July 03, 2009

Shameless Revisionism: The Weapon of Young Gods (2008-2009)

Well, it's that time again—but at least it's the last time. That's right, ye olde Shameless Revisionism series will be bowing out just as summer truly heats up, but maybe we'll go out with a bang here. So, like I said last week, I'm gonna try to slice and dice the "Weapon of Young Gods" novel into tasty little bits, despite the fact that it's a clumsy first draft and I really should be editing the bastard. Maybe this will help that, though.

The short version of "how the novel came to be" is that Honey White had stopped for a bit (and I hadn't been writing many lyrics), so I needed a project to take up my time that I could do solo. I'm a good writer, but had tried and failed to write fiction before (even getting denied from UCI), and while there were lots of previous inspirations to do so, the final straw was a film called "Brick" from 2006. It was a nice love letter to sunshine noir and South OC, so I thought "hell, I can do that."

And then I did, for better or worse (and even wrote some music to go with it). Since there are 48 posts/chapters, I divvied them up equally and dispatched each with a single sentence or phrase. Yeah, how ya like that for economy? The quotes that usually come with each entry are, this time, picks from one of each group of six. Higher math, sure, but I did it. Since I've written quite a bit about the book before, and since we're going live to the planet tonight, let's just get to it and see if this shit works. Click on a post title to see the whole thing.

Chapters 1-6
The Disagreeable Ones 1.27.08
The Precipice 1.27.08
Immobilized At Dawn 1.28.08
Vanishing Points 1.29.08
Scrambled Shame 1.29.08
Last Train Leaving The Abyss 2.9.08

I'd already written a few short snippets of stuff for this story, but the real meat didn't come until the end of 2007, when I blasted out these six chapter drafts and decided to blog them early in 2008. Basically, they are excuses to tell the skeleton-nightmare story and subsequent morning after hangover (1, 3, and 5 from Roy's point of view), and an excuse to unearth/invert a bad Chico road trip story (2, 4, and 6 from the 2nd narrator, named Derek). Not so auspicious a beginning, really, but I did have a good opening line (here in the quote from Chapter 1):

When I was younger I was still insane. I know that now, but didn't realize it then because I was afraid of everything and couldn’t think straight. The bad dreams began when I was ten, and within days became full-blown terrors that left me hopelessly overwhelmed by fear whenever I slept. I dissolved into a trembling skid-mark of paranoia every night, petrified by the vampires on the roof or ghosts over my shoulder or zombies waiting for me outside the window. I taught myself to lie as flat on the bed as I could, so that if the werewolves showed up they wouldn't see me, and might leave my house alone for once.
Chapters 7-12
Crippling Nostalgia 2.9.08
Your Time Is Not Your Own 2.10.08
Jeopardy On Crack 2.11.08
It's Quiet Up Here 2.16.08
The Morbid Frieze 2.18.08
Tourniquets 2.19.08

Output was still going strong for the next six chapters (Feb. '08 was a good month), but other than the continuing character narratives from Roy & Derek (party scenes and ghost stories in Ch. 8-11) the interesting part here was trying to write from a female perspective—their girlfriends—in Ch. 7 and 12. I probably didn't really pull it off, but whatever. Here's a bit from one of them (Lisa) in Ch. 12:
I'm sitting in Harbor House waiting for Justin when the pain comes back. I squirm and shift my weight in the little booth near the door as the dull ache enveloping everything below my navel gets sharp and angular. Over at the other end of the diner the waitresses clink silverware and yell at the cooks as they get ready for the dinner rush. They haven't been over to check on me in ten minutes, but that's because I said I was expecting someone. Expecting someone, sure. Well I was, but now I'm expecting someone else. That should be funny, but it's not.
Chapters 13-18
Fending Off Implosion 2.21.08
Concussions 2.29.08
Circle Of Envy 3.1.08
Treating The Symptoms 3.29.08
Sounds Like Screaming Mimes 4.4.08
Gauchoholica Uber Alles! 4.7.08

Production got a little slower, but was still pretty steady by the time I got through the next six. They basically were excuses to tell a bad breakup story (13), relive old soccer stories (14), indulge in UCSB dorm nostalgia (15), get slightly surreal (16), resurrect the IVBC venue (17), and highjack the infamous Del Playa skinny-dipping story (18). Also introduced another new narrator, Colin, for Ch. 18:
Neena has been talking up a storm, going on for a while now about politics, religion, life, death, and the universe, but I can't really keep up with her, since the alcohol's sort of slowed every reflex I have. Except, so far, the impulse that keeps me from looking completely stupid, but I'm not so sure how long that one can hold out either, mostly because of her weirdly hypnotic eyes. She has no pupils; her eyes are simply two enormous black orbs in the middle of a dark-chocolate face unframed by the luscious blue-black tresses currently held back in a ponytail. I'm trying to imagine what she'd look like with it all let down when she starts in on the massive curfew we're all currently violating with extreme prejudice.
Chapters 19-24
Narcoleptic Blues 4.16.08
Fragile Equilibrium 4.27.08
Backwards Fear 4.29.08
Accidental Recon 5.5.08
Salvage Some Dignity 5.17.08
Ruinous Smackdown Fallout 5.26.08

Things got a little tougher here. These chapters from April and May '08 veered in between a wild card, failed 2nd-person narrative from the detective character (23), more half-true dorm revisionism from Roy (19 and 21) and some indulgent Dana Point-isms from Derek (20, 22—excerpted below—and 24).
Roy lives just a few streets away from me, across the park, but after I drop him off, my headache dials down to a mellow hum, and since it’s not that late, I don't feel like going home yet. The scenery change I was looking for when I left UCSB earlier today has already degenerated in my mind to an endurance test comprising my depressed mom and annoying little sister, so I drive down Santiago, making my way out of the old neighborhood, passing my house and others identical in form and function. Twenty years has aged some of them gracefully, but most are not flattered by the passage of time. When I get to Caracas I go left, opposite from where Colin's old house is when his family still lived here in SoCal. He wouldn't recognize it now, rendered gargantuan with new additions, so I don't bother glancing that way as I go, exposed to the intersection’s blind turn. It’s safe, but I can sense the fog filtering in as the night ferments in that unique suburban stillness.
Chapters 25-30
Electric Hubris 5.28.08
Shatter The Surrounding Splendor 6.10.08
Starting Fires 6.13.08
Immortals On the Loose 6.23.08
The Vortex of Angst 7.18.08
The Bait and The Switch 8.2.08

For these six, Roy's narrative got easier—relying on a high school band gig (25, excerpted below), an exegesis on the one that got away (27), and the (again) infamous story of the bony ass through the Volvo window (29). Derek's, however, got difficult—the buildup and release of a violent episode in Capo Beach (26, 28, 30) was kind of tough to negotiate, and the villains I ginned up don't really seem like people.
"Yeah!! Yeah, it's like that, baby!" Alan's voice rang with defiant glee through the ragged PA speakers as we bashed out the last notes of "Eat Shit And Die" from the center stage of my old high school's main hall. Our frontmanly singer-guitarist's enthusiasm was met with scattered applause and semi-comprehension from the inert mob of teenagers below, who seemed to wonder why their lunch hour was being interrupted by an assault of Old Dead Sixties Music. Alan sensed that his precious span of glory was almost over, and he wasn't gonna go without a fight. Neither were the rest of the Blue Monkeynuts. R.J. and Alan had whipped us into well-rehearsed shape over the past few weeks, and I'd learned all the covers they'd chosen as well as teaching them "Narcoleptic Blues," which I'd finished in an intense three-hour fit of inspiration in Frankie's room while she slept. The gig had begun a little shakily, but I soon fell into lockstep with Mike, the drummer, and we'd given R.J. and Alan a nice fat backdrop to raise hell for the past thirty minutes.
Chapters 31-36
Artificial Archaeology 8.3.08
Perverse Psychic Penance 8.7.08
Echoes of the Womb 8.8.08
Thrashing Even Harder 8.19.08
Fitful Mind Games 9.2.08
Leave the Rest in Ruins 10.1.08

The endurance test began somewhere around this point for me, as a writer. It was once again a trade-off between Roy and Derek narratives; the former started strong with mystery hint-dropping (31) and my womb-reverb theory (33, excerpted below), but the second nightmare sequence from Ch. 35 was really hard. Derek's stuff also seemed to deteriorate from the interesting freeway bit (32) to increasingly incoherent and unraveling party reporting (34 and 36).
As we listened to the porous wall of voices, my ears spilled over with the natural reverb of the huge surrounding space, and I thought of how much fun it would be to record the band in a place like this, to capitalize on the organic acoustics and tape the perfect vocal take or the best guitar lick, drenched in buckets of sound. The warmth of it all, and the woozy contented bliss stealing over everyone who heard it, suddenly made me realize why the sound of reverberation appealed to the human brain—it must be an echo of the womb. It had to be a vestigal memory from all of our unborn, gill-like ears, when the sounds of the outside world filtered in through liquid distortion and nurturing comfort. I savored my momentary lapse into lucid genius with the lack of humility appropriate for such a venue.
Chapters 37-42
Frantic Improv 10.3.08
Crushing Heads 11.11.08
Frayed Strands 11.17.08
This Won't Hurt a Bit 12.27.08
Open-Heart Surgery 12.31.08
Don't Carry Dead Weight 1.14.09

These six were just as hard to finish as the previous six, but thankfully not worse. I'd outlined the whole plot before beginning the story, but fleshing out the details was proving increasingly tough. The pattern was similar—Roy's bits were easier: the Fullerton trip (37), the Strands setting (39, light-years from its first incarnation as my initial stab at fiction), and another freeway meltdown (41)—and Derek's were hard (the violent climax in 38 and 40, the latter excerpted). A token narrative from one of the villains, Chris in 42, couldn't seem to rescue the downward spiral.
Some lucky souls get to remember their dreams, but I've never been one of those people. Never recalled any profound truths from random subconscious netherworlds. Never thought that much mattered, though, cause I've definitely dealt with some weird hallucinatory shit—usually caused by either controlled substances or some deliriously painful physical injury. So yeah, an absolutely skewed frame of reference is attempting to run in response to what's up right now, cause it sure as hell isn't a dream when I get yanked into lucidity by two pairs of dirty hands. It's pretty fucking real when I'm wrenched out of the Civic and dumped onto a cracked and ugly part of the Earth's face that looks an awful lot like an Irvine office park. My flickering field of vision stretches and shrinks with impunity, but everything hurts too much to be a dream.
Chapters 43-48
The Weapon and the Witness 1.19.09
Radioactive Decay 2.21.09
Demasiadas Revelaciones 3.27.09
Approaching Armageddon 4.28.09
Stubborn Fits of Piety 5.31.09
They Always Run 6.14.08

Wrapping up the final chapters was a real slog, no bones about it—especially because I had three new narrators this time (Frankie in 44, Olivia in 45, and R.J. in 46, excerpted below). By this time I was only able to squeeze out one a month, prolonging the inevitable crash and burn of my story into a vague and disorganized mess. It was a wreck, but at least it was finished, to a certain degree.
I wake up late the morning after Olivia's party, and am almost immediately hit with the full force of approaching armageddon. Worrying about Roy all night had kept me conscious until an absolutely satanic hour, and now after lurching through the bathroom-kitchen-closet routine at a sloppy pace, I blearily step into the end of the world when leaving for school. The air is thick and dry with smoke when I walk out the door, making me hack and spit involuntarily—but in between fits I look west toward the source and shudder. A massive ash cloud is blacking out Aliso Peak, slowly descending from what looks like somewhere in Laguna, blanketing all points east in fine flakes of carbonized snow. Trees, cars, sidewalks, streetlights, signs, and cheap Halloween decorations stand silent, all looking like they need to be dusted. It’s almost peaceful, until I realize that's what's left of someone's home on the Volvo. Their house on our car.
Whew. Well, that's it for the 2009 Summer of Shameless Revisionism, gang. I have no idea when this book will truly be "finished"—there's still lots of editing and a little rewriting left to do. Even then, self-publishing is probably the best-case scenario. I have so little interest in fighting the War to Make People Care—and the song lyrics are starting to come back. Anyway, thanks for enduring this year's sustained run of egomania. Undoubtedly it will again rear its hideous head in the future.

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