Sep. 29—PLATTSBURGH — When author Christopher Locke is not busy grading papers for his SUNY Plattsburgh and North Country Community College students, he is busy promoting his collection of intense and lyrical essays, "Without Saints," a new Black Lawrence Press release.
The Essex resident will give a reading from his new book 7 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 5., in Champlain Valley Hall on the Plattsburgh State campus.
"Without Saints" is described as "a breathtaking journey to rediscover hope between the ruins: Poet Christopher Locke was baptized by Pentecostals, absolved by punk rock, and nearly consumed by narcotics. Like Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, Without Saints is a brief, muscular ride into the heart of American desolation, and the love one finds waiting for them instead."
For Locke, the essays were an ongoing process.
"There are really brief snapshots," he said.
"Some are longer than others. The essays themselves, I have been busy working on it for many years without really knowing that's what I was working on. I knew I wanted to put a larger collection together. Some of these go back six years. Some are recent. I had to pare it down."
Locke had other, longer essays, which increased the page count, but they didn't feel right and was roundly rejected by agents.
"I really trimmed it down to what I thought was the currently the best that would make sense for that timeline, that narrative to move from childhood to adulthood," he said.
POETRY, FIRST LOVE
The New Hampshire-born Locke was always a writer, poetry, his first love.
"I believed I'm going to write poetry, make a million dollars, and that would be my job," he said.
"Then, you're like oh, wait a minute, no one is really reading poetry. But as I was working on my poetry, I was writing about more and more personal subject matter. It just started to slip toward nonfiction."
Locke wanted a larger canvas to work on his past and experiences.
Eighteen years ago, his first essay, about living at home and listening to punk rock music, was published in The Sun.
"It's a really great publication, ad-free, publishing personal stories," he said.
"They took it and they published it and that was inspiring. So, I just started working on more essays. Not so much as writing as therapy, it wasn't really that. It was just sort of an exploration into understanding a little bit better about what was the path that brought me to where I am today. It brought the same sort of thrill that writing poetry did. It was gratifying."
Five years ago, Locke started writing fiction, something he hadn't done since second grade.
He wrote flash fiction, short stories, and that became a new thing as well.
"The path is unusual," he said.
"Start with poetry, go to essays, then to fiction, back to essays. It's an unusual path, nontraditional."
Locke holds a bachelor's degree in English at Keene State University and an MFA from Goddard College, where he was mentored by Michael Klein, author of "Track Conditions."
"Michael Klein was so important to me because of the veracity at which he approached my writing and the support that he provided and the insight that he lent and the passion that he showed, which was equally inspiring," he said.
"We just clicked. I really thought he read me so well, and he gave such great feedback to make my writing even better. I'm really grateful for that time I had with him."
About "Without Saints," Klein wrote:
"Locke's writing is up close and personal and brave — always revealing, always acknowledging the tenderness and melancholy of living out loud."
Locke compared his book's length to Johnson's "Jesus' Son."
"Which was a collection of short stories that are like these little, brutal nihilistic snapshots, but incredibly beautiful," he said.
"They are about the same word count. I remember that that made me feel okay for some reason because he's also an important write to me and someone who I read.
"Before I sent it to Black Lawrence, I was like, this is a hundred pages. It's 27,000 words. It's not a traditional length. and it's not a traditional memoir in that it doesn't just have chapters that create this smooth narrative arc."
For example, Mary Karr's "The Liar's Club."
"I don't mind bucking tradition," he said.
"That's kind of a been a staple of mine anyway. I was like, hey it's a little bit shorter but so was Denis Johnson's and his was these weird, dreamlike, hallucinatory, bizarre creepy, beautiful snapshots, but of short stories. I was like mine are the same. They are these brief memory pieces."
Locke collected the narrative in a fashion that moves from his past to his present.
"That was the only intentionality that I had I think with structure," he said.
"It started with my mom, and then it moved to me today."