Guest blogger Dan Kennedy is the author of three books and a regular host of The
Moth storytelling series and podcast. His debut novel, American Spirit, takes us on "a
full-throttle, white-knuckle adventure into a land of destroyed dreams" (Publishers
Weekly, starred review).
The first time I told a story on The Moth mainstage was
either 1999 or early 2000. I have no idea how that much time got behind me
doing this storytelling stuff; it was this thing to try for one night in hopes
of feeling better about how my life was going in my tiny unfurnished downtown
New York apartment (girlfriend left and took her couch and table). And it
worked, it clicked, something changed for me, and the next thing I know it’s
Right around the same time, I met the people who started The
Moth, I quit drinking and spending all my money on the New York party scene
(what I mean by "all my money" is nine thousand dollars, and what I
mean by "the New York party scene" is drinking alone in chain
restaurants and really bad stripper clubs from about 6 p.m. to 4 a.m.) I’m
never quite sure which thing saved my life, stopping drinking or starting to
hang out with The Moth, but something changed. Home was a long way away during
this time in my life, it still is. I moved to downtown New York 15 years ago
and the folks at The Moth instantly felt like family, and I haven’t been alone
in the Big Apple since the day they took me in.
I haven’t stopped to count, but I know over the years of
hosting and performing from 3rd Street to Australia to Cannes to North
Carolina, Portland, and everywhere in between, I’ve heard more amazing true
stories from people than I ever thought I would in my lifetime. And somewhere
along the line, someone out there invented these podcast things, so now
millions of people hear them, not just the folks in the club or theater that
So, after spending well over a decade surrounded by
beautiful true stories and loving people, why have I gone and written fiction
full of sex, drinking, drugs, a secondhand gun, and a protagonist who is fortysomething,
almost divorced, suddenly unemployed, and buzzed enough to think it’s a good
idea to burn frequent-flier miles traveling all over the country and then to
Indonesia on a stumbling, gonzo, personal vision quest? I know, I hear you. But
there are beautiful stories in this novel, a whole bunch of them, I’m certain.
Sure, they come in the form of a man on an odd, darkly comedic downhill slide.
But isn’t that life in America sometimes, and don’t we all end up looking back
and laughing eventually? Well, for once it’s the other guy, the character in a
novel, so maybe we can laugh a little sooner, maybe we can laugh right away.
The thing about fiction writing is that it oftentimes brings
us the truth. Stepping up and unveiling one’s biggest fears, secrets, shame,
and missteps and watching people laugh is the secret to healing and getting
one’s life back on track. It might be the only way, in fact. I’ve seen it work
since the first night I stepped onto a stage and tried it.
Wait, I think I may have just blown my cover. This is a
novel. It’s, you know, not my journey; it’s fiction. I’m still the normal well-adjusted
calm public radio–ish voice you hear on The Moth podcast. All right, the scene
where the character wakes up in a car in front of a stranger’s house in
Connecticut, then sneaks up to do that thing with the garden hose, and then the
blood and the vomit, that part is true. That’s me. Or at least it was me, but
then everything changed.