I wrote this introspective little gem a little while ago at a time when the writing was flowing smoothly, my book was just published and I felt on top of the world. Then I found myself eventually collapsing into worries over problems, some of them personal some of them worldly, and eventually the grasp on my panache slipped a little and a finger of uncertainty slipped in. That finger poked and prodded until it opened up a hole which sucked my creative thoughts and trajectory from my brain. I thought it wouldn’t effect me because of my strength, but I devolved into artistic truancy and emotional malaise.
I saw my life for the first time without success and I wondered if it would ever be possible. In fact I even began to fear it, because it would mean I would have to continue and for the first time in my life I couldn’t visualize the story in my head. How can you write other books if you’re bored when you sit down to write? I would be a manager for the rest of my life. I could proceed and I could make decent money at it, but I would be a manager. My traveling would be limited, devoid of scheduling flexibility and every woman I would meet would hate my dedication portrayed through long hours. I saw the road leading down that hill towards the setting sun and I stopped and took a deep breath. The easy road, the one that led down and towards the beautiful sunset was appealing, but then I turned and saw up the mountain and realized that I have not yet proved that I could do it. So I sat down at the computer and I vomited on the keyboard (metaphorically), then I sat down the next day and did it again, and again. Eventually visualization of people and locations materialized and my vocabulary began to return and my heart relaxed. It’s 12:31AM…
The anachronism that is my writing life
It’s 2:44AM. My cat is lying asleep in bed and I’m sitting in front of my computer, my dyspepsia blaring and my eyes blurring. I gaze past the empty Coke cans, from my artist’s model hand to my book of Twilight Zone stories (lit only by the soft glow of the monitor) and wonder what I’m doing. Why am I awake? Why did I drink that Coke at 2:00AM? Why cant I slow my mind down and just relax? Why do I force this on myself?
In my day job I manage a bookstore. I have 45 employees and I’m a corporate whore. My daytime language is all business parlance. Learning Plans. Store Manager Action Plans. Business Acumen. Performance Management. I stride through the store giving my direct reports thier priorities for the day. I look at the employees and I contemplate thier personalities and thier strengths and I fit them into little boxes on my succession map.
When I’m home and alone, I’m in front of the computer creating lives. Specific personality attributes collide in my head and I see a character. I see them in a snapshot or a Polaroid, if you please. I see men and women as they are, without thier protective shells. I hear thier voices and read thier thoughts. There’s a man sitting in a room. The room is dark and he’s alone. There is a small crease in his brow, indicating consternation. The room is spartan with only one book lying on the floor behind the simple wooden chair he’s sitting in. That book is “The Bell Jar.” Do you know what he’s thinking? That’s the greatest part about writing. You can layer on infinite articles or events and you’re the only one who knows what’s happening.
So why do I deal with Corporate Initiatives, Selling Culture and SMART Goals while burning my nights in front of the computer in a portentious insomniatic glaze? I love the romanticism of it. The glorification of the struggling artist. My office is covered in books, tomes of introspection, entertainment and knowledge and as I look around I feel both solace and restlessness. I want more. I want to know more. I want people to know that if you need to know something Sean’s the one to ask. When people think of me I want them to think of me as a writer erudite enough to facilitate that other life. So why do I push myself to odd hours and split my attentions to the point where I’m spead thin, when I can imagine other people and every possible outcome of their situation? The answer is; I cant help myself. My brain wont stop. When a new challange presents itself I have to take it, just to prove to myself that I can do it (and maybe everyone else in the process). I’m going to make it. I’m going to facilitate my desires. I can adapt and succeed on my own terms and I can live the American Dream.
I have previously stated that every story in this blog (thus far) is in my first book “A View of the Edge of the World” and before moving on to new and differing subjects I’d like to talk a little about the book’s genesis and in the process talk about my theories of writing and how it pertains to personality and life.
Ok, first things first. I want to spend a little time going over the chronology of the stories and display which stories I’m proud of and which stories I thought were just “good enough” to get placement in the book. The range and timeline is broad and in my opinion as a reader you can see the evolution of the writing, however much editing took place (and to all you aspiring writers, be prepared to edit more of your precious work than you’d ever thought possible).
The first story written in the collection was “The Dream.’ I wrote this as a high school senior and it was the first story I was really proud of. It’s been augmented some, but the ethereal element is still there and of course, the plague of all young (or inexperienced) writers…the twist ending.
The second story was “Purgatory” and was written when I was a freshman in College. People seem to love the story (in fact it was made into a short movie by Roman Scott who also asked me to expand it into a feature film called “Denmark” which was made but never released) but every time I go to read the thing I cringe at the writing. I’m still searching for my voice, but here it was just sloppy exposition because the plot was screaming to be told.
The third story was “Another Ace in the Hole” This was during the third year of college and it was something that I was working on in between classes. I wanted to write a story that would encompass what my concept of my own personality was at the time and what it was becoming. I was and am a late bloomer in almost every category and it was just about here that I started to feel the need to begin to write full time, to stop relying on, and reliving past successes and focus on the present and how that would shape my future. This was also the first story which started to venture out of the safe and comfortable work of horror.
The fourth was “Deja Vu” I wrote this right after “Another Ace in the Hole” during the summer between my third and fourth years at college. This was supposed to be the first story in a group of stories which told the overlaying tale of Tamskinelli park, a brain child of Ben Lilly’s and mine. However this, for some reason never took off. Maybe it was the booze.
The fifth story was “Final Punch” and was written for a creative writing class my senior year in college. I generally disliked the writing classes in College because they were filled with pompous wannabe literati who viewed genre fiction as childish and a waste of time (This was not EVERYONE mind you, just most of them). So I put my head down and wrote from memory, purposefully trying to catch one of these douche bags , which I did. (“something like this could never happen. Teenagers dont drink under bridge and box!” “Actually this story is autobiographical, for the most part, so you theory is invalidated because I did these things!”)
Then I graduated from college and had no idea how to get into the publishing world. I had a bevy of really horrible writing and a desire to continue, but at a loss for how to continue. Would this be a life choice? or would it always be something that I did on my off time.
“The Barnburner” came next. It’s really a horrible story. It’s actually not a story at all but a character sketch. Not just that but a character sketch I threw away (This was supposed to be Stephen, the main character for a novel in progress called “Dark”). Why did I keep it and actually put it in my book you ask? Why, because there are little snippets here and there in the story which proved that i could actually do it. I could write and get published. Just look at those four passages! This story was a turning point. I pursued writing because with this story I saw that it was possible.
The next one was Call “Dark Secret.” In my opinion it’s the creepiest of the stories in the bunch and it just came to me. I wrote it in two days and this one took the second fewest rewrites. I like this one a lot.
The next was “We Proud, We Few.” I was working on “Dark” at the time, organizing and getting the story line together (actually “Dark” started the process of my new writing style. The outline. Something that I never thought that I could do, but I now see as being invaluable. Late Bloomer remember?) and I decided to write a little something which would introduce the world. It’s not the best writing in the world, but I enjoyed it so it got it’s placement.
Then came probably my favorite story in the bunch. There are still glimpses of bad writing, but they are few and far in between. “Carol-Ann and the Nothing Man” was my first real foray into the regular fiction world; heavily influenced by John Irving I wanted to tell a story of two fully functional people, but one who was so drawn in on himself that his name would never be mentioned and another who soared so high her name would be almost lyrical. I wanted to show the fragility of life and the need to grasp it. Something I was feeling very strongly because I was just promoted and I had just gotten the book deal.
“The Hypothesis” had been on the back burner for a long time. I’m fascinated by cosmology and physics and I wanted to write a story which would encompass one of my favorite TV shows (The Twilight Zone) with modern scientific thought. Though there are a few facts which are far fetched and a few which are just plain wrong, I had a blast writing this one. This was also the first short story which I wrote using an outline.
Then there was “The Sniper.” This is probably my second favorite of the stories in the book. I love the scenes between Sven and Rodger. They drive the crap out that story.
The last was “All Night Diner” and though I was writing both “The Sniper” and “The Hypothesis” at the same time as this, this one was a bitch to get out. I came across the first obstacle of writing by outline, the fact that sometimes I was forcing the story than letting it flow. This story is filled with way to much telling the reader what is going on rather than showing the reader. All that aside, it’s still a fun story.
After all was said and done I sent the book off to my publisher and the edits ensued. I edited them all myself before I sent them off (My process is write first draft, then read it and fix bad grammar, while assessing the story and fixing any continuity and plot errors the second way around. Then go back through and edit for readibility. Rewording and sometimes eliminating entire paragraphs if they are superfluous to the plot. Then one last edit for grammar’s sake.) and then they came back with some more major edits. Then a second edit by the editor, then finally a proofread before sending ti to the presses. After reading them all that many times (especially the ones I wasn’t particularly proud of) I couldn’t wait to put the damn thing behind me. I never wanted to see any of these stories again, and posting them here sometimes was painful, but it was cathartic in a way. Thomas Pynchon’s first book was a group of novellas which he entitled “Slow Learner” The reference wasn’t one of the story lines, but of how he was slow to develop his craft. I feel ya Thomas, from one slow learner to the other, I feel ya.
At least I can move forward with some other things which’re bouncing in my head!