About author Kieran Doherty:
Kieran Doherty started his writing career as a journalist. For more than 40 years, he wrote newspaper and magazine articles about business, travel, health, and investing. During that time, he also published several short stories and 14 nonfiction young adult books. One of those books, Sea Venture, a history of the settlement of Bermuda and Jamestown, was nominated as Nonfiction Book of the Year by the Library of Virginia. His memoir, Back From the Abyss, was completed shortly before he died in 2010 at the age of 64.
To learn more visit: http://capandbellspress.com/2013/05/back-from-the-abyss/
About the book, Back from the Abyss: The Autobiography of a Low-Bottom Alky:
In Back From the Abyss, Kieran Doherty, now deceased, takes the reader along on the wild ride that was his life.
With a voice reminiscent of Pete Hamill’s in A Drinking Life and a childhood as tough as Frank McCourt’s in Angela’s Ashes, he tells his story, full of wit, bravado, and Irish charm.
We watch him change from altar boy to rebel … then throw away a promising career in the theater. We follow him through his almost unbelievable adventures in the military … through four marriages and countless lovers … through the alcohol-fueled crimes that ultimately landed him in prison … and, finally, through the ugly reality of the cancer that killed him.
Along the way, we get a feel for the internal pain, the constant struggle of the “low-bottom” alky to make it from one day to the next.
Q & A about Kieran Doherty:
Since Kieran is deceased we asked Mark Ford who helped him write the book and is the author of the fore and afterward to answer these questions to the best of his ability.
Q. Why did you encourage Kieran to write this book?
A. I encouraged Kieran to write it for two reasons. The most important was to document his life. Having heard his story, I knew others would be interested. He was both honest and matter-of-fact about the details. He made me understand what alcoholism at his level was like. Before then, I never really got it. I thought it was a bad habit that weak people couldn’t break. The other reason was that I knew he wanted to leave behind some record of his life. He was really just moving forward with part two of his life when he got cancer. I thought the project would keep him focused and productive and it did.
Q. Did Kieran have any secret writing tips?
A. If I had to guess, I’d say “write what you know.”
Q. Do you have any quirky, funny, or unexpected stories about him that aren’t in the book?
A. He was very particular about how he liked his eggs and toast. He got grouchy if they came the wrong way. And he was very particular about how he ate them, always in exactly the same way. Eggs first. Toast second. Never the twain to meet.
Q. Who inspired him the most?
A. He admired both his mother and father, as comes clear in the book. He admired and respected his sponsor at AA. I was shocked to learn that he had never read Pete Hamill, Frank McCourt, or Charles Bukowski. I recommended them and he liked them… but I can’t say they influenced him because he read them after he started his own book.
Q. What excited him most about the book’s topic? Why did he choose it?
A. He didn’t choose it. I did.
Q. How long did the book take from start to finish?
A. Two years
Q. What aspect of writing the book did you find particularly challenging?
A. Some of the best stories were not included. Dying, he was remembering stories connected to the most important people in his life… his family, his wives, his lovers… but some of the best stuff happened when he was overseas. I’m sorry he didn’t include that.
Q. Did Kieran do any research for this book, or did he write from experience?
A. I think it was from memory, but he was a very good researcher. I’m sure he double-checked the details.
Q. What surprised you the most about his process?
A. That he persisted even though he was so weak and his death was so imminent.
Q. What do you hope readers will gain from reading the book?
A. A real, unvarnished understanding of how alcoholism can direct one’s life… how strong the pull is… how bizarre and self-destructive the impulses are, and yet how kindness and love still play a role.
Chapter excerpt from Back from the Abyss: The Autobiography of a Low-Bottom Alky:
Take Them Clothes Off, Boy!
I sat near the back of an unheated Bluebird bus as it turned down a narrow country road about 10 miles north of Gainesville, Florida. I stretched my neck to see past the bulk of the brown-uniformed driver. Through the streaked window, I saw the prison a half-mile ahead…. Lake Butler Correctional Institution, the maximum security prison that would be my home for the next three years.
I’d expected to see something more sinister. Some mammoth, gothic structure with battlements and ramparts. Instead, it looked like a rural junior college campus…. But then I saw the soaring double chain link fence, topped by rolls of razor wire that ran around the complex. And the gun towers, manned by two men with automatic weapons. Ready to shoot.
It was grim but I wanted in. It was bone-aching cold on the bus and my summer clothes (which I’d had on when I was arrested more than six months earlier) were not enough to keep me warm. My hands were swollen and tingled from the tightness of the handcuffs. I’d complained about them, but the two uniformed guards who sat behind the driver and in front of a security gate had just smirked.
The bus sighed to a stop….
The driver honked the horn. I heard the grating, mechanical sound of a large gate opening. The bus inched its way toward the building and then stopped.
“Bus in! Close the sally port!” someone shouted.
For long moments the bus sat idling. Then the guards stood up from their seats and descended from the bus without so much as glancing back to where we sat. The doors closed. I could hear them talking to other guards but I could not make out what they were saying. There was a good deal of laughter.
After what seemed like an hour, a tall, lanky guard climbed on board. He wore a 10-gallon hat. His uniform was spotless and iron-creased. The tips of his cowboy boots were spit polished. The only thing lacking was a pair of mirrored sunglasses, but he compensated for that by holding a toothpick between his teeth.
“My name is Cellblock Slim,” he said, and then grinned, briefly. “You may have heard of me.”
There were about 20 of us on the bus, mostly tough-looking blacks and Latinos. This was a maximum security state prison, and the crew I was part of looked like it, along with Cellblock Slim, had been chosen by some B-movie casting director.
In answer to Slim’s comment, several of my fellow convicts nodded. This wasn’t their first trip to Butler.
But it was mine and I felt — to put it mildly — out of place. It was like the beginning of a Rambo movie, with me cast as Woody Allen.
My throat was dry and my chest was pounding. I wanted a drink. A good, hard drink. If not that, a cigarette.
But there would be no drinks for me here.
“My job is to keep you in line,” Slim said. “And I promise you I’ll do that.”
“You see that fence,” he said. “It’s not there to keep you in. Me and my boys will keep you in. That fence there is to keep the good people outside, the people you have robbed and raped and whose families you’ve murdered, from coming inside and giving you what you deserve. So be thankful for that fence. And worry about me.”
Then he walked up and down the aisle between us. He took time to look us each in the eyes directly. The toothpick shifted from the right side of his mouth to the left.
“I don’t give a shit if you like me or not,” he continued. “But you damn well better hope that I like you. Because if I don’t like you, I goddamn guarantee you I will make your life inside fucking miserable.”
Then he flashed that grin again. A black guy across from me mumbled some profanity under his breath. Slim walked over to him slowly, stopped, and pulled a club from his belt. He pointed the end of it at the man’s chest and leaned on it.
“You are new here, aren’t you?”
The man said nothing.
“Yes, I know you are new. And you probably think that when you get inside this fence you will be in a bad place.”
He leaned harder on the club. The man glared at him. “But inside this place there is another place that is twice as bad….”
“I already think I don’t like you, pal. You better start thinking about how you can change my mind.”
“What a crock,” I thought. “This guy’s been watching too many bad movies. He’s full of shit.”
Soon enough, I found out that Slim wasn’t full of shit. At Butler, there was no limit to his ability to act upon his threats, as twisted and melodramatic as they sounded.
“Off the bus!” Slim shouted.
With that, the double doors at the rear of the bus swung open. Outside stood two guards, their arms crossed, gesturing with their heads for us to hurry up.
“Line up and strip!” Slim shouted. “Empty your pockets. Stack your clothes at your feet with your other belongings on top of the stack!”
Slim and his two assistants moved from man to man, unlocking handcuffs.
“Get them clothes off, boy!” they snarled. “And them filthy underwears too!”
We did as we were told, some looking like they had been through this drill many times before. Then we stood there naked, hands over our genitals, looking straight ahead….
For maybe four hours, we stood there, shivering in a narrow corridor between the two chain link fences.
Did I say it was November? It was late November. And if you don’t know Florida, you might think the weather in late November is very nice. Well, maybe it is in Miami. But not in Butler, where afternoon temperatures can drop to 40 degrees and feel much colder with the wind blowing from the north at 20 miles an hour. It was fucking freezing.
The guards moved away from us and huddled. They drank coffee and read magazines. I had no idea what we were waiting for. It was turning into night and the weather was only getting worse.
If it weren’t for the fact that I was surrounded by men whom I had already come to fear, I would have broken down and cried. I would have.
“What am I doing here?” I kept thinking. “I’m not a criminal. I’m an honest man. I’m a father and a husband and a freaking newspaper editor, for Christ’s sake.”
I just couldn’t believe it. I promised myself that I would remember this day forever. “As long as you live,” I told myself.
And then I had a consoling thought, which almost made me smile. “Well, at least things can’t get any worse.”
Man, was I ever wrong.
Amazon link for Back from the Abyss: The Autobiography of a Low-Bottom Alky