Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Origins of the Novel

The first time I wrote and finished a novel I was sixteen. I wrote it in Mead notebooks in class, and sometimes at home. After I wrote the whole thing out in notebooks, I typed it on a plastic Smith Corona at a desk in the basement. I still have the desk (it's in my office). I still have the notebooks (they're in the attic). The Smith Corona is missing in action.

Yes, officer. I'm 16.
I would post a picture here of what I looked like at sixteen, but this should do it: I had an uncanny resemblance to the Les Miz poster. The picture on my first license looks just like that. Minus the flag.

Probably, the novel was ok. It was about a boy -- who was seventeen, had a single mom and some weird daddy issues. He was tall and beautiful, and had burgundy hair. He loved a girl, who was Ivory girl pretty, super smart, shy and bookish. Her parents were stuffy. They didn't like him or his looks or his single, cigarette smoking mom. They had sex. She got punished by her parents and was forbidden to see him. They ran away and her smooth talking, crazy -- did I mention crazy? -- boyfriend talked her into suicide, all while kind of ad hoc quoting some Keats.

I remember when I finished it. I was at the bar in my parents' house, and it was close to midnight on New Year's Eve. I remember that feeling of writing the last few words in pen, and closing the notebook.

Also, this is what I thought life was probably like. You meet a boy, you get in trouble, you have to die. No way out.

Heh. I'm so not changing the end of Daniel Deronda.
As far as I know, my mom knew I was writing it, but didn't read it. When I told her what it was about, and roughly how it ended. She told me -- very seriously -- that I had better change it.

Also, this wasn't the first novel. The first one -- same boy, slightly different circumstances -- involved the same single mom, but included her abusive boyfriend. This guy was an asshole. And the kid, he's so sweet, so pretty, so shy. He had a friend, too. A sassy younger kid, even prettier. The mom's boyfriend had a bad habit of beating the shit out of my character. Their apartment was grim, dark and run down. The porch slanted toward the street, and the kids had a habit of sneaking in and out of an upstairs window in the middle of the night.

This was eighth grade. My mom read parts of it, and told me -- matter of factly -- that perhaps the boyfriend was misunderstood. And maybe the mom was misunderstood too. Maybe she shouldn't be painted as such a terrible person for staying with the boyfriend.

My genesis for this triangle: David Copperfield. I was in love/hate with Mr. Murdstone. Plus, his name was Murdstone!

My mom's sensitivity: life. Except that I didn't know it. Sure I had gleaned some details from the past, and I'd first hand witnessed some violence. But I wasn't after her, or her story. I was writing my own. It was fiction.

As for the suicide, it was the biggest crescendo I could built. The biggest. And I was sixteen. I needed a big finish. There was no subtle and then they work things out in the moonlight for me. It was go big or go home. To die.

No one has told me I had better change anything -- for its being too close to the truth -- for a long time. But everyone still looks for themselves, still assumes they know where it came from and what it's about.

But it's fiction.

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