Category Archives: New Writing

Post #47: Returning Update

Dear Charles,

It’s funny you should mention that Agassi autobiography (Open).  Who knew it was going to be such a fantastic book?  The truth is that it was an inspiration to me, but not in the way you might have expected.  Agassi’s story is in many ways a sad one.  His father hijacked his life, molded him like a lump of resistant clay.  As a result, Agassi hated tennis, even as he stormed up the rankings and found out that he was enormously gifted at this thing that had been chosen for him to do.  That’s compelling because it’s so unexpected.  But no matter the depth of Agassi’s pathos, and we do feel for the man, but still, for Agassi, it all worked out.  He became the best in the world.  Excelled to historic proportions at this thing he’d been forced to do.  He eventually became rich and famous.  And a sex symbol and an unwilling fashion icon.  Not to mention he was married to Brooke Shields!  And that’s not the half of it.  He’s currently married to Steffi Graf, with whom he has children.  My point being that once you realize that Agassi’s hatred of tennis and the entire rebellious tenor of his book’s POV comes from a position of enormous power and privilege, you can only feel so bad for the guy.  Sorry, but people with wealth and fame and beautiful wives can only be afforded so much empathy.

What I wondered while reading was this: what if you took Agassi’s life up until the point when he was a top junior prospect, a comer generating buzz, but then instead of burning up the rankings and becoming the greatest returner of serve that ever lived, instead of becoming the best in the world, instead of becoming a legend, you became a has been?  In other words, what if Agassi had never become Agassi?  What would that have done to his perception of the game?  Of himself?  Of his father?  All those emotions invested in the small and narrow pursuit–they wouldn’t just wither up and die; they’d have to go somewhere.

That’s part of the spark that led me to Christopher Downy-Parks, the main character in Returning.  Would love to play this out more, but I have to run.  Be in touch.

Best to Martha and the girls.  Would love to hear back from you soon.

Benjamin

Post #46: Returning Update

Dear Charles,

Thanks for asking about how things are going with Returning.  In truth, the novel I’m writing perplexes me, but I remain vigilant, trusting the bright gem of my initial vision and my commitment to listen to my characters.  I started this novel last summer with the idea that I’d write a novel about a tennis prodigy who didn’t pan out and later accepted a role on a reality television series called Almost that took big-time failures from all over the sporting world and had them compete for a chance at $100,000 and a book contract (and bragging rights).  And it is about that.  But it’s also about atheism.  This is another glare from the original gem.  Before I wrote a word, when I was in the reading and thinking stage (this lasted a year, when I was allowing the idea to germinate and flower) I’d been very taken with two stories.  One being Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open and the other the story of the late Christopher Hitchens’s battle with cancer and how he’d leveraged his atheism against the cruel randomness of dying slowly of a disease that simply came your way just because.  Somehow I knew these ingredients would end up in the Returning pot together, I just wasn’t sure how.   They came together in the characters of Christopher Downy-Parks and Chick Myers, who as I mentioned in my last letter, are the erstwhile protagonists of Returning.  Chick has battled cancer while also coming to terms with the fact that he doesn’t believe in God.  Former tennis prodigy and colossal bust Chris has gotten himself embroiled in the strange world of reality television celebrity culture and, blinded by fame, and the irresistible glow of the adulation his tennis failures had always denied him, can’t find a way to say “no” when a team of investors wants to adapt his life into a Broadway musical.  At the point where I’m currently at in the writing, the musical has just debuted.  In the novel’s five “Set” structure (couldn’t resist; it’s like an epic match, this book), the musical, entitled Indian Boy (Narrowly Misses Conquering the World) and its creation and aftermath is the Fourth Set.

Unfortunately, I need to cut this short.  More later.  Best to Martha and the girls.

Benjamin

Post #16: Word Riot

I have a flash fiction piece in the new issue of Word Riot (http://www.wordriot.org/archives/3353) entitled “On Knowing What I’m Doing.”  Many thanks to Kevin O’ Cuinn and Jackie Corley for featuring me along with so many great writers this month.  Special bonus is that you can read or listen to me read the piece.  Though it’s only a minute and a half, I’ll consider this my first audio book.

Post #13: Blue Dot

Blue Dot is the presumptive title of the Sci-Fi/Horror novel I’ve started for National Novel Writing Month.  As a writer of mostly literary fiction, I decided if I was going to go for broke with nanowrimo and do a novel in a month, I might as well go all out and do something wild, which has me tap dancing in genres that I know nothing about.  I’m having a blast though.  So far flying saucers have appeared over Lake Michigan, a drunken and sexually depraved ex-husband has appeared to complicate matters, and a mother is desperate to get on the road with her nine year old diabetic son before all hell breaks loose.  I can feel some blood is going to be spilled.  Props for the tone and genre are definitely due to Joe Hill, whose novel Horns I’ve been listening to on audiobook for the past month on my walk to and from work.  Horns is an out there genre bending kind of horror novel that I’ve most enjoyed.  Joe Hill is a hell of a writer.  It’s also extremely vulgar but has a very big heart at the center of it, and that juxtaposition is kind of what I’m after with Blue Dot.

More later on why it’s called Blue Dot.  It’ll all make sense.  I swear.

Post #12: I’m Starting a Novel on Tuesday

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which I have officially committed myself to.  I mean, I opened an account on nanowrimo.org, so I’m pretty much locked in.

30 Days.  50,000 Words. (2 small children, 1 full time teaching job)

There’s over 200,000 other people trying to do this who can attest to the fact that I’m only partially crazy.

It’s a little daunting to know I’m going to be starting a novel on Tuesday.  Not Monday.  Tuesday.  In the past when I’ve written novels  (I’ve started over six and finished three, only one of which is any good), I’ve waited for inspiration to strike, and it’s known to come on any old day of the week, or just as often not come at all.  This time around, I guess I’m going to have to do the striking.

My biggest fear isn’t the word count.  My biggest fear is a disease well known to novelists the world over, and it goes by different names in different dens, but I like to think of it as “25,000 Word Disenchantment Syndrome.”  Side effects include disengagement, frustration, hair wringing, dark circles under eyes, bitterness, and sudden bouts of not finishing what you started.  50,000 words in a month I can do.  But can I do it if I decide half way through that what I’m working on is utter bollocks, the likes of which not only doesn’t deserve to see the light of day but doesn’t even deserve to be finished?  That remains to be seen.

I take no solace in the fact that Ray Bradbury claims to have written Fahrenheit 451 in less time.  And on a rented typewriter.  No solace at all.  Geniuses do things like that and later pretend like it was simple kismet.  Save it, Bradbury.  Save it!

No, I take solace in E.L. Doctorow, whose writing I don’t particularly love, though he said something sage once about writing a novel.  He said “it’s like driving a car at night.  You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Not Monday.  Tuesday.

Post #7: National Novel Writing Month

I’m considering trying out National Novel Writing Month in November.  The goal is to produce 50,000 words in a month.  Only about 15% of those who try finish.  I’m excited about it, but for reasons I can’t quite articulate, though they’ve already had me called a snob once (and counting), I’m dubious as well.   Part of me loves the challenge, wants to see what would come out on such a tight deadline.  And to see if I could finish.  Yet,  I can’t shake the thought that there’s something kind of South Beach Diet about all this too.  Try writing and you won’t believe the results!

Maybe I am a snob.

But then I take a step back and ask myself: what can be wrong with anything whose sole purpose for being is to put people’s asses in chairs writing a lot?

Myself answers: nothing, you idiot.

I kind of like what this guy has to say about it:  http://vimeo.com/7564037

Learn more at National Novel Writing Month’s Homebase: http://www.nanowrimo.org/