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On the Strand by Kevin Gray

I invite you to order my new book, On the Strand, published by World Audience Publishers, New York City. Strand picks up in a memoir where my first book, Waking Up in the Studebaker, of the two-book series, left off.

Was it fate or responsibility that brought me to the plains? Or an escape? And why Kansas? Certainly a girl was involved. Three for sure! The reason for heading west from my home in Virginia and making a new one in Kansas is long and complicated. Maybe this is why I always looked at myself as the silent observer, as well as the kid who continually questioned his actions.

When I finished my original manuscript for On the Strand, I asked a friend from my past – who just so happens to be a character in this story – how she remembered me from age 11, when we first met, to 21 the last time we talked together in a favorite Richmond bar called the Hitching Post, until I tracked her down via the internet in 2001. She wrote, “Kind, shy, quiet, and very loyal. You had a dry sense of humor and were ‘on the wild side’ and always ready for something different – always questioning things and authority: REBELLIOUS!!!” She ended her memory with a telling statement: “You were hard on yourself and did not believe in Kevin.” She pegged me alright!

Friends from my past, when we reunited via the internet after as many as 40 years, were so surprised to find out that I – the underachiever – who barely graduated from high school had become a teacher. “How?” they often asked. I told them there had been a lot of unseen learning going on at the time and very little of it taking place within the confining walls of school buildings.

I began my memories with Waking Up in the Studebaker (2008), which covers my childhood in Richmond, Virginia’s suburbs, through entering high school. On the Strand (2010) carries my story forward through high school and leaving Virginia to give college a try in Kansas. What an East Coast attitude I took with me: “I’m here to get the bullshit classes out of the way and return to a good college in Virginia.” Breaking with my past in an attempt to lower the time spent in bars, allowing more time for study, is one of the reasons I chose Kansas. Little did I know, Pittsburg, Kansas was one major bar/club city in southeast Kansas.

Life happened. And what a ride, including the girls (three in particular – they meant the world to me), endless trips to Virginia Beach, New York City, keeping track of the war (Vietnam), defeating the high school dress code, the Atlantic City Pop (Pot) Festival, a trip to Europe, bars and clubs, the Fillmore East, the Valencia Hotel in Greenwich Village, knowing Bruce Springsteen - prior to beginning the E Street Band – the 1970 draft lottery, the 1971 march in Chicago to stop the war, cross country hitch hiking trips and trips in a Fastback VW, and constantly wondering how I could make something of myself, when I had barely graduated from high school.

Would college be any different? Would I be able to get past the bullshit given students by teachers from both private and public school curriculum expectations back in the grades? Would I stop feeling like the dumbass? Who knows, but I knew travel would be required to place me in Pittsburg, Kansas, in 1971, and that sounded damn good to me, the wayward kid with no set direction. Little did I know I had chosen Playboy magazines’ latest first place choice for the national Small College Party School, dominated by dime pitchers, bucket night, Coors (not sold east of the Mississippi), pool tables and foosball, and Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May.”

This is my story, the one so many of my high school and community college English students inquired about for so many years, when they asked, “Why Kansas Gray?” Bruce Springsteen even asked me, “Why Kansas, Gray?” As if I had been a nut for leaving Virginia, they would ask, “But don’t they have the ocean and the mountains?” And, so, I had to answer with whatever sounded good but for the most part, skirting the truth. Perhaps the book should have been titled, Why Kansas? Or simply To Kansas.

Against the odds, I became an English teacher, journalist and columnist. Not bad for a shy, asthmatic kid, who hated school and English classes for so many years. Not bad at all. I invite you to read my story.

When working on the original manuscript as my thesis for a degree in creative nonfiction through the McGregor School of Antioch University, I read hundreds of memoirs and autobiographies. Those writers I attempted to model before developing my own style included but were not limited to Isabel Allendi, Tobias Wolfe, Frank Conroy, Anatole Broyard, Frank McCourt, Quinten Crisp, Blanche McCrary Boyd, Bill Roorbach, Hope Edelman, and Rick Bragg.

This book is not for anyone who dislikes off-color language and intimate situations, but I could not recreate the main character, Kevin, nor could I call this memoir and social reflection without the sounds and feel of the times. I sometimes refer to the narrative and dialog as “bar speak.” It can be stilted and quick chatter, much like people speak in bars. I spent time, lots of it in bars and loud clubs. The drinking age was 18, and so I spent time where bands could be found.

Check out my publisher’s website at worldaudience.org or go directly to amazon.com. Or visit the AuthorsDen website. Better yet, check out my website, soon to publish, at onthestrand.org.

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