This week’s Musical Monday springs from a personal source. I am thrilled to be able to showcase the debut novel, Nor-Cal, by my friend, Sean Finnegan. Sean and I are both Bay Area natives. We went to the same junior high school in Santa Rosa, but to be honest I don’t think we ever spoke. I always knew who he was though. How could this Irish girl miss a cute Irish boy named Sean Patrick Finnegan? We went to different high schools. Eventually, I attended a college in Northern California and he headed south. Years later, as so often seems to be the case, we ran across one another on Facebook through mutual friends. Once we realized we both had become writers we began to compare notes on our professional journeys.
Last spring Sean launched his first novel, Nor-Cal, on Amazon. Finnegan writes with a kind of stream of consciousness, but with more shades of Jack Kerouac than Faulkner. Real and raw, the author doesn’t pull any punches so while the age of the protagonist and the coming of age theme might lead one to include this in Young Adult, parents might want to take a look at it first. I can say that this read will spark some very necessary and honest conversations between loved ones on life & death, sex, drugs, and the gaps between generations, not to mention the clash of value systems. Call it the male perspective on coming of age, a boy’s Some Girls Are and potentially as controversial.
Thanks so much, Sean, for agreeing to do this interview on my site. Because I am not up to the magic of podcasts and Finnegan lives a state away- we went old school:
1.) Nor-cal is clearly a very personal story for you. How much is memoir and how much is fiction? Where does Pavel O’Shea leave off and Sean Finnegan begin?
- I’d say that the character of Pavel is a composite divided into thirds; one third me and my experiences/ one third my sister’s perspective and disciplined nature/ and one third based on the life of a guy I worked with in a restaurant. I have a strange writing style which utilizes a Cuisinart to puree’ true events with complete fiction.
2.) Pavel seemed to have more positive relationships with many of the women in his life than the men, even those men closest to him. Was this on purpose? What did you mean to say about your main character with this dynamic?
- I grew up in a family almost entirely comprised of women. My father left when I was young. My grandfather left before I was even born. A lot of guys I knew growing up in the 80’s not only had divorced parents, but fathers that were almost entirely absent from their lives. James Hetfield is in this documentary called “Absent Dads” and it blew me away to learn he had a similar story to mine and that of a lot of my friends. I’m just reporting on this phenomenon more than trying to say anything about it. But I read this quote by Lemmy from Motorhead who said: “Not only do I lust after women, but I actually like women, like talking with them.” And I’d whole-heartedly agree with that. I’ve always had a few women in my life who weren’t relatives or girlfriends, but just damn good friends. And I don’t read about those relationships too often in most “young man/coming of age stories.” My friendships with men are awesome, crucial, instinctive, hysterical and vital. But rarely are they jam packed with moments of tenderness. So, when those moments occur they carry a lot of weight.
3.) Nor-cal is billed as a book centered around the SF music scene, thrash metal and punk rock in particular, but it could be argued that the book truly centers around the SF drug scene. Is that a fair statement? How deep do you think the classic link between rock-n-roll and drugs really lies?
- Let’s face it, rock and roll and drugs have ALWAYS gone hand in hand. Not that drugs are required for good rock music, but the influence is definitely there. Jimmy Page and heroin, Bob Marley and pot, The Grateful Dead and LSD, there was a lot of coke and speed in the Bay Area thrash metal scene, that’s for sure. But see, I don’t think all drug use is bad; matter of fact when used in a safe manner I think there can be extremely positive benefits to moderate drug use. Damn near everyone drinks in this country and nobody’s too upset about booze even though it kills more people each year than ALL the illicit drugs combined. That being said, I think some drugs are completely worthless, I’m talking methamphetamine, cocaine and cigarettes. Although I’ve never shot heroin, I’d like to include that one in the “worthless” category as well except for the fact that most of the musical geniuses of the 20th century were all smack addicts. But the problem with heroin is you never really hear of a casual heroin user, most people destroy their lives behind that one. Anytime a person crosses into unmanageable addiction, it’s always terrible. And because this story is set in the mid-80’s, I focused on the extremely rapid and negative affects crack and freebase cocaine had on the drug culture at that time. It was a complete game changer which took down a lot of good people.
4.) The book describes iconic California scenery and landmarks. Do you think most of America has a clear picture of Northern California? Do you think Nor-cal paints one? What aspects of California in the 1980’s did you especially want to play up? Why?
- I know people from all over the country, all over the world and nobody knows a goddamn thing about Northern California. Okay, maybe the wine country and the Golden Gate? But the vision most people have of California is of Southern California, a big sandy beach. I dig So-Cal, lived there for ten years and still love to visit the place, see my friends down there. I’m certainly not an L.A. hater by any means. But I just wanted to share everything I could about the locale where we both grew up, Erika. I think there’s a good taste of it in the book. San Francisco and Humboldt County seem to epitomize the extremes of Nor-Cal to me. And I really wanted to reference the tone of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, a more conservative era people hardly remember anymore, when the Soviet Union was our sworn enemy and pot was totally illegal under threat of a severe jail sentence, ten years before medical marijuana.
5.) One of the challenges Pavel must over come is grief and loss. Do you think the young are better or less equipped to deal with these emotions? What about Pavel allows him to soldier through his bereavement?
- I don’t know if anyone is well equipped to deal with grief or loss. Personally, I’m terrible at it. I lost nine very close family members and friends during the writing of this book from forty-one yrs old to forty-five yrs old and these losses obviously affected the course of the story. Writing the novel was my saving grace, a life preserver nobody could take from me. My girlfriend dumped me 3 weeks before John Lucanic (film school best friend/ multiple Key Arts award-winning editor/ Santa Rosa High School graduate) died at thirty-eight. The pain was intolerable after losing my 1st cousin, father, grandmother, and a few other extremely close friends only months before. Having this self-appointed job of writing and finishing a novel kept me going. For Pavel, I think the combination of his running habit and the candle flickering in his heart, this quest to find his place in the world keeps him moving forward. I think when a person is truly devastated any positive routine, habit, or ritual is essential to navigating the bereavement.
6.) In Nor-cal Pavel O’Shea is a very intelligent guy who occasionally does pretty dumb things. For much of the novel education is not a priority, although it’s talked about a lot. Do you think by the end Pavel has changed his mind on that score? Why?
- I love that you asked this question. I think people mainly run on their emotional make-up as opposed to their level of intelligence. I think intelligence is great for learning a new app, tying your shoelace, speaking in a foreign language, curing cancer, or mapping the route to Yellowstone. But I don’t think it dominates our base level decision making. Occasionally, I guess intelligence can override one’s autonomic programming, but I think that rarely happens.
6.) We authors tend to refine and rewrite endlessly. Sometimes it’s hard to walk away from a book, even after it’s done. Now that Nor-cal is out, is there anything about it you wish you could rewrite just one more time?
- Well, my Mac kept “freezing” two weeks before my launch date. About 5% of my Spellchecks were lost and a few errors snuck through. I’ve had six readers check for mistakes and luckily most of their notes overlapped. I’m relaunching this more “perfect” version in September. But as far as content….I spent three years writing, a year re-writing, and another year editing and proofreading. The story I wanted to tell is all there. I’ve already moved on to my next novel.
7.) What’s next for you as far as literary aspirations? Will we see more of Pavel? What can fans expect?
- I never really thought about Pavel’s story continuing. But now you’ve got me considering it. Hopefully, the reader envisions his life beyond the last page of “Nor-Cal”. My next book will be out early next year, it follows a thirty year-old surfer in Venice Beach. But after that I’ll depart from the coming-of-age story. My third book is a woman’s story. It’s been outlined on index cards for many years. I also have a couple of Sci-Fi stories outlined.
8.) There’s a lot of great music mentioned in the book: Armored Saint, Metallica, Marley, Motown, and Cash just to name a few. Who are you listening to these days? Who are your go-to classic favorites?
- I try listening to as much modern music as possible but it rarely takes hold. I’ve become that cranky fuck who mainly likes music from his own era. And as much as I love thrash metal and punk, I also listen to a ton of jazz, old-school country, reggae, Motown, funk, soul and folk. I love classic rock and 90’s alternative and probably every band from Seattle. But my mainstays are Sabbath, Pat Metheny Group, Nirvana, Miles Davis, Tammy Wynette, Fleetwood Mac, Van Halen, Motown, Suicidal Tendencies, Steely Dan, Metallica, Zeppelin, Ani DiFranco, Hendrix, D.R.I., Pantera, Curtis Mayfield and Joni Mitchell. Thanks for reading the book, Erika. I really appreciate it!
Sean Finnegan was born in San Francisco and raised in Sonoma County. Finnegan studied screenwriting at CSU Long Beach. After working ten years in television, Nor-Cal is his first novel. When not writing, the Portland-based author spends his time fishing throughout the Pacific Northwest. To keep up with all things Finnegan, you can follow him on his Amazon author page. To purchase Nor-Cal click on the following Amazon link to buy Nor-Cal on Amazon.com.
Okay, so we’ve learned about an awesome book, talked to a stellar author, and told you how to get your mitts on said awesome book. Only one thing remains… C’mon, Erika, what’s our Musical Monday tune going to be?
Well, let me tell you,my one beef with Nor-Cal… some bastard character called my beloved Scorpions “80’s Glam Rock.” Ummm, NO! Scorps’ pedigree extends a decade before that and they do completely rock. The quality of the music deserves more than such dismissive categorization. I can’t have my Scorpions placed on the same shelf as Poison and Warrant. Hell to the no. That said, this week’s song is… Coming Home by the Scorpions since Nor-Cal has a lot of home in it for me.
This post was written by Erika Gardner. If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on this blog. Or you can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner or “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller. Check out her contributions to the BBB Blog.