In today’s ORIGINS at jmww, author Michael Landweber discusses the origins for his novel Thursday 1:17 pm, which published May 2016, by Coffeetown Press.
Although this is an essay on the origins of my new novel, Thursday 1:17 pm, it might end up being more appropriately titled revisions. I suppose we could go with ressurection, although that’s a bit messianic for my taste. Really, this is about the two Origins of this particular book.
Honestly, I can’t pinpoint the moment that I had this idea. But all my work – novels, short stories, whatever – starts with the idea. Usually a very strange idea. When I have these ideas, they are followed by an intense conversation with myself about why this particular concept will probably lead to anguish and heartbreak.
Here’s roughly what that conversation for Thursday 1:17 pm sounded like:
Me: I’ve got a great idea!
Me: Oh crap, not again.
Me: No, you’re gonna love this one. You see, time freezes and there is only one person moving around and that person has no clue what happened or how to fix it.
Me: So you want me to write a novel with a single character and – let me get this straight – a world where there is no possibility of interaction with other characters. Because they’re all frozen in time!
Me: Um, well, yeah. There could be flashbacks?
Following that conversation, I, of course, decided to write the book. That would have happened sometime in 2007. The book came out in 2016.
Like I said, revisions.
Once I have a concept, I generally turn to character. Who is the person who I’m going torture – I mean, expose to this unusual situation? For Thursday 1:17 pm, that meant putting a person in a familiar environment that had become, in an instant, completely foreign. The character would have to deal with alienation and loneliness. It would be a unique type of isolation – everyone who the character could engage with would be right there, present but impossible to reach. The symbolic and thematic possibilities of that intrigued and scared me. That’s always a good combination for me to start a project.
The narrator, as is always the case, started to tell me who he was. He was a 20-something recent college grad kicking around Washington, DC. Even before time stopped, he was aimless, stuck in his own rut, not really connected to the world anymore. This first-person narrator didn’t even have a name. That should have tipped me off that I had a problem.
But I was off and running, with my slightly depressed loner of a narrator leading the way. The journey was not pleasant. The tone quickly turned dark. Bleak. Pitch black. Now, I don’t have a problem with exploring the darker side of humanity in literature. Actually, I tend to gravitate toward it. But my narrator, unshackled by any social pressure or authority on his behavior, became more nihilistic and irredeemable. It was quickly becoming Crime and Punishment, without any threat of punishment.
It took many years and multiple drafts for me to realize that I was writing the wrong book. As a writer, that’s a pretty crappy moment to have. I did want to explore what would happen when a person is no longer subject to basic societal constraints. What does a person do when there is no threat of getting caught, when there is no one watching. But I needed a character who would at least have an internal moral compass that could balance the allure of this absolute freedom.
So a couple of years ago, I started over. A new origin story. Take two.
I knocked five years off the narrator’s age, gave him a name and let him loose on the story. He was now a 17-year-old nicknamed Duck. He had just graduated high school and it was the day before his 18th birthday when the world froze. As long as time was stopped, he would literally be unable to become an adult.
It was still dark. Duck’s mom had died after a long bout with cancer the morning the world froze. His dad was in an institution. He still contemplates the consequences of voyeurism and suicide and violence in a lawless world. But the simple (though, as a writer, incredibly painful) act of recasting my main character gave the book a snarky attitude and an almost idealistic voice. Duck spends much of his time writing a guidebook for others frozen in time, an aspirational activity indicative of someone who believes there may be a way out of his current situation. Though he does let his baser instincts emerge, he also figures out how to transcend them.
So that’s the Origins story for Thursday 1:17 pm. I wrote two different books. The first version of the novel was all about resignation; the revision suddenly became about hope.
Michael Landweber lives and writes in Washington, DC. His short stories have appeared in literary magazines such as Gargoyle, Fourteen Hills, Fugue, Barrelhouse and American Literary Review. He is an Associate Editor at Potomac Review and a contributor for the Washington Independent Review of Books.
by Kathy Fish & Robert Vaughan
Unknown Press, 2015
Reading Rift is like walking from one side of a city to another. The stories have the expansive diversity of a city crowd: flawed, ridiculous, and beautiful. The flash fiction collection, written by Kathy Fish and Robert Vaughan, has a wild variety that feels infinite and human. It is full stories that beg to be read twice or even three times each. Though reading it feels almost overwhelming, it is only this way because it is real; the book, like much good fiction, is a collection of truths.
Fish and Vaughan have created an incredibly tight collaboration. To be clear, this is a collection rather than a co-authorship – Fish and Vaughan write their own stories, playing off one another. The book pulls them into pairs, some of which speak to each other more obviously than others. While reading through, it was easy to lose track of who was writing, which speaks to the cohesiveness of the collection.
by Timmy Reed
Underground Voices, 2016
There’s a scene in the middle of Miraculous Fauna where Bobbi and her teen-aged zombie daughter come across an abandoned amusement park in the middle of the desert. Instead of despairing or embracing disappointment, the mother and daughter ignore the barren waste and instead accept the reality and attempt to find the good. When the lights come on and broken, atonal music plays, Bobbi finds the joy in half of a small miracle. She’s long-suffering, long-lonely. And she smiles at misery.
Miraculous Fauna, the newest novel by Timmy Reed, is a road trip in the manner of an American Job, if Job was a single mother with a vaguely demonic Immaculate Conception baby. Bobbi meets a handsome man in a graveyard who may or may not be the devil. She is impregnated and the result is a zombie baby who grows but fails to mature. Bobbi hits the road, abandoning her foster mother, the US government (who are obviously interested in the baby) and searches for enlightenment. She dreams of becoming a normal girl, of Rachel outgrowing her zombie nature, of becoming a saint. She doesn’t ask for too much. Read the rest of this entry »
At Mandara Spa, Aruba Marriott, remembering Deborah Digges
Offer yourself in the way of a child,
splayed and unconcerned about the curl
of a limb, the arrangement of towel
revealing the shell of shy genital.
The hands that wave and recede deal with parts,
oiling rusty mechanisms. Submit.
Allow your mouth to drool. Show all your warts.
This is the hour your best poems will visit,
and your worst. Later, you can only rescue
so many words but some will be enough
to compensate for this half-conscious theft.
Do only what you have been told to do:
Relax your arm; roll over; focus your breath.
So much, or so little, time might be left.
Read the rest of this entry »
REVIEW: Forgotten Sundays: A Son’s Story of Life, Loss and Love from the Sidelines of the NFL (by Bill Hughes)Posted: April 22, 2016
Forgotten Sundays: A Son’s Story of Life, Loss and Love from the Sidelines of the NFL
by Gerry Sandusky
Running Press, 2014
Gerry Sandusky’s book, Forgotten Sundays: A Son’s Story of Life, Loss, and Love from the Sidelines of the NFL, is one darn good read. Baltimoreans know Gerry primarily from his sports’ commentator post at WBAL-TV. Lately, he’s branched out to do the play-by-play accounts on radio for the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League team. In both sports-related personas, Gerry is known as a highly competent professional.
When Gerry was at the JHU-Barnes & Noble’s bookshop on 33rd Street in Baltimore, recently, discussing and signing his book, I got the distinct impression that this guy really knows his NFL stuff, like a genuine insider. I also had a chance to see his softer side, especially when he recalled his evolving relationship over the years with his late father, John Sandusky.
In today’s ORIGINS at jmww, author Daniel Falatko discusses the origins for his novel Condominium, published May 14, 2015, by CCLaP Publishing.
The complete vision for Condominium came to me when sitting on the L Train one day and overhearing these two dudes with glittery high tops making fun of the banks of glittering condo towers being constructed up and down the Williamsburg waterfront. They were riffing on the bland types of people who would be populating these buildings. Stroller people. Day traders. Upper Manhattanites. The types of people who should be quarantined and regulated to an area far from DIY music venues and illegal artist spaces. My initial instinct was to agree with them, and I had been guilty of similar jive in the past, but something about their basic generalization of an entire sub-population irked me that day. It really got the wheels spinning. I mean, yes, these khaki masses flooding into those glass and steel prisons are certainly among the worst types of white people, but can you really just call for their mass execution just because they may not know who Animal Collective is? Doesn’t every individual who has ever walked this Earth have complex inner dialogues and interesting hidden angles and things that haunt them until the day they perish and beyond? Don’t forget, these people are at the top of the game. They have a lot to lose and blood on their hands. Their demons are most likely WAY more plentiful than those two kids on the train trying to remember if they had showered that afternoon and, if not, then does it even matter, maaaaaan? So can you really write the condominium owners off as bland and uninteresting as a whole?
That’s where Condominium came from. The idea was born on the L Train somewhere under all those concrete shoe bodies and the black, polluted water of the East River. The idea was to write a novel from inside the minds of the gentrifying invaders. It’s a strange concept to view these people as underdogs, but in a way they are. They are stereotyped and put down just like the rest of us. “All people are interesting,” is what Condominium is telling you. “Even the ones you don’t like.” And yes, people really, really hate these characters. At least one major agent backtracked on signing up the novel because said agent’s interns threatened to walk. This is how much they hated Charles and Sarah and the gang. As I’ve always said, the visceral reaction certain types of individuals have when confronted with these characters is a good thing. I didn’t want to sugarcoat them for those two dudes on the train. I wanted them to be the real deal. People tend to romanticize Vikings, for example, pointing out their cool mythology and putting them in the role of romanticized outlaw. But try telling that to some coastal farmer back in the day having his lungs ripped from his chest cavity after having just watched his wife and children be stomped to death. This is the type of horrified reaction people have for Charlie and Sar Bear, and all they’ve done is moved into a damn Condo.
These are modern urban Vikings. Invaders. The gentrifying hoards. The death of a once great city. They are the exact people those kids on the L Train mercilessly mock but secretly fear and envy. The idea that came to me on the train was to crawl into their headspaces and what was left of their souls. I wanted to show people that multiple realms unfold within every individual’s psyche, that people who can afford a million-plus condo have an even greater number of devils to scurry from than you do. They have more pressing matters to worry about than which warehouse party to hit that night. To put it succinctly: They are more interesting than you are in most ways.
So if you hated Condominium, then you should track down those two dudes on the L train and have a word with them, because they are the true origin of the novel. Their heads are faded on the sides and floppy on the top. At least one will be rocking lenses-free frames. By some sort of smoke and mirrors or straight out magic their jeans will be simultaneously skin-tight and baggy. And the real giveaway will be the glittery high tops. The kind that middle school kids in the mid-00s rocked to try to look like Soldier Boy. Those two dudes are the source. I know this doesn’t quite narrow it down, considering 91% of dudes under 27 in North BK look like this, and I wouldn’t advocate just going out and swinging on random Williamsburg people, so it would be best not to bother. The true origin would be hard to track down.
Besides, they’ve probably moved to Portland by now.
Daniel Falatko is a graduate of the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Originally from Pennsylvania, he lives and works in New York City. Condominium, published by CCLaP, is his first novel. His next novel, One Thin Dime, has been signed by the same publisher and is expected to release in early 2017. He holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives and works in New York City.
In today’s ORIGINS at jmww, author Laura Ellen Scott discusses the origins for her novel The Juliet, published March 11, 2016, by Pandamoon Publishing.
Everything starts with place for me, and once I decided on Death Valley as my setting for The Juliet (original working title: Willie Judy and The Mystery House), it felt natural to write about lost treasure and legends. Specifically, I wanted to write a fun, MacGuffin-type novel with a cursed gem at the center. My mother is an expert-amateur gemologist, so I grew up with rubies, sapphires, amethysts, opals, and garnets all over the house. Now that I live near DC, we go to the Gem Hall every time she visits, partly to make fun of the tourists swooning over the Hope diamond. Mom thinks curses are boring, especially when there are many more wonderful specimens on display, and I’m always impressed by her impatience with magical thinking.
The main storyline for The Juliet follows seven days in Death Valley during the record wildflower bloom of 2005 when a retired cowboy actor named Rigg Dexon comes out of seclusion and signs away the deed to his home—a legendary shack called The Mystery House—to a rootless fan named Willie Judy, who assumes that Dexon hopes she’ll carry on his life’s obsession: searching for a cursed emerald. Dexon’s connection to The Juliet goes back to when he was a spokesman for Nuggetz cereal in the 70s; inside every box was a piece of a treasure map that was suppose to lead to her. Willie’s assumption is confirmed when she discovers that the Mystery House is full of old cereal boxes and map pieces. This is an idea I borrowed from Kit Williams’ Masquerade—the picture book that launched the armchair treasure hunt genre. Williams hid a beautiful 18-carat gold filigree pendant in the British countryside and imbedded clues to its location in the book.
The secondary storyline features episodes in the 100-year history of The Juliet, and highlights the madness and depravity the emerald seems to generate as it passes hand to hand. Each of these episodes features some sense of theater or performance, starting in the late 1880s with the murder of a corrupt industrialist and finishing in the 1980s with a squatter in The Mystery House who scares off horny teenagers, Scooby-doo style. There are several other episodes between these, but you get the picture.
Originally, I thought the book would be about Dexon’s present and his past, and that I was going to kill him off in the first 10 pages of the 2005 storyline, but he wasn’t letting go that easily, and he ended up being a very powerful force in those sections. Perhaps more importantly, he shifts tension towards older characters, especially when he encounters a figure from his past, a rock star long thought dead. In my original plan, I was going to emphasize the scramblings of younger characters embroiled in a It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World-style plot, but the 70-somethings turned out to be just as interesting—and more dangerous—so there’s a lot more balance among the characters than I expected. Rigg Dexon may be a cowboy cliché, but he refused to become a device.
The theme of The Juliet popped into focus after my third trip to Death Valley in 2013. In Rhyolite—the model for the ghost town I call Centenary in the book—there is a cenotaph for a murdered woman with two names on the cross, a Christian name and a prostitute name, and she was supposedly murdered by her pimp and denied burial in the cemetery by the “good women” of the town. She is the source for the character of Lily Joy, a prostitute who uses the talismanic reputation of The Juliet to control her lovers, and whose murder kicks off the rapid collapse of Centenary. However, in a larger sense her duality lays out the pattern for almost every character in the book. Not only do they all have past identities, but their present identities are rife with contradictions—like Death Valley covered in flowers, or a cowboy who must take male hormone reduction medication to control his prostate cancer.
Finally, I have to say that the braided timelines only came to me after reading Jen Michalski’s The Tide King. Not to blow smoke up Jen’s culottes, but that book was the key.
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None of us can exist in isolation. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try. People navigate interactions with each other through careful boundaries set up between themselves and others, wary not to get too close, to see something too private. But what happens when the private becomes public? When one crosses the boundary and views something personal–intimate–about a stranger? This is the subject of Tara Laskowski’s Bystanders.
We’re extraordinarily honored to have Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon as our judge for The Claudia Emerson Poetry Chapbook Award for 2016, honoring the legacy and spirit of beloved poet Claudia Emerson. Submissions are now open!