Truth ambushes me in the post office…
The other day I found myself in line waiting for stamps. (I know, I know. Stamps…really?) The line and the wait were long, because the technician fixing the postage machine either couldn’t fix it or was just naturally slow.
The man in front of me took the edge of his impatience by striking up a conversation. It didn’t take us long to get around to “what do you do?” He, it turned out, was a start-up entrepreneur. When I confessed to being an author he surprised me by asking what I was working on now, rather than what I’d already published.
I explained I’m in the process of editing my first novel and on his prompting, described the story arc of West of Tomorrow—the flawed but essentially decent Clay Conover confronted with ethical decisions inside an organization in the throes of systemic change fraught with ethical dilemmas if its own. I explained the clandestine reorganization of the firm in which Clay worked, the likely effects of how they were implemented and how the choices Clay faced mirrored those faced by the organization he served and our society as a whole.
“Interesting,” he replied, when I finished. “Stories within stories.” He held my eyes, while he loaded up for his next question. “And you think there’s a market for a book like that?”
“Absolutely,” I told him without hesitation.
He studied me like an alien species. “Well…maybe,” he said, finally. He fished a card from his wallet and asked me to email him when the book comes out.
The gentleman’s reaction reawakened my own misgivings about the marketability of West of Tomorrow. It isn’t that I don’t think it’s a good story. It is, in my opinion, not to mention highly relevant today. At the same time, it’s not in a genre considered to be a brisk seller. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say it’s not in any genre. It’s not a thriller, though there is suspense, intrigue and excitement. It is not strictly a romance, though there is romance in it. Nor do I think of it as “literary fiction.” Maybe not so marketable, I thought, on the way home. So why did I write this story? The short and most accurate answer is, “Because I had to.”
It’s neither deserved nor fair, but Clay is ultimately discarded by the organization, at a point in his career when our meritocratic mythology tells us (and Clay) that he should be at the pinnacle of success. Most of us will experience personal or professional betrayal, at some point in our lives. Some of us experience both. But Clay is forced to confront both at the same time. Taken together, those betrayals threaten him with not only financial ruin but unrecoverable self-doubt. Clay is left to reinvent himself on the fly or sink—at a time in his life when he doesn’t as much time left as he used to have.
West of Tomorrow’s Themes
This story is both a wide-eyed field trip through our society and (for many readers), a close look in the mirror. As the reader watches Clay confront his personal demons and struggle to re-imagine some kind of future, it’s clear this is a comeback story uniquely grounded in our time. The questions Clay confronts are the questions we all potentially face. And Clay faces them alone.
Clay’s journey takes him on the road through much of the country he spent most of his life defending, on occasion at great personal risk. He finds the beauty and inspiration he expects but at the same time, discovers much that has changed. And not all of it is good. Is the change he sees around him mirrored in himself, but largely unseen? Clay finds it hard not to wonder if all his sacrifices and personal hardships were either necessary or well-spent…leading him inevitably to deeper self-examination, on both practical & philosophical levels.
Is there a way ahead for Clay when everything goes sideways so late in life? And if there is, what does that way look like? Will Clay have the flexibility, perceptiveness and resilience to recognize it…and to see it through? Or will he succumb to the machinations of a society apparently more concerned with winning than justice and fairness? And how much of that success, should he achieve it, depends on things he doesn’t control? And at the deepest personal level, how should he order his life around what truly matters?
As I confessed earlier, West of Tomorrow a story I had to write. Those who know my history will be tempted to conclude it’s autobiographical. It is not. While I share many of Clay’s experiences, his story is not mine—it’s ours. Chances are high that you will see yourself or someone you know in this story . This resemblance is not accidental. West of Tomorrow is our story, our world. But as the name suggests, it is more than that. It is our future, whispering to us on a restless wind.
West of Tomorrow is a cross-genre work of corporate intrigue, betrayal, misplaced love and the phoenix living in all of us, now on sale on Amazon. In this contemporary tale, Dirk leverages his experiences as a retired marine officer, corporate trainer and district manager to bring us this thoughtful story of self-reinvention in our turbulent time of shifting paradigms and runaway change.
Dirk is the organizer/facilitator of the Advanced Fiction Group, a collection of published and aspiring authors living in South Orange County. His current projects include Through the Windshield, an anthology of short stories due out in 2017 and Tier Zero, Volume I of The Knolan Cycle, a story of first contact between Earth and the Knolan Alliance.