About five years ago, I’d just graduated university with a shiny new degree and a heart brimming with hope for the future. Unfortunately, I’d gotten my degree in creative writing. And more unfortunately, I’d done so right when a recession smashed every hope my generation had of an economically prosperous future. So like many great writers before me, I went into food service.
I spent my early twenties slinging lattes for the one percent, and doing a number of other odd jobs besides. Slowly, through careful saving and a lot of luck, I turned my joke of a wage into a living. I found a good apartment, settled in with friends that felt like family, and slowly came into my own as an adult. I was a twentysomething creative in New York City, AKA the plot of at least one sitcom a year for the past three decades.
…and then I turned twenty-four and left behind everything I’d built for myself by moving to Los Angeles. And as I started to rebuild my life from scratch—learning new streets, or remembering how the hell I’d made friends in the first place—I did it while taking stock of what I’d done with my time in New York. And as I thought and remembered, I started to write. And after twenty-two days of writing when I should’ve been looking for a new job, I had a book: the very first draft of what would become Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge.
My heroine, Bailey Chen, is essentially my thoughts and feelings on my early twenties, as filtered through the lens of my mid-twenties. Like me, she was a good student who spent her whole life being told great things were waiting for her after graduation day. Like me, she found her life being pulled in a different direction—in her case, bartending—which she didn’t particularly want. And like me, her biggest challenge was learning to see the worth in what she did, even if others didn’t.
Unlike me, though, her other biggest challenge was using alcohol magic to kick demons in the face until they exploded.
Last Call drew from my lifelong love of fantasy, but it also drew from my attempts to reconcile my dreams of adulthood with the reality I graduated into. When I page through it, I can still see past-me’s frustration lurking underneath Bailey’s. When she grumbles about the unreasonable qualifications needed for an entry level job (“five years experience, two Olympic gold medals, and a phoenix egg in your personal possession”), that comes directly from my hours spent filling in digital job applications. And when the world challenges Bailey to see the value in a job she hates, it’s because once upon a time I was challenged to do the same thing.
Paul Krueger is the debut author of Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, published by Quirk Books, and is available from all good books stores in paperback, priced $14.99 (US) and £11.99 (UK). For more information, please visit www.quirkbooks.com, or follow Paul on Twitter @notlikeFreddy.