BOOKWORM: Three questions for Nathan Summers, author of GPS
By Diana Owen
Our city is a cog in the American wheel of starving artists – raw talent just beginning. Memphis is famous for supporting little buds of creativity, nurturing them, and making them shine before unleashing them on the world. This is a great place to be from, and more importantly, most artists don’t make it big here. They drink themselves into a blur and find fellow creative minds to help them trudge along toward some semblance of an income. This sort of limping toward the future is part of what eventually endeared me to the protagonist of Nathan Summers’ debut novel, GPS.
GPS is a compelling story written for baseball enthusiasts, sci-fi junkies, and bookworms alike. It’s a tale of a man finding out what he’s capable of in spite of the most bizarre and horrifying conditions. After reading this book, I had a few things that were gnawing at me, so I contacted the new author to see if he may be able to take a break from his day job as a sports reporter and answer them. Here’s what I got:
Q: You’re familiar with our city. What does Memphis represent to you as an artist?
A: When you come to Memphis you don’t have to go to a certain street to find out what’s happening. It kind of finds you. It’s one of the few cities in America that tells you its story without you necessarily having to go to a particular museum or a certain restaurant. Although Beale Street, like Bourbon in New Orleans, will always be the place tourists want to see first, it’s not until you’ve gotten that part of it out of your system that you can start to really appreciate Memphis. My decade of living, working, and traveling throughout the Southeast has changed my perspective on things – people, art, music – and Memphis is one of my most-visited, most-loved places. You walk into Uncle Lou’s, for example, and you don’t have to ask them to tell you what Memphis people are like because you live it. For those 20 minutes you’re just part of it. They embrace strangers and regulars alike, and the man himself comes to your table to make sure you love his food.
Q: How did your past and family history influence your characters and/or certain scenes in GPS?
A: GPS became a multi-layered story very quickly, and it actually forced me to learn a good deal more than I already knew about war and about those who commit themselves to causes that might well cost them their lives. As the story grew, so too did the parallel between the unknown war Jeff discovers and the ones that shaped American history, namely WWII. In one of the book’s critical scenes, elderly veterans of the war recount their experiences, drawing comparisons to today’s war on terror. In trying to capture the feeling of young men in early 1940s America, I turned to plenty of historical accounts but also to my late grandfather’s WWII letters home. GPS constantly challenged me to learn more, to be more accurate, and to rely very little on what I previously thought I knew.
Yet, much of the content of the story and the backbone of its construction is about me – my life spent around baseball, my love for New Orleans, and my own experiences with family and friends. It not only made me understand better how someone becomes so committed to a cause he earns Purple Hearts in two separate major conflicts, but my WWII research also led me to my second writing project, retracing my grandfather’s path through the Pacific through his letters.
Q: It seems like Jeff is a drop in the bucket of humanity. By that I mean that he doesn’t necessarily have any distinguishing characteristics that make him stand out. How did you decide to create him as a sort of Everyman?
A: The characters I typically fall for and the stories I usually try to write don’t begin with heroes already decorated in medals and glory. Instead, like Jeff Delaney and Felix Ascondo, they usually begin as people in need of help, a break, or a change; people who don’t possess special powers or rule countries, at least not when we first meet them. After that, it’s on. Jeff’s ordinary challenges make the otherworldly ones more appreciable. If he was a picture of perfection, a perfect husband with a great job, Jeff’s story could never have happened. Jeff Delaney really is an ordinary man, and GPS is a story of a man who cares about only one thing as the other things in his life fall by the wayside. Jeff’s downward spiral into alcoholism isn’t halted by magic or spells or sorcery, but by a willingness to let everything go and recreate himself.