Like his main character, Doran Satterfield, Tris McCall does not at the moment carry a cell phone. He doesn’t really use Facebook, something else Doran would ignore.
There are other similarities between McCall, the Downtown Jersey City journalist and musician, and the 16-year-old who narrates his new book, The Trespassers. But there are more differences, and McCall’s main goal was to sustain the voice of his old-soul teen narrator over the course of a 300-page novel, which he will read from this Saturday, Oct. 6 at 8 p.m. at Tachair Bookshoppe.
The novel is the first for McCall, who is the Star-Ledger’s pop music critic. It is also the first title for the independent New Jersey-based publishing house Schrafft Books, and the first author reading for Tachair, which opened in July.
The Trespassers tells the story of Doran, an apostle of old technology who moves to New Jersey for the summer from a farmhouse in Moore County, North Carolina, and his four friends. Doran, a small and not particularly self-confident guy, stays with his older brother in Edgewater. Two of the main characters work at a Barnes & Noble nearby: Annette, who stocks shelves and runs a register, and Domino, a tall, partially deaf girl who works behind the counter at the cafe and has a certain magnetic pull over all the characters. Doran’s other two friends are Esther, who has a strong interest in old maps and buildings, and her boyfriend, Shane, a big, athletic type who likes to joke around and at times provides comic relief.
McCall wrote The Trespassers in 2006, and says the time that has passed since adds something to the novel. “I’m glad it’s coming out now because the intervening years make it feel more like historical fiction, which is what it should be,” he says.
He chose to base Doran in Edgewater because it had a Barnes & Noble along with new development a stone’s throw from old factories being torn down, but a few chapters take place in Jersey City. Abandoned industrial buildings in northern New Jersey — including Jersey City — are a source of fascination for Doran and his friends, who break in and take photos (using film, not digital cameras, of course).
“People ask me, is it good beach reading?” says McCall. “And I say, if you were in Asbury Park many years ago and there was an abandoned building on the beach, then it would work great as a beach read.”
The fascination with old buildings marks another similarity between Doran and McCall, who in his late 20s explored abandoned buildings with his friends and his girlfriend, Hilary Englert, now an English professor at New Jersey City University. Using a Pentax camera McCall bought her, Englert would take photos inside the buildings and develop the film herself. One of their favorite places was the site of what is now the Liberty Harbor North development, which was near where they lived at the time.
While there’s “nothing autobiographical about the book,” McCall says some of the locations are drawn from memory.
“I think I did get lost in there once or twice,” he says. “There were times when you did feel like you didn’t know your way out and it could be scary. And there were times when you were underground and you didn’t know how you were getting out and you were worried about whether somebody was going to close the door on you, but that was all part of the fun.”
He also enjoyed exploring the Powerhouse Arts District in the ’90s. “111 was there, 110 was there, and there were people in those buildings doing stuff… but it was also desolate,” he says.
McCall documented stories from 111 before its eventual demolition to make way for new development, and the image on the book’s cover is an Ed Fausty photograph of a smokestack of the 111 building juxtaposed with a new building. (It’s also McCall’s Twitter image; a longtime blogger, he does embrace digital publishing and other forms of modern technology.)
Back in the ’90s, McCall says the culture of urban exploration didn’t exist in the same way it does in today’s Internet age. “At the time, we were much like Doran, we had no idea that there could be anyone else who might even be interested in this,” McCall says.
He explains his interest in urban exploration this way: “If somebody puts up a no trespassing sign, anytime you violate that you get excited because it just feels good. It doesn’t feel like there’s any reason why you should obey that sign, and then when you don’t, you feel like you’ve done something, you’ve struck a blow for your own autonomy in a world that keeps telling you what to do.”
New Jersey factors into the book in a major way, and there’s also a romantic element. “I can’t keep that out of the book because to me, that’s the only story worth telling,” he says. “Boy meets girl, or boy meets boy or girl meets girl as the case may be — that’s always the story and everything else is just setting.”
He says he felt a need to publish this book in physical form before it became an ebook, because that’s what his main character would have wanted. He wouldn’t mind if the book he’s working on now, about a Jersey guy who’s in his 20s and “pretty profane,” came out in an electronic format first.
And he’s excited to read and sign books on Saturday at Tachair, a real bookstore, which Doran likely would have approved of too.
“There are actual readers here,” McCall says, “and I hope they’ll like this story, because it’s a real Jersey story. I hope they’ll dig it.”
Tris McCall will read from The Trespassers at Tachair Bookshoppe, 260 Newark Ave., Saturday, Oct. 6 at 8 p.m.
Photo by Jennifer Weiss; book cover courtesy of Tris McCall
a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the The Wall Street Journal, and Agence France-Presse. She is also a former editor for Jersey City Independent.