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Freak Show Without a Tent by Nevin Martell

Please join in me congratulating my friend and fellow writer, Nevin Martell, on the release of his terrific new book: Freak Show Without a Tent.  I really adore Nevin’s writing and his sense of humor in particular. This book captures it all. First of all the story is really magnificent and then you put it in the hands of a talented writer and you have the perfect combination — a book that you cannot put down. It is a terrific read and I highly recommend it.

I asked Nevin to tell his a little bit about his experience “Behind the Book”:

Behind the Book:
Freak Show Without a Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations

By Nevin Martell

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A good book rarely ends the way the reader expects.

The same is true for authors. Despite the fact that I plot out my books meticulously, the finished product is oftentimes markedly different than my initial plan. Over the course of working on a project for a year or more, I find new angles, realize that certain elements don’t work on the page and decide to explore previously unconsidered storylines.

This was especially true of my memoir-misadventure Freak Show Without a Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations, which is being published on June 24 by Washington, DC-based Possibilities Publishing. You would think that I would have known exactly how it was going to end, since it’s the story of my life. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When I finished the first draft, I knew the book needed work. Some of the chapters had strong individual arcs, but the overarching themes and their conclusions weren’t present. My second draft further strengthened the chapters and the new ending summed up the story as neatly as I thought possible. It still wasn’t there though, so I passed off the manuscript to a few writer friends for feedback.

One pointed out that the book was essentially a father-son story. Unfortunately, my second draft didn’t emphasize that parent-child subtext enough and the overall story ended on a falsely negative note. The final pages didn’t properly summate how far my Dad and I had come as adults or the richness of our relationship.

With just a couple of weeks before my final deadline, I decided to add a new final chapter and completely rewrite the epilogue. It was a daunting proposition. I had already poured so much blood, sweat and tears onto the page, but I knew I had to wring more out of myself if I wanted to get the story right.

Those were the two most hellish weeks of my life, but also the most rewarding. When I finally sent off the third and final draft of Freak Show Without a Tent to my editor, I felt like the story had come full circle. It didn’t end the way I’d thought it would, but I was happily surprised by the outcome.

Below you’ll find the first two pages of my original epilogue, which recount a trip I took with my wife, Indira, to the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras. You’ll have to buy Freak Show Without a Tent to find out how the book ends now.

******** BY NOW - Freak Show Without a Tent   ********

“You expect me to fly in that thing?”

My fiancée delivered the last two words with fear and astonishment.

I peered out on the tarmac at that thing in question – a single engine Cessna plane. Running an experienced eye over it, I went down my usual checklist.

Wheels? Present, accounted for and devoid of any visible cracking to the rubber.

Wings? Firmly attached and lacking any duct tape applied to critical junctures.

Frame? The paint was slightly scratched in places, but the metal body was without any punctures.

Windows? Check!

Was there a complicating factor I wasn’t considering? Speaking to the pilot earlier, I hadn’t detected the hint of alcohol on his breath; his pupils weren’t dilated; his handshake was firm and steady.

I scanned the sky. Not a cloud in it. Just endless blue.

Cocking an ear towards the line of palm trees ridging the runway, I couldn’t hear the crackle of rifle fire from an advancing horde of counterrevolutionaries. There was the decelerating roar of a landing plane and the squeak of its tires hitting the tarmac, but nothing else.

A quick sniff didn’t turn up the smell of leaking diesel or brake fluid. Actually, it smelled beautiful – pungent tropical air rich with moisture and life.

I was confused. “What’s wrong with it?”

There was thunderous silence, followed by an incredulous “Do I really need to explain everything to you?” look that I would become very familiar with as the years went on.

“It’s tiny!” she exploded, her artfully coiled braids shaking in a flurry of black. “Is there enough room for us and our luggage?”

I briefly wondered if Indira was regretting saying yes to my marriage proposal. From her body language, it seemed like all the diamonds in the world might not be enough to coax her on board. She was straining away from the plane like a dog on the end of a leash.

I didn’t want to point out that there was no way we were going to turn around and go home. That tiny puddle jumper was our only way forward. We were on Roatán, the largest of the Bay Islands, just off the northern coast of Honduras. Our final destination was its sister island Utila, where we were planning to spend a week commemorating our engagement. I only planned on getting married once, so I wanted every step of the way to be picture perfect. In order for us to indulge in all the romance, see all the radiant sunsets, and enjoy all the relaxing afternoons on the beach that I was imaging, Indira had to get on that pint-sized plane – preferably of her own volition.

“That’s not the smallest airplane I’ve ever been in,” I tried with what I hoped was a charming and disarming smile.

“Really?” She shot back. “Where’d you sit? The pilot’s lap?”

Okay, so that particular line of reasoning wasn’t going to work.

“It looks like it’s in great condition,” I argued. “This is nothing like the flying coffin we flew in Vanuatu. Now that plane was fucked up.”

Indira stared hard at me, her brown eyes blazing. “Is that supposed to make me feel better? That plane is absolutely unrelated to this one and therefore has no bearing on this case.”

Now that I thought about it, was I absolutely sure that I wanted to marry a lawyer? When we argued, she had a parry for my every thrust.

I played the only card I had left in my deck. “You’re going to have to trust me,” I said slowly and carefully, like I was negotiating a hostage release.

The fire in Indira’s eyes went from volcanic red to cobalt blue, but kept smoldering. She set her chin just so and stared at me intently.

“I’ll be right next to you the whole time,” I continued. “You don’t even need to keep your eyes open while we’re flying if you don’t want to.”

I pulled her in for a hug. “C’mon, it’ll be fun. Something we can tell our kids about. Did I ever tell you about that time my father tried to make me swim with piranhas in the Amazon?”

Nevin Martell Courtesy of Photographer Scott Suchman

Nevin Martell is a D.C.-based food, travel, and lifestyle writer whose work regularly appears in the Washington PostPlateWine Enthusiast, and NPR’s blog “The Salt.” He is the author of six books, including the memoir-misadventure Freak Show Without a Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations (2014), The Founding Farmers Cookbook: 100 Recipes for True Food & Drink (2013) and the small-press smash Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and his Revolutionary Comic Strip (2009). Find him online at nevinmartell.com and on Twitter @nevinmartell.

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