Trap (Jolly Fish Press), by Salt Lake City author Johnny Worthen. The novel has been variously described as a modern noir yarn, a social satire, and just “a fun, fun read.” Here’s a plot synopsis, stolen blatantly from Worthen’s Web site:
When the only way out is deeper in …

Tony Flaner is a malingering part-time comedian, full-time sarcastic, who’s never had it hard, and never finished a thing in his life. He’s had 12 years to prepare for his divorce and didn’t. He had his entire life to choose a career and hasn’t. Now time’s up, and he’s in a world of trouble. But it gets worse. A first date and a drunken party ends with Tony facing prison for the murder of a girl he hardly knew.

Other than that, it was a pretty great party.

To save himself, wise-cracking Tony must discover who the mysterious girl was, what she was involved in, and what the hell she saw in him in the first place. Their lives are linked together at the ends of a Chinese finger trap, like life and death, friends and enemies, arugula quiche and pigs knuckles.
If you’d like to enter the drawing for one of these free four copies of The Finger Trap, simply e-mail your name and postal address to And be sure to type “Finger Trap Contest” in the subject line. Entries will be accepted between now and midnight next Friday, January 29. The winners will be chosen completely at random, and their names listed on this page the following day.

Sorry, but this particular giveaway competition is open only to residents of the United States.

* * *

Author Worthen—who has previously penned such works as Eleanor: The Unseen (2014) and The Brand Demand (2015), a mystery that won a Silver Quill Award from the League of Utah Writers—was kind enough to answer our invitation to write a “Story Behind the Story” essay about The Finger Trap. His piece on composing that novel and what he learned in the process is embedded below.

I write to theme. Yeah, I’m that guy. I can’t help it. I came into the writing thing from college. Not from an MFA program or creative-writing classes, but from criticism. I’m a Deconstructionist. I speak Lacan and Derrida. I see buried symbols and political posturings in toilet-paper ads. I learned my craft by dissection and not nurturing.

Of course when I began writing I didn’t think that I wrote this way, I just wrote. It was in later analysis that I found all the clues to give me a reading that made sense, and I realized what it was I trying to do all along. As time went by, the clues showed themselves to me beforehand and I put them in when I wrote. Sometimes they just appeared, because that’s how my synapses were wired. Sometimes I planned them carefully, planted symbols like treasure buried in the prose. I consciously put in subplots of parallel thematic resonances and contrasts. I wrote down what questions I was pursuing before I would begin and when I ever got lost, I’d use them as distant lighthouses to get me back on course.

It’s therapy. Writing this way, I explore ideas and see where they take me. I can delve into new emotional depths and discover things about myself by living through my characters. I always come out the other end different than I went in.

And then there’s Tony Flaner.

Tony Flaner is the protagonist in my new mystery, The Finger Trap. Although it’s my latest novel in print, The Finger Trap was among the first ones I wrote and is for me, without a doubt, my most important book.

(Right) Author Johnny Worthen

Tony is a malingering part-time comedian, full-time sarcastic, who’s never had it hard, and never finished a thing in his life. He is the recipient of white privilege, easy comfort, and a short attention span. He jumps from job to job and hobby to hobby like a bee lighting on spring flowers. He stays only as long as things are amusing, fun, and easy. Once they turn challenging, he’s gone, off to new adventures.

The model for the character was of course Charles Baudelaire’s 19th-century concept of the “flaneur,” or wanderer. A lounger. In modern ears, where we’re told to think of ourselves as consumers instead of citizens, this is a terrible-sounding thing. “Lounger” equates to deadbeat. There is something of that in Tony, to be sure, but Baudelaire didn’t mean it as a insult. He was trying to describe the human equivalent of carpe diem—seized the day. He saw the flaneur as one who, while going places, took time to enjoy the walk. If you’ve ever been to a park, and go to cross it, and find the path you’re on is full of meandering curves that take you past this gazebo, that pond, a rosebush, and an arboretum before landing you on the other side, thank Baudelaire’s flaneur. His concept of the wandering gentleman influenced architectural and civic planning. The flaneur is a noble creature, a sponge of life. This is also Tony Flaner.

And this is my aspiration.

When I wrote Tony, the question I was asking myself was what I want to be. You see, like Tony, I’ve had many jobs. My résumé is a long list of adventures and job titles. It reads to me like a comprehensive list of things I don’t want to do anymore. This is, however, how one finds another job, and that’s depressing. After my last stint with the corporate world, a front-line posting in the “war of drugs” no less, I gave myself a little unemployment time and a financial cushion to explore my swiftly diminishing lifespan and start doing something I wanted to do while I still had good days ahead.

At the top of the list was writing. Writing is the thread that connects every job and every aspiration I’ve ever had. I’ve always written, be it journals, games, blogs, newsletters, suicide notes, what have you—it’s always been part of my life. But I’ve never taken it seriously. Writing had only ever been a hobby for me.

Like Tony, I have many hobbies. Lots and lots. And to all these distractions I give only what time and energy I feel I can, and when they’re not fun anymore (like paintball) or get too hard (like programming), I drop them like a hot rock and find something else to take my time and money.

I know the odds. I knew them then. In what will surely be nominated as the understatement of the year, let me say that becoming a successful writer is a challenge. To have any kind of chance, it behooves one (yes, I said behooves) to treat it as more than a hobby. Writing is rough. It is floods of rejection for every gulp of encouragement. It’s damning and personal and hard. Yes, hard. Every aspect of it is hard, from ideas to editing, marketing, placing, promoting—it’s all hard and it pays less than begging under an off-ramp. Significantly less, if I’m to believe the Internet.

Sure, there’s some fun. The act of creation is wonderful, but for me, at every hard moment, I was tempted to follow my usual path of least resistance and quit. Like Tony.

Analyze The Finger Trap and you will see that it is meta on multiple levels. First, the book is indulgent, wandering, amusing, and long. Flaneur. The theme is in the presentation as much as the protagonist’s attitude. Life is short. That’s a free one for you. Enjoy it while you can. As I faced the questions of new careers and choices and lifestyles, that was the one solid bit of truth I knew to keep. Enjoy life. Take it easy. It’s the journey, not the destination. Flaneur.

On another meta level though, The Finger Trap is the physical manifestation of Tony’s quest echoed in the author’s achievement. I gave the book my all. Putting off immediate gratification, approaching the hard parts as lessons to learn for my new career, determined to see something through to the end, I persevered until I took it from cool idea to awesome physical reality. It is a magical artifact. It is more than any of my other books, a totem.

When I teach writing classes now, I always lead with Tony’s lesson to me about success: finish what you start. It’s a simple thing, but for me, it’s a mantra of meaning that I didn’t understand before The Finger Trap, at least not all the way. From Tony’s lead, I have a new stubbornness. I have seven novels in print, a plethora (yes, I said plethora) of published short stories, and I’m in demand to mentor. I am now on my way to becoming what I wanted to be: a successful writer. And also from Tony, I’m trying to remember to not take anything too seriously, to find the ridiculous in everything, and finally to enjoy the ride.

The Finger Trap is a story of one man’s amusing journey of self discovery and social satire. It’s a story of murder and mystery, mid-life crisis, and adult film stars. It’s a story of life in America in the 21st century. It’s a story of completion. It’s a story of redemption. With quiche. And a puppet.

1 comment:

michael said...

I think the cover for Finger Trap is better than any of those picked for 2015 contest.