Author Guest Post

Two Road Trips—One Novel

September 13, 2016
Brendan Kiely
Author of The Last True Love Story
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The Last True Love Story, the latest from Brendan Kiely, critically acclaimed author of The Gospel of Winter and co-author of All American Boys, has just gone on sale today (September 13)! A classic teen love story following two teens on a cross-country journey of the heart and soul, thematically The Last True Love Story is a departure from Brendan’s previous novels but with its strong narrative voice and its blend of humor and sweet, tender moments, it’s a departure that will only be welcomed by Brendan’s readers.  How did Brendan come to write such a story, did he draw any inspiration from his own life?  Read on to hear from Brendan himself and don’t miss our extended excerpt of The Last True Love Story!

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When we were nineteen, my buddy Ted and I made an epic road trip from Boston to Colorado Springs and back. Round trip the journey is just shy of four thousand miles, if you take the most direct route. We did not. We were looking for adventure. Or, more precisely, we were looking for love. But every great love story is its own kind of adventure, and we just took that common sense wisdom very literally. I have no idea how many miles we traveled—we shot straight out to Colorado, covering two thousand miles in three days, but we took almost three long weeks to wind our way back to Boston, meandering north into the flatlands of Wisconsin and south into the mountains of Virginia and through every state in between. We found miracle tickets at outdoor concerts, crashed house parties in cities we’d never been to, got dizzy staring up into the great bowl of stars in big sky country, and at least one of us (ahem—not me) did find the love he was looking for on that trip—I’ll never forget standing on her front stoop outside of Chicago as she opened the door and welcomed us in.

A few years later, having recently graduated from college, I went on another road trip. A very different one. But, in a way, still guided by love—not romantic love, familial love instead. My grandfather had Alzheimer’s disease, and my grandmother and my uncle wanted to take him back to Ireland to try to see the village his family was from one last time before the disease ravaged his mind completely. They invited me to join them. I don’t know why I was so lucky to go along, but I’ll forever be grateful that I did. I decided I should make it my goal to interview Grandpa, get him to tell me stories: stories about where he grew up, his adventures in World War II, and anything he wanted to share about his life after that. He grudgingly obliged, and every time he began a story he wandered this way and that but always circled back to his north star—Grandma, the love of his life. In fact, every story he told me ended with the same basic punch line, “and this is why I love your grandmother.”

The Last True Love Story weaves these two personal adventures of my life together to create a double love story—one about falling in love for the first time and one about trying to make that love last forever.

What ties these two love stories together in the novel, though, instead of my own personal history, is music. Despite it being Hendrix’s story to help his grandfather and Gpa’s story of trying to hold on to the memories of his deceased wife, it’s Corrina who makes the adventure possible and Corrina who draws the history into the present. She does it all through music.

The Last True Love Story is just like any great road trip. The novel, like this post, is littered with music—the playlists that carry us through any and all road trips. Music sustains us, buoys us, braces us as we drift and stumble and detour and rise up again on our journey. The Grateful Dead carried Ted and I across the low rolling grasslands of western Kansas. In Ireland, my family took our own rocky road to Dublin.

But fine. So music helps us get there. But why do we have to go anywhere at all? What is the allure of the road trip?

I think the feeling of needing to break free from the boredom and monotony of everyday life to taste/smell/see/hear/touch something previously unknown is essential and everlasting. We all need it. It doesn’t matter if it is The OdysseyOn the RoadHuck FinnWildMosquitolandAll the Bright PlacesLittle Miss SunshineThelma & Louise, or Star Wars, the great road trip adventure story is the call to adventure, the desire to break free, to discover something new, to experience something new, and to find out who you are, and to do all of this away from home in order to find your way back home again as a new and fuller person.

Ted and I needed to see if, away from Boston, free from the old habits of home, we might find the people we were destined to love, and while it didn’t work out exactly like that for both of us, we both certainly found our best selves along the way. My family went looking for the past in Ireland but found what was best in it, the love between two people, was alive and well in the present.

That’s what we needed; that’s what we discovered, out on the open road.

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