My girlfriend turns over in the dark. I want to read your novel.
It’s not finished yet.
I want you to finish it. I want to know what happens.
I don’t know what happens, I say.
That’s why I want you to finish it.
It’s 172 pages long right now and about 150 of that is some of the best stuff I’ve ever written. But this is nothing new. I remember, my first feature reading my first year of graduate school, the Live Lit reading series that Kate started and I would continue the following year, I read in tandem with a poet from Ohio State. I think I went second. I had only read fiction, my own fiction, once before aloud, during the first week of graduate school, a little five-page story with an Oprah joke somewhere in the middle, something bizarre and amusing and meant to get laughs and it got the laughs I’d hoped it would and that was the goal in its entirety.
This, though, was supposed to be fiction. This was supposed to captivate and fascinate and challenge and titillate and otherwise entertain the brain in as many different fashions as any piece of recreative entertainment could. My mom came to the reading. I said ‘fuck’ in front of my mom, because it was in the story. I wore a suit coat from Goodwill over a deep gray nametagged uniform, short-sleeved but it had a collar and it went well enough with the coat. I pushed my hair up into a fauxhawk because everybody look at me. I was about twenty-six, and I had done everything with that story I had intended to, and it was what I considered to be the finest thing I’d ever written.
I have never sent that story out for publication. It was called The Dirt Cover and even in writing that I feel the pretension of the phrasing, it was called, because it wasn’t born with that name, I wrote that name into the title space, and only because I had decided that was the most interesting combination of three words to be found in those 18 pages. Titles are mostly meaningless. Meant to grab attention long enough to get you read the first line. How’s this, I called it The Dirt Cover and I read every word of it which took me twenty-plus minutes, and I told my dad to record it with my camera which he’d never used and therefore missed the first five minutes or so, which was fine, I’ve only ever looked at that reading once for more than a minute, and I’ve never watched the whole thing. I can’t stand my own recorded voice, even worse when paired with my posture, which is the only thing to focus on when I’m reading because I’m otherwise totally motionless, so you may as well regard me like a chiropractor would. My eyebrows stay arched the entire reading and my pitch is about .25 octaves higher than it would regularly be because I’m trying like hell to both enunciate and not forget to make eye contact with what turns out to be usually the person sitting two rows back in the middle of stage left.
I love that story but I can’t change it and it’s not good enough to send to the places I want to be published in. It’s dead to me, it’s too far gone. Not that it’s necessarily bad because they wouldn’t take it, but even if I was able to go back to it, get into it, fix it up to my current standards, it still wouldn’t get picked up in these places because it’s based on a gimmick. A concept. An idea. Tom Grimes says never write a story based on an idea, write it based on… character or something. I wrote almost nothing but gimmicky idea-based stories for his workshop, because he told us not to, said it can’t be done well.
I think it can be done well. I don’t think this one is being done well, or not well enough, but I’m too far away from that previous writer I once was to work on it, to overcome those Grimesian objections ingrained in every lit mag slush pile reader, on the lookout for being fooled into thinking a story is intelligent when it’s merely clever. No one wants to recommend a clever story to their higher-ups, only to find out if you take out all the dick puns and the reference to Cleopatra’s horse, the story is totally trite and unreadable.
So now that I’m a year plus since writing the bulk of this novel, how do I get back into it? How do I convince myself it’s worth the, the… dear god I can barely continue typing, thinking of all the energy it would take to both get myself back into this project and then … then.… .. …
… .. …… … … . . . . …finish it.
Meanwhile I have so many animals around. The very best critics. Simply moving your fingers back and forth with the proper pace and pressure will earn you rave reviews.