Monday, September 22, 2008

Resurface

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.

10 comments:

muhctim said...

May the farce (continue to) be with you!!

Anonymous said...

Dude,

Just wondering if it is a small world today. I worked at a defunct dot.com type of place in Indy that had two shifts. Publishing company? Located right next to I-465 on the west side? Three story building? HWS?

Julius_Goat said...

Dude. It is a small world today. H to the W to the em-effing S.

But I never worked with an "Annonymous." Who is you, sir? Who is you?

SilverVW said...

OK Goat,

I know you like to have fun, I do too. We could be pulling a major bluff on each other. We need to verify info about this 'wonderful' company so we can see if it is, a small world after all. I don't have messenger at work. Some BS about lost productivity (and I finally remembered my password to my identity).

Julius_Goat said...

Well, you aren't bluffing me unless you are stalking me. You have been too detailed. McGillvery's was down the road just a half mile. Is that good enough? How about if I mention that the proofreaders used purple pens for some reason?

Hmmm, is there a single word I can use to convince you?

If there was, I guess that word would have to be "unit".

If there was a second word, I guess that word would be "DataWise".

I think I have convinced you.

And now you have to guess which of your former colleagues I am, and I get to guess who the hell you are. And everybody else reading these comments can yawn and go back to surfing NSFW pictures.

Julius_Goat said...

Correction, that's DataHost, not DataWise.

It's been awhile

SilverVW said...

Holy cow, it is a small world. The proofreaders did use purple pens! And I know they enjoyed sitting in the stairwell for a few months.

Were you a proofer or a Tech. Writer? I was a Tech Writer. Started there in 96 and left in 98 when the ship started taking on water.

And for the NSFW crowd, there was a cutie that worked there with long brown hair and she like wearing it in pigtails. I nailed her in the paper storage room on the 2nd floor.

Julius_Goat said...

Well, Silver, my IM is on my Blogger ID if you have questions

Iak said...

Points of order My Dear Goat, from a guy who truly finds something kindred in your voice.

It should have been "stay" not "keep" and you know it. Pfffft.

Secondly, althoug I agree you're a cutie, I was surprised to learn you liked to wear your long brown hair in pigtails back in the day. The moustache is a much better look.

I liked your novel title so much I actually grimaced at the cleverness. Looking forward to hearing/reading more on it.

Julius_Goat said...

Iak,

Thanks for the very kind words. Also for joining with Astin to fact-check my increasingly spotty pop culture references. "Keep on target, wtf? Did I have a brain tumor for breakfast?

The pigtails were a wig.

If you are interested, find my Yahoo IM in my profile and drop me a line -- I am sending the first 20 pages to anybody is interested.

So, you know, if you are interested, there it is.