It occurred to me, this morning, that for the past three years I have been starting stories and novels, starting them and never even coming close to finishing them. It occurred to me that I have no idea what to write, even though I have gone at a blank page pretending that I did. This is a few of the unfinished things:
True Jersey, Volume 2: Driveway to Driveway. I started this in 2006 barely a month after finishing True Jersey, Volume One. It introduced a new character (Detroit Michigan, that was his name!) and the whole world of Milton, PennJersey felt so much more real and lived in after having written an entire book about it (Vol. 1). With Vol. 1 I was never really feeling wholly convinced that it was real, so going at it a second time seemed to validate it. Vol. 2 was supposed to deal with all the magic/weirdo/Twin Peaksy stuff set up in Vol.1, the kid who drowned and came back as a ghost, the cat who drowned and came back as a spirit cat, and a convoluted series of parallel stories that lead up to a conspiracy about parallel realities. The premise was this: that every time you had a kind of daydream about a life that you thought you should have been leading by now, it was because you were leading that life, but it was occurring in another reality that was the Actual Reality where you should be, and there were evil forces in the world that had put you in a parallel reality where things weren’t going to turn out the way they were supposed to. (More on this at the end of this post).
Somewhere in my papers I have the complete list of all the parallels and seeming coincidences that all revolve around the number “11”, which is two parallel lines and thus the representation of two parallel realities. Detroit, the 11th largest city in America. The company that Detroit works for is called MotorAway®, which is also a song by Guided by Voices, and his job is to drive cars from one house to another, “driveway to driveway”, which is a Superchunk song, thus a connection, albeit a silly one. The two driveways can be lined up like two 1’s to make 11, thus taking the one car from one reality to another, inferior reality. Most of the names and places in the story have the factor 11 in them. I had never written “puzzles” before, and although a lot of mine were silly (Detroit is known as the Alligator City and the two lls in Alligator also tied into a Crocodile story that…well it just gets sillier and sillier, but I was having fun at the time.)
The other book I wanted to write in 2006 was something I had come up with years before, “Mike and Me”, which was a story about myself, Josh Carr, and (a fictional) Michael Stipe, in the 90’s, in New Jersey. I wrote a short story version of it in the Dear Loren Letters and then Carrie Miller pitched it as a film in True Jersey, Vol. 1. About thirty pages into Vol. 2 I decided that there would be some Dear Loren letters in the basement of Detroit’s house in North Milton. And that would be the Mike and Me story. I’d put the two stories together.
Of course, the hard drive that Vol. 2’s messy draft was on no longer exists. Not that I wouldn’t have rewritten it from the bottom up. If, that is, I decided to write this book. Which I haven’t. Here’s the complete list of what is written so far. Well, not complete. It’s most of it. The stuff that when I sat down to write it, I said, to myself, whether I was correct or not: I am writing literature. Hah. Anyhow here it is:
1997 – Aero – A Novel
1998 – Aero: Lost Chapters – A Supplement
2000 – Westerners – 6 Short Stories
2001 – The Pilot and the Panda – A Novel.
2004 – The Dear Loren Letters
2005 – A Moveable Feast – Nostalgia and pizza delivery, or how I learned to love the Garden State. (This one actually got published).
2006 – True Jersey, Volume 1 – A Novel
2008 – Cherry Hill – a short story.
Other stuff I have attempted: Northwood. Draft of a short story, about 3 pages long. Two men arrive in a town called Northwood and meet a group of other men whose idea of living to the fullest is to make it the longest and the most boring. By making things boring, you slow down time, so time being longer means life is longer, thus you get the most for your money. Quantity over quality. They use payphones instead of cell phones, rent from a video store instead of Netflix, take busses instead of drive cars, et cetera. Basically, all-analog, no digital, makes life long and slow. Without someone to text on your phone waiting for a bus, with nothing to read, the wait is longer. And to these guys, longer is better. I gave up on the story, it felt contrived and the characters were 2-D. It was an idea, not a story.
Last Days of Mister President. Was actually writing this while Bush was still the President. In it, the President has a change of heart in his last few months in office and decides to ride a bicycle across America and he gets really into life, and the idea of Good in the world, and all other kinds of funny revelations. Most of it is stuff with him sitting at some club in Portland, basically saying what I would say about the state of art or literature in 2008. In another scene I have him in Mount Laurel, NJ, with Michael Stipe, talking about what the New American Short Story would be. I wasn’t sure where I was going with the story so…
The New American Novel…so I decided to turn it into the New American Novel, which originally was going to be a memoir and a meditation on the future of American fiction and then became a kind of catch-all for everything I tried to write, or did write, and couldn’t, thus DEFINETELY being about the state of American fiction — mostly my own — and the idea of failure for my generation. Because I think that nails it, that’s my generation, right now. We’re all in our early thirties and we have our own list like the list above, of all that stuff that we did because we thought it would, well if not make us famous then at least give us jobs. I mean real jobs, like ok if a guy can be a plumber and raise a family and have a car and a house and all that, why can’t I write a bunch of books and stories, or make a bunch of songs and albums, or paint a bunch of pictures, and have that same modest American lifestyle that I don’t know, I guess that people in their thirties should have? Because look at us, people. We all still live in little apartments, in cities. I mean ok not that we wanted to leave the cities, but the same little apartments ten years later? Look, I know I’m not alone in thinking it would have been at least a little different. Anyhow I just let the President story turn into an ideal story about a guy and a girl at a Denny’s which is a retelling of a scene in The Pilot and the Panda which in turn becomes a perfect little story about a girl who lives in a mythical beach town somewhere out of time where the beach is like New Jersey but the buildings are like ancient creacking hotels hundreds of years old and filled with secrets and then it goes into stuff kind of like this post about me talking about the death of the idea that you can sit down and write the Great American Novel and the idea that the New American Novel would be this kind of mess of easy to digest bullets of mini-stories and ideas almost like Youtube videos of text that would be the book I was trying to write before your very eyes. The book would by form be a failure because that’s essentially what we have learned about a Great American Novel, it aims high and always fails.
But I just can’t write any of these because the above list just got too damn long. It’s always been my advise to someone who asked me about writing: Never Be An Unpublished Author. You meet them all the time, that guy at the bar, wasted, pissed, yelling about how he wrote five unpublished novels. The scary part is, I really think he did write them, but that’s the problem, even if the final one is great, it’s too late, he wrote too many unpublished novels. It’ll bury you, destroy you with bitterness, turn your hair gray. Don’t do it. Don’t write unpublished novels. Trust me.
But dear God don’t Blog either.
It’s a weird morning when I just don’t even know what the hell I’m trying to tell you, here on the Miltonian, with just text and not a photograph in sight. I just figured it was about time we had a sit down and, you know, really talked about stuff. So we’re talking. Well, I’m asking. What should I write next?