I started this novel right before our kid was born in the early summertime of 2014. I completed an (extremely) rough draft around the end of that year, most of it written in a state of sleepless delirium, often with our baby resting on my upper legs as I slowly rocked back and forth on one of those big inflatable yoga balls. It continued to waste away on my hard drive and in the cloud as other more urgent writing gigs presented themselves. It wasn’t until the end of Feb. 2020 that I even bothered printing the thing out, finally ready and able at last to have the time and mental space to dive into the editing process. Of course, two weeks later they closed the schools and I would spend the next 600 days with a small child in the house who for reasons of viral pandemic safety had only one person in the world they could hang out with and that one person in the world was me. But now I think, or I at least have been able to convince myself, that it’s safe to start trying to edit this thing. So I’ve spent the morning looking over the opening and now here is the opening.
A Carolina Rebel in Larry Bird’s Court
Just when I think I know what I’m thinking, I get this cloud. I know that when a man has memories it’s just electrical impulses through the brain that create the memories–because the impulses travel at the speed of light, therefore the brain time travels, and that’s how he remembers. But how does he feel? How does he feel those memories? How does he feel those thoughts? What– what time is it?
—Matt Maiellaro, 12oz mouse
This is first and foremost a work of imagination, with all the inherent freedoms/limits of the form. When it was convenient to use the truth, I used it; and when it was convenient to stretch the truth, I stretched it. Not for my own pleasure, or to be some kind of genre-transgressive showoff, but b/c I thought it would make for a better book. If all my fiction/non-fic hopscotching annoys you on any level, feel free to cast your opinions into the digital clutter. Some people insist that world isn’t real, but I think everything is real.
However, as real as it might be, nothing exists in a fixed state, not even you. Everything we encounter, digital or otherwise, is malleable, fluid, fluxing, and infinitely quantum-like. Sometimes this is good; sometimes it’s bad. But then even ideas like Good & Bad are malleable/fluid/etc. so whether or not you like being at the mercy of the wind you’d better learn how to flap those wings or pretty soon you’re going to end up as canyon-splat.
So maybe think of this book as a kind of flight manual—albeit one dripping w/intrigue, poetry, and occasional moments of what those in the hackier end of this business would call ‘literary merit.’ Now on with the show. Because regardless of genre preferences, everyone still loves a good show. If we can’t agree on anything else, we can at least all agree on that.
As much as we can agree on anything, I suppose.
The thing you have to understand is that I moved to Asheville, NC in the fall of that year convinced I was moving to, if not a utopia, then at least a uptopic situation surrounded by friends who were also fellow aspiring writers. Here in Asheville we would make our collective stand against the entropic forces of society, finding safety in numbers and all that. The other thing you have to understand is that I was wrong, so hopelessly stupidly naively wrong because whenever I convince myself than anything even remotely utopic is imminent, or even possible, I always end up being wrong.
And so after two months of fruitlessly searching for work—a coffee shop job that kept pushing back my start date, a Books-A-Million job derailed by a failed personality test (I told the truth; a year later I would pass a similar test at Barnes & Noble after I lied), and countless unreturned calls and resumes & applications that most likely went unread; a two month period that required one of my roommates to cover my share of the rent & utilities—a share that I eventually paid back in full—I finally got hired at this Days Inn out by the airport, so far from our home near Asheville on the improbably & problematically named French Broad Ave. that it was actually in Fletcher, so far from our home that it required me to drive to work on a stretch of interstate which according to the signs ran simultaneously east and west, so far that according to g**gle maps I needed to drive exactly 15.2 miles each way, but yeah Days Inn hired me as their new full-time night auditor and though the hotel manager, whose name I can’t even remember at the moment, was supposedly in charge of the motel, it was David Hogan the Asst. Manager who truly ran the place, who trained me how to do my job, who lived on the property in a pair of adjoining rooms populated by a tremendous number of cats both alive & taxidermied, and it is David Hogan who is the hero of this story because it is David Hogan who I never forgot.
And though the adage ‘in these troubled economic times we should be grateful for any job we can get’ is as stupid & cruel as the worst parts of the US psyche that brought it into being, if you’ve ever spent two months looking for work without any support financial or otherwise from what’s left of your god-forsaken (or was it god-corrupted?) family, you’re at the very least going to feel some relief, a sort of psychic exhalation, knowing you’ll finally be able to pay your bills, have enough food to eat, and even have a little bit left over for the occasional adventure provided you’re willing to live with three other people and confine most of these adventures to the library. But even if the money wasn’t great, and at 75 cents p/hr above the then-current minimum wage (the extra bump b/c I’d be working the overnight shift, not that I needed the incentive), it most definitely wasn’t, for me working overnight was the incentive. Because once the guests were checked in and the reports all run, I’d have the rest of the night to myself and every morning around 3:00 we’d get a Krispy Kreme delivery for the breakfast buffet (also served: toast, pre-packaged muffins & danishes, orange juice, and coffee), and for an aspiring writer, the free sugar/caffeine coupled w/the slow hours in the middle of the night meant I could work on changing the face of contemporary literature, which at that time meant working on the novel I planned to start, a novel that—in its difficulty, in its failure—is emphatically different from the one you’re currently reading because, and I feel this is important enough to mention one more time, whenever I imagine something good happening in the future, I almost always turn out to be wrong.
That other novel, the one you aren’t reading, the one that will never be read unless I’m long dead and my descendents are desperate for cash, is saved in a folder called Washing the Bones (actually it’s all caps, as in WASHING THE BONES, b/c I thought that would make it easier to find if I put it in all caps, but it turns out if you go around putting things in all caps so they’re easy to find you eventually end up w/most of your folders in all caps so your filing system looks like the comment thread on a far-right website [or far left, I’m willing to concede]). As best as I can remember—I have no intention of going back and reading it, ever—it involved an aspiring artist named Steven who had recently been…
No, you know what, it’s still too embarrassingly awful. Maybe once I have a pulitzer under my belt and millions in the bank, a PBS American Masters episode about me and the word ‘Creneyesque’ in the dictionary and/or wikipedia (spellcheck suggests I might want to change Creneyesque to grotesque, and for once I’m willing to concede they have a point), maybe then I’ll be willing to accept its existence. For this book, all we need to know is that during my several-month tenure at the Days Inn, I wrote over 75,000 words that are saved in a folder called WASHING THE BONES, and even when I abandoned the project, I was still no closer to figuring out the plot, the story, the compelling reason for a reader to turn from one page to another. But I learned a valuable lesson: never start writing a book unless you have a story to tell and an idea of where it’s going. A lesson few writers ever learn, though you may at this early stage in our current novel—which in a basketball sense is still in the opening minute of the 1st quarter and the visitors haven’t even had to call a timeout to slow the home team’s surging momentum after a pair of long-range threes from their undersized point guard—be having your doubts.
But when 25% of US citizens believe the sun rotates around the earth, where more people believe in Jesus than evolution, and believe that vaccines kill you but not-vaccines make you healthy, I think placing demands on a reader’s faith isn’t completely unreasonable when we live in a time when faith is stronger than evidence and a good proselytizer is worth his weight in gold investments. I mean, contra the popular aphorism, shitloads of people have gone broke from underestimating the intelligence of the US public. Not that I’m estimating your intelligence in any particular direction. For one thing, there’s too few of you. The sample size is way too small. For another, I can’t even estimate my own intelligence. Not at this point, not after everything that’s happened.