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Fear the repo man

Profile image for By Lucinda Breeding
By Lucinda Breeding

Default on your student loan? Darin Bradley’s novel has ways to make you pay

Denton writer Darin Bradley said he didn’t have to look too hard to find inspiration for his second novel, Chimpanzee.

The novel is about Benjamin Cade, an unemployed professor facing the repossession of his education. With a combination of cognitive science and chemical therapy, creditors are literally reclaiming the knowledge and experience graduates gained in college when student loan payments stop coming in.

Bradley started writing the novel in 2009, just after the economy capsized and new graduates walked across the commencement stage to meet a shrinking job market.

And Bradley had his own experience.

“I got my Ph.D. in 2007 and followed my wife out to South Carolina,” Bradley said. “She took a job, a tenure-track job, out there. And then in 2008, you know, everything just fell apart for everybody.”

Bradley was teaching at a couple of different schools while his wife pursued tenure. In his class sessions, Bradley felt a kinship to the students he taught, as well as a pang for the hardships they were facing.

“I was watching these students who had no idea,” Bradley said. “They were spending the money on these degrees, and they had no idea [if] there [was] going to be a job for me on the other end. And all I could do was encourage them to concentrate on the skill set now, and just to be patient.”

Bradley calls himself a member of the tail end of Generation X, a generation that had been taught that prosperity was the outcome of hard work, big dreams and a college education.

If you just went to college — either on a scholarship or a ballooning student loan — the American Dream would follow. And that dream meant a good-paying job (or at least a path to one), home ownership and a family, with enough in the bank to send the next generation to college — all while enjoying upper-class merchandise.

“I thought certainly things would open up,” Bradley said. “But you’re looking at it now and still, some of those kids I had met are now, seven years later, still probably struggling to find work. Or to make full use of those degrees in ways that don’t quite relate to the way baby boomers did it, or even the earlier members of Gen X.”

In Chimpanzee, professor Benjamin Cade has been cut from the faculty pool while his wife plugs away at her academic job security. He is about to go to his first therapy session to prepare for the systematic reclamation of his education.

But Cade is a cognitive theory scientist himself. The twinge of frustration he nurses while watching the government loan money it can’t possibly get back burns into something brighter: revolution.

He knows he isn’t alone. Young people wearing chimpanzee masks have been appearing on the town square, shouting condemnations against the markets that profit through predation — even on a small, buy-local scale. Cade decides to start teaching his field of expertise gratis before the cocktail of therapy and Big Pharma is forced down his throat.

Chimpanzee follows Bradley’s Noise, an apocalyptic story published by Random House in 2010. Totem, the story of a culture rebuilding after a collapse, will follow. Both Chimpanzee and Totem will be released by a small publisher, Underland Press. Bradley said the books aren’t a trilogy or chronological, but a cluster of novels that observe economic collapse from different points in time and from different perspectives.

Bradley said Chimpanzee has been his mode of puzzling through the promise of his childhood, which unfolded during the last years of the Reagan administration, when elected officials and corporations were negotiating policies that helped to shutter factories and ship jobs to shores where labor was dirt cheap.

“I grew up in the early, mid-’80s. I was in elementary school and I remember DARE [Drug Abuse Resistance Education] programs and I remember Reagan,” Bradley said. “I look back on it now and I enjoyed my childhood, but I look back on it and I think, wow, you know, there was this fetishization of the body. Like don’t do drugs, keep it pure. Wait till marriage.

“And then there was this kind of mythologization of the nation itself, which is: ‘Don’t worry, children, everything is waiting for you. Do what your teachers tell you to do,’” Bradley said.

When the economy tanked in 2008, the writer said he felt like the curtain had been pulled back to reveal the machinations of politicians and CEOs of multinational businesses. Americans had been burning through money they didn’t have, and now the bill had come due.

“It was really spooky for me too, because my first book, Noise, which is about economic collapse, came out in 2010. But I wrote it in 2007,” he said.

In Noise, a class of damaged, fascist youths rebel violently against perceived cultural and economic crimes. Chimpanzee finds the disaffected rebelling in nonviolent ways — creating new local money, and trading education like a black market economy (but without the steep black market prices).

The cluster of novels mirrors bits of the plots. Bradley got his first deal from a big publisher — an event he considers chance. He’d sent book proposals to a number of publishers through his literary agent. At a party during a science fiction convention in Saratoga Springs, he struck up a conversation with an editor at Random House, who gave him a quizzical look as they chatted about Bradley’s unpublished novel.

“He said, ‘Wait. What’s your name again?’ After I told him, he said, ‘We have your manuscript!’” Bradley said.

It was a different manuscript for a fantasy novel. The editor asked Bradley to submit his manuscript for Noise. The book survived two editors — both of them victims of firings or layoffs.

“Being published by a major press can be really exciting, but it can also be a little depersonalizing. You’re a small number in a very big equation,” he said.

Underland Press bought Chimpanzee and Totem last November. Bradley left the video game company he was working for to join the editing pool at Underland.

Life mirrored art for Bradley when the publisher sold a block of audiobook rights to Amazon’s Audible. Chimpanzee was among them.

“Audible gets one look at Chimpanzee, and I swear, I could hear them laughing all the way to New York,” he said. “Chimpanzee has some untranslated languages in there. There are some mathematical formulae. There’s the whole issue of the flashbacks.”

The publisher got the money back from Audible, and a representative visited Denton and saw the bustling creative scene. He proposed Bradley try to do the audiobook himself.

The audiobook is more like a radio play, and uses the talents of local musicians — who created 18 songs for the audiobook — and local professional and amateur voice actors.

Busy local drummer Grady Don Sandlin came aboard as the engineer to put the audiobook together. Bradley said Sandlin gave him “a sweetheart deal.” The audiobook includes sound effects and music.

Parts of the audiobook will be played at a local book release party at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Dan’s Silverleaf.

“I narrate it, and it’s voiced by all these other people. A lot of them have worked for Funimation: Scott Porter, Heather Walker — she’s a big Funimation voice actress — Jenny Seman, Tyler Walker. There’s a really strong pool of voice talent in the metroplex, and I worked with a lot of them in the video game company,” Bradley said.

“All I did was raise my hand in the darkness and say, ‘Does anybody want to help?’ And the community responded, resoundingly, ‘Yes.’ I mean, I had more offers than I could really use.”

Bradley said the creative team that developed around the audio play is interested in producing more media like Chimpanzee. The voice and music talent will be paid through royalties.

Copies of the book and the audio play — available as a digital file and on CD with a booklet — will be for sale at the release party, which Bradley said he’s staging as a party, not a stuffy literary event. The Spitfire Tumbleweeds will play at the release, and the bar will be well stocked.

“It’s going to be more about having a good time, and less about knowing the story,” Bradley said. “I want people to have a good time, and if they’re interested in the story, they can get a copy of the book.”

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.

BOOK RELEASE PARTY

What: Event marking the release of Chimpanzee by Darin Bradley (Underland Press), with Team Resurrection House’s staged performance from the Chimpanzee radio play, book and CD signings, and music by the Spitfire Tumbleweeds and the Nice-Up Crew.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Dan’s Silverleaf, 103 Industrial St.

Details: Admission is free.