Friday, June 3, 2011

Authorsday: Harry Ramble

This is a day late and Harry is a gracious guest for understanding.

Many thanks to Chris for inviting me onto her blog page. It’s very nice here. I feel like the cool JV kid riding in the back of the bus with the varsity squad to the away game. I hope I don’t say anything dumb and ruin it. (Chris here: That’s sweet!)

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

When I learned to read, really. Although I haven’t always wanted to write. Sometimes I don’t write at all. I’ve written some books. But I’m not one of those “process” guys who writes every day from 10am to 1pm. I try to write only when I absolutely HAVE to write something. When it’s an urgent need. Otherwise, I’m content to collect ideas and chew on them for a while. Years, if need be.

What drew you to the subject matter of THE END IS NEAR?

THE END IS NEAR starts with the idea of bullying. I was a kid once and I’m a parent now, so I’ve seen my share of it. As a boy, I’m ashamed to say, I wasn’t always on the receiving end of it, either. Bullying is a lot of things. It’s damaging; it’s antisocial behavior. It’s illegal in 46 states. (Not in South Dakota, Hawaii, Montana, and Minnesota, in case you’re wondering.) It’s also a type of relationship—an incredibly intense, destructive relationship. We forget all kinds of people in our lives. Friends. Lovers. Co-workers. But you never forget that guy who sadistically tormented you in fifth grade. That stays with you.

This is Nathan Huffnagle’s problem. He’s a stopped clock. A traumatic experience in his past (or a series of traumatic experiences) has arrested his growth. He’s one of those guys who’s just holed up inside his own life, refusing to engage with the outside world. One day, around his 45th birthday, as he’s closing up the family house to sell it after his mother’s death, he encounters his old arch-nemesis, Randy Trent, by chance. Nathan’s at a weird moment in his life because he’s decided to kill himself in a week’s time. So Nathan’s next idea is entirely predictable. He decides to take Randy Trent with him. There’s a lot more to the book, of course. There are angelic interventions and emissaries from Death. There’s a romantic triangle and some witchcraft and several different varieties of mid-life crisis. But that’s where it starts. Bullying and an elaborate murder-suicide scheme.

THE END IS NEAR has an unusual flow, going back and forth from present to past in alternating chapters. Why did you choose that particular narrative strategy?

The book, in its largest sense, is a dark comedy about how our cherished grievances and justifications don’t ever quite match up correctly with the realities of our lives. The story opens with Nathan in a hospital bed. His last act—a proper revenge upon his childhood nemesis—had deteriorated into a farcical hostage standoff beset by a media circus, a romantic rivalry among his captives, and the undeniable reality that Randy Trent, a vicious thug and bully twenty-five years before, has grown up to become a man too humble, too good, too exasperatingly decent to kill. That’s when Nathan attempts suicide.

When he wakes up, six weeks later, he’s receiving this series of seemingly angelic visitors. Flight attendants, nuns, waitresses, ad copywriters—all sent by the Big Angel himself, the Angel of Death. And he’s been given an assignment. In order to be released from life, he must write a new suicide journal on the backs of the pages of a court transcript of his previous suicide journal. This time, though, he has to tell the truth, the painful and possibly liberating truths he was forced to confront about himself during the hostage situation. So THE END IS NEAR is comprised of two journals, each commenting wryly on the other, each generating its own suspense, and, I hope, each leading to a surprising conclusion.

You would think you’d always be stepping all over yourself in such a format, but the truth is, it facilitates a lot of illuminating connections between past and present. And that’s what the book is about, too. About how we grow and change over time. Even Nathan. He may be a stopped clock, but the act of trying to gain revenge represents a first re-engagement with life for him. So he learns a lot of things. And, in some ways, comes to terms with the past finally and gains a measure of solace. There’s an electricity, a forward momentum, in the juxtaposition of events that’s the engine of the book.

What do you consider your greatest weakness and what strategies do you use to overcome it?

You know that guy who says, “I’m good with faces”? Well, I’m not that guy. I’m funny with people. With their appearances, specifically. A lot of people look the same to me. I really have to talk to someone four or five times before I can confidently attach a name to a face. As a result, I’m the king of the general, all-purpose greeting. “Hey! How ya doing?” In fiction, you really can’t settle for fuzzy, generalized descriptions of people. People are tall; people are short. They smile a lot; they don’t. In fiction, that stuff doesn’t cut it. You have to get in there and nail it with fresh imagery and details. On the other hand, you don’t want to drone on and on about it. You’ve got to be concise. John Updike, I’ve always felt, was the master of this. He could paint characters in three dimensions with just a few deft strokes. Descriptions of peoples’ appearances are something I have to work on diligently to get right. In my last edits of a book, that’s what I’m usually working on. Someday, I want to write a reference book for writers, “What People Look Like.” It’ll be like a thesaurus of descriptions of physical characteristics. It will sell better than these novels I’m writing.

What was the worst advice you ever got? Did you know it at the time?

“Sure it seems a little expensive right now, but believe me, this deluxe book trailer/query writing seminar/literary agent hypnosis technique will pay for itself in no time!”

WHAT ... is your favorite color?

Blue. No! Green! Aieeeeee!

What would you like to learn to do that you haven’t?

Apologies to anyone who’s already used the “Three Questions at the Bridge of Death” gag from Monty Python and the Holy Grail here on AuthorsDay. Anyway. What would I like to learn? How to talk about my books in a coherent and productive way. I hate talking about my books. I like to just exist in the same room with them, observing them through indirection the way a cat will monitor the progress of a doomed mouse across the lawn without ever actually staring directly at it. I don’t want to spook it, you know? Which makes me pretty much the worst marketing person ever. If anyone out there has written a novel and wants to keep it a secret, you should add me to your marketing team.

What’s your next book about?

It’s called ZOO MONDAY and it’s something I’ve had kicking around for a while.
It’s about a teenager who achieves a kind of notoriety for a murder he didn’t commit, and the anarchic death cult that grows up around him. There were a lot of almost magical aspects to the original drafts of this novel, a kind of wildfire communication across social and class divides as well as a rapid snowballing of events, that some readers wouldn’t fully accept. Most of these difficulties have been laid to rest in our new hyperspeed, socially networked world, and I was able to go back and add another whole level to the book. We live in an amazing age, one in which you can make a snarky comment on a popular blog at 3pm, go viral at 3:10, and see yourself featured on at 6pm. It’s exhilarating and dangerous.

Tell us one thing about yourself that very few people know.

I was Chris’s first guest author for AuthorsDay, back in early 2009. And let me say, things have certainly changed around here. Look at all this terrific content! Interviews and excerpts and important people stopping by. Two years ago, this blogspot was uncleared land all the way down to the river. A few thatched cyber-huts, “Hot Hunk Friday,” and a communal water trough. Not anymore. Now it’s first class all the way. The catering table in the Green Room here is incredible.


Author Bio:

Harry Ramble is the author of the novels SEX OFFENDER LIVES HERE (2008) and THE END IS NEAR (Dec, 2010), both from Ebb Press. Look for his next book, ZOO MONDAY, in May of 2012. Harry blogs at Harry Ramble’s E-Z Epiphany Dispenser ( and can also be found at and He lives at the Jersey Shore with his wife and two children.

Book Blurb for THE END IS NEAR:

"It was all for nothing. There's nothing to say."
On his forty-fifth birthday, as his hostages dozed fitfully and state police prepared to take him by force, Nathan Huffnagle penned nine last words into a journal recounting a remarkable week's worth of events. Then he placed the cold steel circle of a shotgun barrel beneath his chin, gripped the trigger, and pulled. And his life began again.
Nathan had hoped to pay back one injustice with another, and tip the scales back to even. But so few of us have a real talent for havoc and vengeance and violence. And our cherished grievances and justifications rarely match up so neatly with the realities of our lives. Now, frustrated at every turn and pestered by a series of seemingly angelic visitors, Nathan makes a hospital-bed deal with Death-the Big Guy himself. Will he receive the release he desires? Or a new lease on life?
The end is always near, but it's never too late to live.
Infused with humor and sadness, restless longing and regret, flights of fantasy and the sheer damnable contrariness of real life, THE END IS NEAR is a tale of redemption like none you've read before.

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