Local author’s graphic novel transports us through time

MIDDLEBURY — It’s an experience we all know well: listening to a song and being instantly transported back in time to the first place we heard it.
Well, mentally, at least.
For Middlebury writer Jeremy Holt, the concept of music as time travel was powerful enough for him to make it literal through fiction. In his new graphic novel, “Skip to the End,” Holt explores the phenomenon through the eyes of a former rock star, now-drug addict, for whom “revisiting the past is the only way to move forward.”
“I wanted to explore the ideas of addiction, regret and how to move on from that,” Holt said. This Friday, July 20, from 4-7 p.m., Vermont Book Shop will be hosting a book launch event, featuring Holt himself and cocktails from Stonecutter Sprits.
Holt’s protagonist in “Skip to the End” is Jonny, the ex-bassist for a fictional band based on the ’90s grunge icon Nirvana, whose music has had a major impact on Holt’s own life. Originally, Holt said, he planned to base his protagonist on Kurt Cobain, the Nirvana frontman whose 1994 suicide shook the decade’s musical scene.
“Then I realized that the man, the myth and the legend is just too great — it’s not accessible,” Holt said. “So I decided to pick the bassist.”
“It’s the idea that Jonny has not moved on from this tragedy where his best friend committed suicide, so he’s constantly reliving his glory days in his mind. Then he comes into contact with a guitar that allows him to travel back in time,” Holt said. “It’s him dealing with his sobriety as well as trying to find closure on a really traumatic point in his life. In the process of trying to save his best friend, he learns that time travel doesn’t really work the way he thinks it does.”
On a recent afternoon, Holt flipped through a copy of the new book, published by Insight Comics and printed beautifully on 112 glossy pages. Holt wrote the story and developed the characters, and Alex Diotto, who did the illustrations, is credited as a co-author. While Holt and Diotto had already collaborated on the 2015 graphic novel “Southern Dog,” Holt said the two works differ significantly in style and substance.
“(‘Southern Dog’) is essentially ‘Teen Wolf’ set in the Deep South,” Holt said. It also dealt heavily in issues of identity — a common theme for the Asian-American writer. “Skip to the End,” meanwhile, focuses on suicide and addiction: heretofore foreign topics for Holt.
“This was definitely outside my wheelhouse,” he said. “This was a challenge to write about because I didn’t want to open up the discussion about addiction and not have anyone connect with it.”
To prepare, Holt traveled to Seattle to view what remains of the 1990s grunge scene, and even attended a few Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, to understand the mindset of addiction. “I needed to understand, what is it like for people who just can’t kick a habit that will essentially take your life if you’re not careful?” he said
The book’s reception so far, he said, has validated his efforts in background research.
“The book’s been out about a month now and I’ve been surprised by how many people have written me or asked me questions about addiction on podcast interviews, some of them thinking I had gone through it because of the way I wrote this,” he said. Especially in Vermont, a state touched deeply by the opioid crisis, Holt said that local readers have been showing appreciation.
“One guy wrote me from Manchester and said that he connected with the book. His friend who was staying with him at the time has yet to kick the habit, he forced his friend to read it, and his friend felt very much in Jonny’s shoes,” Holt said. “This guy asked if I could donate two copies to the rehab clinic in his town. To me, that’s the greatest compliment.”

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