My story begins on a rainy day in Buffalo, NY, February 1994, when I was a student teacher at Lafayette High School — 11th grade English.
Pearl Jam had already broken through with the Seattle grunge scene, and though I didn't know it then, in a very real way — just seconds before I opened my mouth and said something incredibly stupid — that enduring rock band wound up playing a significant role in the way I talk about my new novel, Finders Keepers.
Finders Keepers' narrative, I am often asked how much of the novel is based on my actual experiences in Europe and New Zealand, and how much is purely fictional. I often say that the backpacking sequences are made up, and all the galactic mayhem is real. Ha-ha.
But let's return to Buffalo, to that classroom. To Pearl Jam.
I was only 23 then, just a few years removed from high school myself and only six or seven years older than my students.
And yet in that moment, showing my students just how smart I thought I was — and that I was the more insightful Pearl Jam fan; I mean, please, come on, now — I corrected my student. Serving my own ego, I noted that I had read an article in a music magazine in which Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder discussed what the song really meant to him ... thus contradicting my student.
Man, I was so good. I was the man. A teacher with wisdom, with insight. A guy who knew his material. Knew the lingo.
I was ... a bonehead.
The look on my student's face, on all their faces, told me instantly that I should have kept my mouth shut. Did it really matter if my student was accurate or not? Did I really need to correct him? Song lyrics are their own form of poetry, of creativity. As the listener, the reader, we get to personalize their meaning. It's special. It's one of the true joys we have, to experience art in our own unique way.
And I took that away from him. As my student's teacher, I failed him. As a person, too.
Fast forward to today. Any time I'm asked about the basis of Finders Keepers, I smile. I may confirm or correct a detail or two, but mostly I just let the readers decide for themselves which parts of the novel were based in fact, which were pure fiction, and what it all means.
Doesn't matter. I want each reader to have their own, unique experience. I did the writing. That's mine. I get to keep that. But the reading? That belongs to you. How you personalize the narrative is yours and yours alone.
I am extremely grateful to anyone who takes the time to read my novel. No one owes it to me to do so. And if they can walk away from Finders Keepers taking a character, an event ... even just a turn of phrase ... that stays with them, then all the better.
What does Finders Keepers mean? What's the subtext? I know what I meant to write, and hopefully I did that well. What you take away from the experience? That's yours.
Almost two decades ago, during a rainy day in Buffalo, I was supposed to be the teacher of young minds. And yet it was my students — whether they realized it or not — who wound up schooling me.
Russ Colchamiro is the author of the critically acclaimed sci-fi backpacking comedy Finders Keepers (published 3 Finger Prints; ISBN 9780979480140). To read reviews and Q&As about the novel, or order a signed copy, visit www.russcolchamiro.com.
You can follow Russ on Facebook, GoodReads and Twitter @FindKeepNovel. He is now completing his second novel, the Flash Gordon/Firefly-style space adventure Crossline, and is set to begin the next installment in his Finders Keepers adventure.
To watch Russ’ video interview at the NY Comic-Con, visit:
And to view Finders Keepers character illustrations, visit: http://bit.ly/nMkWiG
~~~~~~~~~~~~Thank you Russ!
I have read and reviewed Finders Keepers here on the blog if you would like to read the review.
Now, since Russ mentioned this great band and awesome song I think we need to hear it. :) Hope you enjoy!