Gatherin’ Moss – Book Review and Interview with Andrew Stone

by Abigail Wolfe

Abigail Wolfe: Why do you live in Riverwest?  Andrew Stone: Riverwest is my place. It’s been good to me. I wouldn’t live anywhere else in Milwaukee — even if I could afford to. A. W.: Do you think Jim McNeil, the main character of your novel Gatherin’ Moss, would like Riverwest?  Stone: He’d only hang in a low key place like Riverwest. Once I thought I saw him walking down Center St. but it turned out to be some lost hipster looking for the Western Box Turtles show at Onopa.  A.W.: What do you like best about this community?  Stone: I’m not the only struggling artist….  A.W.: What would you change about Riverwest if you could?   Stone: I’d make it a place that you could feel comfortable walking around in at night. And I’d put it closer to the lake. I think a cat park would be nice.  A.W.: Explain how Gatherin’ Moss came to be published.  Stone: Somehow, from all the submissions I was making to literary reviews, I think, my name and contact info got tossed around, and a rep contacted me. I did a lot of research before I decided it was either I go with these guys, or hang myself over my unaccepted manuscripts [chuckles]. A.W.: Where did you get your ideas for Gatherin’ Moss? Stone: I spent a couple years living in San Francisco, and, in retrospect, I saw that there were a lot of events that I could use in a story. Then I did. A.W. Why is Jim a dishwasher?   Stone: I’ve known people in the profession. They tend to have more going on in their lives and in their souls than you would ever guess, yet people ignore them, and often turn their noses up at them. That’s why Jim is a dishwasher. A.W.: How long did it take to write this book?  Stone: All day [laughs]. Over six months for the first draft, and then I hardly looked at it for two years, then picked it up and worked on it every day I could for another eight or nine months. A.W.: What else have you had published?  Stone: A bunch of short fiction here and there over the years. A.W.: What are you reading now?  Stone: Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me, by Richard Fariña, as well as a couple other books. A.W.: Favorite book?  Stone: The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea, by Yukio Mishima. A.W.: Favorite place you’ve traveled to?   Stone: I’m reserving that place for the future, but I can tell you that it’s beautiful, near the ocean, and I’m being served cocktails by American dropouts in bikinis. A.W.: Are you going to sit back on your laurels and enjoy the fact that you’ve just completed the major accomplishment of getting a book published? Stone: As a dedicated person with a need to be artistic, I don’t think I’ll ever feel comfortable to do that. I finish one book and I think ‘it’s not enough.’ I think I’m just trying to fill in the hole of self-doubt. A.W.: What are your plans for the future?   Stone: I haven’t had the time to make a plan, but if I made one, drinking beer and laughing would be in the equation.

Gatherin’ Moss by Andrew J. Stone. Published by 1st Books Library. Available for purchase at: Woodland Pattern and Reviewed by Abigail M. Wolfe

Riverwest resident Andrew J. Stone’s first novel Gathering Moss weaves a tale set in a town full of transients, nuts, and flakes. It stars a music-making dishwasher whose amusing adventures generate more intrigue than James Bond on a bender.  Musician Jim McNeil traipses to San Francisco to join an old friend’s psychedelic country band. He uses his almost supernatural talent as dishwasher (he prefers “hydra-thermal technician,” if you please) to support himself. “Washing dishes is the only job I know of that lends itself to someone of my particular psychological makeup. It takes someone of a thoughtful approach to their work to do a good job, and for me, it’s half of my wage to be able to use my job as a benefit to my mental welfare,” Jim explains.  But even with the surprising success of his new band The Purple Pussy Bluegrass Core, Jim’s personal future is still cloudy. Rooted in the disturbing circumstance that he is the only Caucasian dishwasher in San Francisco, an underground Mexican dishwasher’s union suspects the laconic musician is a spy for the Mexican government. To protect the secrecy of the union’s bizarre soil regeneration scheme, the union members embark on a number of hilarious attempts to foil Jim’s supposed espionage objectives. Gathering Moss ambles down the line of tongue-in-cheek humor all the way though. Stone’s admiration of prolific Japanese author Yukio Mishima is evident in his writing style, especially the pithy pronouncements of his protagonist. As readers follow Jim’s adventures, Stone reveals Jim’s emotional epiphanies in self-conscious statements as lurid as Jim’s shiny satin cowboy attire. Jim flies in lively circles of his own rhetoric with pronouncements like “In fact, there was nothing about the human condition that compelled him to react to anything,” or “For Jim McNeil, anything that is not nothing is something, and is therefore better than anything else”.  “It was important to me to maintain (Jim) as a character with no intentions or expectations, other than what he expected of himself,” Stone said. “I wanted his innocence to back up his words, which in turn I think granted him a mystical air of some sort.” Stone went on to say, “All (Jim’s) really looking for is a revelation that will lead him to a bright and shiny fate. Keeping him simple made it possible for such concepts to chase after him.” Stone redeems himself with his astute attention to the power of language. These details make Gathering Moss glow. The novel is liberally sprinkled with vivid descriptions like “the truck made sounds like a monkey wrench and a jackhammer making love in a box of nails.” When asked about his colorful description techniques, the author said, “I think (my writing style) comes from being a little bit crazy, and somehow still in touch with what makes other people feel. I guess you could say my style is ‘loco-rational’.” This unusual novel is essentially readable, packed with odd characters and kooky plot lines that will keep readers turning pages just to see how this rigmarole’s going to end. Confronted with some of the author’s leaps of faith — like the concept that a girl becomes a woman by making love to a man — readers are simply asked to suspend belief and hold Stone’s hand for a bumpy ride. As Jim McNeil would say, “That would be something”. 

Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 5 – June 2002