By Jaime Rush
Music promoter Daniel Erickson has the blues. There’s a Russian mobster wearing his finger on a necklace, two hitmen hot on his trail, an FBI agent obsessed with his capture and a rogue motorcycle gang hunting him down as he desperately races cross-country following the musical clues he hopes will lead him to the stolen million dollars that might not be enough to save him. Or his son. His only hope for saving them both is to find the spirit of the blues: “Been pushed ’round all your life. Be a push back man.”
I’m sitting down with Eyre Price today to find out all the juicy details about his debut book, BLUES HIGHWAY BLUES.
Eyre, how exciting it must be to see your first book come out! So tell us what this story is all about and what drove you to write it.
The story follows Daniel Erickson, a music promoter who’s dangerously indebted to a psychotic Russian mobster. The good news is Daniel has a cache of money to pay off the debt. The bad news is that someone has stolen it and replaced it with a CD containing a musical clue to how he can retrieve the cash. This leads Daniel to the Mississippi Delta and from there on a cross-country trail tracing the evolution of American music. As he desperately races to find the cash, he has to stay one step ahead of two ruthless hit men, an obsessive FBI agent, and a rogue motorcycle gang who are all hunting him down. And somewhere along the way, Daniel comes to realize that if he’s to have any hope of surviving his ordeal, he has to find it in the spirit of the blues: “Been pushed ’round all your life. Be a push back man.”
My motivation in writing was an appreciation for the rich mythology woven into American music. There’s a magical narrative behind this music (one that’s sadly fading into history) and so reviving that spirit and incorporating it into my own novel was a challenge I was eager to take up and all the motivation I needed to embark on what was really a labor of love.
This book is heavily inspired by blues music. Are you as well, and which came first, the music or the story?
It was really a wonderfully cyclical process. I love the blues and all American roots music and that was my inspiration to begin writing. The more I wrote, the deeper I delved into the music and the more I discovered long forgotten gems that only made me love the music more. In the end, I came away absolutely convinced in the transformative power of music. And in a way, I think the journey I made in writing the novel led to a personal evolution that parallels Daniel’s. Like Daniel, I think I’ve found a deep personal inspiration in the blues and a substantially different way to look at life.
You were a litigator for fifteen years. Talk about singing the blues! How did you go from the legal system to being creative? Were you always drawn to tell stories and just got waylaid along the way?
Being a litigator is all about being a storyteller. Whether you’re in a criminal or civil court, ultimately you need to tell a story that draws your audience (jury) in and convinces them completely. So really, the years spent practicing law weren’t as much of a departure from a “writing life” as you might think.
The transition from lawyer to writer was really a very natural one. I took some time off to be with my son when he was first born…and nine years passed by. During that time, my wife suggested that maybe it was time to concentrate on realizing my dream of writing (and selling) a novel. And she, of course, was right.
I love how you’ve got a “musical scavenger hunt” for your main character, Daniel, to put together, weaving in the evolution of rock and roll into a life-and-death chase. Was that difficult to map out or did it come together naturally due to your own interest in it?
It all fell together quite naturally, in that I really only had to follow the evolutionary path that American music has followed. Before technology made it possible for music to disseminate with the push of a button, it was constrained to follow a physical path. And so the music that was born in the fields and shacks of the Mississippi Delta traveled down to New Orleans where music is a way of life. From there was a natural migration northward—along the Blues Highway—up to Memphis. (In the novel, we take a side trip over to Nashville where a different take on those same musical roots led to the birth of country music, which in many respects is just a cousin to the blues.)
With the economic opportunities created by pre- and post-war industrialization the music followed the migration northward to Chicago and then over to Detroit where the automotive industry was coming of age. Cleveland was important because Alan Freed had the courage to program his radio show (and later stage concerts) without regard for the racial make-up of the acts or his audience. Philadelphia had its own golden age. Although they were cover bar bands, I think you have to credit the Jersey shore for being the place where all these different styles finally came together and began to melt down into a sound that was completely unique in its own right. Then you have the arrival of punk music in New York. And then grunge in Seattle.
So although I’d like to claim some credit, the music had cut its own–very definite–path and it was just a matter of setting Daniel off to follow it.
We love to hear stories about triumph. Tell us about your journey from dream to being published.
I owe everything to a deer tick.
Even while I was practicing law, I was writing. Writing and submitting and amassing an impressive collection of rejection letters from prospective agents and publishers who professed they liked what I was doing, but…
Then one sunny day while we were living in Nashville, my wife suggested we go for a hike along a trail called the Devil’s Backbone (what can go wrong, right?) I ended up getting bitten by a tick, contracting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and being hospitalized for five days. The day after I was released, I had a pitch meeting with an agent at the Killer Nashville literary conference. I looked like an extra from The Walking Dead, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity and so I forced myself to go. I didn’t get the agent, but met the conference’s assistant director, Beth Terrell (who writes as Jaden Terrell) who I think must’ve been worried about liability issues if I’d passed away on the conference floor. We became friends and when she signed on with Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, she was generous enough to recommend my work. A couple months later I got a call from Jill and she brought BLUES HIGHWAY BLUES to market at just the right time to get us a three book deal with Thomas & Mercer.
So for me it’s been just like a domino display, with fate or happenchance arranging events in such a way that when the right one was toppled it just led to the next and the next and the next…. And all it took to push that first domino over was a deer tick.
Is there a theme in your books, a thread that you see coming up in your stories often? For instance, underdog fighting for justice?
There are certainly a number of themes I’m working with, but the most important to me is the power of music. I believe in the salvation to be found in twelve bars. And in the books to follow, the path Daniel is following will lead him into increasingly darker territory until ultimately he’ll find that this music is his only chance at redemption or salvation.
Were you inspired by other authors or television shows?
Stephen J. Cannell is to me what Hemmingway or Faulkner might mean to other writers. THE ROCKFORD FILES is as strong as anything else I’ve ever encountered on the page or on a screen. Not only is the main character perfectly drawn, but there’s an incredibly deep supporting cast of characters. I consider all those Friday nights I sat in front of the TV as my personal MFA program and there’s evidence of that in almost everything I write.
Beyond that, I have enormous respect for Elmore Leonard who really owns the genre. Robert B. Parker was an enormous influence on me. And I don’t think anyone puts a common man in uncommon peril better than Harlan Coben.
Do you have any writing rituals before you begin a book or start your day?
I’m a stay-at-home dad to a home schooled nine year old, so there is no writing during the day. Ever. Nothing starts for me as a writer until my “day job” is off to bed and asleep. (Almost always easier said than done.) So my work day as a writer doesn’t start until late at night; but I need that. I can’t write with the world going about its business. I need the solitude I find in the middle of the night when it seems like everyone else is asleep and I’m the only one awake.
One question I love to ask writers is what their writing space looks like. You actually have pictures and descriptions of your space at your website. This is a great idea, and I encourage everyone to check it out.
When it came time to build an entire website around me (something I resisted as long as I could) I found it impossible to create a page explaining who I was. And after a dozen failed attempts, I looked up from my keyboard at all of the items on my desk and the pictures on my wall and realized that taken together they were a perfect statement of who I was. So I snapped a few pictures, explained what made the things I’d surrounded myself with so important to me and ended up creating a clearer and more accurate portrait of me than I ever could have done otherwise.
What’s the best way for reader’s to get in touch with you? Do you Tweet/blog/etc.?
I do Tweet (because my agent insists that I do) –@eyreprice. I’m on Facebook. And I can be reached through my web site at email@example.com.
And finally, what’s next? Will we see Daniel again?
Without giving too much away, BLUES HIGHWAY BLUES ends with Daniel thinking he’s slipped the noose, but he’s about to find out that’s he’s in it far deeper than he ever could have imagined. And where we first followed the evolution of American music from the Delta blues to Seattle’s grunge scene, the follow up will take Daniel’s on-going quest against a background of what’s happened to American music in the twenty or so years since grunge’s heyday. And then a third book will follow Daniel as he confronts his demons (literally and metaphorically) while taking a look at the corporate pop music. So, Daniel’s really only begun his trip…and it’s going to be a bumpy ride through hell and (hopefully) back.
Thanks for spending time with me and sharing your exciting story! I wish you all the best with it.
Thanks for this opportunity. I really enjoyed it.
Eyre Price was raised in Northeastern Pennsylvania, but has called a lot of places “Home.” A litigator for 15 years, Eyre left the law to become a stay-at-home dad–and write. His debut novel, BLUES HIGHWAY BLUES, will be published by Thomas & Mercer in June 2012. He has traveled the Blues Highway from Minnesota to Louisiana and stood at Robert Johnson’s fabled crossroads. He lives in Illinois with his wife and son.
To learn more about Eyre, please visit his website.