August 15, 2008

Shameless Revisionism: Unfinished Fiction #1

When you work from home on Friday, the weekend comes early, and I guess if the weekend comes early, then the shameless revisionism can come early too. This week we've got some good, bad, and ugly unfinished fiction to deal with. I wasn't ever really taught how to do creative writing—by the time I got into the UCSB English major, the department was already dismantling their creative writing emphasis in favor of pure critical analysis, so anything I could have learned academically about fiction or poetry was sort of killed before it grew.

I never had an overwhelming fiction jones anyway, though, so when I did write non-criticism, it was mostly the kind of stuff I've been highlighting in this series: student journalism, self-important band stuff, goofy random crap, etc. About six years ago, however, I tried to convince myself that I could do fiction, and that I could apply to grad school and get in. Hell, writing had always been easy for me, whether or not I was any good at it, so why not, right? Well, when you're desperately bored at dumb office jobs and are still going through that awful "finding yourself" period, all kinds of ideas seem doable, don't they? Me writing fiction was pretty much like that.

So in 2002 I quit my job and submitted two short pieces for UCI and SFSU to consider, and they were both casually rejected. Rightly so, I might add. See, once I started actually reading fiction again, I knew that I'd made a bad, ugly mistake in not keeping up my inspiration and craft that way, and turning in stories based on a loose foundation of gonzo wouldn't cut it in grad school. Might cut it with me, though—I kept the things, and about a year later, while in design school, I started writing again. I tried to make an outline for a novel and go from there, and it was looking promising for about a month before everything crashed and burned for no apparent reason at all.

We are left with the fallout, however, and though there's not much of it, there's enough to compile it into two skimpier-than-usual, anthological blog posts. As always, click on the link for the full post. You get six today, and there will be five more next week (some even related to my first novel).

Resigned to Voyeuristic Amateurism (Aug 8, 2002)
Wow, snappy title, no? Yeah, it's pretty weak, but so is the whole piece in general, and gates are made for stumbling out of, aren't they? For better or worse, this is the first bit of "fiction" I wrote when I was trying to convince myself that it was a viable thing to do. It's actually a kind of Frankenstein monster fusing of older, separate, and unrelated pieces, all worse and not worth reading: an untitled piece, another one called "I Resign," and a third, "You Stalk Like an Amateur." So let's see: naked autobiographical whining, clumsy inner monologue, convoluted construction, and no plot? Well... there's nowhere to go but up, right?

It’s unnaturally cold here at the west end of North America, almost an actual dark day in paradise. Everything is gray and damp and dull, as if November forced its way into the beginning of August, but that won’t stop Santa Barbara from going batshit crazy this weekend. Today begins the annual Old Spanish Days celebration, locally known as Fiesta Weekend, when tourists from Fresno and Lancaster and Riverside will be whooping it up in demented depravity for three days straight. The looming debauchery has already affected productivity—my supervisors are gone for the day and the workload is miniscule anyway. Still, six hours of dealing with bitchy arguments over petty cash reimbursement has dulled my senses, and since this stuff will just be back with a vengeance on Monday, with me likely hung over from a prolonged Fiesta binge, I don’t think any more real work will get done today. I listen for any hints of nearby life, but the front office is pretty quiet, so I subtly take the phone off the hook, moving it just slightly so that it still seems in place, and try not to think about all the meaningful, creative things I haven’t accomplished today while sitting in a cube.
A Festering Epidemic of Island Fever (Dec. 27, 2002)
This is one of the two shorts that I submitted with my grad school applications. It's not as awful as "Resigned," but it's not perfect. It has a little bit of a "U2 at the End of the World" feel to it, I guess, but it is notable for introducing some character names and concepts that I would later resurrect for the Weapon of Young Gods novel, notably the characters of Roy and Colin and Colin's band, the Screaming Mimes. If you compare this plot to the novel, though, this is about six years later, when the Mimes are famous enough to get gigs in Hawaii, and Roy's grown up enough to be a journalist.
Taking off from San Diego had been a nightmare, but I calmed down a bit once the plane was in the air. I’d done enough flying during this post 9/11 summer to dull my periodic debilitating bouts of acrophobia, and my geographical geek’s interest in seeing the world spread out below me like a giant map was today’s other key to my immediate sanity. The vision of Southern California retreating over the horizon snapped me out of any lingering fear, and I resolved for the moment to get to the bottom of the feud I knew I sensed was going on among my fellow freaked-out passengers. I hadn’t spoken to Colin Dawson since his patience abruptly dissolved halfway through a particularly awful set by his rock band, the Screaming Mimes, at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood a few days ago. It was supposed to be an industry showcase gig, but the Mimes had been playing terribly for the umpteenth time on this particular tour, and Colin looked like he thought he was the only one who noticed. That sounds ridiculous at first, of course, but no one put it past Colin to be any less self-absorbed than he usually seemed.
Approaching Hannah (Jan. 13, 2003)
"Hannah" is the second of the two short pieces that padded my grad school apps. I rate it a bit below "Island Fever," cause it's mostly just expository narrative, and leaden stuff at that, but I do want to re-work it to fit into the novel at some point. It was also the first germ to begin writing the novel in the first place, set as it is on a morning after a huge SoCal wildfire. The narrator is not named, but I think he could fit the R.J. character from "Young Gods" with a little work; he's cerebral enough, but with that casual hubris of the young. We'll see.
The ash is thinning as we continue down Santiago, but I know the school day will still be strange. Last night’s news said the gym and the mall at school would still be filled with people from Laguna who’d lost their homes to the fire. It was a weird, uncomfortable inconvenience to get around all day yesterday; the press of the buzzing crowd on their way to first period was thick and chaotic, a result of the overnight conversion for the building’s lower floor into a makeshift shelter. The students were confined before class to the upper floor and balcony, from which they peered over butcher-paper activity posters, staring down at the newly-homeless souls below, trying to stay sane among the many white cots strewn with clothing and sleeping children. I doubt it will be much different today; somehow the high school is supposed to throw together a Homecoming football game tonight, and a dance tomorrow, and I’m glad it’s not my problem to be involved in any way.
Disjointed Flashbacks and Cringeworthy Memories (Jun. 21, 2003)
I spent a lot of Summer 2003 on developing a new fiction project independent of anything else I'd done, a sort of OC-noir idea in the style of Bret Easton Ellis (who I was re-reading at the time). Apparently, director Rian Johnson was making his "Brick" movie the same year—it came out in 2006 and I loved it instantly—but back in '03 I had ignorantly assumed I'd had an original idea. Anyway, "Flashbacks" is pretty weak on re-read here; much of it is a run-on, and I think it was supposed to be a faux-Faulkner thing (a la Quentin from "Sound and the Fury") but of course it comes nowhere near there. I was getting more comfortable with the idea of fictionalizing events from my life, though.
Light traffic on Stonehill so I ignored the red light and streaked through the intersection, building up speed so I could take the immediate drop downhill at the highest velocity possible. The iceplant became a green blur to my right and in no time I'd also zipped through the Selva intersection and nearly killed an old man who I could still hear screaming “You belong in the street, goddammit!!” even though I was miles away by the time he finished the sentence and had forgotten it in any case cause traffic was starting to thicken up towards the PCH signal so I slowed as little as possible in order to make the hard right turn but still managed to miss the sidewalk and ended up in the bikepath instead which was ok since it's PCH and I was able to coast on all that leftover speed until the hill rose again after Blue Lantern but I only had to work a little to get up over the curved rise and then the road stretched straight until Niguel so I went north a bit faster...
A Slow Climb to Dangerous Altitudes (Jul. 3, 2003)
It's for the same project, but told by different narrator than "Flashbacks." I wanted to mash together a multiple-narrative thing a la Ellis' "Rules of Attraction," but evidently it proved difficult back then to give each narrator a distinct voice. It's easy to see that I was drawn to using Niguel Hill/Aliso Peak as a setting, though; it's ripe for that—a perfect quiet escape from nasty suburban weirdness.
The view is glorious up here, but I can’t really focus on that too well right now. I pass Cody the joint, saying “we’re probably gonna get busted for even being here, dude,” but he just shrugs. “Better trespassing than a possession rap, Aaron.” I laugh at this and shoot back “That’s your problem,” but Cody’s just as quick. He’s all “Oh, it’s your problem now too, dumbass,” waving what used to be my sixty bucks in front of my face, before taking another toke. He grimaces. “Hmmm, maybe I ripped you off, man. This stuff isn’t that great after all.” I smirk and say “How about I take my money back then, asshole?”
Ominous Thoughts on Crown Valley Parkway (Jul. 5, 2003)
Third of four from the unfinished OC fiction project. This one's actually not too horrible on re-read, though it could still use some work of course. It's a great germ of a scene, and is based on two disconnected events from high school: driving with Crosby in his slow-ass Jeep to South Laguna, and cramming into a tiny bedroom at Brandon's way up on Niguel Road. The narrator here is named Derek, and the other guy is Colin, but the connection to my recent characters of the same names is kind of tenuous. Might be good for some backstory later, though.
I'm in Colin's car on a Saturday evening and he's driving us up PCH to Crown Valley on our way to Jake's, cause J scored some weed from a buddy of his who goes to Santa Margarita. I’d made a stupid mistake and admitted I hadn't done it yet, so the guys were unnaturally keen to see what might happen to me once I inhaled. I have no opinion on the situation yet, but maybe that's because my mind's elsewhere already; Colin told me this afternoon that Alicia Montero would be coming tonight too (maybe her regular cheap weekend laugh fix took a rain check) and she'd be bringing all her hot friends and they'd undoubtedly become sickened or giddy at the sight of me high. Stoned. Fried. Completely Wasted. Utterly, pathetically debilitated. It's getting tougher by the second to forget images of the different ways these gorgeous girls will involuntarily twist and disfigure their own pretty faces once I attain the expected state of idiocy. I could be overreacting, but there's no way to be sure.
Okay sports fans, that's it for now, but tune in next week for more half-baked fiction, as the Summer of Shameless Revisionism draws to a close. Hopefully I won't be so laggy on the novel after that. Thanks for enduring it all.

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