What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Burn This City to the Ground?
Burn This City to the Ground is a memoir about my time living, volunteering, and caring for a quadriplegic individual in downtown Minneapolis. It is the sequel to my first book, “Corners Untouched by Madness.” My client and I always talked about how there aren’t many stories about quadriplegics living off the system, and that in most books and movies they only tell stories about wealthy individuals who are paralyzed.
So, the book was initially supposed to be about caregiving. However, at the time I began writing the story in 2018 and 2019 I was volunteering at the homeless shelter where George Floyd was a security guard. Even then there was a character based on him in my manuscript named “Hakeem.” He was only briefly mentioned but was a reoccurring character. When my first book was published I put the story aside and kind of forgot about it. Then as everyone knows the pandemic happened, Floyd was murdered and everything changed forever.
When my first book won an honorable mention nod in a writing contest in early 2021 I revisited this story and realized Floyd was in it. I rewrote two thirds of the book to include the pandemic, riots and our parallel lives to everything that happened. The finished manuscript became “Burn This City to the Ground.”
If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of Burn This City to the Ground, what would they be?
When I was working at the homeless shelter I listened to Sade a lot. “The Big Unknown” had just been released as a single and now whenever I hear it I am reminded of that time in my life. My client really enjoyed “The Sound of Silence” Simon and Garfunkel cover that Disturbed recorded. As for the book as a whole I would play “Heaven Help Me” by Zach Williams. It’s a touching tribute to Floyd and everything that is happening in our lives in the book.
What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?
I really enjoy the classics. My favorite Stories are Les Miserables and the Count of Monte Cristo. I believe that some of the bravest stories have already been told and we are just building on these timeless themes that are woven through humanity from the earliest days. Spiritual texts also intrigue me and how religion has influenced storytelling from the very beginning. I have honestly only written memoir and poetry so far. Everything we write was once something we felt in our everyday lives so I feel there is a bit of memoir in everything. All literature is built upon memoir and personal experiences.
What books are on your TBR pile right now?
There is a comic book about my hometown in Minnesota called “Winona Forever” that is on my desk right now. I just finished an outstanding young adult novel by my friend Marissa Lete called “Echoes” and she just gave me an ARC of its sequel, “Anomalies.” I have slowly been reading “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens because I never knew the story growing up. I have a huge stack of books to read and reread. Longest running currently reading is Hindu Yogi Paramahansa Yogananda’s explanation of the bible “The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ Within You.” Safe to say the extended journey has been eye-opening.
What scene in your book was your favorite to write?
My favorite scene to write in Burn This City to the Ground was the ending. Sam, my quadriplegic client, has a “it is better to burn out than fade away” moment that closely ties into the title of the book. The epilogue was also a therapeutic experience as I ended the story for the reader in a way that the book could still end in reality. It hits hard for me and I cry a little every time I read through it.
Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)
I don’t have any super weird writing habits. I need silence and maybe a stiff drink. It’s like Hemingway said, “Write drunk, edit sober.”
Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?
I live by the words of Kahlil Gibran spoken by “the prophet” in his book of the same name. My father gifted me the book as a teenager and I didn’t read it until I was thirty-three. Fifteen years without a read, moving probably ten times all around Minnesota. So glad it stayed with me. I credit the cover designer with that one. Not just a good book but makes you look well-read when on your shelf.
If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?
In the immortal words of Mother Theresa, “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” Even though it doesn’t say that in my stories, that is what they are about. My first book is called “Corners Untouched by Madness” and it is about a time I loved some one so much I was committed by a court to a mental hospital. My brother once told me, “Follow your dream or follow your main squeeze? At some point nearly every human will face this quandary, whether they are 17 or 75.” I write books now.
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