In 2003, my cousin died in a car accident. I received the news while loafing around in New Mexico. I had traveled there earlier in the year, and, after a brief stint in Las Vegas, felt lost. But I had left Indiana—hopefully—for good, and I was determined to start a new life somewhere else. Jobless and low on money, I resisted giving in. I resisted going home.
Then news of his death arrived, and it hit me hard. I felt isolated. My determination to stay transformed into a desire to leave, to go back home, to spend time with my friends and family. To fill the hole my cousin had left.
Although he was a year younger than me, we grew up together—and we were close: we made the same mistakes together, tried alcohol and pot together, developed a similar sense of humor, and developed similar tastes in movies and music, in pop culture in general.
Rage filled me when he died, and I felt the urge to write about it. I tried and failed several times before I hit on the opening chapter of Bastard Virtues. My desire to honor my cousin gave way to my anger and rage, which consumed me whenever I thought about his death. Early on, I realized the novel wasn’t about him as much as it was about my anger, my rage, my sadness—emotions transformed into themes which dominated the novel.
On embracing the anger and rage, I decided to pick influences for the novel which reflected my relationship with my cousin. Some of the influences are mine alone, and reflect nothing more than my preoccupations at the time. Other influences, however, represent shared interests between my cousin and me.
Hunter S. Thompson
Thompson’s influence is apparent early on in the novel, the opening section of which was inspired by The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved. Although Thompson’s story meant nothing to my cousin, it was a starting off point for me. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas connected my cousin and me to Thompson, which is what inspired the setting early in the novel. Thompson’s cynicism and vitriol hit a nerve with us when we were teenagers; it was the language we had already used, and in Thompson we’d found a sort of spiritual guide.
I had long dismissed Hemingway. I’d tried to read The Sun Also Rises as a teenager and hated it. Then, while in New Mexico, I gave the novel a second chance—and fell in love with it. Over the course of a month, I devoured all of Hemingway’s novels and some of his short stories. His prose—beautiful in its simplicity—spoke to me, but his themes and subtexts, and the notion of withholding information, of imply it with explicating it, defined my worldview and my opinion of what good writing should do.
I had also discovered Chabon in New Mexico. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh struck me as a perfectly rendered first novel. A scene late in Bastard Virtues, in which the first person narration gives way to third person, was directly inspired by a scene late in Chabon’s debut novel.
While not obsessed with Dali at the time, my cousin and I share a like for his personal eccentricities. In my late teens, I rented a documentary about Dali and we watched it while high. At one point, Dali looked into the camera and said, in his broken English, “All my ambition is to reconstruct my early adolescent period.” The line stuck with us. We contemplated it, riffed on it, and decided it possessed an elegance and a simplicity we admired. The line weighs over the novel, influencing it, as if it’s embedded in the physics of the universe. The behavior of Ram and Gummo—two of the novel’s central characters—implicitly reflects Dali’s quote.
Kaufman’s influence isn’t obvious. He played a larger part in the first draft, in scenes cut from later drafts, but his spirit lingers in the first section of the book. I was obsessed with Kaufman in my late teens and early twenties. My cousin and I often joked about pulling Kaufman-esque stunts, even writing several, but we never saw them through. A shame, I know. I wish we had attempted a few of the stunts we had devised.
I don’t think my cousin was a fan of The Marx Brothers. He’d watch the movies with me and joke about them, and laugh while we watched the movies, but I think he was humoring me. Still, memories of my cousin inspire thoughts of Groucho, especially the comedians anti-establishment, anarchic persona, which helped to inspire Ram and Gummo.
Rimbaud is my one of my big influences. He weighs on everything I write, although his influence isn’t always apparent. His use of imagery, especially symbolism, continues to inspire me.
As with Rimbaud, Artaud is a personal influence. He doesn’t reflect my relationship with my cousin in any way. Also like Rimbaud, his influence is massive. Everything I write is, in a way, an attempt to delineate my consciousness, to put onto paper the language of consciousness.
Yes, I know 24 isn’t a writer or a performer. It’s a television show, one I adored in my early twenties. I responded to the speed with which the show moved, and I appreciated its desire to convey every moment in real time. Several scenes in Bastard Virtues occur in a car as the characters move from one setting to the next, which was directly influenced by 24. The novel takes place over the course of six hours, roughly from midnight to six a.m., a timeline also inspired by the show.
About Bastard Virtues
Ram and Gummo have six hours to incite a riot, vandalize an art gallery, and torch a tree. They have six hours to avenge, and honor, their friend and cousin, who died when a drunk driver plowed their car into a tree. But things don’t always go as planned, and as their plans continually backfire, they encounter a woman, Bettie, who saves them from arrest—on one condition: they take her along.
Through chaos and violence, through comedy and tragedy, they despair in their attempt to honor their dead friend, to honor him in an unconventional way. When Bettie takes control of the group and convinces them to help her deal with an abusive ex-boyfriend, the situation grows complicated, culminating with the intervention of the police. But Ram and Gummo won’t go to jail without a fight. And they’re willing to do whatever it takes to burn that tree.
About the Author
Daulton Dickey was born into a family of circus freaks. Without any noticeable defects or talent, he hitchhiked across the Atlantic Ocean and kicked the corpse of William S. Burroughs. He currently lives with his wife and sons in a city on a planet in the Milky Way Galaxy.
He has written for several websites, including PopMatters and Film Threat, and he was, briefly, an editor for the journal, Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens.
“Like David Lynch, Daulton Dickey has found a language to articulate the obscenity of the unreal, itself the confluence of the perversion of capitalism and the seduction of technology and popular entertainment.” — Slavoj Žižek