REVIEW and INTERVIEW
The Art of Raising Hell
by Thomas Lopinski
Thomas Lopinski, the author of The Art of Raising Hell, stops by for an interview and to share an excerpt from the book. You can also read my review.
"There are some people that walk around on two feet and others like me that run on all four."
To most people, that’s a bold statement. I just wish I’d been the one to say it, but I wasn’t. In fact, until a few days ago, I wasn’t even sure what it meant.
You might say that, on the surface, it’s a very simple concept: Either you’re the type of person who lives within a set of boundaries or the type who knows none. But life is never that simple, is it? No, I’d say that the most important insights about who we are, what we say, and why we do things are not always the obvious ones. Instead, they’re discovered on the streets of your hometown, revealed late at night in a dark backroom, or sometimes forced upon you at knifepoint where your only choices for survival are between bad and worse.
In The Art of Raising Hell, Newbie Johnson has recently moved to Bunsen Creek, Illinois, when his mother is killed in a tragic car crash. His father does his best to maintain a normal household, but his broken heart is just not up to the task. Newbie finds solace by hanging out with his three buddies in their clandestine Backroom hideout. Getting into mischief becomes their favorite pastime as they try to follow in the footsteps of Lonny Nack, who has perfected the art of running on all four.
"Running on all four" takes on a new meaning for Newbie when he finds his inner voice and begins to understand the difference between chasing life and being chased by it.
Then Lonny looked at each of us. “So what in tarnation are you boys doing out here?”
“We were playing hockey,” griped Skeeter.
Lonny looked around at the hockey sticks. “So you guys quit already?”
Skeeter waved an arm. “Not by our choice. Old dipshit here shot the puck out on the lake.”
“Hey, it was an accident.”
“Who cares? The game is over.” I added.
“Not necessarily,” hummed Lonny. “I hear it’s been below zero for a good two weeks now, right?”
“Yeah, but what?” he interrupted as he walked over to the river’s edge and jumped down on the ice. Then he stomped on it a few more times. “Looks solid enough.”
“You going to walk out there?” asked T.J.
“Hell no, I’m gonna drive. How else can I see the puck?” He ran back to the truck, opened the door, and shouted, “Anyone want to come along?”
He took our silence as a no and fired up his old Chevy. Without hesitation, Lonny backed up and drove down to the loading ramp. Then he slowly placed the front tires on the ice and listened. “Here goes nothin’,” he yelled as a shot of gray smoke plumed out of the tailpipe. He drove over the snowbank onto the middle of the cove and carefully climbed the other snow bank at the edge. His headlights were lighting up the rest of the lake now, and we heard him shout, “There it is.”
The truck shifted into second gear and rolled out onto the middle of the lake as the tires spun on the slick ice. While his beat-up, old pickup spun figure eights and circles around the puck, he let out a holler that echoed for miles downriver. A few minutes later, he opened the door and swooped up the puck, causing us all to cheer.
Then we heard a siren blast so loud that it nearly knocked us into the fire. “Come off the ice immediately,” the cop ordered over the loudspeaker as his car slowly made its way up to the cove. When we looked back, Lonny had turned the lights off on his truck and was sitting in the middle of the lake. The cop car shined his spotlight on it as the snow started to fall. The naked trees surrounding the lake were now laced in white but did little to stop the wind from blowing and soon Lonny’s truck was a pale image of itself.
“You have sixty seconds,” the speaker commanded.
Sixty seconds or what? I thought. I’m pretty sure Officer Hightower had no intention of putting his life in danger and going out on the ice after the truck. What was he going to do when the time was up? He climbed out of the car and shined his flashlight over the lake. All he saw was the silhouette of a man in the driver’s seat. The window was down, and the snow was still swirling around the truck like a cotton candy machine. Lonny adjusted his rear view mirror to get a better look but kept his back toward the light. During the brief moments when the air stood still and allowed the swirling snow to take a breather, their eyes met in the reflection of that mirror. This only confirmed what they both already knew.
At this point, it was more an issue of pride than anything to do with law and order. Lonny stared back in defiance, just daring Hightower to come after him. Hightower glared back just waiting for Lonny to make a wrong move. What had started out years ago as a scuffle between a rebel child bending the laws and an officer sworn to uphold them, had grown into a high stakes game of chicken. Unfortunately, both sides were so damn stubborn that neither one would blink.
They faced off for a few minutes until the snow started to really come down. The skies were now glowing white while the moon hid behind layers of clouds. An army of snowflakes silently parachuted to the ground. Lonny revved up the engine and signaled that he was tired of this game by saluting Hightower with a thumbs up. We barely heard his screams over the engine noise as the truck sped away down the river a half a mile to the Lakeview Leisure Club boat dock. The ice shifted and croaked out new surface cracks along the trail following his tire marks. Air bubbles sprung up to the top and recoiled like a Slinky being tossed down the stairs. Lonny still had his lights off, but we caught glimpses of the red glow coming from his breaks as he pulled up onto land.
Then it happened. One of those rare moments when your faith in the Almighty is reaffirmed and you realize that a chapter in a person’s life has just been punctuated with a comma instead of a period. As soon as his truck drove up on the concrete ramp down at the Leisure Club, the ice behind him collapsed and sank into the water. There was no mistaking that sound of rushing water flowing on the top, and we all heard it. Hightower rushed back to his car and aimed his spotlight into the distance. A dark blue hole the size of a large yacht was belching up water onto the surface. Lonny’s brake lights glistened off the reflection, confirming that he was indeed safe. Then they disappeared up the road.
The Chief just banged his flashlight against his palm and growled, “Someday that boy’s gonna push me too far.” And with that, he got back in the car, turned on the siren, and tore off in pursuit. Of course, by the time he’d made it around the lake using a loosely connected rectangular grid of country roads, Lonny was long gone.
But Hightower’s anger remained.
Praise for the Book
"Another great read from Lopinski! Lopinski's writing reminds me of Stephen King's writing style, not the genre but the way Lopinski uses vivid detail to create a three-dimensional character in a true to life, realistic setting. Lopinski also draws upon common experiences, fears, and triumphs that most people relate to. This was a very fast read as I did not want to put the book down, except for sleeping and going to the office. I really enjoyed the story line and characters and, even though the story may be more relatable to male teens and young male adults, I wanted to read more. [...] Thank you, Lopinski! I strongly recommend this for teens and young adults." ~ Elena
"The Art of Raising Hell is a dangerous art, but undoubtedly, one well worth dabbling in. I couldn’t put it down ... and I can’t let it go - thank you for a great ride!" ~ Sister-Arts Studio
"I couldn't put it down! Once I started it I was pulled right into the story and transported back to a time when I was in high school. I laughed, I cried and I learned the differences, along with many similarities, of growing up in a rural home town. This author has a way of speaking to your heart and not just your mind." ~ Gale Bibb
"What an interesting trip to the early 70s! I enjoyed this book very much. I have no real knowledge of the 70s but I think it would be a little like this book. I love the three-dimensional characters and the authors approach to this story. I had a hard time putting this book down - it pulled me right in." ~ Aly
"I'm enchanted by the pace, rhythm, the many stories within the main story, and the characters are so seamlessly developed that I feel like I know each one personally; like I grew up with them in a small Midwestern town. Bravo Mr. Lopinski! Very well done, and please keep writing! Looking forward to many more great tales from a master storyteller." ~ Gadget Geek
By Lynda Dickson
The fantastic first chapter sets the scene and gives our narrator his voice, and what a voice it is! At the age of thirteen, Ryan Johnson moves to the quiet town of Bunsen Creek, where he meets his new best friends (Skeeter, T.J., and Buzzard), gets nicknamed Newbie because he's the new kid in town, encounters the infamous Lonny Nack for the first time, and falls in love with Lonny's sister Sally. We follow the misadventures of the four friends from the age of thirteen to the age of eighteen - their meetings in their Backroom hangout at Skeeter's house, first loves, adventures, classic pranks, and hijinks of epic proportions - mostly inspired by Newbie's devotion to the legendary Lonny Nack.
This is a coming-of-age story set in the 1970s. It features love, loss, friendship, betrayal, revenge, and tragedy - as well as some great lines. With memorable characters, an interesting setting, and a clever and touching story, this book will keep you wanting more.A fabulous read especially for young adult males, but I'm certain everyone will love it - I know I did!
Interview With the Author
Hi Thomas, thanks for joining me today to discuss your new book, The Art of Raising Hell.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
I would say anyone who’s hit puberty and learned a few cuss words would be old enough to read my novel. It’s considered Young Adult Fiction by my publisher, but there are enough adult themes to interest readers of all ages. It’s also set in the 1970s so anyone nostalgic for that era will find it entertaining.
What sparked the idea for this book?
While I was in the middle of writing a follow up novel to my first book, Document 512, I awoke in the middle of the night and the opening line rolled off my tongue. I’d always wanted to write a book about growing up in a small town and some of the colorful characters that made my childhood so enjoyable. When I combined all of these ideas together along with the opening line, the first draft just flowed from there.
So, which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
With this book, the characters came first. Every time I introduced a new character and their personalities developed, the storyline veered off in a new direction.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
"The End". I made my mind up early on to keep the novel short. I didn’t want to write an epic saga that took weeks to read. The problem was that I had all of these stories to tell and only so many pages to work with in order to make that happen. That was the challenge.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I hope that it brings a smile to their faces. It’s a story about chasing after life instead of being chased by it. My goal was to allow readers to emerge themselves into the world of Bunsen Creek and experience that sense of freedom for a few hours.
How long did it take you to write this book?
The first draft took about six weeks. Of course, after that were dozens of rewrites. I’d still be rewriting if my publisher hadn’t stopped me.
What is your writing routine?
I don’t have one, really. I like to write outside in my backyard next to the pool but I don’t have a specific routine. I do try to either write or do something connected to writing every day. I think that’s very important.
How did you get your book published?
It was a combination of a few things, but thinking outside the box was the key. I knew that if I could just get a publisher to read my novel, they’d fall in love with it. Once I knew the solution to my problem, all I had to do was come up with a creative way to achieve that goal. The success I had with my first novel seemed to help too. Entering writing contests and winning recognition gave my writing legitimacy.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I read, of course, but now it’s mostly research for future novels. I love history and have been trying to learn more about quantum physics, as I think there is a good storyline in there somewhere. I’ve planned a trip to South America for this summer to research a few things for an upcoming book. I play guitar, love a good poker game, and work in the garden whenever possible. Then there’s the family to take care of.
Speaking of family, what does your family think of your writing?
So far, they’ve been very supportive and no one has told me to stop. My wife and I raised triplet daughters, and counter to what you’d think, they all have completely different opinions about my writing. One girl likes this book, another one likes my last book, and then there’s the one who just likes boys.
I've got one of those (the latter)! Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
Many of the stories in the book were based on events that actually happened during my childhood. I grew up in a small town much like Bunsen Creek. It was your typical American household with a mother, father, siblings, dog, cat, goldfish ... except for one thing: my mother was deaf. She was an amazing woman who raised five children and knew exactly where we were every minute of the day, which I thought was quite a feat. They stayed married for over fifty years even though there were many challenges along the way. My dad owned a tavern that wasn’t allowed to open on Sundays. Of course, my brother and I always volunteered to clean it that day so you can imagine the trouble we got into.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
I did, but wasn’t consumed by it. I was more interested in music and playing in rock bands at the time.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. At first, I thought I was going to be a songwriter. After years of dabbling in that, I finally realized that literature was my strong suit.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
I don’t think I’ve been influenced as much as inspired. I didn’t want to write like Kurt Vonnegut, but was inspired by him to be as original as possible with my style. I wasn’t looking to create these other worlds like Stephen King, but was inspired by him to search for the perfect metaphor.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
A follow up novel to Document 512. Many readers have been asking when I will continue that adventure into the Amazon jungle. Maybe a follow up to The Art of Raising Hell too, you never know.
Thank you for taking the time to stop by today, Thomas. Best of luck with your future projects.
About the Author
Thomas Lopinski studied at the University of Illinois and later moved to Southern California with his wife and daughters to work in the music industry. Document 512 was his first published novel in 2012 and won awards from Reader Views, Foreword Review, National Indie Excellence Awards and BestIndieBooks.com.
His second novel The Art of Raising Hell was published through Dark Alley Press in 2015. Thomas is also a member of the Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC).