Today we're spotlighting Ryan Gattis's novel, Air! Read on for more about Ryan and his novel, plus an excerpt, and giveaway!
Meet Ryan Gattis!
Ryan Gattis is the author of the acclaimed All Involved (Harper Ecco), and Kung Fu High School (Harvest Books), which was acquired for film adaptation by The Weinstein Company. Ryan is a novelist, lecturer at Chapman University, and Creative Director for urban art crew UGLAR.
After 17-year-old Grey witnesses the tragic death of his mother in Colorado, he is shipped off to live with his aunt in inner-city Baltimore, where he struggles to fit in to a new school and community. His new friend Akil introduces him to the enigmatic Kurtis, the leader of a group that uses high-octane sports as a form of social activism. By challenging the police with death-defying stunts and posting videos of them online, Kurtis, Grey, and their group become unlikely heroes in the fight against the prejudice that surrounds them.
As Kurtis takes Grey under his wing, they create a group name, an insignia, and a cause attracting more and more followers as they post videos of their extreme acts. The lines between social activism and criminal behavior blur and their escalating stunts become a rallying point for the underprivileged and disenfranchised around the country, spreading like wildfire across the Internet. How far will Grey and Kurtis go to push their message, and can their friendship withstand their growing notoriety?
Doesn’t feel like I could ever get any farther away from Colorado than at the top of the Transamerica Tower, forty stories above Baltimore. I get a weird thought then, standing that high up, feeling the wind: If I die today, my tombstone will have my end date as 2014, and I’m okay with that. Not even a year after my mother’s.
I’m peering out onto the city from my perch on the corner, looking down on South Charles and Pratt. To my left is the Inner Harbor. The U.S.S. Constitution is sitting there tied to a dock, but I can’t see that far. Seeing it and knowing it are two different things.
I’m still not used to being near the sea. I never told anybody this before, but for me, being in a bay, a port, it’s like being in the mouth of something that’s always looking to chomp down on you, a little like Pinocchio and that whale. Which I guess is just my way of saying I never felt the teeth before. Being grey here is not like being grey back in Colorado Springs. Believe that.
Matter of fact, I never thought about it much until now, but I miss having the mountains on my west at all times. When you come from Colorado, especially the Front Range, that’s your compass. You always know where you are. The mountains are your needle. They always show you West. But here, there’s nothing but flatness. No way to know if I’m going the right direction.
You got to get altitude to see anything and know for sure.
And forty stories up, it’s quieter than you’d think. Sound just doesn’t reach up this high. It has limits. I’ve never really thought so much about that word as I have since I was forced to move here. Before, it wasn’t something I thought much about, I guess. It wasn’t something to challenge and fight with, and get over on. It was just a word.
My hands are shaking now, not like out of control, but like a steady, rhythmic twitch. Feels like I got low-grade electricity going through me. Like I’m plugged in.
It’s colder than I thought it’d be for an April day. The Mount Vernon weather station, about twelve blocks from here, said variable wind speed throughout the evening, with gusts up to fourteen miles per hour, and when we heard that, we were like damn, but oh well.
Fourteen miles per hour might not sound like a lot, but it’s enough to kill us if we catch it wrong. If it blows back off a building and rolls against me, if it swirls, that’s it.
But we’re past committing to do this now. It’s happening. That’s it. No two ways about it, as Aunt Blue would say.
I’m nervous like kids on the first day of school. I guess that’s understandable because I’ve never jumped off a building before, which means the likelihood of me surviving this is low, maybe even nonexistent.
At least, I think, at least I’m not in this alone.
I look across the roof to the corner opposite mine, the one on Pratt and Light Street, and I see Kurtis scramble up onto that ledge.
We’re in this together, sure, but we’re still missing somebody. What do you call the three musketeers when one of them goes to his rest anyway? You can’t call them the two musketeers. Just doesn’t sound right.
Man, you don’t even know how much I wish Akil was out here with us! If this were anything like before, he’d be watching us from below, ready to orchestrate everything by swooping up and rescuing us the second we put our soles on asphalt. We’d be on the backs of bikes in seconds and just rip, man. We’d feel the wind in our faces as our hearts settled down because sixty miles an hour never had nothing on maximum velocity. That’s when it’d sink in what we did.
I miss those times. Kurtis does too even if he’ll never say it.
Tonight’s different, though. There’s no nets. No wires. There’s just what we got strapped to our backs, there’s just what we’re wearing, because this right here is the finale of everything we’ve ever built up. Every point proved. Every idea we ever had.
No more logos now. No flags. No more websites.
No more videos except what’s shot from our heads and from a distance with one of them zoom lenses that looks like the front of a bazooka.
No more anything but this: Sometimes you have to be willing to die to be free.
People that follow us, that actually know what we’re about, they get this isn’t a stunt. They know this is a finale and a rebirth at the same time. They’ll feel it. They know the only reason we’ve done anything since Akil died is to prove something, to say something
important, and this? This is just the exclamation point on all of it, and if it ends up bloody—well, then it ends up bloody.
We wouldn’t be the first dead black and grey men in the history of America. And at least we’d have died for a cause. Our cause.
Five hundred twenty-nine feet of it. That’s only a couple hands shy of fifty-three basketball hoops stacked up end to end.
Through my sneakers I feel the edge of the roof with my toes. I tap it. I feel every muscle in my feet. Every vein. And the electricity is stronger now. I feel it in my shoulders, my cheeks, the tip of my nose.
I look past the convention center, past the elevated concrete walkway that connects it to the hotel across the street, and I think, There’s no way I’m going to make this. No. Way.
And the weird thing is, I’m cool with that. If I end up pizza on the pavement, then that’s what it is.
I’m shivering now. Not because of the cold, though. Because the adrenaline’s worked its way through me, as deep as it’ll go,and now I just need to go. I need to jump or I never will.
So I look to the other corner of the roof, the one pointing to the harbor on Light and Pratt, and I see Kurtis there, perched on that edge too. He’s looking down. Below him, I don’t see individual people, but I see a crowd and cars and bright white TV lights for reporters doing live interviews.
They don’t even know we’re up here. But they will. It’severything we wanted.
“Are you good?” I’m asking Kurtis as I’m looking at him, but the second it’s out of my mouth I realize it’s stupid because I know he can’t hear me. He’s too far away.
And I know he’s not good. Not even close.
I look where he’s looking and see a perimeter getting set out on Pratt from South Charles to Light Street to keep the people back, to keep cars from going through. I imagine the cops licking their chops at catching us, like some cartoon wolves down there. Finally. That’s what they must be thinking. After all the trouble we caused, P.O.S.S.E. really did catch up.
It’s this moment that Kurtis picks to meet my eye. I can’treally tell, but from this distance it looks like he’s frowning a little. He looks scared for the first time I’ve ever seen, so I mouth the words, “You ready?” at him, except I exaggerate so maybe he can see what I mean. I nod my head into it. I put a question mark on the end by putting my hands up.
He gets it.
I see his body sag as he lets all his breath go before nodding, and when he nods, I feel it in my chest like glass breaking insideof me.
Because that means it’s time. And it’s not like some countdown shit. There’s no three- two-one.
It’s just go.
So I don’t even hesitate.
I face the convention center one more time and lean out, spreading my arms behind
me as I step off the edge. Into nothing but air.