In 1998, I was working in Indianapolis with my buddy and room-mate Ben. It was a paying gig, that's all that needs to be said. Databases were filled with stuff that I doubt anybody has read to this day (the company went belly-up in the dot-com bust and is now defunctified enough to make George Clinton proud).
We were at a bar down in the Broad Ripple area watching a swing band (the Swing Rays) do their swing thing, and it occurred to me that I was watching some people who were good at what they did do what they were good at for a living. An inspiring sight, if you've ever seen it. If you'd like to see such a sight, a Detroit Lions game is not the place to start.
In any event, the Swing Rays seemed to be having a fine time, making the hep cats and chill kittens whirl and spin, and I was struck by the fact that, for all my talk about fancying myself a writer, and for all my buddy Ben's talk about the same, neither of us had taken any steps to become the writing equivalent of the Swing Rays.
The next morning, on my way out the door (we worked different shifts) I told Ben that he needed to look at my computer. I'd left something for him. Five sentences.
"It's a fiction jam," I said. "You go up, choose one of the sentences, discard the rest, and write a page based on your choice. Write whatever comes into your brain. Then I'll write based on what you wrote. Then you. We'll see how long we can keep the jam going, and we'll see which one of us is Trey and which one of us is Mike."
It is 2008. The jam is still going.
Ben chose the sentence about the man who woke up to discover that he'd become a pair of sandals (I think it was a riff on Kafka). I have no idea what novel I'd be writing if he chose one of the other sentences. I wonder what they were, and where they went. Would they know my name, if I saw them in heaven?
We jammed for about 5 pages, and then it fizzled, or so I thought at the time. That original file died with my old computer. Po too wheet?
A year later I was married and Ben was in Los Angeles delivering pizzas. He called me out of the blue and told me he had something for me. It came about a week later, a series of pages clearly modeled on our forgotten 5-page noodle.
I liked what I read, but it made no sense. It was all urgency, no explanation. All question, no answer. All drive, no shaft. All Kool, no Aide. You see?
I did something different, which proved to be the difference. I didn't take what he had written and write after those pages. I wrote around the pages. I filled in little details. I deepened relationships. I took suggestions from dialogue and made them literal. In other words, I took the idea and I played with it, to see what would happen. A true fiction jam. I sent it back.
And that's how it went, until we had forty pages of crazy snarl with my attempt to organize it. At that point, we did the only thing we could do. We went to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. We went to Dollywood. And there, among the porcelain Elvises (Elvi?), we talked about the book for hours and hours and hours and came away with . . . something. Some central ideas. Some forms to build on.
I wrote. Ben wrote. I wrote some more. And some more. And some more. Finally, I stopped, too. I didn't know where to go with it anymore. And Ben was in Ukraine.
The DNA of that forty pages remains. I mentioned earlier that I'd figured out the plot. Now I've structured that plot into story form. The order in which the details, the secrets, the revelations, become clear to the reader. That germ of an idea, which Ben thinks he chose at random (and maybe he even did), is now 89 separate parts, with 29 parts already written or partially written. Almost all the principal writing will be my work, but there is no way to not give Ben an author's credit. And it's only right, anyway. When you get down to the nubs, the big idea is that the universe is a piece of collabarative art.
You may have noticed I'm back at the tables from time to time. You'll see me around as long as I keep on target like my name was Luke Skywalker.
I'm targeting 2009 to complete my first novel worth publishing.
It's called Subject to Infinite Change.