Today’s hot seat is taken by historical fiction author Eric Bronson and focuses on his novel, King of Rags.
During his virtual book tour, Eric will be awarding a lucky winner a set of book thongs. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below.
Eric Bronson teaches philosophy in the Humanities Department at York University in Toronto. He is the editor of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Philosophy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), Poker and Philosophy (Open Court, 2006), Baseball and Philosophy (Open Court, 2004), and co-editor of The Hobbit and Philosophy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), and The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy (Open Court, 2003).
Welcome, Eric. Please tell us about your current release.
King of Rags is an historical fiction work on the ragtime era at the turn of twentieth century America. It is a story about entertainers vainly hoping to be artists, musicians after more than money, prostitutes, drunks, and con men all searching for hope in America’s brothels, slums, and good-timing red-light districts. The book closely follows Scott Joplin, the king of all ragtime composers, as he desperately writes the music of Civil Rights fifty years before America was ready to listen.
What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve always been in love with the sad clown, the comedian who peels back the layers of his own private pain to make children happy. Ragtime entertainers struck this chord beautifully, and in their syncopated rhythms we find something of our own desires thwarted by events just out of our control. How do we work through the everyday frustrations life offers? Ragtime musicians have a compelling answer. Set your troubles to music. Don’t run away from it. Dance to it.
An excerpt from chapter two:
"It started with his fingers, just skin on bone and note to note. Then it shot up his wrists, skittering over the hair on his arms like thousands of Texarkana red ants stepping out for air. He played the Masters. That is, he started with them. As the beer went through him, and the smoke from his dangling cigarette seeped out from his lungs and lifted him lighter, Scott began to play with speed. The faster Scott played, the more his old life merged into the present. A jolt shot through his shoulders and Scott heard the sure strumming of his father’s banjo. Inside his legs, Scott felt a quiver and a smash as a broom crashed against the floor to the steady time of an old-fashioned church shout-out. For the first time in his life, Scott was a real entertainer. Whole worlds collided and when they did, Scott stopped. A pause, here and there, off the beat. A stutter and start. It was a kind of love, but something deeper. Something older. Older even than love."
What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m just finishing a book, The Dice Shooters, a fictional work about craps players hoping beyond hope to come out on top. I draw on many beautiful characters I met at the tables when I was a dice dealer in downtown, Las Vegas.
Here is an excerpt from chapter 3:
"A night can move in rhythm and time, like a drop of syrup and a wash of wine. The dark uneven circles crackle Downtown like soft breath in a dented horn, a muted melody hardly spent by anybody. The dice shooters are still there, moping all over the tables. They gawk and they stalk with their gallows and rope, and they slide, yes they slide to the slow riff of living, to the sultry stone staccato beat of a worn-out African drum. They slide with their eyes and they grope in their gums. And every body and every beat are thrown to the streets like wedding rice or sparkling confetti, tumbling their way to their private beheadings like a pair of sweaty dice. It’s true what they say. All of us are on the cusp. Every single one of us. Downtown, the broken lights turn on. Inside every eye, all the way down, even a broken light turns on."
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’m not sure I ever did. I think of myself more as a teacher. King of Rags is really a different way of exploring art, freedom, and courage - themes we discuss in my Modernity classes. Books can reach and even create a much bigger classroom, one that isn’t bound to time or place.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I am a philosophy professor at York University in Toronto part-time, a writer part-time, and a daddy full-time. In the real world there isn’t enough time for writing. Actually, in the Modern age there isn’t really enough time for anything. All art, like religion or love, can take you away from this world and outside its time. A child’s cry of laughter or pain brings you right back. Both worlds enrich the other and add meaning to mine.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I always have to read out loud. People take words and feed off them. Sounds and rhythms are important. Words are little birds. The best ones fly high above the world and don’t simply fall from the nest in silence.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a ship captain. Romantic paintings and poems of storms at sea always thrilled my imagination. Like Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee”:
“And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.”
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Ideas in your head are like political prisoners. Set them free. Get them out in the world. You’ll be amazed at all the trouble they get themselves into.
Thank you, Eric!