SO IF IT WASN'T manifestly obvious before the handles were revealed, I wrote the story that took place mostly in So-Cal. It was a cheap premise, but involved roads and places so fit the requirements. Compared to everyone else, I didn't really take this that seriously. Once I got into math and computers, it seemed like the creative stuff went by the wayside.
I liked this, silly as it was.
Coming up with something for this WFC almost drove me crazy. I had four other "beginnings" prior to the one that I finally went with.
AS FOR THE CRITICS:
- Kellnerin: "About halfway through the third section I was reminded of my fleeting thought of riffing off the 'Kyrie' section in House of Leaves/'Hey Pretty,' and then this story became that. I enjoyed it up until 'Andrea asks if I want to take a ride in her rebuilt 1970 Karmann Ghia convertible.' Not sure if the extended homage made me like the rest of it more or less, but I wish the story had ended before the last line." This was the so-called 'story' (of my various story ideas) that didn't start with an idea, and then, since I had no actual story to tell, I decided to adapt a few things from HoL and specifically the Kyrie section(s) as a guiding structure. But more on that later.
- blixco: "My favorite of the bunch; very tidy and dense." Glad you liked; 'dense' is something I wanted for parts of it, with a shift in syntactic density as the so-called story evolves/devolves.
- ana: "Very nicely done; a whole relationship in 2k and 5 words; dialog without quotations." Or were you thinking of a different story ...?
- Phage: "Just couldn't get into this at all. Probably says more about me than the story." Probably.
- fleece: "okay" Indeed.
- bo: "I agree with Kellnerin about the last line; it feels tacked on. Another concrete-location piece, again California, though not quite the evocation of environment as in "Escape from Redwood City." Yay, got the New Jersey Turnpike included." The NJ Turnpike got included because 256 added it to the WFC "description" and since I didn't feel like writing an entry in the first place, I decided that if I was going to write an entry, it was going to be by the books and have both roads and the NJ Turnpike. I almost added a motorcycle as protagonist.
- toxicfur: "This is a dense story, and I had trouble focusing on it all the way through. That may, in part, be due to whiskey and sleep depravation. I do like the notion of a road of selves, and the slipperiness of identity. I also think that when I'm awake and alert, I'm going to like this story more than I do right now." No, you probably won't.
- Scrymarch: "This seems like an anti-Cheers anti-sitcom ending in an anti-road trip. (Trying to imagine Ten crying out with grudging affection: "Lens!". Actually it kind of works.) Also wonder if I'm missing a structural joke about people walking into a bar." You missed nothing; Cheers wasn't intended ... though I guess I could rewrite/edit it and add someone named Norm. It probably would be an improvement.
SO LET ME TALK about the "process" of this, of how it came about, etc.
When 256 first announced the WFC my thoughts were 1) "well, it's about time," 2) "er, grrr, roads?" and 3) "hey, I've got an idea or two now!" And then the deadline was altered, the upload site had "issues," real life™ intervened (such a harsh mistress—no wonder ni likes her), and so on. I had written notes and beginnings for several short stories to fit the topic; one day walking home from campus I passed an old VW van and knew I wanted to write a three-part story about running away from home as a child, rebuilding cars as a teen to earn money for a trip that never materialized, and a final "adult" stage based on that VW van.
I didn't write it.
As is always the case with the WFCs, I write right before the deadline—I usually need several hours, though one or two sufficed for WFC2, my first—and so with the ever-rescheduled-deadline(s) I kept putting off my last-minute writing.
When the WFC was first announced I'd just read Kelly Link's story "Magic for Beginners" (in the anthology of the same name—excellent, read it, etc.), and while only a part of that story is "on the road," the part that is is the/a near-perfect "road story." In other words, that story gave me other ideas.
And as with other WFCs I decided to avoid many of the "obvious" road stories; I figured that 1) they'd "been done" (since they were obvious) and 2) plenty of folks would enter the WFC and write variations on those themes.
That didn't happen. There were very few entries, and very few of the standard stories were (re)told. There was no boy and his dog. No Journey of Natty Gann. No traveling circuses. No road warriors or psychotic/possessed cars. Where was our generation's Christine in the form of a rabid motorcycle?
On some lost highway.
I figured that somebody would quote and (ab)use Frost, and so I originally had no intent of butchering the poem myself.
Finally the deadline for the WFC approached (even though after I uploaded my 'story' I discovered that uploads weren't going to be cut off for quite a while, so I needn't have rushed), and I sat down at my computer around midnight on Sunday and started punching out a few stupid sentences. I looked at my other recent fiction writing, all based around three ten-minute "prompts," and realized that I was only accustomed to producing 800 to 1400 words at a time, and I needed more for this story. At that point I thought, "F**k it, this is going nowhere, I have nothing to say, so let's rape Mark Danielewski."
If you're familiar with House of Leaves (and let's face it, who here isn't?) or at least with the remix of his sister's song "Hey Pretty," to which words from his novel were set, my appropriation of his work is obvious. The relevant passages are on pages 87—89 of the trade paperback version. Footnote 98.
Two of the most obvious references are as follows:
- Mark Danielewski's narrator is Johnny Truant; my narrator uses "truant" to refer to himself, and proposes Mark and/or Johnny as (potentially) being his name.
- Johnny Truant's friend is known as Lude, but his real name is Harry (someone tells Johnny; footnote 25, page 19), and so "my" Harry is an obvious imitation of Lude as described on page 19, and Harry is aware of it.
Feel free to cite more.
Many of the other parallels were as obvious but focused more on (superficial) differences, such as the make of car (BMW Coupe vs. Karmann Ghia), roads encountered (Mulholland Dr. vs. Route 66 / Foothill Blvd.), and starting cities (Hollywood vs. Riverside).
"Originally" this was just going to be background material; there was going to be a "road story."
Danielewski's novel is about a haunted house and especially about the concept of the uncanny. Or even better, the German word that is translated as "uncanny" in English: unheimlich. Literally and meaninglessly it could be "unhomely," leading one to "unhomed/unhoused" and dislocated, out of place, not feeling "at home," etc. And so Johnny and Kyrie's encounter in the car on the road is a riff on the idea of young lovers parked at some "make-out-point," an extended metaphor for sex, and a matter of getting away from the (haunted) house.
That's not a road story, and it wasn't the story I wanted to tell. My narrator's background was going to lead him somewhere, and Andrea was not his "date" but to be a "contact" of sorts provided by Lens—she was going to get him a job, get him out of the country, make him disappear ... something. I just never established what. It was going to be the "hook." The "high concept." Something that made this 2500 words of "speculative fiction."
Time travel could have been it; space travel came to mind, as did a virtual reality approach. Perhaps death, perhaps the ultimate escape for a narrator/protagonist who has spent his adult life trying to "get away." But in the end I realized I couldn't do it. It would have been "tacked on" (see: the current ending), meaning I would have needed to add the motivation, the "setup," back in an earlier section. As it was, I removed stuff about Andrea that tended in that direction, but the reason I couldn't go through with it is an all too common vice: I became enamored of my prose (I know those of you who read the story won't understand why, but that's for me to know and you to never find out), and didn't wish to unbalance it by adding new exposition.
LET ME TELL YOU BRIEFLY about the other names. They're meaningless in their own way, but since the idea of Ten working at an anti-Cheers came up, I might as well touch upon the matter.
I had a box of lens cleaners for my glasses. And thus Lens was born.
Andrea is a name I love, but a shitty name for a character, and I really should have renamed her.
In Joel Rosenberg's "Guardians of the Flame" books the protagonist has a hired-hand / body-guard named Tennety, a former slave referred to at least once as Karl's (the protagonist's) "one-eyed attack bitch." And she is called "Ten" from time to time, and thus was my bartender born.
Much like "Road Movie" my so-called story cheats for a while by being set so much in a bar (not a movie [theater]) and not on the road.
ONLY AT THE END did the listless, directionless story I was writing start to develop—in my mind—proper cohesion. That doesn't mean it made it into the piece itself. As I mentioned, I was looking for a "high concept" to hang the story on or hang on the story. Once I cut that I no longer had a story. But I wrote anyway.
The segment that begins "When she speaks again" corresponds weakly to one of the more interesting passages in Johnny and Kyrie's encounter, but it was also a passage I found impossible to parody or steal. The previous sections were more like frameworks, fill-in-the-blank narrative structures, but the actual driving-as-sex metaphor was too specific and particular; to use it would require using Danielewski's language, and I didn't want to go that far. So I abbreviated and cut at that point, but at the same time I started to find my own way, in a direction a bit removed from my "source." For both me and Danielewski one of the important aspects here is the breakdown of language, and for his narrator Kyrie's primal and almost Nietzschean "Black Forest and Wolves" language contrasts with Johnny's inability master his own tongue. For me it was a transition from the highly structured, with nested and embedded asides, to the brief and even a-syntactic. An inspiration here might have been the Aesthetica in Nuce by Hamann.
And there is a transition from purposeful travel and directed travel to arbitrary, dark/obscure wandering at the end, though I didn't have a chance to explore that as much as I would have liked.
The actual unspoken meta-story I wanted to tell but barely got around to was a rejection of 256's WFC premise, the road story as escape. The road story has become cliche, we've read all the variations before ... but I'm digressing.
So it became a rhapsody about these people and the stories they tell about their lives.
AND FINALLY I COME TO Mr. Frost, who was a last-minute entry to my entry. What is worth noting about Frost's famous poem is that, by way of every f**king English class in the world, the poem has, generally speaking, come to be misunderstood, to be taken as some sort of "take the road less traveled," "find your own path" bullshit philosophy. Which is not what Frost wrote.
Unlike my narrator, I do not hate Frost or that poem. Because by trite expression I referenced the poem in my last segment, I decided to bring up Frost explicitly to conclude the whole "story." And since I didn't have a title, I stole from the poem to acquire a title.
THIS BRINGS ME TO the conclusion of my overly-long WFC6 post-mortem. If you've made it this far, you might be wondering why I rambled on so long; couldn't I have written more concisely? Been more direct?
The answer is, I admit, yes.
But I have made the path a tangled and difficult one, but if you did make your way through, if you pieced together my puzzling language and unknotted the ties that bind my words and sentences, then you've achieve something, and you are truly a Roads Scholar.
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