Thursday, July 29, 2010

Truther Than Strange

I don't know when I stopped writing fiction. As a kid I used to spend hours on a typewriter banging out stories of intergalactic mayhem starring a cast of anthropomorphic animals. I know that these were rip offs of other, better writers but it got my feet wet and dispelled any notions that writing was an easy task. My uncle wrote short stories in the evenings and on weekends when he wasn't teaching high school English. I think I read one or two of these but just wasn't too impressed. I confessed my dream of being a writer and he hooked me up with volumes of writers' market books. The heyday of fiction magazines had passed, yes, but a tiny market still existed and I worked to mine this vein. But, first, I needed some stories so I could start saving my rejection notes. I mean, that's what writers do, isn't it?

In middle school I penned a few tales of aliens attacking my classrooms or monsters stalking the halls but these were jokes and I knew it. I wanted to pen something more serious. And, boy, did I. I can only recall two tales that I plugged away on during that time and am rather disturbed to drum up their plots. In one of them, a man wakes up from suspended hibernation in an Antarctic research facility. I don't remember why he'd been placed in suspended hibernation but I do know he awoke alone and without any way to contact the outside world or any food. He ended up slicing off parts of himself, cooking up his tastier morsels to sustain himself as long as he could. And, wouldn't you know, as the one-armed, legless man was about to castrate himself (what fate could be worse to a boy writer?) the rescue party arrived... just a moment to late.

Compare this to the other story I remember in which a man who had wronged a woman a year before came to in her apartment, bound and sitting before a glorious banquet. You can be sure that the main course was the baby he sired. I wrote about the cooking process, the baby's white skin reddening in boiling water like a lobster's shell. Pretty sick stuff. Cannibalism, bondage, and a lot of glossing over any kind of set up by putting the main character in situations where they regained consciousness in a new, strange place. Now that's lazy writing!

Not knowing any better, I sent out these atrocious tales to several magazines and got my expected rejection notes. But, then, that's all I did. I'm of the mind that the rejection soured me on further explorations of fiction. Was I so deluded that I expected my baby/self-eating stories to run in the next Twilight Zone Magazine? Perhaps. I couldn't tell you the next time I sat down to spin a yarn that wasn't based on fact (I enrolled in a journalism class that I enjoyed with gusto... if only my teacher had enjoyed having me around!).

Despite my failure in journalism, I enjoyed writing papers and essays in high school and on into college. Once I graduated I missed writing so much that I began a zine. I never called what I wrote "stories" but "articles" as I kept them grounded in reality as much as I could. On occasion I'd sacrifice a fact for entertainment but, too often, I stuck to the inverted pyramid, delivering prose so dusty it could choke an Okie. Sure, I'd bury a lot of leads under paragraphs of personal stories or observations but, again, I wasn't spinning yarns. Fiction and I kept our distances as if we'd filed restraining orders.

Now, all those years later, I think about the few flourishes I've dappled onto my prose with fondness. I remember writing a review of a record by The Friends of Dean Martinez where I explained that it would be the perfect soundtrack to driving through the desert at night, describing the way the white lines could hypnotize as they fell into the headlights. Sure, it took inspiration from David Lynch's Lost Highway but these few sentences were as close to reconciliation as fiction and I had gotten over the years. I'd look back on these with fondness, pulling them out and polishing them up from time to time.

Just recently I ran across the book No Plot? No Problem! in which writer Chris Batty discussed National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) during which time a writer has to fire his or her inner editor and embrace the dangerous world of writing without a net (hell, without an outline or years of research!). Something about this carefree attitude, kicking off one's shoes and letting loose on a keyboard, reminded me of my early days plugging away at that noisy manual typewriter and how fun it had been to create worlds with my words.

,p> I missed fiction. I thought I'd gotten it beaten out of me but it seems it was still there, waiting in the wings to do the appreciative slow clap, joined with enthusiasm by the characters I'd created and those I have yet to dream up.

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