Barely Human, my current manuscript, is a 93,000-word novel. This dark comedy imagines what might happen if, yielding to the low-cost labor needs of manufacturers and fast food giants, the United States had tried to absorb “humanized” bears into its population of the early 21st century. Its protagonist, the bookish Jimmy Bear, is a second-generation assimilate and a joker on whom humans tend to project their fears, prejudices, and desires. The ultimate outsider, Jimmy faces the constant threat of harassment, confinement, and exile to a wilderness he has never known and fears.
Charlie Higgins, his human companion, is a working-class guy with a latent allergy to bears. His instant wealth and freedom from work is a source of shame, best forgotten in a drink. His drinking costs him his relationship with Jolene, a woman he loves, and eventually puts him on a collision course with his dear friend Jimmy Bear.
Why and How I Wrote a Barely Human
Like every book, mine began with a single sentence, but my first sentence gave rise to the entire manuscript. Throughout my work on this project, I was guided by what had come before. At crucial points, of course, I had to stop and ask my characters what they would do next. But at no point did I have a plan or use an outline. Yet I don’t write in a social vacuum. Jimmy Bear came to represent the American Other: the immigrant as potential terrorist, the racial other, the homeless person, and the fearsome beast whose name appears on the road sign and the sports franchise but whose habitat has all but disappeared. I was inspired by such great purveyors of dark comedy as Cervantes, Gogol, Mikhail Bulgakov, Mark Twain, and Nathanael West. And I had a good time.
Leading Characters Speak
Jimmy: I am trying to determine if being a humanized bear is a blessing or a curse. It could be a blessing, I think, if I could be left alone to enjoy the comforts and advantages of middle-class life in the USA or, at minimum, if I had unfettered access to public libraries and the food that humans waste.
Charlie: Being with Jolene was a blast, but it meant putting up with a lot of shit I didn’t want to think about, not without a drink in my hand. Now I’m left with just the drink.
Jolene: I was always ready to tell Charlie the truth, if he’d ever been ready to hear it. I’m an adventuress.
Rhonda: I wish that Jimmy found me as attractive as I find him. I also wish Charlie was as generous to himself as he is to me.
Ursula: Being assimilated suits me better than it does Jimmy, thanks to the women in my life.