Jackass Worrier King: From Bondage Night to Present

Gabriel Ricard shares with us the origins and inspirations of his new book, Bondage Night.

Well. I’m hiding from the mailman
And I hate to hear the telephone ring
I’m hiding from the mailman
And I hate to hear the telephone
Worried about the women
And I worry about everything
And I worry when I see my subjects
Bow down to the Worrier King

– Warren Zevon. “Worrier King.”

A lot of the decisions in my life have been crafted with a combination of angst and toxic romanticism. To that end, I can always relate to Warren Zevon. “The Worrier King” is a perfect example of how profoundly relatable his dark, humorous songwriting could be. From the makings of Crystal Zevon’s essential oral history of her husband I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, it sounds like the guy had a lot of the same problems I did.

And both of us have stories that involve abusing alcohol and drugs at different periods. Warren’s been dead for a while now, so it’s a safe bet he’s over all of it. I’m doing well enough with my bad habits. At the very least, I’m not combining them with anxiety with as much as I used to. That’s progress. It doesn’t mean much to the people I’ve hurt over the years. It doesn’t do a lot for the bad decisions that allowed unhealthy, violent people into my life. But that’s why I write short stories, poems, scripts, and yes, novels. I’ve written several. Bondage Night is the first one to actually get published. I’m still processing that.

When I got the email from Moran Press, which also wanted to publish my second poetry collection Love and Quarters at a later point in time, I almost cried. I probably would have, but there’s this thing where I get sometimes get so tired, I’m a few meters away from the part of me that actually experiences emotions. I was happy, so much so that I nearly burst into tears, but I’m still ultimately trying to put everything into perspective. When Frankie Met of Kleft Jaw Press decided to focus on other aspects of the press, which meant removing Bondage Night from its publishing schedule, I actually gave up. I thought that was the culmination of everything I had gone through with writing that book.

As I’m still making sense of my career after nearly nineteen years, I can at least tell you this: As far as that culmination goes, I’m really glad I turned out to be wrong.

Bondage Night is a commentary on two things. It’s an amalgam of the unhealthy relationships I’ve had with women over the years, which I blame on things like my toxic masculinity, glorifying depression and alcoholism, and that good ol’ savior complex that I’ve only just started to shake away. There’s more, but we’re going to just stick to my end of things. I brought a lot of bad things and unrealistic pipe dreams into some of the relationships I’ve had over the years, especially the romantic ones. I’ve repaired a few, but there are a lot of people that aren’t going to speak to me ever again. Bondage Night was written particularly with them in mind. The novel’s protagonist Leo may or may not learn from the shitty ways he thinks about the people and various elements that make up his life. He’s not a complete asshole. He tries to be a good person. He also refuses to deal with a lot of things, which finally comes to haunt him in a tangible form when he meets, and falls in love with, Laura. Ultimately, although Bondage Night began as a very long short story that tried to come to terms with the aspects of Leo I identified with, it wasn’t designed to bury the amalgam. It’s not a novel that wants to settle any real scores. In writing it, I tried to avoid putting everything on either one of them.

In the end, they’re both sick, sad fuckers. Whatever they find, and whatever they do with themselves after the events of my novel, I can’t say. Because after I had the foundation of myself and that amalgam, things went off in a direction that no longer felt like I was writing about my life in any direct or indirect way. I got over a lot of the shit that’s still poisoning Leo at the end of Bondage Night. Whether or not Leo gets his shit together (or Laura), I’m leaving that up to the reader. It really depends on whether or not you believe people like that can get better.

Did you?

Bondage Night started out as a very long short story. I wrote it about five years ago. Then my friend Rhea told me about a novel contest with a minimum of sixty thousand words. I honestly don’t remember where that contest was being held. But I was eager to do something with myself, I suppose, and I had always thought Bondage Night at Darling Cara’s (the original long short story title) had the potential for expansion.

By the way, Rhea is in both of the acknowledgments sections of Bondage Night and my first poetry collection Clouds of Hungry Dogs for entirely different reasons. I love that I owe her a debt for the fact that I write poetry, and for the fact that Bondage Night is alive. I converted the short story into a novel, adding episodes between Leo and Laura that occurred before the “Bondage Night” party at a bar called Darling Cara’s, and then episodes that occurred after the night in question. In a fit of pretension, I decided to scramble the timeline, breaking down the novel into a seemingly randomized timeline. Moving backwards and forwards from “Bondage Night” to create what I thought would be a neat representation of how fucked our brain’s home movies can be.

What I created was pretty dumb. Frankie spotted that early on, when Bondage Night was initially accepted for publication at Kleft Jaw Press. He told me to put the story in a straightforward chronological narrative. I got over the whole desire to be clever. Anything else started to feel like a gimmick. We put the story in order, and then we started working on the rest of the book. Frankie’s notes transformed Bondage Night more than once. I added material, cut quite a bit of stuff that didn’t work for one reason or another, and eventually rewrote the ending to create something that was perhaps a little kinder to both Leo and Laura.

At this point, it’s been about three years since I wrote that long short story. Joan Cooke helps me create a cover for Bondage Night that drove my ambition to get it published as much as the actual writing did. I start dating my friend Cara Mia Gullotta around this time. We’re married now. When she read the novel, which was still called Bondage Night at Darling Cara’s, we both agreed that it would be weird to keep her name. To this day, she’s amazed that someone’s first impression with her name was to spell it with a “C.”

Through Frankie, Bondage Night went through several revision cycles. If there is any direct advice to get from this essay, it will be this: Getting the novel published, whether on your own, or through a publisher, is not the end. Not by even a sarcastic goddamn smidgen. Don’t despair. Just keep that in mind.

And then Kleft Jaw Press changed their priorities, and Bondage Night had to find a new home. I’m still honored to be part of Kleft Jaw Press. I understand why Frankie decided to go in a different direction. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the news really fucking sucked. Getting a book accepted for publication is a great feeling. Having that same book cancelled makes you want to just fucking quit.

Obviously, I didn’t, although I largely gave up on ever getting Bondage Night published. Still, I couldn’t completely give up. If nothing else, I’m a shitty 90s sitcom degree of stubborn. Once in a great while, much like those awful canned laughter flashbacks, it works to my advantage.

In this case, it came in the form of Bondage Night being accepted for publication by Moran Press.

What else can you really say? It took five years, several drafts, and two publishers. I’m not going to lecture you about persistence. I’m only going to say that it actually does happen sometimes.

Bondange Night is available now through Moran Press Marketplace and Amazon.

Clouds of Hungry Dogs is available now through Kleft Jaw Press Shop and Amazon.

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