Words Don’t Come Easily

So, the thing is, nothing lasts forever. Well, most things don’t, anyway.
Friends will leave you, love can fade, dreams can die, and stars will burn out. But the written word is something that’s difficult to erase.
One year ago, I signed a publishing contract with a small, unproven, indie press based out of Kentucky. My book went through a unique – and fun – editing process, and was finally published on March 30, 2017. Exciting! But there’s always a risk in signing with an independent publisher, and the reality of it all hit around mid-June when the whole operation dissolved; the owner’s apparent love for the written word was not as big as other things in his life. Which is fair. It sucks, but it’s fair.
For myself and the group of talented writers who had signed on with the now-defunct company, the whole thing left us feeling stranded, as though all our work was for naught. Having a few long weeks to dwell on it, however, we’ve realized the truth: Endever Publishing Studios was just ONE route to take in getting our work out into the world. There are so many more options out there for us. Best of all, we’ve happy-accidentally (is that a word? it should be) formed a terrific little writers’ group; one that’s spread across three countries and two different continents. Whatever direction our individual works decide to take, I’m certain there will always be a piece of each of us within it all.
And the most important thing to remember, is that although the words within my first published work are no longer definitively out there, they do still exist. And for anyone who has – or still might – read them, they continue to be a part of you too.
Yes, I realize the irony in having titled the book “This Never Happened”, but it did happen. It still might happen again. And it will continue to find new ways to happen. All the while, the words remain, pure and unharmed.
Words don’t come easily, but they do persist.
-RTM-

Character Names

Have you ever read a novel where some of the character names really bothered you? Or maybe you found the name to be a perfect fit for the character? Have you ever kept forgetting who characters were? Confusing multiple characters with one another? I’ve been thinking a lot about my character names recently, and whether they really work for my book or not.

It’s a hard thing to realize that a name is just not working. As writers, we spend so long on developing our characters, and a name is part of that development. Sometimes we fall in love with a name so deeply that the idea of changing it would alter the entire story.

A few of the characters in my third novel, This Never Happened, have gone through name changes. Sometimes it’s other characters in the story who appear to fit a certain name better that precipitates a name swap. Sometimes they fall victim to the “same letter syndrome”, when two character (especially main characters) names begin with the same letter and causes confusion for the reader. As a writer you need to eliminate as much unnecessary confusion as possible.

Cepik “Epic” Small is the novel’s protagonist and obviously has a very unique name. Initially I wanted to simply name him Epic but this was slightly too unusual for a given name so I did some research into similar-sounding names that could use Epic as a nickname. I discovered the Polish Cepik (pronounced Seh-pick) and from there gave him a bit of family history that was not entirely necessary for the story but helped flesh him out a bit more. The name Epic originally tied into the first working title of the book: it was going to be called Epoch (as in an important event in history) and Epic sounded similar enough in pronunciation that there would be a common thread there. After much consideration this proved to be a little too far outside the box so some simplification was needed. The surname Small came to me via one of my favorite movies, When Harry Met Sally. There is a character with the line: “I’m Ben Small. From the Coney Island Smalls.” My book takes place in Coney Island and I just couldn’t shake the line out of my head, so it’s kind of an homage. Also, I like the juxtaposition between the words “epic” and “small.”

Below are some of the other characters you will meet in This Never Happened who have unusual – but hopefully memorable – names:

  • Abigail “Abi” Ayr: discovers an unexplained connection between herself and Epic. Abigail is a pathological liar and may even have some rudimentary psychic abilities. Or maybe she doesn’t. It’s all part of the mystery. She loves video games and referencing games such as Minesweeper and World of Warcraft.
  • Gideon Flat: Epic’s new therapist, after his previous one (Doctor Griffin) dies.
  • Armand Bester: Epic’s friend, co-worker and would-be writer/playwright. His play – called The Duality of Three – is eerily similar to events in The Third (a fictional novel that Epic is reading).
  • Zoltan Lintzel: An odd scientist who is somehow connected to a MMORPG and is also strangely familiar with Epic’s past. He claims to be from Switzerland. Zoltan is Hungarian, Lintzel is German. I liked the idea of not really knowing the man’s origins.
  • Margaret “Margo” Asus: An actress from The Duality of Three; played the dead girl. Was the name of the waitress at the UnDiner until I felt it was a better fit here. Her name holds a connection to the mythological pegasus, with “Peggy” or “Peg” being a nickname for Margaret (therefore Margo Asus = PegAsus). This all sounds strange, but plays a big part near the end of the book.
  • Doctor Griffin: Epic’s former therapist, recently committed suicide. Just like the Margo character, the good doctor also holds a connection to a mythological creature (Griffin = lion/eagle hybird).
  • Lobstero: Abi’s father. His hands are deformed and have the appearance of lobster claws. Lobstero is a performer at the Coney Island Sideshows by the Seashore.
  • Wilma Dradtstl-Small: Epic’s mother, left them when Epic was only five years old. Practically the only thing Epic remembers of his mother is her oftentimes telling him he was “born ten thousand years too late.” But what did she mean by this? Read the book!
  • Dorothy: Waitress at The UnDiner, the Coney Island coffee shop frequented by Epic. Was originally Margaret Asus, then was momentarily known as Lorna before becoming Dorothy.

THIS NEVER HAPPENED from Endever Publishing Studios is scheduled for a Spring 2017 release.

Progress?

So maybe it’s not going exactly as hoped. Upon completing my third novel (This Never Happened), I began work on my query letter. A query letter is what an author will send to literary agents in an attempt to get them excited about reading their work. Perhaps my query letter need a bit of refining. Here are the initial stats in my query attempts:

Queries sent: 93.

Responses: 29.

Manuscript Requests: 2.

Of those two requests, I received a pass from one, though with some helpful critique. Specifically, the literary agent “had trouble seeing the genre elements of the work shining through” and found that “the first person point-of-view felt claustrophobic.” This was one of the first queries I’d sent out; in it, I labelled my book as “Science Fiction,” but have since reconsidered my genre and began querying under the genre heading “Speculative Fiction.” I think this may have eliminated the first constructive comment.

The claustrophobic comment made me stop and think a bit. I had to interpret what the agent meant as best I could. What does a claustrophobic point-of-view actually mean? The best I could do was presume it was maybe too much time inside my main character’s head; maybe too many internal thoughts. As I was considering this, the idea of switching my POV came to me. Since one of the premises of my story is that the main character dreams of things that are actually happening to his alternate world counterpart, then there already exists a symbiotic bond between the two. If the story was told in a Second Person Point-of-View then the reader could be guessing at the true nature of the narrator, along with all of the other pieces of the literary puzzle they’re already trying to put together.

So, I’m beginning the process of rewriting my manuscript. I’m still hoping there’ll be a bite or two from my first batch of queries, but I think I’m getting closer to having the book where it’s meant to be.

This Never Happened: Chapter One

With my first draft complete I thought I’d share my first chapter. This is more of an intro chapter, short with a few clues as to where the story is going but without much plot.

Hope you like it!

(EDIT – 12/12/2016: I’ve since merged chapters one and two into my opening chapter, and as such the following version will be changed a lot heading into the book’s release date. Still, it’s fun to see how the book was originally planned out.)

CHAPTER ONE: TEN THOUSAND YEARS TOO LATE

Some mothers tell their sons they will be someone special someday. Some tell their sons they are the smartest in their class. The most handsome, maybe. My mother enjoyed telling me I was born ten thousand years too late. I’m not sure I ever knew what she meant by that. I remember how she would say it with a kind of crooked smirk on her face, sometimes after a little joke I never understood. Always when my father wasn’t home. “Oh, you wouldn’t get it,” she’d say. “You were born ten thousand years too late to understand.” I always wondered if there was some great event that occurred ten thousand years ago; something worth my mother’s blasé indifference and flippant comments, but I have no idea what that might have been. I know that in 8018 BC the world’s population was around four million. In 7219 BC mankind was beginning its transition from hunters and gatherers to farmers. I’m not sure where I might have fit amongst those Neolithic people, but I do know that I’ve never once felt as though I belonged where I actually was. Just like most young men, I suppose.

People say it’s impossible for babies to remember the moment of their birth, but I remember the light that day. It wasn’t a brilliant, bursting flash, a soft luminous luster or anything else that might come to mind when one thinks of light, but I know that’s what it was. I remember it easily because it has haunted my dreams countless times. And when I’m not dreaming it, sometimes I’m reminded of that wonderfully frightening flash when the F-Train bursts out over 4th Place. Or when the sun is caught within the steel web of the Parachute Jump. I can’t help from remembering. People will tell me they don’t remember the day they were born. They can’t comprehend what it must have been like to see that light – the light that bathes us all in our most vulnerable moment – for the first time. I don’t have the heart to tell them I remember every horrible second of it. Do you know what it is? It’s the same light they tell you to walk towards when you’re dying.

In 7103 BC people were building their world’s first cities. Earth’s citizens began living in mud-brick domiciles. They were just starting to learn how to deal with noisy neighbors and domestic disputes. I live in Coney Island, just a subway ride away from Manhattan. I sleep in a crusty apartment on Mermaid Avenue and I imagine it has approximately the same dimensions and appeal as those original mud homes. I have neighbors on either side of me, above and below. I know them as well as most anyone can really know their neighbors. The woman who lives on the top floor of my building runs a yoga studio in her bedroom and she claims the amount of psychic energy her students generate is enough to calm all the world’s aching souls. I don’t imagine that could be true since the world has as many problems as it does but maybe it’s my fault for not being able to comprehend. Or perhaps she just doesn’t know how to harness all that psychic energy she’s got bouncing around up there.

Living in New York confuses me. It’s not the politics of the city itself, nor does it have anything to do with the pressures or expectations its people place upon one another or the images one must try to maintain in order to fit in. It’s the little things, like how do the parking meters know exactly how much change you’ve dropped in? Same with the pay machines in the subway stations. I don’t understand how computer servers can store as much information as they do. When the U.S. Census reports that Manhattan has nearly two million residents, I cannot fathom how that’s even possible. How do two million people fit on one island? How do they keep from constantly bumping into one another?

When I’m working, I work for a laundry and linen supply company. Brooklyn Whites, it’s called. Sounds like a racist sports team but it’s really not. I pick up and deliver tablecloths and napkins and uniforms and floor mats from restaurants all over the city. It’s mindless, but I don’t ask for much. When I’m not working I’m usually on my bed. I like to dream. In my dreams, I’m not cleaning up the mess that others have left behind. In my dreams I don’t live on Mermaid Avenue. In my dreams I live in the country. Not like the Hamptons, but more like somewhere in Kentucky. Maybe Bowling Green or Elizabethtown. In my dreams everything is perfect; I’m just as I want to be. I’m everything I missed along the way to where I am now. It’s only when I wake up that I seem to experience this backwards reality.

In 7462 BC the English Channel was formed. In 7855 BC wild horses completely disappeared from Great Britain. In 8080 BC Earth’s last glacial period ended; our world’s last Ice Age. Up until this point, all of the food humans ate came from wild plants and animals. It wasn’t until much later that people began to think about domesticating their food supply. In 8002 BC people began to cultivate grains: wheat, rice, rye, oats, millet, and barley. My mother told me I was born ten thousand years too late. In my dreams I don’t have to try and believe her. In my dreams my mother didn’t leave us.

My name is Cepik Small. That’s pronounced “Seh-Pick” if you’re going to keep track. Like septic without the T. It’s Polish, though I have no idea which of my ancestors were the last to actually step foot in Poland. I doubt I could even point to it on a map. Friends call me Epic for short even if it’s the exact same number of syllables. But I don’t know many friends anymore. It’s all part of the same story. Some forgotten friends. A stupid name. A crummy apartment. An uninspired career. A broken heart. It might sound like I’m alone, and it’s true. But I’m not really lonely. At least not all of the time. I’m not sure what I was meant for, but I know it’s not what I’ve been given. My father told me he wished I would have everything I ever wanted in life, yet his own life seemed so barren and meaningless. We barely had enough money to get by. I’ve always felt as though I was a spectator, rather than a participant. I’ve felt this way in everything I’ve done and every place I’ve been. In my dreams I am definitely a participant. In my dreams, I wasn’t an outcast in high school; I was just normal enough to go unnoticed. In my dreams, I fell in love. In my dreams, I’m everything my mother and father really wanted me to be.

Research

A lot of research will go into every novel someone writes. Or rather, if authors intend to make their work as meaningful as possible they will do the applicable research. In my new novel (THIS NEVER HAPPENED) there is a laundry list of extremely diverse topics I felt I had to research in order to help the authenticity of the story. Some of this research time was spanning many days, while other bits only required a few relatively simple internet searches.

Because I think the range of topics in this book is quite impressive (and maybe a little bit out there) I’ve compiled a list of some of my research topics over the last 2+ years. Here’s what I’ve come up with, just off the top of my head:

  1. What was happening on Earth 10,000 years ago
  2. The Neolithic (agricultural) Revolution
  3. Black holes, and the death of them
  4. Alternate universes, parallel worlds
  5. Cosmological and astrological epochs
  6. Brain cancer
  7. Prosopagnosia
  8. Hypoxic Hypoxia
  9. Dementia
  10. Prescription drugs: pain killers, anti-depression meds, medicinal marijuana (psychopharmaceuticals)
  11. History of Coney Island, NY
  12. Coney Island Mermaid Parade
  13. Coney Island Sideshows by the Seashore; freak show history
  14. Russians in Brighton Beach, NY
  15. Polish surnames
  16. NY subway  system, specifically routes within Brooklyn
  17. Roosevelt Island
  18. Shoe repair supplies
  19. Mythological creatures: griffin, headless horsemen, undine, pegasus
  20. Metal bands’ album covers
  21. French novels from the 1970’s
  22. MMORPG’s
  23. Virtual reality gear
  24. Conspiracy theories
  25. Drones
  26. The science of throwing a baseball

What does it all add up to? Hopefully a thought-provoking, frightening and sometimes humorous work of fiction. We’ll see.

So This Happened

Okay, it’s done. A few months past my personal deadline but I’ve completed the first draft of my manuscript for my third novel. Clocking at 19 chapters and ~95,000 words, THIS NEVER HAPPENED has finally happened. Next up is the editing stage, but with my style of writing (editing as I go) this won’t take very long.

Editing for me is proofreading, fixing some minor grammar, tweaking some dialogue, moving ideas around from chapter to chapter until it just feels right. I don’t recommend editing as you write since it’s the best way to slow down the creative process, but I’m stubborn and it ain’t worth fixing at this point.

I’m in love with some of my characters and there are definitely some favorite scenes and chapters, but I’ll share more of this in a future post.

After the editing comes writing a query letter and the hunt for literary agents, which might just be more daunting than writing a 300-page novel.

Onward!

Character Names

Have you ever read a novel where some of the character names really bothered you? Or maybe you found the name to be a perfect fit for the character? Have you ever kept forgetting who characters were? Confusing multiple characters with one another? I’ve been thinking a lot about my character names recently, and whether they really work for my book or not.

It’s a hard thing to realize that a name is just not working. As writers, we spend so long on developing our characters, and a name is part of that development. Sometimes we fall in love with a name so deeply that the idea of changing it would alter the entire story.

A few of the characters in my third novel, This Never Happened, have gone through name changes. Sometimes it’s other characters in the story who appear to fit a certain name better that precipitates a name swap. Sometimes they fall victim to the “same letter syndrome”, when two characters’ (especially main characters’) names begin with the same letter and causes confusion for the reader. As a writer you need to eliminate as much unnecessary confusion as possible.

Cepik “Epic” Small is the novel’s protagonist and obviously has a very unique name. Initially I wanted to simply name him Epic but this was slightly too unusual for a given name so I did some research into similar-sounding names that could use Epic as a nickname. I discovered the Polish Cepik (pronounced Seh-pick) and from there gave him a bit of family history that was not entirely necessary for the story but helped flesh him out a bit more. The name Epic originally tied into the first working title of the book: it was going to be called Epoch (as in an important event in history) and Epic sounded similar enough in pronunciation that there would be a common thread there. After much consideration this proved to be a little too far outside the box so some simplification was needed. The surname Small came to me via one of my favorite movies, When Harry Met Sally. There is a character with the line: “I’m Ben Small. From the Coney Island Smalls.” My book takes place in Coney Island and I just couldn’t shake the line out of my head, so it’s kind of an homage. Also, I like the juxtaposition between the words “epic” and “small.”

Below are some of the other characters in This Never Happened who have unusual – but hopefully memorable – names:

  • Abigail “Abi” Ayr: discovers an unexplained connection between herself and Epic. Abigail is a pathological liar and may have some rudimentary psychic abilities. She loves video games and referencing games such as Minesweeper and World of Warcraft.
  • Gideon Flat: Epic’s new therapist, after his previous one (Doctor Griffin) dies.
  • Armand Bester: Epic’s friend, co-worker and would-be writer/playwright. His play – called The Duality of Three – is eerily similar to events in The Third (a fictional novel that Epic is reading).
  • Zoltan Lintzel: An odd scientist who is somehow connected to a MMORPG and is also strangely familiar with Epic’s past. He claims to be from Switzerland. Zoltan is Hungarian, Lintzel is German. I liked the idea of not really knowing the man’s origins.
  • Margaret “Margo” Asus: An actress from The Duality of Three; played the dead girl. Was the name of the waitress at the UnDiner until I felt it was a better fit here. Her name holds a connection to the mythological pegasus, with “Peggy” or “Peg” being a nickname for Margaret (therefore Margo Asus = PegAsus).
  • Doctor Griffin: Epic’s former therapist, recently committed suicide. Just like the Margo character, the good doctor also holds a connection to a mythological creature (Griffin = lion/eagle hybird).
  • Lobstero: Abi’s father. His hands are deformed and have the appearance of lobster claws. Lobstero is a performer at the Coney Island Sideshows by the Seashore.
  • Wilma Dradtstl-Small: Epic’s mother, left them when Epic was only five years old. Practically the only thing Epic remembers of his mother is her oftentimes telling him he was “born ten thousand years too late.” But what did she mean by this?
  • Dorothy: Waitress at The UnDiner, the Coney Island coffee shop frequented by Epic. Was Margaret Asus, then momentarily Lorna before becoming Dorothy.

Novels Within Novels

In my new novel (“THIS NEVER HAPPENED“), I’m exploring the novel-within-a-novel concept. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. It’s true, I already did this in my second book (“THE FALLING“). In The Falling, my main character (Tommy) is a novelist whose debut work (“BLANC“) was essentially a detective story set in 1940’s New York. Tommy based the detective character on himself while modelling the amnesiac serial killer he was chasing after an old friend (Patrick) who Tommy had been harboring negative feelings for. When Tommy gets it into his head that Patrick has returned after ten years in a grand act of revenge, he also decides that Patrick is using the scenes in Blanc as inspiration. I used three “excerpts” from Blanc and placed them sporadically within The Falling, at points in the story where Tommy’s feelings might be justified by the reader. But these were also scenes that intended to help readers better define the true nature of Tommy’s and Patrick’s close relationship.

But where the fictional novel within The Falling served the story as non-linear character development, my new story utilizes the concept in a very different way.

The FallingThis Never Happened COVERIn This Never Happened, the protagonist (Epic Small) is riding the F-Train through Brooklyn when he finds a tattered copy of a book on the seat beside him. Below is an excerpt from Chapter Four of my book:

“The novel is entitled The Third. The cover is a painting of two identical left forearms, with their wrists facing out. Somebody has defaced the cover with a bright green marker, having drawn juvenile slits along the wrists with blood streaming out. Like they are bleeding pesto or possibly belong to some sort of space creature who has assumed the form of a man. Checking the front matter, I discover this is an English translation of a French novel by the author Jean Trepanier, first published in the Seventies. This translation was published a few years after that. The back cover offers no synopsis, no indication of what the reader might be in for.”

Epic begins reading the novel right there on the subway, and realizes without a doubt that this is going to be a confusing tale. It is a story about twins, though the two men (Tristan and Luca) share no relation and don’t really look alike. The fictional author (Jean Trepanier) continues to describe Luca’s physical features differently; he’s Chinese, he’s an Eskimo, he’s a little girl, or he’s morbidly obese. There’s no rhyme or reason as to why the descriptions change but the reader and Tristan and all the secondary characters are meant to simply assume they are identical twins. Luca proposes that the two men switch lives, and without much of an argument from Tristan the two swap jobs, apartments and girlfriends.

The Third is written in a way and perceived by Epic to be something that is worth questioning. Is this a real book? Was it intentionally planted on that subway for Epic (and him specifically) to discover? And in another twist, when Epic discusses the strangeness of this book with his therapist (Gideon), it turns out that Gideon has read it too. But Gideon’s version of The Third is a little different: there is a whole other character in his version, one that does not exist in Epic’s: a third twin (er, triplet, I suppose) plays a key role in this alternate version, and his name is simply The Third. Why the divergences in the two books? Who holds the “correct” version? These are all questions that I’m hoping readers will ask, but ultimately, the two copies of The Third play a key role in the bigger picture of This Never Happened. They serve as clues towards the secret within the entire story.

Still transitioning from the outline-to-writing stage, my goal is to have This Never Happened completed at the end of 2014.

Excerpt: THIS NEVER HAPPENED – Chapter Four

In an effort to share some of what I’m currently working on, here is an excerpt from the beginning of Chapter Four of my new novel, THIS NEVER HAPPENED. Our protagonist, Cepik “Epic” Small, is a lonely soul, lost in New York (Coney Island specifically) and searching for his proper identity. He has recently began sessions with a new therapist (his previous therapist killed himself) and he’s had brief but strangely significant encounters with an mysterious as-yet-unnamed girl. Here, Epic is riding the subway on his way to work.

So read on! Comments are very much welcome.

CHAPTER FOUR

Every time I ride the F-Train I feel lucky. I don’t know why that is exactly since I don’t think good luck has ever befallen anyone who’s rode the F, but inevitably I will catch myself thinking, “This is the day something special will happen.” Because of this, I don’t take the F-Train very often; in fact I avoid it as much as possible. Because too much good luck, too much eager anticipation for something unknown cannot be healthy. And how likely is it that good luck could be a constant anyway? That goes against the very idea of luck. Maybe it’s something akin to this pleasure delaying, like Doctor Gideon said to me yesterday. Still, based on the alarming fashion in which this train shook upon leaving the station there was certainly no reason to believe good luck was on its way.

There’s a delicate electricity in the air tonight, a feeling like if one were to tread ever so far from where they were meant to be sinister events might unfold. The clear summer twilight seems to hide dark clouds beneath it, rather than the other way around. Yet the rancid, musky odour of the Coney Island station greets me as it always does, smacking all my sense at once. Sure, it’s still comforting in a way, but I feel like I need to put myself outside of my comfort zones (again, as Gideon suggested) so I find a seat in the open and across from another passenger, in fact the only other person in view, rather than a shady spot in the corner of the last train. The old man ignores me, he of the two-piece checkered suit and ascot, looking like Al Pacino from The Godfather. On his feet he showcases a pair of worn bowling shoes, one noticeably larger than the other. His left arm rests upon a massive garbage bag on the seat beside him, its contents unknown but enigmatic. The deviant smile on his face captures me for a moment; why is he smiling so? I want to keep staring, but I know I’d be utterly defenseless should he make sudden eye contact with me. Thankfully my hand glides against a newspaper beside me, which is enough to turn my attention elsewhere.

Tonight I’m riding the F-Train to Roosevelt Island. I’m meeting Bester, a coworker of mine, at The Salt Mine, a trendy new restaurant on Roosevelt’s Main Street. The small island, slivered between Manhattan and Queens has a dark and dirty history of penitentiaries, lunatic asylums and holding pens for victims of Smallpox. But today Roosevelt Island is slowly transforming itself into the latest of New York City’s gentrified neighborhoods offering luxury condos for a young, affluent demographic. I was supposed to pick up the company van from Bester at our warehouse in Gowanus but he called asking me to instead meet him on Roosevelt Island. There’s something wrong with the van. I don’t know the first thing about the inner workings of my single-slice toaster, but Bester apparently thinks I’m the company’s newest expert on vehicle repair. My guess is he did a little weed-induced off-roading through Queensbridge Park in the van beforehand and simply requires an alibi before filling out the night’s routine paperwork. I figure as long as he’s spotting my subway fare it’s all fine with me.

The copy of the Daily News beside me seems to have gone untouched, as if the Sunday edition had been delivered directly to this seat. I catch the words “Coney Island” right on the front page in big, bold serifed letters. There’s rarely ever front page news about Coney Island, and if there is it’s only because of a tragedy. I remove the newspaper for a closer look. Apparently there was a homicide yesterday, it happened during the Mermaid Parade, just a few blocks away. I try to recall if I heard sirens or screaming, but it’s almost like I wasn’t even there yesterday, like Gideon had me under hypnosis or something. There are no names or much in the way of description, sensationalistic journalism at its best. A man in his late twenties/early thirties was strangled with his own shirt. He was discovered by a homeless man in an alley, who had probably wondered at first who had taken over his turf. I think again about how long it’s been since I’ve talked to my father; he probably isn’t worried about me, but I remind myself that I really do need to call him one of these days.

The next few pages are of no real consequence. I glimpse over them as the train stops at Avenue U Station. A penguin at the Central Park Zoo that was believed to have died yesterday was now miraculously alive again. Some gibberish about a coma-like condition called cerebral hypoxia. Hypoxic hypoxia or some such thing. Simply glancing over the article doesn’t give me any glaring insight, nor do I really find it interesting enough to read deeper. The rest is so mundane it seems the same stories have been printed over and over again. Effortless stories for the simple sake of daily dissemination; a sewage pipe burst in the Upper West Side; a new dog park opens in the Village; Hampton green tomatoes may reduce cervical cancer.

By the time my train reaches Avenue N Station, I’ve already tossed the paper aside, without bothering to fold it back neatly into its once pristine condition. On the seat there is now a book which I hadn’t spotted when I took the newspaper. I almost wonder if somebody left it beside me as they passed by, but I’m confident in my certainty that no one other than the gentleman across from me had been in this car. It is a novel, a softcover and dog-eared in its condition.

I pick it up, and it feels only slightly heavier than I imagined, just enough to seem significant.

The novel is entitled The Third. The cover is a painting of two identical left forearms, with their wrists facing out. Somebody has defaced the cover with a bright green marker, having drawn juvenile slits along the wrists with blood streaming out. Like they are bleeding pesto or possibly belong to some sort of space creature who has assumed the form of a man. Checking the front matter, I discover this is an English translation of a French novel by the author Jean Trepanier, first published in the Seventies. This translation was published a few years after that. The back cover offers no synopsis, no indication of what the reader might be in for. I’ve been meaning to read a new book so without any consideration I simply open the novel to Chapter One and start reading as the F-Train disembarks from Avenue N.

The writing is by no means extraordinary, but this may be due in part to the English translation or maybe Jean Trepanier is simply a poor writer. Or possibly both. Right from the start, the novel does not seem so out of the ordinary. It is about a young man named Tristan Montminy. Tristan is a Parisian university student who also works part-time in furniture construction, but I get the feeling that what he does is not actually important. I’ve always wondered how writers decide to craft their stories. Obviously not all information in a book is relevant to the story but where do they decide to plant the clues about what really matters? Clues about where the tale is truly headed?

The book opens with Tristan in the middle of building an oblong kitchen table when his girlfriend Emilia shows up in a huff. She is pissed at him for something he doesn’t even remember doing, but he’s not too worried about it; he’s been forgetting things lately anyway, presumably a result of all the marijuana he’s been smoking. Trepanier then takes us on a two-page journey to Tuscany, where Tristan and Emilia once took a trip together and came home with a wooden vegetable crate full of pot. After a brief and fruitless argument Emilia exits, just as abruptly as she entered. From there, Tristan continues his woodworking, now with the author inexplicably going into great detail about the grain and the color of the wood. Seriously, there’s nearly four pages of description here. I look up from the book: the F-Train has stopped at 42nd Street/Bryant Park. Only four more stations until Roosevelt Island. The old man across from me is still smiling at nothing in particular. If only I could find the strength to ask him what kind of prescriptions he might be on because it’s definitely not what I’m taking.

As the train starts off again I continue reading. Tristan is on his way to class, though there’s never any mention of what classes he’s coming from or going to. Upon entering the lecture hall, Tristan stops. He suddenly recalls a dream he had one week before; a dream he did not remember until now. However, the reader is not privy to the details of this dream, which I find irksome. Tristan is soon snapped out of his reverie when someone calls out. “Luca!” they shout. “Hey, Luca!” Tristan looks around and spots a stout young man he doesn’t recognize. This person is most certainly waving at him. “Luca! What are you doing here?” he asks.

It takes my brain a few seconds to register hearing that we just left the 21st Street/Queensbridge Station. What? How did I miss my stop? The old man is gone now too, probably having exited the train while my attention was caught between the pages of the book in my lap. The next stop is Jackson Heights, a fair extra distance from where I want to be, and I sit on my own the entire way there. I fold the corner of the page I’m at in The Third and watch a darkened Astoria and Woodside pass by the window. The subway is so close to a few buildings that I can see the details of the lit apartments. Tiny slices of unknown lives flicker by, not unlike a film reel, almost animating the goings on inside. Mostly just televisions tuned to the same channel. The lonely blue light is so hypnotic that I almost don’t realize the train slowing down. Slipping the copy of The Third into my bag I exit the eastbound station and run the gauntlet over to the Manhattan-bound side, barely making it in time for the next F-Train. I scramble through the swarm of commuters spewing from the train and find a spot, again in the middle car.

There’s some bug buzzing around the tip of my nose and when I try to brush it away it hovers around my left ear, humming its maddening song just for me. Then into the right ear. As I swat at the thing maniacally I almost miss the girl outside the window. She must have just gotten off as I went the other way. I know for sure that it’s the same girl I saw during the parade yesterday, still in the same clothes, still wearing the same sunglasses. I can clearly see a skull-and-crossbones pattern on the back of her denim jacket. Although shrouded by the eye wear, I can tell she recognizes me too. That, or she just might have a staring problem. It’s the same look from across the street as the day before. I don’t even have time to raise a hand or nod in mutual recognition before the F-Train rattles off and the girl disappears back into a faceless crowd.

Cont’d…

Progress

This Never Happened COVER

Just a quick update on the progress of my third novel, still tentatively called “THIS NEVER HAPPENED.” Things are coming along great! I’m still mostly working in the outlining stage, with roughly four chapters fully written. I’ve had a few major plot points that were tying my story together, but they weren’t really tying each other together (if that makes sense) until a few days ago. Sometimes a bunch of great ideas don’t really work unless they’re playing off one another, which is what’s finally happening with my novel. The characters are also all starting to play off one another nicely, with interestingly unexpected connections being made as well, which always helps a novel’s progression.

Basically, I’m liking it! And I’m excited about opening up my Google Doc every day. So there you go.

Hopefully I can share another few pages one of these days.