Notes on a Novel Only Just Begun

The general premise of the book is obvious: living through the pandemic and watching the routines of everyday life dissolve away. Our main character, Davis, considers the lack of achievement in his life and then approaching death.

Davis sits on his fire escape every night and listens to the sounds of the city. One specific sound emerges: the communal humming of the buildings. He realizes that his mind has been cluttered and starts to dig into the more essential question of the meaning of this sound. He listens to it intently.

The sound is constant, but Davis realizes that he is not, that the sound swells and fades as does his interest. His mind drifts to other things. He tries to devote himself to the sound. He begins to understand that the sound asks that we do nothing but listen to it. The only thing needed is to listen to the note. His confidence in his understanding of this grows and grows until he realizes that he is now thinking about that – his confidence – and not the sound.

He then understands that he doesn’t understand. He cannot understand. He understands that to listen to that sound, to understand that sound is an impossibility.

Anyway, that’s the general premise. The book needs more of an arc and a whole bunch of interesting characters. And the real trick is to keep the tale sharp and witty! Lots of existential jokes and sex bits too.

My Small Quest for Immortality

In Until the End of Time, Brian Greene states that our only possibility of eternal life is through The creative mind, able to roam freely through imagined worlds, exploring the immortal, meandering through eternity, and meditating on why we might seek or disdain or fear endless time. (380)

God knows that I have striven for immortality in my writing. (I might even settle on one published work!) I have rummaged through my head and flailed away with anything I could find. My family’s distant interest in me has been a source of bitter inspiration. My father’s certitude of always doing the right thing has been a touchstone and albatross. I have pissed off many a person with my righteous thoughts. My terror of the darkness and deep waters has held me back as has my reticence and distrust of people.

I have channeled much of this into Dee Sinclair, a 30-something former sex worker who owns an exotic pet and who appears in four of my books, including My Bad Side and The Cx Trilogy.

Her mother was dead. Her sister was dead. Nani was dead. Everyone was gone. And she was alone. That was how she was used to it being. Alone. She just wanted this corner, Apollo with her, just Apollo, a place she could pull her knees into her chest and be quiet. That’s all she wanted. (Anori)

I deeply admire Dee for her courage and singular focus, for her intense devotion and fury, for her willingness to carry on, knowing that life is only there to disappoint. I desperately need to get her out into the world, to have her thoughts published, so that an audience might understand and care. She must be heard. She is my one and true child.

Covid Days: The Hardware Store

I just needed a couple of keys cut, but these guys needed everything. I couldn’t tell if they were drunk, on heavy meds or just done with the whole Covid Thing. They had masks on, although the older guy’s mask barely hung over his disheveled beard while his younger companion pulled his mask down every time he talked. That’s a weird pattern of many people during these trying times. Makes you think they don’t understand what the purpose of the mask is in the first place.

Anyway, drunk, drugged or just weirded out by the Covid days, neither of these guys used an inside voice nor seemed to care about the others in the store.

“I need a chair!” The older guy half yelled, almost like he was in pain. “I got to sit down.”

His companion, maybe in his early 30’s, pulled his mask down and went up to cashier. “I need a chair.”

She frowned. “You need what?”

“You know, one of those folding chairs, for camping. A chair.”

The older guy sat down heavily on the stairs. “I don’t need to buy a chair! I just need to sit!”

“Oh, okay.” The companion wheeled back and forth. “We don’t need a chair then.”

“I need a lock!” The older guy slumped forward, his hoodie cloaking much of his face, an exhausted Obi Wan Kenobi. “Come on!”

“What kind of a lock?”

“You know! A lock!”

“Okay.” He turned back to the cashier. “We need a lock.”

“What kind of lock?” She asked nervously.

“What kind of a lock do you need?” The companion asked the older guy.

“When I get home, I need to lock my stuff up so no one can get in, right?”

“He needs a lock.”

“Do you mean the cylinder?” The woman asked.

The companion looked back. “Do you mean the cylinder?”

“I need the damn lock, man! Get me the best one!”

“The best one you have, all right?” He repeated to the cashier.

The cashier wandered off, unsure of what to do, while another cashier came available for me. I gave him my keys. “Three copies of each, please.”

The other cashier returned. “What kind of lock do you need?”

“I need a damn lock to keep people from taking my stuff, man!” The old man was really yelling now. “Like you have when you come home? I need that!”

“We don’t have that. I’m sorry.”

The younger guy didn’t seem to care about any of it, like it was all a long and winding game. “They don’t have it.”

“What about a pressure cooker? They got that?”

He turned to the cashier. “Do you have a pressure cooker?”

“They don’t have it.”

“Pots and pans. I need pots and pans!”

“Okay.” The young guy was smiling crazily, like he unsure of where he was and what this was all about. “Do you have any pots and pans?”

“I’m sorry.”

My keys were cut. “Thank you.”

“Soups! You got any kind of soups? Jiffy Pop! I need that.” It didn’t look like they were going anywhere soon.

Reverence for Novelist Notes

Like most writers, I make a lot of notes.

Notes for science fiction aspects in Anori. (2009)

Most of my notes focus on the background of the story, derived from research, conjecture and reflection. They help me sort out my thoughts, especially in relation to the setting and tone of the book.

Notes for novel, All In (1998)

I write on anything I can find and then transcribe the relevant material to my computer when I get back home.

Notes for novel, The Sacred Whore (1987)

However I rarely, if ever, throw out my notes. I like them too much. My affinity is great as to be a misguided reverence, as if I believe they might be needed one day by researchers and archivists for the McPhedran Research Institute.

That or I’m just like my mother, who never threw anything out, including my letters home when I was nine years old at camp.

Letter home from Hurontario (1973)

Editing Mantra: Don’t Muddle with Drivel!

The story has to be simple. That’s all there is to it. Kill all extraneous characters. Kill all unnecessary settings. Kill all musings. All of them. Kill them all, Kurtz! Get to the point. What is the bloody message? Stick to that and only that. Don’t muddle with drivel! Nobody cares. That’s the only mantra of the edit. And so Uncle Ralph is gone. He does not exist anymore in this book. The Dakota Roadhouse has been trashed too.

The trip down the west coast has been dumped. No visit to the Devil’s Churn. No game at Dodger Stadium and no climactic scene at the porn house up in the Hollywood Hills, as good as I might have dreamed it was.

Onward to Greenland.

Killing Babies: The Hell of Editing

The thing that I love about this scene from Anori is the senseless of it. Dee takes Apollo out for a walk in Lower Manhattan three days after a hurricane has ground the city to a halt and is stopped by a lone police officer for not having her exotic animal license; she is arrested and Apollo impounded.

The problem with the scene is that not only does it not help develop Dee, but it doesn’t move the story forward. And at page 10, that is a major issue. And so her release from custody, another baby of mine, is dumped too.

It is almost painful to have to kill a scene. Actually it is painful. It’s a damn shame. I mean, to have made something that works so well, and then to kill it? What a complete waste. That’s how it seems. And the book is the thing.

First Page Hell: Writing “Anori”

It’s one thing to face the blank page. It’s totally another to face a page that has been edited for ten years. A conservative estimate would be thirty versions, with hundreds of edits and switches. And so, yes, the blank page is nothing compared to that.

I began Anori in 2009. It was my leap into the world of speculative fiction, a challenge to myself. The initial first scene – which lasted over the first few drafts – was of a rocket ship launch, establishing theme, tone and perspective. I mean, the story was headed into outer space. So here we go. But it didn’t work. There was no hook. And so I moved that scene into a snippet on the television in Dee Sinclair’s living room. The book now begins like this…

The perspective remains distant but it is now Dee’s point of view, revealing an deserted world, a place from which she is clearly removed.

The prose are terse. Hopefully ominous too.

Dee, akin to the police car, is isolated and alone.

Immediately upon entering her world, her pet serval Apollo appears, who is the key to the story. Servals are felines from the African savannah. They are meant to be wild but have been domesticated as exotic pets. Apollo is a rescue animal who Dee spends much of her life with alone.

The story carries on: Dee takes Apollo out before the worst of the storm and meets the mysterious Och. It’s how it all begins. I’m just trying to get past all of this and continue on to page three. Fingers crossed.

The Empty Spaces of “The Invisible Man”

It’s not that good a film. It’s unnecessarily gory, the fight scenes are comical and the jump scares predictable. But Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man film does succeed in one area: the use of empty space.

The justification for all of these shots is that the evil invisible man is probably there watching Elizabeth Moss and hence us, and that’s what works so well, what makes it so creepy. It’s akin to Hitchock’s shower scene in Psycho where the shower, the safest place of all, was made dangerous.

Whannell’s film makes every place dangerous – every room, hallway and corner of anywhere you can go. He might be there watching, ready to fuck with our heads.

Looking To Answer To Someone

I’m looking for someone to answer to, someone who knows what matters most in this life, someone who has unequivocal answers about what I’ve done and said and should do and say next. I had a sense when I was younger that it was an older person, like my mother or father, someone had lived life and knew things. It took me time to figure it out, but I now know that the answers aren’t there.

I scroll through my phone in the evening, go down through the numbers to see who there is to talk to, who I know that might help me to make some sense. There are many friends and family who help for a time, who say the right things and make me laugh. But it eventually runs its course and I am drifting off and thinking of who else there might be.

It might be as Carrie Fisher mused. “All these people we weren’t finished talking to, that we will never be talking to until we see them again someday and pick up where we left off. Or we can talk to them as we go along, like talking to ourselves but so much better.”

Anyway, I just want to know what this so very wise person might think of my script about this guy who makes all of these calls during the pandemic, leaving messages for family and friends, hanging up when someone answers, and then killing himself in the end. It’s a dark comedy. It’s a little funny, right?

Fuck Pedagogy: A First Draft

I’ve begun work on an autobiography on my twenty years in teaching. Here’s a rough version of the opening:

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out who I am. I smoke out of boredom. I don’t want to do anything. I get excited about the dumbest of things. I seek revenge. My first thought after learning someone died, anyone, is that it was good that it wasn’t me. I digitize old pictures. I search through old letters. I reflect. I remember. I think about who I was as a kid. I sure as hell didn’t know who I was then, but I was certain that I would know when I was 19 or 20. And, it’s true, I thought I knew what I was about then, or I certainly acted like I did. The thing is I was just a dumb ass kid who wanted to fuck and be recognized as a great writer.

I’m no more than that now. I separate myself from everyone because I don’t like people. But what do I do when I’m on my own? I think of who I can talk to on the phone. I like being alone but I hate being alone. I’m afraid of nothing, and I’m afraid of everything. I wish this was just clever stuff. But it isn’t. It isn’t clever at all. It’s a spew. I mean, I hate acronyms. They are lazy and dumb – 911, Fidi – I hate them, and then I finally give up and use them and don’t question it anymore. It’s true that I have principles. Or I think that I do. I have a moral code. I just don’t know what that is. I’m not what I want to be. I’m still that stupid kid, thinking I will grow up soon. Even now, I think I know everything. I actually know that I know nothing. But knowing that is knowing everything. I think that I could hold up under torture and know that I wouldn’t last a second.

I really am stupid like that. I judge everyone. I objectify women, young and old. It doesn’t matter. I think that I am better than everyone, and I know I am not. I know that admitting all of this is good but it doesn’t feel like it. It feels like I’ve wasted my life trying to be something I never was. I never could be myself. That’s the thing. I want to find that guy, figure out who the hell he is. One thing I know for sure: I’m no teacher.