Author Thomas H. McNeely will visit campus this week to hold a reading of his first novel, “Ghost Horse.”
The novel has generated positive buzz due to its relatable themes and McNeely’s rich writing style. A coming of age novel, the book tells the story of an 11-year-old boy, Buddy Turner, growing up in Houston in the 1970s.
The story is centered around Buddy and his friends’ pursuit to make a Super-8 animated movie. Throughout the novel, Buddy’s movie is affected by the changes happening in his own life and the struggles and tensions that are arising within his family unit. Ultimately, “Ghost Horse” is a story of love, friendship and betrayal.
McNeely said many of the ideas for the characters and conflicts within the story were drawn from his own experiences growing up.
“’Ghost Horse’ is the story of a boy, Buddy Turner, who has to keep secrets for his father and of the end of his friendship with a Latino boy, Alex Torres, with whom he is making the animated movie of the book’s title,” McNeely said. “It’s based on my own experiences as a boy growing up with a father whom I did not understand at the time was mentally ill. It’s also about a moment when I was discouraged, like many Anglos, from keeping childhood friendships with children who were of other races. The book started, however, as a short story about different characters with a different plot entirely.”
McNeely also explained how writing the novel was a long and challenging process that was met with several roadblocks due to events occurring in his life, such as other writing and the personal aspects of the story itself being so closely related to his own life.
“I wrote the first draft in the summer of 2000,” McNeely said. “I worked on it, stopped, wrote stories, taught. It was a struggle to write because the story is so personal, and also because it was difficult to create an authentic voice for Buddy that could narrate a whole novel. I revised it again and again. My last revision was this past year, after my publisher, Gival Press, had already accepted it.”
McNeely said writing a novel so personal can take an emotional toll on the author and how it can be difficult for writers to immerse themselves into the world they have created and the lives of their characters.
“The most difficult part was the emotional place it took me,” McNeely said. “It was hard to live there year after year, and hard on everyone around me. It was difficult to create a cast of characters and to live fully in their world, which was similar to yet different from the one in which I had grown up and the people who lived there. I think all writers are required to do two essentially contradictory things: to be completely immersed in an imaginary world and to look at it objectively. Picture a painter focusing on individual brushstrokes, then standing back to view their effect. After a while, it becomes crazy-making.”
McNeely has some words of wisdom for aspiring writers and novelists. He stressed the importance of reading as much as humanly possible, always making the time to write and always keeping an open mind when it comes to writing.
“Read everything you can get your hands on, and do it systematically with the help of good teachers,” McNeely said. “Write as much as you can, and be ruthless about taking time to write. No one will give you time to write. Have faith in what you are trying to say, but be open to new ways to say it. Always be open to new material, new voices, new experiences that you can use as a writer and a human being.”
McNeely will be reading from “Ghost Horse” Thursday at 6 p.m. in Austin Hall. Admission is free and open to the public.