One of the joys of blogging is that I get to find out about all kinds of books from all kinds of authors and I love the way in which fiction can blur and challenge so-called ‘usual’ boundaries. Today I’m delighted to feature a slightly different book as I stay in with Alexander Watson.
Staying in with Alexander Watson
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Alexander and thank you for staying in with me. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
I brought River Queens: Saucy boat, stout mates, spotted dog, America because it represents two distinctive and unique journeys. It is an LGBTQIA+ travel memoir which follows two urbane and homosexual men, across the rural and conservative American Heartland from Texas to Ohio, the Buckle of the Bible Belt, in a vintage motor yacht. It is also my foray into self publishing—the result of a brilliant stroke of luck.
(Sounds intriguing. Tell me more…)
My draft read like those overly long captions people give to their holiday snaps: “We were here and we did this. We were there and we did that.”—hardly gripping stuff. I knew I needed help. I knew I needed a professional editor. And not knowing where to start, I asked everyone I could think for advice. One came up with this:
“Hire an agent. The agent will sell the book to a house. The house will supply the editor.” Then added, “But I gotta tell you. Self-publishing is eating our lunch.”
Traditional publishing, thusly stated, loses its luster.
Interviews with prospects numbered into the dozens before I emailed John Baskin at Orange Frazer Press: Wilmington, Ohio who said, “Send me some stuff.”
We started with the basics.
“Alexander,” Mr. Baskin said, “You have to write a line; then write another line; and the two have to have something to do with each other.”
(That sounds like pretty good advice to me!)
Had I not contracted Mr. Baskin, Bryan Mealer (The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind) would not have written the back-cover blurb; Melissa Fay Greene (The Temple Bombing, Praying for Sheetrock, The Underdogs) would not have written the foreword—both were beyond my reach. Orange Frazer would not have pressed my book, and Ms. Hawley, the publisher, would not have called and said, “River Queens is here. There’s a problem. Can you drive up?”
Wilmington is an hour away of my Cincinnati, Ohio home.
A greenhorn like me would never have seen that the dust jackets had been trimmed infinitesimally short; a bookie would spot it instantly. And, even though the launch was only days away, Ms. Hawley saw to it that I did have plenty of books with well-fitting jackets to sign.
It was a vanity press experience which defies the prevailing consensus.
(It all sounds rather exciting to me. I’m sure other writers will be envious of how it all worked out for you Alexander.)
What can we expect from an evening in with River Queens?
River Queens welcomes the reader on board a boat, Dale’s and my boat, a 1955 Chris-Craft Corsair named Betty Jane. Together with our dog, Doris Faye, we travel across an America few really know exists. The reader meets the people who live and work according to the seafarer’s code: “Always render aid.” It is my countrymen contradicting the persona we broadcast through our media and politics.
River Queens is also a bromance which candidly depicts the adaptations of our same-sex union made to accommodate conditions beyond homo-safe and familiar big-city Dallas, Texas. How we handle the ever changing conditions of the boat, the river, and landlubbing life beyond its banks drives the narrative.
What else have you brought along and why?
I brought Doris Faye.
(She’s utterly gorgeous.)
Sit. No, sit.
She can’t sit bless her heart, she’s Dalmatian. That tail never stops wagging either.
(I’ll just move a couple of breakables aside…)
Dale and I got her when we owned rental property. If I wasn’t working on our own units, I handymanned for other landlords of low-income, subsidized housing.
I hired—usually a resident, usually in exchange for cigarettes—someone to keep an eye on my truck. One day an addict said, “Man, I don’t wanna do some other guy out of a job, but you oughta get a dog. Junkies aren’t afraid of dirty needles, but we sure are afraid of dog bite. You oughta get yourself a dog, Man.”
(Doris Faye doesn’t look much of a guard dog to me Alexander. She looks as if she’s smiling.)
Doris Faye was ten pounds underweight, had kennel cough, inexpertly spayed, dumped and abandoned to her own devices because the cute little black and white puppy she was one Christmas morning after the re-release of One Hundred and One Dalmatians grew up to be a dog. She figures largely in River Queens as our morale officer on board and our goodwill ambassador in port—whatever Dale and I were; we had a good-looking dog.
I also moored Betty Jane out there just beyond your back stoop. I hope you don’t mind.
(Not at all, though I thought our pond was looking crowded!)
Even with the evening fog settling in over the river, you can make out her mid-century lines, the smoothed corners and bull-nosed edges. She’s forty-five feet long with twin Chevrolet 350s to push her about ten miles per hour depending on wind and current, of course. We found her sinking on a Texas lake one cold February night. What you see there is two years of hard restoration and sixteen years of meticulous maintenance.
(She looks fantastic now.)
What is not apparent is how much joy and pleasure she has brought us. She has tempered us into almost one choreographed unit, capitalizing on our individual strengths. Dale is captain; I am the deckhand. We anticipate each other’s decisions and trace each other’s movements almost without speaking though moments of pique are in the book. Otherwise it would be a fairy tale (pardon the pun) rather than a story of two men whose appreciation of life comes from the people met while aboard a boat. That is the story of River Queens.
I really like the sound of River Queens Alexander. Thanks so much for staying in with me to tell me all about it. And thanks for bringing Doris Faye too.
The river – any river – is another planet, with its own language, rules, and culture.
River Queens is a story of the unlikeliest of fellows (and a dog) coming to the river-and what happens to them once they arrive.
At first glance, it seems to be a how-to manual for any adventuresome (but perhaps foolhardy) type who’s ever thought of restoring a wooden yacht and sailing it halfway across the country.
Second glance, however, shows that it’s a classic travel narrative in which two intrepid (but perhaps foolhardy) explorers head out to tour what is usually called “a distant, alien world.”
To Alexander Watson and his partner, Dale Harris, the river is as exotic as any foreign locale they’d previously traversed. There is danger, of course – unpredictable nature, lurking water hazards, quickly rising human squalls but the initial difficulty is language: can they become fluent in the argot of harbormasters, helmsmen, navigators, and the various deck hands, skippers, and swabbies? The language of river people is gloriously colorful and idiosyncratic, and Watson has a gift for capturing it. River talk is the animated essence of River Queens, in which these typically hard-working people are rendered so specifically, in all their salty humanity, that they become a kind of tribe, passing Watson and Harris along from outpost to outpost, encumbered by their hospitality.
This is the genius of River Queens, in which Watson’s sensibility is so adroit that he captures perfectly the two sides of America that seem elsewhere on permanent outs. Here on the river, though, they become assembled in a near-perfect unity, displaying a charity that seems to be missing on the inland geography. With happy authority and never a condescending glance (well, only where one is deserved), Captain Watson gives us a striking, often hilarious picture of river life, elevating its savvy inhabitants into the first rank of admirable Americans and showing us finally how little divided America actually can be.
River Queens is at once a romance of men and the river, a fantasy come to life, an unparalleled adventure story, one of the best travel journals around and a glad picture for our turbulent times.
River Queens is available for purchase through the links here.
About Alexander Watson
Alexander Watson’s interest in writing came at an early age. His grandparents were world travelers, the Mame Dennis and Beauregard Burnside of their day. They sent postcards and letters from around the globe; but for young Alexander to receive, he had to give. Reading of their exploits and reciprocating with his own cultivated Alexander Watson’s ability to convey the color of places even as remote as a child’s imagination and render fascinating the petty businesses of the people who lived therein.