In and Out the Rabbit Hole, With You

Apr 8, 2020 | 2020 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Michael Guillebeau

Writers spend their lives stepping into rabbit holes. Then we go falling, falling helplessly out of control for years, typing up scenes and chapters that flash by until we reach bottom. I once saw a guy come out of a bar, early in the day, shirt half-buttoned, and wondered if he lived there like a character in a Steely Dan song. In my imagination, I fell into his nightmare. Maybe he sleeps in a broom closet in the back. Fall a little farther. Maybe he has to sober up from time to time to run small scams to pay his bar tab. Maybe one goes bad, he’s caught up in something important and has to save the day to survive and get back to the bar. A year and three hundred pages of falling deeper and deeper into that rabbit hole every day, arms flailing and out of control, I finished my first book, Josh Whoever, and was released, unwillingly, back into the surface world.

Readers are too smart for this. They sidestep the rabbit holes and go on with their lives. Real life moves too fast for them to explore every rabbit hole. Something curious happens in their lives, and, before they can explore it, life has thrown something else at them and they move on. Readers read, in part, because fiction lets them safely fall deeply into someone else’s rabbit hole, getting deeper and deeper into the details of life as a bank robber or a vampire, without having to actually go to jail or sleep in a dirty casket.

Michael Guillebeau

Writers become writers because we love the cracks in life more than we love the surface. Our therapists tell us that we are ruminators (we tell them that we’re deep thinkers with vivid imaginations. Tomato, tomato.)

The book I’m releasing this July, is a different kind of exploration for me. The title character of Don of the Q is a young man who wakes up one day with no idea who he is or what he’s supposed to do. Like Don Quixote of old, he decides that he’s here to do great and good things, no matter what our crazy world says he should do.

I liked this guy immediately, so I followed him down his personal rabbit hole. Some of it felt like working on any other book, trying to build a story by asking— what does this guy do next, what things are funny and fun to read?

But Don gave me an entirely different kind of ruminations, too. If we don’t know that the world around us is normal, like we’ve always been told, what does it really look like? If the voices in our heads that normally tell us what to do are suddenly silent, what do we do? Where do we find the answers?

The short answer, of course, is in our hearts. But the rabbit hole of the human heart is so deep, so twisty and scary that most of the time we just tiptoe around it and try to live by the Reader’s Digest answers that we’ve been given by the world.

My daily work of falling into Don’s personal rabbit hole and asking myself every day what Don’s innocent heart was telling him about the world, brought me face-to-face with my own heart, that scary and sometimes seemingly achingly empty hole in the middle of my body.

It was good for me. I don’t know if Don of the Q is a good book, but it was good for me to write.

As I was finishing Don, a microscopically tiny organism from the other side of the world was pushing our own world into its own gigantic rabbit hole, perhaps the largest one in any of our lives. It is unlike any world we have known. We feel like we are falling helplessly into a dark void with no walls to reach out to, and no guarantee of any bottom. When we listen to our leaders, we know that they no longer have the answers.

So, like my little guy Don, all we have are our own hearts to guide us. Is this a time for kindness, or a time to hoard and protect our own? Do we choose to be guided by scientists, or loudmouths?

And, even if we answer all of these questions today, there will be more questions tomorrow. The world of our near term is not the world we were told about, but it is the world we will have to live in. Like Don, and Don Quixote before him, we will have to decide for ourselves how to be heroes, every day.

Did my little lost boy Don, and my struggles with him, show me anything that might help us in our struggles in this new rabbit hole of ours?


I wanted Don to be quintessentially American, living in a world where he is no longer sure what America is. The voices of his near-term, the ones that told him what to do and what to be, are gone. But the long-forgotten voices that built his heart are still there: the hours of watching good-hearted models like Andy Griffith, listening to the barbaric yawp of rock and roll, the moral fearlessness of the Martin Kings, the wisdom of the Vonneguts and the Bradburys and the Lamotts, and the kindness of random strangers…Those things stay with him, and are him. And us. The more I turned loose and fell, the more I learned about Don’s uniquely American heart, the more I believed that the greatness of America is in the innocent and fearless Dons in each of us.

We are Americans. We have great hearts. We will come through this terrifying new rabbit hole with our hearts strengthened and confident.

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Michael Guillebeau’s book MAD Librarian (Madison Press, 2017) won the Foreword Reviews Gold Medal for Humor Book of the Year. His first novel, Josh Whoever (Gale/Five Star Mysteries, 2013) was named a Debut Mystery of the Month by Library Journal. His next book, Don of the Q: An American Don Quixote for the Atomic Age will be available this July. Guillebeau has published five novels and over twenty-five short stories.


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