Jacob Miller is angry with himself, the world, and God. Life seems so unfair, so cruel, that he can’t imagine why anyone even tries. After having a nervous breakdown, selling his business, filing for bankruptcy, having a baby, and finding out he owes over twenty grand in taxes, he is hardly happy to be alive.
In the span of a year, Jacob will discover three very important things about life. Things can always be worse. There really is a God. And if you wait long enough anything can change.
A Season Without Rain explores that gray area between poverty and middle class life, the struggling underclass for whom there are no advocates. A powerful story told in a modern, everyday voice that will entrench readers in Jacob Miller’s black world of anger, hate, resentment, lies, and violence.
A Season Without Rain is Joe Schwartz’s first novel. His previous short story collections Joe’s Black T-Shirt, The Games Men Play, and The Veiled Prophet of St. Louis have been acclaimed vulgar as Bukowski and visceral as Carver. Joe lives and works in St. Louis happily writing stories exclusively about the Gateway City.
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I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Joe over the past few years. His writing is brutally honest, dark, and rarely gives us a happy ending. At the same time, his connection to his characters, to life’s hardships, and to the reality of our world is so compelling that a reader can’t help but continue turning those pages. Beyond the writing, Joe is truly a nice guy. He has written a piece to share with us today that perfectly illustrates my point.
by Joe Schwartz
Dudes don’t talk, or better yet, cannot talk. If a dude goes over to one of his bros’ garages and says something to the effect of, “Man, I wish I was dead,” it is most likely that his friend will politely ask him to shut up by offering him a beer, turning on any TV game with a ball, and feigning great attention on the match-up until the moment passes. Anything but talk. Jesus, God, let’s just pretend you didn’t say anything and go on in silence. That is practically a definition of male friendship. Dudes don’t tell other dudes what they really need is a hug, some emotional support (see: pussy). If you ever see one dude kiss another dude intentionally, one of them is about to die. This is where women will always be stronger than men.
Emotionally, we dudes are cripples, at best we are adult children that grown women can’t begin to comprehend, they are constantly, severely frustrated with, never understanding that in fact we were taught by some elder dude as a child these three magic words; ‘boys don’t cry.’ In middle school we are taught to ‘walk it off’ and in high school we learn to fight, taking our emotions out in the blood and teeth of so-called enemies. Sometime in college or the military, we learn to forget about it, to suppress all the anger and pain. Of course that is totally unhealthy. So we use a few gallons of alcohol, whatever mind eraser of choice that our fathers used to ease the pain coming back from wars or losing their fathers, getting divorced, celebrating birthdays, holidays, and stupid-bowls all in the hopes of one day slinging an arm over our boy’s shoulder, slugging one back, and quietly knowing we love each other.
What a crock of shit!
I say all that to say this, I am no different. That is until I started writing. My writing career is also adjacent to my sobriety. I was getting sober when I first started finding my voice as a writer. It was typical for me to drink to cry, to release all the shit I had been loading up on, and by that I mean the pain I had learned to conceal.
It was early one morning when I was writing after a hard night of drinking Canadian whiskey, i.e. a full liter bottle in three hours, that I wrote a letter to myself in a short story called ‘Fathers Day.’ It had all been fiction up to that point. A play I had been unconsciously participating in by creating a main character coincidentally called Joe, who was attending the funeral of the father who had abandoned the family when he was only eight years old. O, art how you do imitate life. It was by some magical thinking, or was it divine intervention, that I began to write a letter from my father to myself explaining how he wished things could’ve been different. By the end of that letter I was sober and sobbing for the first time in well over twenty years. But that isn’t the point. After the emotional tidal waves receded, something amazing had happened to me: I had healed. All that horrible, self-loathing I had been carrying around, wearing like a badge of pride, finally, mercifully disappeared. I was suddenly free. If that could happen to me, it occurred to me, maybe it could for my fellow dudes, too.
A Season Without Rain is my grand attempt to do so. I have recently caught myself saying to others that if this book can prevent some dude from getting a divorce or putting a gun in his mouth, then I will be deeply satisfied. The stories I choose to write are no different than the ones men tell drinking, standing around a fire, or watching TV together in bars, or on long car rides to shoot guns. We never talk about ourselves, but rather, about some other poor asshole that isn’t up to our sublime standards. Judge and jury alike we pronounce other dudes guilty of the same sins we are guilty, at minimum, in collusion to committing, hoping to hear an answer that can save our own lives. There typically is none.
Happy endings are not a specialty of men. Our stories end in death and destruction, a hero gallantly marching out to meet his fate. This, however, is false. Men don’t want to die, but they do want respect. When a man is living without this most basic of urges about his own life even mildly satisfied, that is when he seeks out the things that challenge him. That will prove his great manhood to his fellow dudes, legendary feats of drinking and reckless behavior that will win him a favorable story among his set forever; that is when he finally finds a sliver, a modicum of the respect he is desperately seeking. The only problem is it is never enough. That legendary night of alcohol abuse is a small consolation prize compared to DUI charges, hospital bills, and divorce. Rock climbing, hunting, addictions to porn, sex, gambling, and anger are all salves dudes put on their wounds. If only we could talk about what is really bothering us, about how we feel this life we are living is pointless, and maybe how we are thinking about suicide, we could live better.
The phenomenon I’m seeing through my work is that women are reading me first, then nudging the men they love with a sharp elbow to the ribs ordering them to read this. Then they do, because men will do anything women want if it means they will continue to fuck them, and it shocks them to read that another dude gets it. Better yet, gets them and all this terrible shit they have been quietly, stoically keeping to themselves.
It is a real joy for me to get an e-mail from a fellow dude, prideful in telling me he hasn’t read a book in years, but he has mine. That is usually where it ends, but I would like to think a fire has been started, one that eventually many dudes will stand around, soberly talking and realizing they are not alone anymore.
You can talk to Joe on Twitter: @JoesBlackTShirt
I hope you’ll take the time to connect with Joe and explore his fictional world.
Thanks for reading.