Former Davis resident publishes bang-up first novel

June 15, 1997
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

Former Davis resident Brad Henderson's first novel, "Drums," (Fithian Press of Santa Barbara, 206 pages $12.95 has just been published and although it's different from most of the books I've been reading lately, I like it very much.

It's the story of a college student at San Luis Obispo who has a major life decision to make: should he get an advanced degree in mathematics at Stanford, which his father is lobbying for, or should he follow his heart and go on the road, as a drummer in a band. Naturally, he goes with the band. (Let's face it, it would be hard to write a compelling novel about earning a graduate degree in math.)

I loved his descriptions of what it's like, musically, to be a drummer and I enjoyed getting this glimpse into what makes a guy - even a fictional guy -- tick.

I enjoyed, too, an e-mail interview with Henderson, 38, who now lives in Corvallis, Ore. This is what I learned:

He graduated from Davis High School in 1977 and spent his first two years of college at UC Davis. His parents, Jerry and Fran Hamel Henderson, recently moved to Chico after Jerry retired from the department of mechanical engineering at UCD.

Brad Henderson earned his degree from Cal Poly SLO in mechanical engineering, too, and is in fact a drummer who played in a band. He also married a fellow student, the love of his life, Jessica. He currently works at Hewlett-Packard where he's an internal education consultant: he designs and manages custom, in-house learning solutions for manufacturing engineers and technicians.

But at heart, he's a writer. And with most young writers, he struggled mightily to get "Drums" published.

''I think it's pretty normal for most aspiring creative writers to have to go through a long apprenticeship before they're really ready to publish.," he said. "I paid my dues and put in 10 plus years of serious apprenticeship."

After graduation from Cal Poly, he and Jessica moved to Los Angeles where he became, in his words, a hobby drummer and a hobby writer.

"But I started writing a novel based on the premise 'what if'? What if I had gone on the road as a nightclub drummer? What might have happened? Very soon into the process, something inside me clicked: I knew what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life: Be a writer. My mission was to fully embrace my private mythos, rather than suppress it. I realized that the novel, as an art form, was the closest thing we'll ever have to turning the human mind inside-out. To write and publish a novel is a worthy life goal."

He was accepted at a master's program at USC. By the fall of 1986, he had written nine months full-time and had completed the first working draft of "Drums," 420 pages. His early manuscript won him a Phi Kappa Phi award, but no agent or publisher.

"Meanwhile, my wife decided she wanted to get her Ph.D., so she and I and our son, Silas, moved to Corvallis so she could attend Oregon State University," he said.

Other attempts at commercial publication of a mystery and thriller failed. At one point, he was close to giving up.

"I was totally frustrated and totally burned out on becoming a writer," he recalled. "I had met and exceeded the magical number of 1,000 rejection slips associated with my two novels. So for the next year or so I said the hell with it, and just worked a nice respectable job and started trying to deal with the fact that I probably wasn't going to be able to fulfill on my dream of becoming a novelist."

But after a yearlong hiatus from writing, something took him back to the "Drums" manuscript.

"Beginning in the fall of 1994, I completely rewrote the book, radically streamlining the manuscript from 420 pages to 263," he said. "I worked very hard and was very happy with what was left. I started sending the book around again, mostly to first-novel contests. I decided to try Daniel & Daniel Publishing in Santa Barbara a second time, as I'd already submitted and had them reject an earlier draft of the book. This time, they were favorably impressed and agreed to publish the book under their Fithian imprint. Finally, the book found a home.

"Getting 'Drums' published is my foot-in-the-door for my next novel, which currently has a working title of 'Fire & Rain.' The only thing I won't be doing in the future is trying to write something commercial, like I attempted with my ill-fated mystery and thriller novels," he said.

Henderson will be in Davis on Aug. 3, a Sunday, to sign copies of his book at The Avid Reader from 10 a.m. to noon. That's the weekend of his 20th high school reunion.

"I think many of my old classmates from DHS will be rather surprised to learn that I turned out to be a writer," he said. "I never revealed this side of myself to my high school peers and perhaps only to a few of my English teachers.

"Aside from my family, I love my book 'Drums' more than anything else in the world. The feelings I have for everything else I've ever accomplished in life pales next to how I feel about having written a literary novel. My heart is in that book, and even though I've been through the narrative line hundreds and hundreds of times, my eyes still get a bit damp when I read the last line and it's time for the story to end."

Before our e-mail interview ended, I had to ask Henderson what drummers he admires.

"I love the work Stuart Copeland did with The Police. Talk about chops! If you want to hear some really progressive rock drumming listen to 'Message in a Bottle' on the Police's second album. If you want to watch a drummer play well on video, rent 'Woodstock' and queue up the song 'Soul Sacrifice' by Santana and watch young Michael Shrieve wail. He was only 16 at Woodstock. Watching him work the kit makes me green with envy," said Henderson.

Yes, but are they writing novels, too?

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