My first full-length novel will be released October 7. At 52,000 words it is just barely full length, but since that is more than anyone’s definition of a novella — it qualifies as a novel. I can’t imagine writing one any longer.
It is called Tussinland. It is being published by All Due Respect Books, the company that Chris Rhatigan and I recently formed. It will be available as an ebook and a paperback.
Here is the cover:
Isn’t it pretty? Rebecca Monson took the photo at Nino’s, a bar that is a location in the book. She also used her photoshop skills to manipulate the colors in that awesome way.
Here is the back cover synopsis:
Addicted to cough syrup, television, and Sugar Frosted Flakes, Paul Dunn is living in a state of torpor while staying at his mother’s house after the humiliating ending of his third marriage. His inertia is broken when he becomes the chief suspect in the murders of his soon-to-be ex-wife and her new lover. Set in the town of Modesto, deep in California’s Central Valley, Tussinland is about sex, drugs, addiction, smart phones, Facebook and the internet, digital cable, anti-government militias, reality TV, fundamentalist homophobic Christians, families, 12-step groups, pornography, marriage, death, disease, and love.
Here are the first ten pages or so:
Miranda stared at the images of Tina and Mark’s corpses on the video screen of her iPhone. She didn’t understand how they could be so, like, dead.
Five minutes before, they both walked around like regular humans, yelling and screaming their asses off. Two minutes before, they were still breathing, but with great difficulty since Logan shot them each twice in the torso with a sawed-off shotgun.
Just a few seconds previously they were both gasping, gulping, screeching for air. Mark died first, with a slight smile on his face, then Tina went, as she glared up at Miranda and Logan.
Loud, then quiet, then nothing.
Blood everywhere. And piss and shit. Awful smells—the worst of it seemed to be coming from Mark. Miranda filmed close-ups of Mark’s slimy guts slipping out and his cracked rib bones and other stuff she didn’t recognize but found fascinating. Tina’s face still looked pretty, but just below it she was nearly severed in half. Miranda zoomed in just as Tina’s left saline breast implant popped out and oozed onto the floor beside her armpit.
“Are you kidding me right now?” she said.
“I know, right?” Logan said.
“This is so completely awesome. You killed them. You fucking destroyed them.”
“That’s what you wanted?”
“Hell. Yes. God, I love you so much.”
Logan put down the shotgun and reached out to Miranda for a hug. She didn’t notice. She’d turned off the video and moved closer to the bodies. She stared at Tina. She reached out to touch her aunt’s face, then quickly pulled her hand back.
“Logan. Get a trash bag from the kitchen for all the shit. And one for the shotgun. I’ll start the cleanup. We need to move fast.”
She heard sniffling and looked up, saw Logan standing with his arms out. Trying not to cry.
Ashamed at ignoring him, Miranda sat down on the couch. Held out her arms.
“I’m sorry, baby,” she said, as soothingly as possible. “Come on over, sweetie.”
The large young man crawled into the petite Miranda’s lap. He curled up against her like a baby and buried his face in her neck. He slowly stopped crying as she stroked his thick hair.
“There, there, baby,” she said. “I love you so much, you’re such a good boy. You make me so so proud.”
“I do?” Logan said.
“Are you being serious right now?” she said. “Of course you do. You are the best boy ever.”
Logan pulled back and looked Miranda in the eyes.
“So everything is going according to plan?”
Miranda looked back at the corpses, at the more than a dozen bricks of heroin stacked up on the coffee table.
“Yes,” she said. “Everything is going great. Thanks to you.”
“I’m glad,” Logan said. He got up off the couch. “I’ll get the trash bags.”
Miranda Fish grabbed a Rayovac she’d brought, along with a spray bottle of disinfectant, and a roll of paper towels. The two left twenty minutes later with a shit load of heroin, hoping they’d removed all traces of their visit.
Even though it cost nearly double the price of Walgreen’s generic version, Paul went for the Robitussin Extra-Strength DM in the largest possible size—twelve fluid ounces. DM stood for dextromorphan and the Robitussin had 30 mls of DM in each recommended dose.
He didn’t have a cough or a cold, just a strong desire for as much DM as possible. For some reason (maybe, he’d always wondered, for the same kinds of reasons wines had such varying tastes and effects—perhaps there was a terroir of DM recipes?), Robitussin was just better than any other DM-type cough syrup. Other name brands and even most generics all had a decent effect if he took enough, and lots of little DM-containing pills also had their various potencies and variations, but the Robitussin Extra Strength was the best and the fastest method to go all the way to Tussinland—a fucked-up place of intense euphoria and colorful, rhythmic hallucination.
It was just past eight on a Monday night in June 2012 at the Walgreen’s near the old Modesto downtown district on McHenry Avenue, the main drag that years before had inspired native George Lucas’ movie American Graffiti.
Modesto had recently become somewhat notorious for various bloody scandals, such as the murder of Laci Peterson by her husband Scott, the murder of native Sandra Levy while working in D.C. at the same time she was the mistress of local U.S. Congressman Gary Condit, and the finding on the street of the wallet of one of the four female murder victims of Cary Stayner—who wasn’t caught until he’d severed the head of a naturalist in nearby Yosemite National Park. Paul’d often wondered why the shit wasn’t spread more evenly around all the towns in California’s Central Valley. Why was it always Modesto?
He took the Robitussin to the counter and examined the clerk closely to make sure he hadn’t bought DM from her before. He’d recently gotten Coricidren DM at another Modesto Walgreens and the clerk scanned the bar code on his driver’s license. Not a good feeling. Still didn’t know what that was all about.
He stared at her name tag as she scanned the purchase: Dayna. She didn’t even glance at him until she grabbed his debit card.
He hated that, hated feeling like he wasn’t even worth looking at. Figured Dayna looked him in the eye briefly only because he’d held the card back for a moment, forcing her to reach for it. Surely Walgreens had some kind of rule or something, like: “Greet each customer with a pleasantry such as ‘hello’ or ‘how are you today?’ while also making a point to smile and look each of the assholes in the eyes.”
Something like that, for sure.
When she handed over the plastic bag, she smiled big and said, “Have a great evening!” This made him fell like an asshole. And she was pretty cute too.
It’d been a long shitty boring stupid day, like the last hundred or so. He looked forward to sitting around and watching TV with his mother, then spending some quality time in Tussinland before drifting off to a long-ass sleep.
When he got home, Mavis had started that night’s episode of The Bachelorette. She sat in her easy-chair, sipping vodka on the rocks and smoking a Virginia Slim. The place, as usual, was cold as a walk-in refrigerator because Mavis kept the AC cranked down to like 60 degrees all summer long. Also, as usual, it reeked of weed. Smoke still drifted out the top of the bong on the coffee table.
Emily Maynard and her bachelors were in London. Mavis rewound the show to the beginning and fast-forwarded through the commercials to get Paul caught up with the episode. Digital cable—one of the many joys of living with Mavis.
When Emily found out bachelor Kaylon had called her daughter Ricky “baggage,” she said she was going to go all “West Virginia” on him. Paul laughed when Kaylon admitted to what he said and refused to apologize, and Maynard said to him, “Then get the fuck out.”
“I thought she was from North Carolina,” Mavis said.
“Maybe that’s how North Carolina people talk when they’re trying to say they’re going to get all violent and mean. But, if that’s true, it’s kind of a dis on West Virginia.”
“I don’t like this side of her. Such a beautiful girl, though.”
After the Rose Ceremony, Paul grabbed some water and went to the hall bathroom to down his Robitussin. A serious, subtle, careful process. Had to get it all down (slowly, to prevent vomiting), and get into bed under the covers with the bedroom door locked and the lights out (and all the evidence hidden), before Tussinland really hit. Because once he entered, he was in another world and no longer had the motor or mental skills necessary to handle regular reality.
It took about an hour if he got the dosage right. Back when he first took large quantities of DM, he’d often miscalculate dosage, time, and place and wind up somewhere he was expected to act or communicate and be totally incapable. Once he sat in a locked car, parked alongside the 99 Freeway outside of Merced during evening rush hour, unable to drive or even move (he could barely see) for almost an hour while the entire world and all its colors and objects seemed to be pounding and flashing like a giant combination human heart beat and strobe light—terrified that at any second a police car would pull up and an officer straight out of Cops would tap on his window.
Another time he picked up his stepson Tyler at a Cub Scout meeting. As he walked down the steps to the basement, he lost all depth perception and could no longer walk without lifting and moving each of his legs with both hands. Tried to make it seem like he wanted to be silly for the kids, but no one laughed and he felt sure the other dads thought he was some kind of nut. Luckily, he managed to drive home that night, but he never again mixed DM and driving and children. At least on purpose.
Now, as long as Mavis didn’t need or want anything, he should be okay. He’d hidden the empty Robitussin bottle in its plastic Walgreens bag under the bed. In the morning, he’d throw it in some parking lot trash bin in a different part of town.
He made himself aware of the rising and falling of his abdomen as he breathed in and out. He waited. Felt nauseous and resisted the urge to vomit. Also tried to resist the urge to think. Still, as usual, his mind wandered to images of soon-to-be-latest ex-wife Tina in her tight jeans, nasty black boots, long brown hair, and AC/DC t-shirt dancing with that asshole used car salesmen slash drug dealer Mark Pisko at Nino’s that night when things became so fucking clear. Missed her so much and hated her so much and so fucking hoped to never see her again ever, which wasn’t easy since they only lived about a mile away. He avoided all her usual places. Especially since Pisko’d put out a restraining order against him for threatening to kill them both. Asshole had no sense of humor. Besides, there was no way Mark was afraid of him. Unlike Mark, Paul wasn’t a violent person, and Mark had to know that he intimidated the shit out of Paul. Dude just wanted to fuck with him because he could.
Out of habit, his right hand wandered down to his penis as he thought of Tina and her adulterous seductive dancing, but there was no erection as DM completely interfered with sexual stimulation. Made the mistake of thinking about Mavis and the four hundred dollars he owed her every month, but hadn’t paid for three months. Thought about the list of household projects Mavis kept demanding: lawn mowing and edging, tree pruning, watering. Fix the faucet, fix the ceiling fan, repair the patio roof, and on and on and on. Fuck! Why couldn’t she understand he still needed to recover from the slip and fall injury in the kitchen at Denny’s that fucked up his back? Plus, he was incompetent as a fix-it man, a fact to which all three of his exes would gladly testify.
He didn’t know why Mavis cared so much; bitch was rich as fuck. So rich she didn’t even need to live in her old house in the old neighborhood that got shittier and shittier every year.
He’d spent nearly all the workers’ comp money. After the lawyer took his cut (all expenses, then forty percent of what remained), he only netted nine grand. Had just under three left, but he was still unemployed and had alimony and child support in addition to the rent to Mavis (and it was a good thing Mavis paid the digital cable and the internet, and let him on her family plan for his iPhone).
His back was okay most of the time, but every once in a while—with no warning—it would seize up, preventing Paul from walking or standing or even sitting. This condition could last anywhere from a couple of seconds to several weeks. There was no telling.
Finally, things began to change. Thoughts of Tina and Mavis and household chores and money were gone—poof. He felt warm and fuzzy, mostly in his chest, neck, shoulders, face, and scalp. Noticed a rhythmic pattern of sound and light in the darkness of the room. Began to relax, become a little excited. Thrilled. (Finally.) Kept his eyes closed and saw patterns of shapes and colors. The patterns, the colors, and the shapes became more and more complex and more and more rapid. He let go. Surrendered to this new environment that was all in his brain, all behind his eyes.
Usually at this point, he’d begin to interact with certain entities that only existed in this state of mind. Like a veil lifted so he could see a world that was always there but could only be seen after ingesting just the right amount of DM. While very strange, it all seemed familiar and real. He never remembered any of it clearly afterwards (just that it was amazing and cool), but every time he went back in he thought, of course, this is it.
Tonight, though, just when things were supposed to get wonderful and freaky, he began to feel sick. The patterns and colors, instead of being fascinating and beautiful, seemed dark and sinister. Evil, even. He needed to vomit—quick.
He rushed to the hall bathroom. Saw Mavis’ face illuminated by the TV screen. She was watching Dateline (she saved all the crime and murder shows like Dateline and 20/20 and 48 Hours on her DVR queue and watched them over and over). It was one he’d already seen, about a husband and wife who preyed on other couples at vacation resorts, stealing their valuables and money after partying with them, before stabbing them to death. He got inside the door, locked it, and tried to vomit as quietly as possible. Soaking wet from sweat. It looked like the bathroom walls were breathing. He didn’t dare look in the mirror.
He kneeled on the carpeted floor in front of the toilet between each wave of sickness. These came again and again for what seemed like hours. He’d recently seen an episode of Two and a Half Men in which Charlie watched Alan vomit into the toilet and told him to put the seat down to give his forearms a place to rest. Paul tried it and was glad to find that it worked.
Just before Walgreens, Paul ate several servings of hot wings and fries along with a pitcher of Coca-Cola at Wing Stop, and now he could see bits and pieces of chicken meat and chicken skin floating in the toilet. Some of what came up seemed like it was not food, but pieces of organs or muscle. Some of it looked like grey pieces of paper. Over and over he saw mental images of himself bent over his food at Wing Stop eating eating eating and in his mind he looked like a huge slobbering pig with pig’s feet instead of hands, and a snout instead of a nose.
When there was no more to throw up and he’d had dry heaves for about ten minutes, he peeked outside the door. The TV was off, so Mavis had gone to bed. It was two a.m. He cleaned things up as best as he could and careened back to his bedroom.
Several hours passed. All he wanted to do was sleep. Had more disgusting visions—of himself, his ex-wives, his kids, his shrinking bank account. And jobs. (Fucking jobs.)
Just before five a.m. he drifted off, and dreamt of monsters and lizards and rivers of shit. Several minutes later he heard a banging banging banging at the front door screen. Decided that whatever it was would go away if he paid no attention to it.
Eventually, Mavis came to his door and banged on that. So, he got up and went with his mother to see what shitty thing waited for them on the porch.