LU alum turned author and performer returns

Rachel Hoerman

Paul McComas is a Lawrence alumnus with two published books under his belt and a tattoo of a bighorn sheep on his hip. Both the books and the tattoo made guest appearances in English and drama classes across campus this past week with McComas as he discussed his work, his life, and the numerous benefits of his liberal arts degree with students.

First and foremost, as a writer, then as an artist, performer, teacher, and figure model, McComas does what he enjoys.

Despite the wishes of his father, who wanted him to study law, McComas graduated from the class of ’83 with an English major and minors in psychology and theater.

He attended film school at Northwestern University, but realized writing screenplays and the budget proposals for them wasn’t what he wanted.

McComas graduated with his master’s degree, and then delved into a variety of professions, including journalism, corporate communication, acting, performance art, and modern dance.

At the age of 30, McComas realized that he wanted nothing more than to write narrative fiction, and he has been doing so ever since. Although he wrote a complete novel in high school, he never published it. His first book was Twenty Questions, a collection of short stories published in 1998.

Unplugged, McComas’ second book and first published novel, debuted in 2002. The book centers on Dayna Clay, a 27-year-old rock star who flees to the Badlands of South Dakota to escape the darkness of depression, her fame, and her own terrible memories.

Among the Badlands’ crumbling rock formations, Dayna undergoes a series of experiences and realizations that aid in her recovery and prevent her from committing suicide.

Eventually, Dayna finds herself stranded in a situation where the very land she has come to love and trust threatens her life.

Dayna’s story was a draft five years in the making whose inspiration McComas drew from a compendium of personal experience, several trips to the Badlands of South Dakota, and a series of “happy accidents” which McComas insists “you have to trust in entirely.”

Interestingly, Unplugged comes with a soundtrack. A musician/performer extraordinaire, McComas also composed several songs before and during the writing of his book, in the guise of his rock star character.

And for your information, he took both of the pictures on Unplugged’s cover; the one in the background is of a rock formation in the Badlands, and McComas had his friend pose as Dayna in the black and white snapshot.

Which published authors do published authors read? McComas insists that with The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold has written the “great American novel of our time.” McComas also reads Nick Hornby, Jayne Anne Phillips, Tony Early, and Joyce Carol Oates.

For aspiring writers-to-be, McComas has a twofold piece of advice: “First, being a writer is harder and more difficult than you could ever anticipate or imagine. Secondly, it’s worth it.”

On Feb. 26, McComas will be pushing Unplugged in a combination dramatic/musical performance at 7 p.m. at Conkey’s. He will be performing with the recruited talents of LU sophomores Elaine Moran (lead singer) and Scott Palmer (percussionist).

Doesn’t sound like your average book reading? McComas describes the event as “dressing my material up in its nicest suit,” and guarantees that the performance will draw on “everything I learned at Lawrence and elsewhere about writing, performance, and rock ‘n’ roll.