Just in case you can't get enough Blazers material in the slow days of summer, Chris Leslie-Hynan has written a Trail-Blazers-related novel, a first in my memory. Ride Around Shining is available at Powell's Books and Broadway Books, with Chris doing readings as well. Read on for more info!
Blazer's Edge: What's your background? How did you become a Blazers fan? What events were most formative in your growth as a Portland fanatic?
Chris Leslie-Hynan: I was one of those sheltered kids who grew up in a small town - in Wisconsin, in my case - and whose first experience with anything that wasn't white culture came from watching basketball. I was drawn to the UNLV teams of the early ‘90s and the Fab Five and then the Blazers as they picked up more and more of the guys I exoticized in my teenage naïveté because they were cool and definitely not from the suburbs: Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon, Isaiah Rider, and eventually Sheed. I remember watching Game 7 of the 2000 Western Finals in my dorm in Minnesota. I moved to Portland in 2003, and was fascinated by the Jail Blazers and the prickly racial undertones of the contempt for them that was growing greater and greater in the city, usually spilling from white mouths, but it wasn't until the Oden draft in 2007 that I got my first inkling of being the kind of Blazers aficionado who would depict the team in fiction and try to make art out of these themes.
BE: What possessed you to write a Blazers-based novel? How did that idea even come up?
CLH: The idea started forming during my first term at the Writers' Workshop, in Iowa. I only wrote short fiction while I was there, but I knew after I was done I was going to have to prove myself with a novel. I remember writing a short character sketch where a basketball player attends the funeral of someone in his white employee's family, out of respect and because he wants to see how white people go about burying their own. I've always been fascinated by notions of servitude, and I thought it was interesting to flip the class structure around, so the white family used to have money and squandered it and now they're confronted with this black man who is carrying on their legacy of living the high life, doing it differently and arguably better. It took me years to flesh out the idea, but I think when I first described it to people I said something like "Imagine Othello except instead of Othello there's Rasheed Wallace." And what's implied there is that instead of Iago, there's...me.
BE: Give us an idea of what the book's about.
CLH: It's set in Portland. The narrator, Jess, is a white guy - semi-autobiographical except for when he's being a creepy voyeuristic misanthrope - who lies his way into a job as a chauffeur for a fictional Blazer forward named Calyph West. The book opens on a party at Calyph's place in Dunthorpe to celebrate his contract extension. Greg Oden is there, and LA and Joel Przybilla. Calyph is fooling around with a flare gun and shoots it at Jess when Jess is behaving more like a party-goer than an employee, and accidentally hits him. In retaliation Jess tips over a melting ice sculpture and hits Calyph with it, accidentally on purpose, injuring him. No one catches him at it, so now he's in: Calyph needs Jess's help getting around, and Jess can dig his way into this baller world and bask in the reflected glory of those around him.
One of the many odd and hopefully fascinating aspects of Jess is that, in spite of all of this malice, he keeps asserting that he has nothing but good intentions, and wants nothing but the best for Calyph and Antonia. So even though Ride Around Shining a story of envy and violence and a man's obsession with another man - like The Talented Mr. Ripley or The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, along with Othello - there's a way in which the narrator just thinks of himself as the friendly Nick Carraway figure who is privy to the private life of this cool guy who lives in a mansion. There's a tendency for the white culture of fandom to behave that way toward black athletic culture, I think. We assert that we're just cheering them on good-naturedly, admiring their houses on Cribs back in the day, or following them on Instagram, but beneath that placid surface are deep waters of unarticulated love and envy.
BE: Where can folks find a copy?
CLH: Hopefully just about anywhere. It's definitely at Powell's and Broadway Books, if you want to support local bookstores. An excerpt is also available over at Rap Genius. I'll be reading at Powell's on Burnside this Friday the 8th, and then at Broadway Books on Thursday the 21st. Come out and enjoy what I hope is a mixture of intimate character drama and deep Blazers nerdery.
Thanks to Chris for taking the time. Check out Ride Around Shining and let us know what you think!
--Dave email@example.com / @DaveDeckard