“There’s a line that runs alongside our ordinary lives, just beyond the grind of things. Jason Beem’s novel Southbound derails your ordinary life and shoots you into the thrill, rush, and dark brutal truths of gambling and racing. And he doesn’t flinch. A glorious and visceral book. I sweat reading it.”–Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Chronology of Water and Dora: A Headcase.
Jason Beem’s debut novel Southbound was off to the races from the moment of its release and the momentum hasn’t slowed. I was lucky enough to catch him for an interview…..
Steph Post: Southbound is based on your own life experiences. How much of the story is true and how much is made up for the sake of the novel structure?
Jason Beem: I think the best way to put it is that much of the background stuff is completely based on me and my experiences. That being said, most of the book after about chapter 8 is all a fictional journey of how I thought things would play out for me if I went back to the gambling lifestyle. I actually told my mom “Just read it as though it’s a fiction book.” She responded “Well I’m on page 3 and I know that part was true!” It made me laugh J
SP: What gave you the idea to take a rough part of your life- your gambling addiction- and turn it into a book? Was there a person or idea that inspired you?
JB: It actually started out as a journal entry. I have had the fantasy to just give up my recovery, say “screw work, screw school, screw everything” and go back to gambling. So I started journaling about what I think would happen, and essentially what that journal entry was became the start of a vague outline for the book.
SP: For someone who knows nothing about horse racing (and only a little about gambling- I’ve gone so far as to pull a few slot machines and play a few hands of blackjack), I still found the world depicted in Southbound interesting. Why do you think people can relate to your book, even if they know very little about the actual subject matter?
JB: I think at the very heart of the book, it’s showcasing someone who is struggling with inner turmoil. Gambling, like many addictions, for me became about escape. I have severe anxiety disorder and burying my face in the Racing Form or going to the track was a way to distract myself. Ryan’s dealing with not only his anxiety, but the end of his relationship and his mother’s recent death. Sometimes when we need comfort, we go back to things that really aren’t good for us, just because they’re familiar.
SP: Your characters are extremely realistic and not always likable. Was it difficult writing characters who were so true to life?
JB: I thought Ryan was very likable! J For me it wasn’t difficult at all because I wrote Ryan and the other characters as truthfully as I could. Addicts aren’t often likable. I think his charm and wit come through at several times throughout the book, but the addiction comes back more often and has a way of burying those good qualities.
SP: Southbound has been out for a few months now and is doing very well. What have some of the responses from readers been like? Was this how you expected readers to react?
JB: It’s been a very connective experience. What I’ve noticed is I’ve gotten a number of very nice messages from complete strangers who are either recovering addicts, addicts, or had or have family members who were. I got an email from an 80 year old woman in Connecticut who told me her dad was a problem gambler and she felt like the book gave her a little better idea of what her dad was going through. That floored me. Being able to connect with people is the greatest gift I’ve gotten from Southbound.
SP: Are you working on any writing projects now? What and when can readers can expect new work from you?
JB: I’ve got about 10,000 words of a new story started, but it’s slow going as this one is strictly fiction. I’m not sure if I like it yet. We shall see. It’s set in the world of college hockey and is much more of a father/son story than anything.
Jason Beem was born in Renton, Washington on the day Mt. St. Helens erupted just a hundred miles south. He attended and graduated from the University of Washington in 2002 and was even president of his fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega (think Animal House). After college Jason worked at his mom’s poker room, then got a real estate license before stumbling into announcing horse races, something he’s done since 2006. Jason’s called races at Portland Meadows in Portland, Oregon as well as spending three summers at River Downs in Cincinnati, Ohio. He announces horse races and hosts a weekly horse racing radio show in Portland. Jason has written many pieces for local and national racing publications and Southbound is his first foray into long-form fiction.
To learn more about Jason and Southbound check out www.pandamoonpublishing.com
Follow Jason on twitter @JasonBeem