Drake Dyer is an HHS junior with a baby face and a thing for classic movies, especially movies with Humphrey Bogart. Ask him anything about a Bogart film. He can recite lines from “The Maltese Falcon” and “Key Largo” and “Casablanca,” and not just famous ones like, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
I can hear the clipped dialogue from those old movies in Drake’s first book, “4:46 p.m. A Collection of Short Stories,” self-published last month. That’s right, a 17-year-old has published a book. You can buy it on Amazon right now for $15; hundreds of people already have.
Drake’s stories are dark and tense and recall the pulp fiction of the 1930s and ‘40s, when bizarre tales of horror and crime filled cheap magazines with lurid covers. There’s one about a long-haul trucker who accidently kills a pedestrian and another about a man and his lover who are shot dead while dancing. Drake wrote them on a manual typewriter he’d picked up from an antiques shop. It took about a year to complete, and it wasn’t easy either because he battled writer’s block and would sit for hours in front of an empty page. For inspiration he’d read or watch movies or listen to people talk – anything to try to break the fog.
When I think of Drake and his vintage Royal typewriter, I imagine a man clicking away in the night below a lone lightbulb with a drink and a cigarette and Bogie and Bacall bantering in black and white:
“Hello, Dolores. Doing Okay?”
“Always Jim, always.”
She took a deep smoke and blew it right in his face. He inhaled and coughed. Worth it.
The bartender gave them the martinis, with a couple of olives in each.
Dolores rubbed her finger around the rim of the glass and gave Jim “the look.”
(From Drake’s story “The Massacre of ’47”)
Drake started writing when he was in middle school (yes, way back in middle school!), mostly because he fell in love with Stephen King’s novels. “I liked his writing style, his characters, the way he set everything up,” Drake explained. Even then he knew he wanted to be a professional writer, but like King, he had doubts: “… every time I sat on my bed or desk, opened up my computer or typewriter and typed out a sentence or two, that little editor in my head cursed me out and sent me to feel bad about myself,” he wrote in the Author’s Note of his book.
He kept at it, though, and “got on a roll,” as he put it. Today, he’s sold about 200 copies, and his deal with Amazon nets him 60 percent royalties - no joke for a high schooler with chemistry homework and a part-time job at Slow Burn Hot Chicken. Last month Channel 5 did a lengthy piece on him, and his book signing at the chicken place drew a crowd.
I think Drake’s accomplishment resonates with people because it’s not some internet gimmick but an honest-to-goodness book with paper and binding that you can hold in your hand, the kind Steinbeck and Hemingway published some 80 years ago.
But this isn’t 1942, and while Drake may seem an old soul, his stories can be disturbing in their language (lots of four-letter words) and gore (lots of blood and guts). Take his opening to “Knock-Knock, Who’s Dead?”:
The “Golden Girls” was on. Martin Maclane and Margaret, his wife, sat resting their feet on the coffee table with a glass of wine on the tiny table between two chairs. Blood poured from their now empty eye sockets, their mouths agape and their arms limp.
Drake shrugs off the rough stuff (“That’s just how I write, how I express myself”), and why wouldn’t he? He’s of a YouTube generation where anything goes. But that’s another topic for another time. Right now, the author is at work on a second collection of short stories, a literary genre that he feels, at least among young readers, is confined to a handful of moldy classics in the textbooks and ripe for new material. “I’ve got a couple of stories written and some more ideas,” he allowed.
And that leaves me with an idea as well: Next time I hear some cranky 60-somethings griping about today’s teens, I think I’ll tell them about Drake Dyer and his book.
By English and journalism teacher John Gerome