Back a few years, when you could still deny that LeBron James was the greatest player of our generation, I worked for a baller named Calyph West. He’s no more than a footnote now, an already bygone figure in the true new religion of American men, the world of sports, but professional basketball is, to me anyway, the grandest distraction of them all, and know him when, why yes I did.
Remember that year, that great aberration of a year, when it seemed like all Portland was on the come-up? Before the injuries came and took us at the knees, before our city peaked and crested into caricature, when we were still young and dangerous and somehow won the West? The Heat came to town preordained to win in five or six games. It seems a half-forgotten time already, but it was the beginning of the Three Kings in Miami, so LeBron didn’t have a center or a point yet, and Oden was healthy then, so it went five all right, and against all we clinched at home 4–1 after some half-anonymous man with hops and beautiful shoes denied LeBron at the rim with six seconds to go after Gerald Wallace fouled out. Yeah, that was Calyph.
-Excerpt from Ride Around Shining.
Late Night Library: Summarize your book in 10 words or fewer.
Chris Leslie-Hynan: A white chauffeur becomes fixated on his black employer.
LNL: If this book were the lovechild of two others, who are its parents?
CLH: When you grow up in the Midwest with irrational ambitions, a preoccupation with class, and the desire to learn to write lyrically so that women will notice you, you’re probably going to fall under Fitzgerald’s shadow at some point, so The Great Gatsby is one. But much of the fun of the book was mixing this classic but somewhat worn American line with other influences, and I’m in the debt of a number of British writers who helped me make Jess the yearning creep that he is, none more than John Fowles and The Collector.
LNL: What ingredients go into the recipe of your writing style?
CLH: I never drink when I write, but I would imagine that my recipe is trying to achieve the same things one is trying to achieve when drinking a single drink for the right reasons. I try to make myself feel something. Hopefully joy is involved. Realistically most of the time is spent sitting motionless shushing one’s ego and trying not to say anything stupid. Occasionally I’m able to articulate something I wasn’t able to before. Hopefully I stop before it all goes bad.
LNL: Name one book you wish you could read again for the first time.
CLH: Mrs. Dalloway. I got to read it in London when I was twenty, and I didn’t appreciate it! Most of my favorite novels are books I was assigned in school and failed to value until I got to read them again on my own time. Whenever I find myself talking shit it’s good to remember how many life-changing writers I initially discounted out of aesthetic immaturity.
LNL: Answer a question you wish people would ask you about writing.
CLH: Does it have to take so long? Here I am on the Rookie Report, and I’m looking at the rookies who’ve come before me and they all have grey hair and wrinkles, too. When I was a senior in college, a fiction professor gave us all a rather dour essay called I think “Writing In the Cold” that asserted you probably had to write seriously for ten years before you could reasonably hope to have any success. Of course I pointed to evidence that I’d been serious since the age of ten because I didn’t want to believe it. Then it took me four years to go to grad school, two years there, and five years after to write a book that doesn’t even tip 250 pages. I can’t tell you why, but yes, it usually does, it does have to take so long.
Get a copy of Ride Around Shining at IndieBound.
Chris Leslie-Hynan is originally from Wisconsin and received his MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2008. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Ride Around Shining is his first novel.