Not An American


So why should you read a self-published novel by a writer you’ve never heard of? Why should you get to know over a dozen characters, learn the history of an imaginary city, and follow the twists and turns of a complex plot over the course of 140,000 words? It won’t make you smarter, get you laid, or teach you how to be a better person. Why is it worth your time?

Not an American is written for the general reader. The plot is complex but straight-forward. There are no unreliable narrators. I go out of my way to make everything as clear as possible, but it’s a still a 140,000 world novel, not a short story or a blog entry. It would still be 14 hours long if I recorded it as an audiobook. It still takes about as much time and effort as it would take to read Tale of Two Cities or Lord Jim. So why not just read Tale of Two Cities or Lord Jim? Better yet, why not watch Girls or listen to Serial? That’s what everybody else is doing. That’s what will get you laid, get your blog entry read, and give you something to talk about around the water cooler at work.

The honest answer is “I don’t know.”

But let me give you the book’s genesis. My father grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania, just outside of Scranton. In the summer, we would drive up to visit relatives. There I got to know the landscape, the Ashley Huber coal breaker, the mine fire at Centralia, the seedy hotels that dot the Poconos, that corner of the Northeastern United States that was so similar, yet so different from my hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey. In 2008, I drove up to the University of Scranton to photograph a rally for John McCain. I chatted up a group of conservatives. Clean coal, Obama’s birth certificate, the anti-abortion movement, Northeastern Pennsylvania is still Blue America, but these people seemed to be from a different country.

Fast forward to 2010. They’re everywhere. Obama has already revealed himself to be a bought and paid for Wall Street whore. Chris Christie is governor of New Jersey. The Tea Party is terrorizing congressional town halls for the Affordable Care Act with the corporate media cheering them on. And I’m reading Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens.

Barnaby Rudge, which Charles Dickens wrote when he was 28 years old, is full of the rough passion and anger of a young man just entering his prime. It’s not as great a novel as Tale of Two Cities, but it might be a more honest novel. Dickens slandered the French Revolution in the figure of Madame Defarge. In Barnaby Rudge, he comes back home to London, to the Great Gordon Riots of 1780. If the mob that stormed the Bastille fought for democracy, for liberty, equality and fraternity, then the mob that attacked Newgate Prison wanted to take peoples’ rights away. It started out as a controlled pogrom against Catholics. But it got out of control. Under the cover of “No Popery” the London mob attacked the established order, freed prisoners, burned down the houses of the wealthy, and rocked the social order down to its foundation.

I will never be able to write as well as Charles Dickens. This is not self-deprecation. God can’t write as well as Charles Dickens. But when I read the fictional description of the Gordon Riots in Barnaby Rudge, my mind went back to Northeastern Pennsylvania, to the Centralia Mine Fire, to the McCain supporters I met in Scranton. Somehow, in my imagination, the fires of the Gordon Riots, the 50-year-old Anthracite coal fire under Centralia Pennsylvania, and the racist, far-right wing passions of the Tea Party came together in Poison Springs. If Joseph Conrad invented a whole country, I thought, surely I could create my own small city.

In 2011, I wrote a first draft and set it aside. It didn’t work. I knew how I wanted the novel to end. I just wasn’t sure how I wanted it to begin. When I looked at its villains, it felt like I was “punching down.” Scranton and Hazleton aren’t New York and London. Lou Barletta isn’t Michael Bloomberg. Northeastern Pennsylvania is a run-down corner of the Northeast, not the Jim Crow South. In the fall of 2011, however, I participated in Occupy Wall Street in NYC. I witnessed the insane amount of police repression and state power that came down on a non-violent protest movement. I watched the media slander idealistic young people as “rapists” and “hippies who needed jobs,” and I had the rest of my story.

Imagine two young malcontents in their early 20s. Imagine a corrupt city government and a brutal, repressive police force. And imagine a spark that sets off the conflagration that brings it all down. If you think you’d enjoy seeing any of this, then by all means, download my novel, and take the 10 or 15 hours you need to read it. I may not be Charles Dickens or Joseph Conrad, but if you hate cops, hate bigots, hate corrupt politicians, hate the media, and want to “stick it to the man,” if only in your imagination, I actually think you’ll enjoy Not an American so much you’ll probably read it twice.

24 thoughts on “Not An American

  1. Vendetta

    Your pal Vendetta from Pando. How’s it going, Stan?

    Thought I’d offer my commentary on the sections available for preview on Amazon.

    Chapter one –
    Confused. Are you trying to tell me the young man is Mexican without telling me he’s Mexican? There’s no need to label him, but come on. “Chatting in Spanish, which he spoke not only fluently, but like a native.” What are you saying here? Why play guessing games with the reader over how he learned to speak such great Spanish?
    Confused. Why’s he pretending he’s going to sleep through the last stop if it’s the last stop? Was he intending to get off here or not.
    Confused. Why is the Tea Party picketing a bus stop?

    Feel like you’re wasting space on describing the appearances of throwaway characters who aren’t going to show up again. Mongolian lizard eyes.

    “Shakespeare, otherwise known as English.”
    “She wanted English, not some fancy poetry memorized out of a textbook.”
    “Now if you Native Americans don’t mind.”
    Ah, some good dialogue at last. You need less narration/exposition and more of this for a story to get lively.

    Chapter two –
    Don’t call a spring a well. They are not synonyms. I don’t even know if the Indians of the Northeast dug wells or not.
    Rev. Brown and Co. seems quite the bunch of idiots for poisoning the water supply of the area they just conquered. What the Hell are they going to drink now?

    Like the whole bit with Reagan’s Brutalist square.

    Confused. Poison Springs is not an Appalachian coal mining town. It’s a rail hub and manufacturing center, described as thriving – why’s it collapsing when coal shut downs?

    “French Toast” – good stuff.

    Confused again about its revival. How does this place become a business boomtown when there’s no market to sell to? Half the people moved out of here you, you said. Plus it’s a (recovering) shithole in environmental terms and it’s not really an upper middle class locale. Liquor stores is the kind of retail I see booming here. I don’t see this place turning into Naperville.

    Question: is this based off the history of any particular city? It seems like this disjointed pastiche of very different types of American cities and communities – and the history as a whole is thus rather schizophrenic and implausible.

    Confused – what the Hell are patriot vigilante bikers doing in the Northeast? What border are they patrolling?

    Yeah yeah yeah, every flavor of bad white person in America comes and stands on Roosevelt Square and renames it Reagan Square. An atrocity. The Anschluss preceding what I assume is a coming Holocaust.

    Some illegal thug being let off on bail for armed robbery and disappearing again – hey, we’re back in an America I can recognize!

    Oscar Hernandez murdered in jail with a fire extinguisher – good!

    What is anticlimactic about Cantinelli winning – it is climactic! Some right-wing biker who belongs an Arizona wins office? In New England?!?!

    Chapter three –

    John Avellanos: Why not tell us his name on page one? I don’t see any dramatic reason why you shouldn’t.

    Confused: Why would Elizabeth Felton seem almost unstoppable in an election? Yeah, I get that she’s Colonial Royalty, descendant of the original Indian spring despoilers, but why the Hell would she have any kind of following if she hasn’t even lived there? Catalinelli is obviously popular if he’s won seven elections in a row, why would he be at risk from her?

    Serious misstep – damn right. I would vote for anyone running against her after she said that. I would vote for Mao Zedong over her.

    I would vote for Catalinelli purely on the basis of his Queen Elizabeth impression. Bonus points for being a fellow Italian.

    “A Progressive in Sheep’s Clothing” – what clothing?! This Fedora guy needs to be kicked off his column and taught to demagogue with real style. Ms. Felton is Communist Eurotrash in Progressive Sheep’s Clothing.

    Confused once more: why is John concluding he has once again only seen this chick in his imagination? How often does he hallucinate pretty girls?

    Reaching into his shirt while he’s asleep: personal space violation! Whoa!
    Creepily delivered introduction…Whoa!
    Stalking him for the last ten months….Whoa!
    Touching his face already when she just introduced herself to him? Whoa!

    This girl is weird. Damn weird. Everything about this would make me feel comfortable. I honestly feel John is strange for not being put off by any of it.

    Damn it, John. The Swiss have never been subjugated by the English and used as goons. Do not put them in the same sentence as the Swiss.

    Confused: if he looks white, why is the Cantinelli mongoloid at the beginning harassing him over being an illegal? It is not white privilege to be mistaken for an illegal immigrant!

    Confused more: who the fuck pushes leaflets in the face of a guy who’s 6’4″? No one is that stupid.

    Cathy Chegoffgan starting to win some points back from me on her no-bullshit personality. Still ought to keep her mitts off of people she just met, though.

    Oh, they have met before. Why’d they have to re-introduce themselves? Or did they never do that last time?

    Well, she’s losing likeability again with her burning hatred of white trash. She’d probably be a fun person to argue with, but it’d probably be all arguments with her.

    Well, far as I’m getting without paying for it.

    It’s political polemics without much in the way of verisimilitude, the setting is pretty much fantasy and bears little relationship to real world America, least as far as I’ve seen it between Chicago, St. Louis, and Houston. That being said, I’ll read polemical fantasies even if I disagree with them if there’s an entertaining plot. Yours hasn’t taken off yet so I can’t say whether I’d actually enjoy it as a story or not. Definitely not seeing eye-to-eye with the politics.

    Writing style is very mechanical and exposition-laden, but you do show flashes of good dialogue and clever ideas which I tried to highlight as I went along – aim for more of that in future writings.

    Can’t tell much on where the plot’s headed. I’m not convinced yet why I should hate Cantinelli or eagerly await his downfall. I already hate Elizabeth Felton. The revolution better not put her in charge. Cathy Chegoffgan – she’s getting on my nerves, but she’s definitely a character. John – have not really gotten a feel on him yet. But your introduction of him is totally disjointed and haphazard. Spilling details of him as 6’4″ and hippie-haired and a military veterans long after he’s made his first appearance basically invalidates the way the reader has pictured him since the beginning.

  2. srogouski Post author

    re: Confused. Are you trying to tell me the young man is Mexican without telling me he’s Mexican?

    John Avellanos is a man without a country. He’s what might be known as a “white Hispanic.” He’s just this side of white, and just that side of ethnic. People in a racist town will perceive him as either white or Hispanic depending on whether or not they like him. He may or may not be a military veteran.

    re: “This girl is weird. Damn weird. Everything about this would make me feel comfortable. I honestly feel John is strange for not being put off by any of it.”

    Maybe his own background is so twisted and weird that only someone like that could possibly understand him and he recognizes that. More likely, he recognizes a fellow malcontent.

    1. Vendetta

      These are run-of-the-mill Republicans who took measures against illegal immigrations.

      They are nothing like the impression I got of Cantinelli. These are not populist patriots who head militias. I would be surprised to see someone like that get elected anywhere, let alone in Pennsylvania, New York, or wherever Poison Springs lies.

      1. srogouski Post author

        I think you go it right when you said:

        “It seems like this disjointed pastiche of very different types of American cities and communities”

        It’s an old rust belt town that also stands in for the USA as a whole. But I still believe everything about it is fairly plausible. Your mileage may vary.

        But I assure you we have plenty of politicians like Catlinelli here in the Mid-Atlantic.

        In any event, thanks for previewing. Judging by what I’ve seen of you on Pando, I think you might like the plot’s resolution.

        1. Vendetta

          I don’t know if that’s a passive-aggressive dig at my “white supremacy” or not. Very clever of you, leaving this hook for me to find out whether I’m being insulted or not.

          If the 1% gets crushed I’d see it as a happy ending too. So who wins and who loses in the end? Congratulations, you’ve left me in suspense.

          1. srogouski Post author

            You discussed mob justice. The plot just may hinge on people looking for mob justice.

            You’ve met the hero and the heroine. Let’s just say they’re both clever malcontents who understand how American culture works.

            That 23 year old kid who got murdered in North Carolina and his 21 year old wife? They were both nice conservatives who believed in the American dream.

            John Avellanos and Cathy Chegoffgan (who are 23 and 21) have no such illusions. But they figure out how to make the American nightmare work in their favor.

            I’m actually pleased I’ve created the right impression for both of them. She’s hyper-aggressive and possibly off putting to the wrong person. He’s mysterious and not all he seems.

  3. srogouski Post author

    re: Rev. Brown and Co. seems quite the bunch of idiots for poisoning the water supply of the area they just conquered. What the Hell are they going to drink now?

    White Anglo Saxons despoiling the environment where they live? Hmm. That doesn’t seem so implausible to me.

    1. Vendetta

      They fouled up what I’m assuming is the only local water source, if it managed to kill off the local Indians.

      What did they drink that year? How did they survive?

      1. srogouski Post author

        I think the Indians were driven out by a combination of environmental destruction and plain old guns and murder. Clearly the Reverend Brown’s naming of the town after one poisoned water source doesn’t men all the water in the region was poisoned.

        “With a little over 100,000 people, Poison Springs is the largest city in the Winterborn County, the origin of the name a colonial war of conquest where the original Scots Irish settlers dumped corpses into a well-used by the local Indians. “We have poisoned their spring,” a letter from the Reverend Titus Brown, dated 1723 and addressed to James Murdoch, Member of Parliament from East Anglia, declared. “Now we may carry the civilization of free and Christian Englishman to this lush and verdant land in the new world.”

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  7. lara palara

    I’m quite fascinated about you and your blog. I´d like to read your book but does it only sell as kindle-ebook-edition?? I don´t like amazon so I don´t have a kindle. 😦

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  9. joshinterest

    A better bio here and I would probably buy this book.

    Please use this criticism constructively. If you hired a decent copywriter, this page would’ve converted at least one buyer.

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