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-

Lacuna Misplaced

Lacuna Misplaced is a short story I wrote in 2016 for Endever Publishing Studios. The story was published with the novel These Great Affects by Andrew Toy.

What is it about? I wanted to explore the ends of relationships, and whether there’s the possibility of a supernatural force that predetermines whether a relationship will end amicably or not.

But that’s the short answer. There’s plenty more to dissect within the story, and it’s only 2200 words, so I’ve tried to leave enough outside the story to dwell upon after a reading.

All comments & questions are welcome. Enjoy!

LACUNA MISPLACED

(title taken from a line from the poem “Thinking I Think I Think” by Charles Bernstein)

I kill the engine at the top of the parking garage; the old, towering one that overlooks a darkened Manhattan from Brooklyn’s crumbling coastline. You’re already there with a coffee for me and a still-hot pizza from Spadowski’s, inviting me over, not with words spoken, but simply by opening the grease-stained box. You place the box on the hood of the car and we sit on either side. The pizza smells fantastic, like sweet solace. This car hood, however, is freezing my ass off.

I motion toward a seemingly empty spot atop the steaming pizza. That slice there…it’s missing a piece of pepperoni.

You ask, Is it missing if it was never there to begin with? Then you take a slice from the box, folding it in half; the still-bubbling cheese now cradling the grease rather than merely acting as a slippery platter.

She did that too.

She was always bragging about her preference towards Chicago deep dish pizza but then I’d inevitably catch her cramming the thin, bi-folded slice into her mouth, eating like an honest-to-God real New Yorker.

She deceived me. Like the distance between the earth and the moon and the moon and the stars, she was deceptive. I have memories of her, but the memories are only fluid; it’s the dreams that are concrete.

You say, That’s backwards though, isn’t it? Aren’t dreams meant to be the more elusive of the two?

My dreams? They’re like a bridge that spans over everything else in my cityscape, casting an unremitting shadow, while leaving me wondering just where exactly it is they connect to. A bridge you’ve seen a thousand times from beneath but have never stepped foot on either side. One side always being the end, I suppose, while the other will always be the beginning. It doesn’t matter which direction you face; the two are always there. One cannot exist without the other: a symbiotic relationship; like cheese and pepperoni or her and me.

That girl, that girl. I could see the end of us, even from way back at the beginning. The end was always there, like a traffic light in the far distance. A red light that never changes to green.

But that was then. This is now. I don’t recall you agreeing to meet me at this squalid parking garage, but we’re both here nevertheless. Why you asked me about her after all this time I have no idea. It’s been months since it ended, but I guess you were just giving me my space. Or didn’t want to share the space I’ve been in. Maybe that’s more like it. I wouldn’t blame you, really. This place though: it plays in my mind like one of those intangible memories. Its smell sparks feelings I don’t like having. The dusty way its light and darkness play off one another: as though something murky here had done me wrong in the past. Whatever it could be though, I can’t place it.

Your space is your own. I wouldn’t impose, you say.

She told me something about space too. She once described her being in my life as filling all the empty spaces within me. So why do I feel more empty now than I did before? Like she took a little extra from me when she left.

Lucky to have extra to give, I suppose? You wipe your mouth with your sleeve. Mechanically, you seize another piece of pizza and begin anew. I finally take a slice for myself. You know, sometimes I get going and forget the little things I want. That coffee smells good too. Thanks.

Our beginning was improbable. She, a young, ambitious art dealer who already had a half-paid mortgage on her own apartment in Morningside Heights. She wrote what she labeled “a popular column” for The New Criterion, some intellectual critical periodical I’d never heard of before. Me, I was nothing more than a struggling student who had no idea what I was supposed to be studying and, sometimes, no idea where I might be sleeping the next night. But it was she who spoke first when we locked eyes on the subway. We had both – on a whim, it turned out – taken the 6-Train to Pelham Bay for no other reason than because neither of us had been there before. As it happened, the beach was terrible and the two of us bumped into one another, crestfallen while boarding the train back to Manhattan. Purposefully, she sat beside me and started blabbing. “The heart wants what the heart wants, I suppose,” is what she told me later when I’d asked her how it all happened. When I asked her why she would ever choose to strike up a conversation with a total stranger on the subway. She called it her opening move. Her gambit.

All gambits are opening moves but not all opening moves are gambits.

I suppose that might be true. Later that evening, after a lengthy meal at some expensive SoHo brasserie, we sat shoulder-to-shoulder out on the tip of one of those long Chelsea piers. There was a carousel glowing behind us, full of life – lights and laughter – on such a quiet night. It was then that I actually started to believe this could be something. Meaningful, like the way a relationship was supposed to be. I’d been in other relationships before that, so I must have felt the same way before, but I couldn’t recall. It doesn’t matter either, I guess.

It was also then that we spotted something skipping across the Hudson. A light, like an engorged firefly, darted in and out and in-between our senses. We saw it and we felt it. We relished it and we didn’t. At once, we prized it and resisted it. I know it sounds stupid but that light – that will-o’-the-wisp or whatever it may have been – disappeared inside of us. We absorbed it in a microsecond. Each of us knew the other had experienced the same phenomenon, but neither wanted to speak of it. Whatever it was, it was strange enough and weird enough to not want to admit to the experience to anyone else, even that person sitting right next to you the whole time.

And I was acutely aware that something else had entered the relationship then too. Some third party completely unknown to us.

You mumble something with your mouth stuffed. I don’t catch it though. You’ve already consumed a third piece of pizza, and you greedily reach for another.

She was the first thing I would think about upon waking. When I looked in the mirror she was there. Like any youthful relationship, I suppose. Before we’re too jaded to take them seriously anymore. It’s what we were like before we’d been burned one too many times. Or burned ourselves, seems closer to the truth.

But then things end, don’t they? It’s inevitable. Not all at once, of course. That would be too easy. And it would hurt a lot less.

You say, If it doesn’t hurt it doesn’t count, right?

Sure. Like I said: the end was always right there laid out before us. It was no secret. It never is. She had a breakdown one night about some older brother she’d never mentioned before and how he molested her when they were kids. It happened just like that: right out of left field. After that, I don’t think we had an evening that didn’t include some amount of tears in it somewhere. She admitted to wanting to be someone else because anyone else wouldn’t be her. I joked, “You’re crazy! Everything you are is perfect to me.” And then she seemed to take my joke literally. The being crazy part, that is. Through more tears, she blatantly informed me I wasn’t motivated enough to lose weight. I didn’t know I needed to lose weight. She accused me of the stupidest things: everything from swiping five bucks from her drawer to leaving a paper bag of dog turd on her doorstep and even hating minorities. Seemingly at random, she would become verbally abusive towards waiters and baristas and doormen.

I was desperately grasping at straws. I wasn’t sure where things had taken this turn or how to fix them. Eventually, I spoke with one of her gallerist pals to figure out if her current state of mind was in any way normal for her. Is she like this when she’s working? Is she bi-polar? I was expecting him to inform me that yes, she would frequently stop by to intentionally splatter wine on the paintings, or maybe throttle the neck of a potential buyer. But he suggested to me – and quite bluntly – that perhaps I should seek help. Maybe I was the crazy one in the relationship. I recall this colorful painting of a field on the gallery wall. Every time I glanced at it though, it appeared to be a picture of something else. For a tiny moment I considered the possibility that the man might have been right.

It was soon after when we finally reached that red light. When it ended. We’d gone for a walk together and wound up sitting on that same Chelsea Pier. The carousel had been closed for maintenance. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves and I suggested we return to Pelham Bay. I didn’t propose the idea as a last-ditch attempt at resuscitating the relationship. To get us off life support. I said, “Let’s go. Put on your best dress and we’ll hop on the 6-Train.”

“I don’t want to go back there,” she said. “That beach was terrible. I hated it there.”

“But that’s where we met!”

“Exactly,” she brazenly informed me. I think it was the first time in a long while that we’d spent the night together without any tears.

You ask, And that was that, wasn’t it? I’m curious to know how you could tell, and you only say that’s how the end always comes. There are never tears at the very end. If there were, it wouldn’t be over yet.

I’ve never noticed that before. Maybe I just hadn’t paused long enough to think about it. And it was also then – as she and I at once exhaled what we had left inside of us – that the light left. That strange, scuttling thing expunged itself, though we didn’t immediately notice. Then, when she turned to leave, I saw the entity, or whatever it may have been, skipping across the Hudson River once more, this time heading somewhere far away from me. Maybe back to wherever it came from in the first place. She must have sensed its disappearance eventually, but the two of us never spoke again after that. Not of supernatural occurrences and not to each other. I still don’t know what it was that happened.

What did you do with yourself once it was over between you?

What have I been up to? Just coping, really. There are still too many bad thoughts, too many illogical words rattling around inside my head. I want to say I hate her but I hardly even knew her. How can you hate someone you barely know? I drink a lot. And there’s too many bars around here to ever get too emotional about things. I did disappear up to Pelham Bay for some time too.

Was it as bad as you remember it being?

It was worse, actually. But I didn’t meet any psychotics on my way back this time around, so there’s that I suppose. Did you know there’s a place called Throggs Neck out there? I had no idea. That must be the strangest name ever.

I finish off my coffee in nearly one gulp, and I realize there’s only a single slice of pizza left now too. I met someone new the other day though neither of us are really that into each other. I dropped out of college but I do have a regular place to sleep now. You take the last piece of pizza without even asking, and then unconcernedly toss the empty box from the parking lot rooftop.

Listen, if you don’t replace some of those negative thoughts with a positive one or two, they’ll never go away. You must remember some of the good things about her?

If pressed, I might say her hair was orange like the sunset. She appreciated opening credits in movies; the order in which they appeared and how they might be presented. She once told me that love gives meaning to the stars, which I didn’t understand but it made a lot of sense at the same time. I really liked that.

You told me she deceived you. Do you still think so?

She wasn’t the person I thought her to be. Is that enough to qualify?

Are any of us, really? Maybe you were only mistaken. Perhaps she didn’t do any of those terrible things.

Then it’s obvious she’s deceived you too. You wipe your mouth with your sleeve again as I consider the idea of perceived deception. What supernatural element decides whether a relationship will end amicably or in anger? Why do we seem to conveniently forget about the good times? I don’t know if whatever she did to me would have happened regardless of whether we met or not, but I still find myself questioning my own sanity at times. I search myself for some truth to it all; some certainty that I’m still somewhat in control of who I am: my hopes and fears and heartaches.

I catch the light out of the corner of my eye; I see it just as it floats effortlessly off the rooftop. And when I turn to ask if you saw it too, if you caught this maybe-wonderful/maybe-portentous thing skipping away into the distance, you’re nowhere to be found.

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.

The Underneath: Part 1

Endever Publishing Studios is a new publishing company with some bold and exciting new ideas for the industry. I’ll be posting more about them in the very near future.

For now though, I’ll share Part 1 of Endever’s new online serial, titled The Underneath.

Enjoy!

Endever Publishing Studios presents The Underneath Written by Coral Rivera and Andrew Toy

Source: The Underneath: Part 1

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know: The Falling (Chapter One.2)

Continued from HERE.

 “I don’t think I’m in love with Gene anymore,” Kate answered. Intuitively, both Jesse and Tommy reached their hands over and placed them on the tips of Kate’s fingers, which were still anchored to the tabletop. “I’d like to believe that I was in love at some point. But to be honest, I’m really not so sure now.” Her eyes darted back and forth between her two best friends. “I think I might have made a mistake.” Breaking her hand away from theirs, Kate slipped on her coat and wiped her eyes with one sleeve, just to make sure nothing incriminating had leaked out.

As much as I wanted to show early that Kate was never one to put up with anyone’s crap and that she was a strong female voice, I also wanted to show her vulnerable side, as slim a side as that is. There’s no way someone will want to cheer for Kate if she’s being a bitch right off the bat. It’s hard for her to admit she may have made a mistake, but it’s important for the story that she does.

The city itself breathes in with every tragedy: every obituary in the New York Times; every jackhammer upon its streets; every time a girl leaves a boy; every slight transgression that takes place within its invisible walls. And every time New Yorkers breathe a collective sigh of relief, every time they find peace in themselves, every time they find each other again, every time they bring new life into the world or enjoy a good book or put a fresh coat of paint on an old cracked wall, Manhattan exhales. The city breathes in. The city breathes out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

The city breathing was a device I added late in my first draft. I might add a “Breathe in” when something negative happens or is about to happen. Conversely, there might be a “Breathe out” alongside moments of relief and happiness. The above paragraph is the set up for this device so that later readers would quickly understand the use of the Ins and Outs. I like the idea that if our narrator is the city itself that there is also some minor omniscience there; a little bit future sight. It doesn’t feel as unnatural as if a character thought it, and it gives the readers a gentle guideline for the turns the story takes.

This brings us to the end of Chapter One. Soon I’ll begin chipping away at some of the ideas behind Chapter Two.

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know: The Falling (Chapter One.1)

So let’s get into this. The Falling: Chapter One.

PART I: The Letter

First off, you’ll notice I’ve not only divided the book into chapters but into parts as well. There are five parts to The Falling, and the titles of each are homages to my favorite TV series: Seinfeld. In Seinfeld, each episode had very minimalist titles (“The Voice”, “The Opposite”, “The Contest”, etc) and I’ve laid out my titles similarly. In fact, two of these coincide directly to Seinfeld episodes: Part I: The Letter and Part III: The Revenge.

Chapter One: Tom’s Restaurant – Morningside Heights

An even more obvious Seinfeld homage. Tom’s Restaurant is, of course, the stand-in for Monk’s Coffee Shop. An exterior shot of Tom’s in New York was used in the show, with the interior shots coming from a sound stage in LA. Morningside Heights is one of my absolute favorite NY neighborhoods and once I got to know my main character Tommy a bit more there was no better place to have his favorite diner be situated. In fact, the working title for The Falling was originally TOM’S. I liked it; it was short and catchy. But the more I looked at as a title it the stranger it seemed. I had never actually been in the restaurant but when a couple of my friends were headed to NY I’d asked them to snap some photos inside so I could use them as reference, which they did. Thanks Mike and LeeAnn!

2004.

My decision to set the story in 2004 came about because of a few reasons. I wanted the novel to feel timeless, and the best way to do that is to have it take place at a point in the past. I don’t know why that is exactly, but I’d heard it said somewhere before. Also, a key chapter was to take place as a flashback, back to September 11th, 2001. I realized there had been – and still are – plenty of novels cashing in on the emotional events of 9/11, and I really wanted to avoid it, but the further my story went the more I knew it had to be there. Because of the nature of The Falling’s timeline following that day October, 2004 was to be the right moment for my story to take place.

I’ve known Thomas Mueller long enough to know most everything about him, except perhaps the most important thing of all. I watched Tommy that morning as he took a bite out of the big apple.

My narrator, as mentioned in a previous post, is meant to be the great city itself: New York City. The City watches over all of its inhabitants, following their ups and downs, good moments and bad. And even though readers will not explicitly know for sure who the narrator is, there is a feeling of comfort with having The City tell the story, as opposed to a traditional 3rd-person narration. The “most important thing of all” is the twist in the novel, which doesn’t reveal itself until Chapter 25 (Tommy and his identical twin brother were accidentally mixed up as babies, so he is not actually “Tommy.” Literally losing his own identity comes as a major blow to the character later). “…as he took a bite out of the big apple” is an obvious metaphor for Tommy’s self-perceived conquering of the city.

The CKY Grocery on Amsterdam had giant, bright red Spartan apples every day of the year

The fictitious Morningside Heights grocery store’s name comes from the name of a local grocery store I grew up down the street from. I don’t know what CKY ever stood for – and the place has since been demolished in favor of townhouses – but I had fond enough memories of walking there as a kid that I chose to use the name here.

He loved the four seasons, although autumn was easily the most anticipated. To Tommy, Central Park’s bright, almost copper hues in the fall were the epitome of orange. He loved the unique perfume of deli meats and subway steam. He loved the rain with such verve that every time it so much as drizzled, he would turn to the sky so he could feel the drops sprinkle onto his teeth. Because every raindrop that hit him had already experienced that much-envied journey from the tips of the skyscrapers all the way down to the cracked and foot-stamped sidewalks.

This was one of the very first paragraphs I wrote for The Falling. And using words like epitome and verve really helped set the tone and solidify the type of language I would use for the rest of the book. Even though this was to be my second novel I really didn’t feel like the use of language was too exciting in my first book. The Falling changed the way I write, and I still get that fuzzy feeling when I read excerpts from it. I’m proud of it and of the word choices that helped make the novel what it is. “the unique perfume of deli meats and subway steam” is one of my favorite lines from the whole book.

Everything was perfect in the city, and as long as things remained the
way he wanted them to, Tommy would continue to love the city forever.

This line is very obviously the crux of the story. It’s clear that things are bound to change, but could Tommy possibly ever fall out of love with his city?

Finding the letter in the mailbox was another reason for me setting the story in 2004. We still received letters from people in 2004! It almost seems too ancient a concept now. But having Tommy simply open up an email from Patrick rather than a letter felt too lifeless; less dramatic.

“You guys are not going to believe this,” Tommy said as he removed his coat and scarf. He sat down next to Kate and across from Jesse, placing the still not-quite-yet-brown apple core onto Kate’s empty plate. She hated that about him, how he’d walk into the coffee shop everyday as though he owned the place.
“Not now Tommy,” Kate interrupted. “Jess was just about to spill the details of his date last night.”
Jesse struggled, but managed his best ear-to-ear smile. Still, Jesse’s fake smiles were far more beautiful than most of the city’s genuine ones.

Immediately we are introduced to the three main characters: Tommy, Kate and Jesse. And I waste no time in having the readers really get to know them at their most basic. In three quick paragraphs we get a lot of information: Tommy is controlling and always assumes whatever thoughts are on his mind trumps whatever his friends might be discussing; Kate is brash, quick to voice her opinion and never afraid to tell someone to shut up; Jesse is a bit more socially awkward, but there’s no doubt he has a big heart and has a hard time disguising his feelings.

“Dinner?” [Kate] asked, with one of her infamous one-word questions. Kate didn’t like to waste words, unless of course it was to tell someone how disappointed she was in them.

The one-word question was intended to be something that resurfaced in varying forms throughout the book. As it happened, I probably only used it a couple more times. Partly due to me finding the right situation for it hard to nail down; Kate simply had too much to say most of time. She’s a chatty one. Still, I think it’s still an interesting character trait and the line above about not wasting words was too perfect to remove. It’s true that writers do find it exceptionally hard to cut their favorite lines sometimes.

Jesse sprinkled two packets of sugar into his steaming drink. He focused on the granules as they plopped in one by one. It was almost as though he was attempting to count each single glittering speck. The tiniest droplet of coffee arced from the cup to the letter on the tabletop. Observant as ever, Tommy was the only one who noticed. He rubbed the globule off with the back of his hand.

Coffee plays a big part in the book too; if you’re going to have a bunch of scenes with characters sitting around chatting what better prop to include than a cup of coffee? Movie directors do it all the time. You’ll see coffee pop up within scenes in The Falling many more times throughout. I wanted to note here just how observant Tommy is. He’s aware of everything and is always taking everything in. It’s part of what makes him a writer, and – as the main character in the book – it makes him the perfect character for the reader to live vicariously through.

The shadow from a crowd of people outside spread across the tabletop. “Hey!” Tommy banged on the window to get their attention. “Fuck off
already!” He cursed seemingly at random, but there was nothing arbitrary or illogical about it to Tommy. He did it all the time….On the other side of that glass were a million faces Tommy did not want watching him slurping coffee and stuffing breakfast sausages into his mouth. He banged his fist on the window again. The crowd scuttled away like startled spiders.

This was an idea that I always found amusing: if you have a famous location that lures throngs of photo-snapping tourists on a daily basis, how does that make its regular visitors feel? There was a story earlier this year about the “Goonies House” in Astoria, Oregon. This was the house used in the cult 80’s classic. So many fans (a thousand a day, the owners claimed) came by and would generally leave such a mess behind that the owners eventually just shut down public access to their home. It’s probably similar to Tom’s Restaurant in New York, with so many Seinfeld fans wanting to have their picture taken in front. Probably even standing by the windows where regular customers sit. Maybe even every day. Naturally, Tommy would find this extremely annoying and I think I turned it into a pretty funny character moment, one that could repeat itself in later chapters.

This takes us to about page ten. Stay tuned for the next part.

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know Series: The Falling (Novel Concept)

Hi all,

Today I’ll be starting a new ongoing series that I’m entitling Tell Me Something I Don’t Know. Here, I’ll be writing about where my ideas come from, specifically focusing on my second novel, The Falling. You might think of it like it were a DVD commentary track, as I’ll be (hopefully) going in-depth and chapter by chapter discussing the origin of every detail along the way.

My hope is that Tell Me Something I Don’t Know will help writers realize where ideas are found (Spoiler Alert: they’re everywhere!) and it may be a great resource for some of you who have enjoyed my writing and want to know more.

I shouldn’t have to warn those who haven’t yet read the book, but there will be SPOILERS APLENTY!

Let’s start with the actual concept of the novel.

Cover

THE FALLING [2012] tells the story of four friends who’ve grown up together, having moved to New York from Seattle upon graduating from high school. The book follows all four characters 11 years after their move and 10 years after one of them changed his mind and returned to the west coast. The Falling examines their relationships, loves, careers and decisions they’ve made in their lives, focusing specifically on their lowest points: their tragedies, their mistakes and their regrets.

Personally, I love a book that mixes humor, relationships, workplace hijinks and city-wide exploration (specifically New York). I love moments of melancholy and characters who feel the world is against them. I enjoy the mentioning of things that are dear to me (comic books, a good cup of coffee, ice hockey, etc.). I like a helping of meta-fiction with my contemporary fiction. And I love the interactions of great characters who all have their own thick layers of history. So this is what I focused on while plotting The Falling.

Each of the four characters are – in most ways – representations of certain aspects of myself: Tommy represents my dreams; Kate represents my raw emotions and recklessness; Jesse represents my creative side and optimism; and Patrick represents my analytical side and maturity. All of them go through moments of sadness, which has always played a key role in my life. Depression is very common among artists and writers and was no stranger to me growing up. The key to this story for me was harnessing some of those experiences and feelings from my past and transplanting them into my characters.

As part of my character research I conducted “interviews” with each of my main characters. I’d heard of this being done by one other person and it struck me as being weird, but I tried it anyway and it turned out to me a game-changer for my characters. I knew a bit about them all going into it, but by sitting each of them down individually into a Word document I was able to just ask them questions; anything that came to mind. By shutting the analytical part of my brain off they would eventually just answer my questions and spawn new ones I hadn’t thought of beforehand. Some authors claim that their characters will begin to take over their novels and act on their own, doing things the author had not intended. This was along the same lines but it was never part of the actual story: I was just getting to know them.

Most importantly to the story, Tommy is obsessed with New York City, just as I have always been for as long as I can remember. There’s a line in the novel that reads:

“Growing up in Seattle, he had never yearned to visit Manhattan; he only ever wished to live there. To Tommy, there was a very significant difference between the two, although no one else could ever seem to appreciate the dissimilarity.”

This is exactly how I’d always felt. In many ways I am most like Tommy, but I think that’s fair if he’s going to symbolize my dreams. After all, who doesn’t want to write about their dreams? Writing a book about New York (and I really mean “about”, not just “takes place in”) was something I’ve aimed to do since I began writing, and I think The Falling comes pretty close to where my intended target had sat. I’m exploring the neighborhoods of Manhattan that I love and sprinkling enough details within to really bring the environment to life (which was not easy considering I don’t live in New York, and haven’t been back there since 2007). The Falling was initially written in the 3rd-Person POV, but I made a decision close to the end of my first draft to switch the POV to 1st-Person. More like Omniscient 1st Person, actually, due to the fact that I decided to make the city itself act as my narrator. But the “I’s” and “my’s” are sporadic enough that the reader should never be bothered by questions like, “who the hell is telling this story, anyway?” I never outright say New York City is the narrator, and I don’t think I need to. The novel just flows naturally regardless of any POV concerns.

Juggling four main characters was also difficult, and since each chapter more or less highlights one of them at a time (while simultaneously involving the other three somewhere off-screen) I had to plan the timeline of the entire book out carefully. Where is Tommy when Kate is talking to Jesse? What’s Patrick up to while the other three are scheming against him? Where’s Patrick’s young son during all of this? What time do they work at their jobs? Can they realistically meet one another when I need them to and still work at various hours of the day? Not only that but the story skips ahead by a week at three different points in the book so each character should have had enough to do during that time, and enough happening to them to believably propel their individual stories forward. I created a multi-layered spreadsheet where I broke down everything that was happening in each chapter, and then breaking it down further to distinguish exactly what each character was doing in each chapter. Plenty of scenes were still deleted or moved around during the writing process, but the spreadsheet definitely helped me.

Well, this is a good enough start I think. From here I’ll dive right into Chapter One and we’ll see where all of this leads.

Thanks for reading.

Social Media: GoodReads

Okay, maybe I’m not making the biggest impact in the social media universe, but talking about myself and making daily new connections in life is not exactly my forte. I do, however, remain very active on GoodReads, the world’s largest site for readers, book-sharing and recommendations.

I try my best to rate and review every book I read, especially if it’s helped inspire me to write or made some other impact in my life. If you share a love of books, I encourage to head on over and check it out.

One of the more interesting aspects of GoodReads is their Author Program, a completely free feature designed to help new and established authors promote their work and find an audience. Here, you can control your own profile, add a blog, post video, and publicize upcoming events.

On my own author page, you will not only find my first two novels but you can download them COMPLETELY FREE! You can download each as PDFs and open them as iBooks on your iPad. Easy! You can find my books by clicking on the following widgets:

Goodreads badge add plus

MOLT

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THE FALLING

And then find the “READ BOOK” button:

Goodreads MOLT

So easy! The books are free (and great, of course!), and all I ask in return is an honest review! Recommend them too if you know folks who would also enjoy.

Swing on by. Read my books. Ask me a question. And thanks for your support!

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.