ORIGINS: “Exodus” by Stephen Graham Jones

Exodus” was a complete accident. What happened was somebody told me I should hit 5_trope with a story, so I clicked over to their guidelines and–I don’t know if this is still there or not–saw that they really really didn’t want ‘flash card fiction.’ Completely fascinated me, that concept of a story on flashcards. Or, not on flashcards, but a story all chunked up, put in some arbitrary sequence. So I sat down and wrote two of them (the other was “Modern Love”), just trying to figure out how you can tell a story when the ordering’s all fried, when the lines of causality are way indirect, looping around, ducking under. Still trying to figure out how to do this, too, yeah. See “The Ones That Got Away,” I suppose, only I’ve got over the numbering, I guess. For now. To me, though, that story’s “Exodus” all over again. You just kind of pick a line, have no idea where you’re going but then commit to getting there very very fast. About the only way I know to write.

Anyway, that first line, “Annabella,” the way I remember coming up with it is that I really dug Lucius Shepard’s Scifiction story “Abimagique,” but had strong suspicions everybody’d notice if I tried to use that very peculiar name again. Except this can’t possibly be the real explanation, as I think “Abimagique” came out after “Exodus.” Nevertheless, that’s how I remember nabbing that first line, but the hook, all of 1 after the “Annabella,” that’s where the story came alive for me, where I realized that this kid was me at that age, just so ready to fall in love with anything, please, but that longing that feels so pure then, so right, it’s always tempered by the world, by circumstances, by how this cumbersome reality outside my head was never matching up with the wonderful stuff going on inside my head, the cool stuff that could be happening, maybe even should be happening. A friend, after he read this story, he said that I was really good at all this teen angst stuff. I don’t know if that was a compliment or not. It does feel real for me, anyway.

Before “Exodus,” the only time I’d really touched on that voice, it was this one story “Carbon,” which was also a complete, somewhat-happy (to me) accident. And “Exodus,” it didn’t get called that until later. Until I got to that literal exodus going on, it was “The Day of the Goat” (plan, then: put a title at the end, too, ‘Day of the [Something],’ as Harlan Ellison did with his “Shagging Fungoes”-end to “The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore”). I was sure that was the best title ever, had had it around for a while, some bad mix of the Three Days of the Condor and an undying love for Barth’s Giles Goat-boy, so was extremely happy when I was able to rig this story such that there could finally be a goat having some kind of bad day.

Which–that’s the only trick I’ve ever really found effective for writing fiction: distraction. I can’t write about some kid trying to navigate his seventeenth year, because that would be foolish and stupid and doomed to fail, but I can for sure write about this one crazy made-up goat jumping off a bridge, and pad that out with some kid doing whatever in the background. That then becomes the foreground. I’ve always thought that if you pay too much attention to what you’re doing, I mean, you’re kind of pre-doomed. That old XJ Kennedy poem: “If you would lay well, don’t watch.” But, then, too, there’s just a lot of ways to doom yourself when writing fiction. Could be eyes-open’s the least of them.

Another friend I showed this story to, his response was Oh, twenty-one verses, just like the real Exodus, yeah? Which, does the bible-Exodus have twenty-one verses? I don’t know. I can’t imagine he would have known that right-off. And, about that kid not being me: the part of this story that seemed so, so excessive, so part of a complete other reality, was Annabella’s parents throwing that wonderful mattress out. I just can’t imagine anybody really doing that. But her father, yeah, I’ve known him. Know exactly how he holds that steering wheel. A backseat I don’t want to be riding in ever again. I’d rather be that goat, please, getting away, sailing down the interstate. Or, really, just hanging in that perfect moment-between for as long as possible. Which is really what the story’s about, for me.

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2 responses to “ORIGINS: “Exodus” by Stephen Graham Jones

  1. And here it is…a look inside the spinning mind of SGJ! Such good stuff. I love how Stephen can be so conversational, jumping here and there, and then, by the end of his thought process, he’s wrapped it into a well-made point that gives both readers and writers alike something to walk away with both useful and always entertaining along the way.

    Great, great fun, this. Nods to both Stephen and Jen on some good work, a fine way to start the morning here in the bluegrass.

    Like

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