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.

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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.

Your Underwear’s Showing [2015]

YOUR UNDERWEAR’S SHOWING is a stage play I wrote for a high school acting class. The students were all boys, hence the lack of female characters. It is a comedy, a superhero farce with tons of great lines and interestingly layered characters. If you happen to be interested in this script as a performance piece, please do not hesitate to contact me.

YOUR UNDERWEAR’S SHOWING

a Stage Play

CHARACTERS [20]

CORVID-MAN / MAYOR BARRY NAIZE : Brooding member of Hero Team; secretly, he is also the City Mayor.

VINCE VENGEANCE : Leader of the Doom Gang; lately he’s been off the mark, he’s just not feeling as evil as he used to.

JEFF O’MALLEY : The Police Chief’s son; tried his hand as Corvid-Man’s sidekick, KID CROW, for a while but it didn’t work out; not really interested in all this superhero stuff anymore; he just wants to be a normal kid again.

CARL VENGEANCE : son of (well, clone of) Vince Vengeance; has a penchant for breaking out in musical theatre at the oddest of times.

MIKE SOMETHING : Friend of Jeff and Carl; loves super heroes more than anything.

CHIEF O’MALLEY : The City’s Chief of Police, Jeff’s father and good friend of Corvid-Man’s; not the sharpest tool in the shed.

MISTER EVERYTHING : Leader of Hero Team; has the power to do basically anything; always believes everything anyone tells him.

THE SNORKLER : Fairly useless member of Hero Team; recently self-published an autobiography called “Beyond the Snorkel.”

DOCTOR WIZARD : Hero Team’s resident magician; best known for always plugging the team toilet.

BLACKBEARD : The Doom Gang’s pirate member; recently shaved his beard off.

GORDIE N. KNOTT : Enjoys riddles and can’t help leaving clues behind for Hero Team, which they always solve, foiling the Doom Gang’s plans over and over again.

THINK-BOT-5000 : Mechanized member of the Doom Gang; Vince Vengeance relies on Think-Bot for all of his villainous calculations.

MRS. O’MALLEY : Member of the Doom Gang; the brain of Jeff’s mom in the body of a realistic robot. Consequently, she gets hit on by Think-Bot-5000 a lot.

MISTER LISTER : High school math teacher.

MUSEUM GUARD : Corvid-Man creeps him out.

REPORTER #1 : Wants to know everything about the museum heist.

REPORTER #2 : Seems to only be interested in the Mayor’s relationship to Corvid-Man.

REPORTER #3 : Just likes being there.

MOBSTER #1 : Generic mobster.

MOBSTER #2 : Ditto.

ACT 1

Scene 1

INTERIOR MUSEUM – NIGHT: A rock-like object sits on a pedestal, a glass dome over it. A THIEF IN SHADOWS [actually CARL VENGEANCE] sneaks across the stage, lifts the glass, removes the rock and sneaks back from where he came.

 

Scene 2

INTERIOR MUSEUM – DAY: A MUSEUM GUARD walks on-stage approaching the now-empty pedestal. He notices the object is missing and looks around for clues, though not really putting too much effort into his search. He scratches his head wondering what to do next. He walks off-stage.

Scene 3

INTERIOR MUSEUM – DAY: The MUSEUM GUARD, POLICE CHIEF O’MALLEY and CORVID-MAN walk on-stage approaching the pedestal. Corvid-Man inspects the empty pedestal with an over-sized magnifying glass. He wears a dark costume & cape, very similar to Batman.

CHIEF O’MALLEY (To Guard)

You say this is exactly how you found it this morning?

MUSEUM GUARD

Yes sir.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

And no other guards saw anything suspicious last night?

MUSEUM GUARD

No sir.

Corvid-Man inspects closer, making confused grunting noises. He pulls a device from his belt, a scanner of some sort, and holds it above the surface.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

Well, I’m sure we’ll have an answer soon. Corvid-Man here is the city’s greatest detective!

Corvid-Man grunts some more. He inspects all sides of the pedestal, up and down and all over.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

Yes indeed. There hasn’t been a case yet that Corvid-Man hasn’t cracked!

Corvid-Man stops and turns to the Police Chief. He speaks in a scary, gravelly voice.

CORVID-MAN

Except for the murder of my parents. And my doggie. And that one time in the second grade when someone stole my lunch money.

(Slams his fist upon the pedestal; the Museum Guard and Chief O’Malley jump back, startled)

I swear I’m gonna find that guy yet!

CHIEF O’MALLEY

Easy, big fella. I’m sorry. I know that’s a sensitive subject for you.

CORVID-MAN

It haunts me still, Chief. Every night. You know it was chicken finger day too, don’t you? God, I loved those chicken fingers.

With his cape, Corvid-Man wipes tears from his eyes and then returns to his investigation, this time using both the magnifying glass and the scanner.

MUSEUM GUARD

What’s with the name, anyway? CORVID-MAN? I mean, what’s a corvid?

CORVID-MAN (Answers without looking up from his investigation)

A corvid is a bird. Like a crow, raven or jackdaw.

MUSEUM GUARD

Isn’t that confusing though? I mean, why not just CROW-MAN?

CORVID-MAN (Stops investigating so he can explain)

I tried that. But my teammates made fun of me. They called me Crow-Magnon-Man. Yeah, REAL funny guys.

MUSEUM GUARD

What about just THE RAVEN then?

CORVID-MAN

Raven? Like the poem?

MUSEUM GUARD

I suppose so.

CORVID-MAN

I hate poetry. Poe was a hack.

MUSEUM GUARD

And you’re doing so much better?

Corvid-Man ignores the comment and gets back to work.

MUSEUM GUARD (To Chief O’Malley)

Why’d you call this guy anyway? Every time there’s a museum heist you send this creep.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

He’s the BEST, that’s why.

(Beat)

Plus, we were meeting for breakfast this morning anyway.

MUSEUM GUARD

You eat meals with the guy too?

CHIEF O’MALLEY

Oh sure. He’s a great tipper.

They stand and watch Corvid-Man work for a moment.

MUSEUM GUARD

Where you going? For breakfast, I mean.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

Joe’s.

MUSEUM GUARD

Oh. Nice.

(Beat)

CHIEF O’MALLEY

Yep. Best eggs in town.

Corvid-Man puts his tools away and stands up straight.

CORVID-MAN

Okay Chief. After breakfast I’ll take these scans back to the lab and fire up the old super-computer. Then we’ll see what we’ve got. Let’s get back to the Corvid-Mobile and head on over to Joe’s. I don’t know about you but I’m working up a real chicken-finger-sized hunger over here.

Corvid-Man dramatically swooshes his cape around him and exits off-stage. Chief O’Malley follows him.

MUSEUM GUARD (To himself)

God, I hate super heroes.

Scene 4

EXTERIOR MUSEUM – DAY: MAYOR NAIZE stands at a podium making an announcement in regards to last night’s museum heist. Also standing amongst the CROWD are three reporters, REPORTER #1, REPORTER #2 and REPORTER #3. VINCE VENGEANCE is within the crowd too, anonymous for now.

MAYOR NAIZE

Last night, the city museum fell victim to a heinous act. A crime of passion, perpetrated by spineless cowards too afraid to show their faces.

REPORTER #1

Mister Mayor, sir? In their defense, why would someone want to show their face if they were going to steal something? Wouldn’t that ruin the whole idea?

MAYOR NAIZE

      Next question.

REPORTER #2

Is there any substance to the rumours that have been circulating?

MAYOR NAIZE

      What rumours are those?

REPORTER #2

The rumours that Mayor Naize and Corvid-Man are actually the same person?

MAYOR NAIZE

      Poppycock! That’s what I say to that.

REPORTER #2

That’s exactly what Corvid-Man would say too. Actually, I think that’s his catchphrase.

REPORTER #1

      I thought his catchphrase was, “Prepare to eat crow!

REPORTER #3

      I thought it was, “Stop in the name of the CAW.”

MAYOR NAIZE

Can we move along here? I’m a very busy man. Are there any questions that actually relate to what happened at the museum last night?

REPORTER #1

Are you at liberty to tell us what was stolen? Was it a Rembrandt? A Picasso? An (insert school art teacher name)?

MAYOR NAIZE

Those paintings are garbage. No, the item in question was an otherworldly artifact: a meteorite! Or, to be more precise, a fragment of a meteorite.

REPORTER #1

A meteor fragment? Can you elaborate on its purpose?

MAYOR NAIZE

I’ll do you one better. How about I allow the City’s very own Hero Team to elaborate? In case you’re not familiar, let me introduce…

(MISTER EVERYTHING, THE SNORKLER and DOCTOR WIZARD all enter, and approach the podium next to Mayor Naize)

MAYOR NAIZE (Cont’d)

Mister Everything! The Snorkler! Doctor Wizard! And Explodo-Girl!

Mister Everything leans in close to the Mayor.

MISTER EVERYTHING

      Actually Mayor, Explodo-Girl died on our last mission.

MAYOR NAIZE

She DIED?!? What? How?

MISTER EVERYTHING

We were trapped in Dimension X and fighting the Bio-Dinosaurs. I know…again! And Explodo-Girl… she…um…ah, exploded. Ironically.

DOCTOR WIZARD

T’was gruesome! I’m still picking pieces of her out of my beard.

MAYOR NAIZE

      Well that blows.

(To Crowd)

      Are there any more questions?

REPORTER #3

Does anyone know if lunch is being served after this?

REPORTER #2

Excuse me, Mister Everything? Where’s the rest of the team? Does anyone else not find it suspicious that Corvid-Man is always missing whenever Mayor Naize is present?

MISTER EVERYTHING

Not at all! Corvid-Man couldn’t be here today for personal reasons; what I like to call a “Me Day.” He told me he wasn’t feeling well. Thinks he’s coming down with something.

REPORTER #2

      And you believed him?

MISTER EVERYTHING

      Of course. Why wouldn’t I?

Mayor Naize gives a big ‘thumbs up’ to the crowd.

 

REPORTER #3

      I was sick last week. It was brutal!

MISTER EVERYTHING

Rest assured Corvid-Man is a true hero! And a true hero is ever-vigilant! Even as we speak, Corvid-Man is back at our headquarters; his super-computer is examining the evidence from the museum heist. Running the numbers. Scanning the database. Stuff like that. I’m not very computer-y. I know it was making a lot of beeping and booping noises.

(Turns to Doctor Wizard and The Snorkler, looking for some affirmation)

Is that something?

Doctor Wizard and The Snorkler shrug their shoulders.

REPORTER #1

Do you think this is the work of Vince Vengeance and the Doom Gang?

DOCTOR WIZARD

We cannot rule it out. Vince Vengeance has been a thorn in our side for FAR too long now.

REPORTER #3

Doctor Wizard, do you realize you just said “fart”? That was funny!

MAYOR NAIZE

Have no fear, citizens! My computer — I mean, CORVID-MAN’S super-computer will find the identity of our crook soon enough!

If there are no further questions, some of us need to get back to, um…business. And other stuff.

Mayor Naize and Hero Team leave, exiting off-stage, but The Snorkler stays behind. He pulls some books out from under the podium and clears his throat.

THE SNORKLER

And now, if you’d all be so kind, I’d like to take this opportunity to promote my new self-published book, “Beyond the Snorkel.” I have copies for sale and I’ll now open up the floor for questions.

REPORTER #2

I have a question! What can you tell us about the relationship between Corvid-Man and Mayor Naize?

THE SNORKLER

Does anyone have a question that relates to my book? Again, it’s called “Beyond the Snorkel” and it’s in stores now.

REPORTER #2

Is there a chapter about Corvid-Man’s secret identity in your book?

THE SNORKLER

      Forget Corvid-Man! What about me?

REPORTER #3

      How do you spell ‘Corvid’?

(Looks up the answer on his iPhone)

      Oh, never mind. I got it.

The Crowd begins dispersing now and The Snorkler yells at them as they leave.

 

THE SNORKLER

      You know, it’s not easy being the swimming guy!

(Lowering his voice)

It’s not easy.

(Walking away from podium)

Oh God, I never even got the chance to tell Explodo-Girl how much I loved her…

There is only one person from the Crowd left on-stage now: Vince Vengeance had been hiding the whole time. He LAUGHS a SINISTER LAUGH, and turns to the audience. He wears a suit and an eye patch.

VINCE VENGEANCE

As usual, Hero Team hasn’t a clue what’s going on! But this time, somehow, it is not I Vince Vengeance who is behind the felony in question. Someone else has stolen the meteorite fragment. But who? And why didn’t I think of it first? I’m usually pretty on-the-ball with things like this.

(Thinks about it)

But I’ve been feeling a bit…off lately. It’s hard to put my finger on it. To be honest with you – and why wouldn’t I be honest? I mean, I’m only the leader of the Doom Gang, the most dastardly collection of evil the City has ever seen – but to be honest, I’m just not feeling as evil as I used to.

(Looks around, trying to pinpoint his feelings)

It’s not like I don’t have plans. I do! And man, they are some wicked plans! TOTALLY immoral! I’m just not excited by the idea of stealing another priceless artifact. Or zapping Mister Everything into nether space. Or tricking his fiancé into marrying me instead. Me! Isn’t that absurd?

(Giggles to himself just thinking about it)

I mean, why would sweet ol’ Jennifer Juniper marry ME? She wouldn’t! That’s why it’s so brilliant! But I’m just not feeling the evil and malice I once did. Have I been in the game too long? Am I simply numb to it all?

(Leans in close, ready to share a secret)

Let me be straight with you. Lately, the only things that have gotten me REALLY excited…are buddy films and show tunes.

God, I…I even feel the urge to sing about it now!

(Some Broadway-style music starts up, but he puts a stop to it quickly by waving his hands emphatically)

      But I won’t! I can’t! Evil masterminds just don’t do that   kind of thing.

So why do I feel the way I’m feeling? I think the only way to find out where my heart TRULY lies is to find that meteorite fragment for myself!

(Looks around)

But how will I beat Corvid-Man and Hero Team to it? There’s got to be a way.

(Pounds a fist into an open palm)

I’m Vince Vengeance, dammit! I transformed Earth’s atmosphere into nacho cheese! Surely I can steal a meteorite from some unsuspecting jackass!

(Evil laugh)

      And so it begins!

(Runs off-stage, laughing still)

Scene 5

INTERIOR O’MALLEY HOME – NIGHT: CHIEF O’MALLEY and his son JEFF are at home, eating dinner together at the kitchen table. A framed picture of Mrs. O’Malley sits on the table between the two of them. Chief O’Malley still wears his uniform. Jeff is slouched over, quiet, and picking at his food slowly. There is an awkward silence.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

      How was school today, Jeff?

JEFF

      Okay, I guess.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

      How’d you do on that math test?

JEFF

      It was physics, dad. Thanks for paying attention.

Awkward silence.

JEFF

I think I did pretty well on it.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

      That’s great!

Some more awkward silence.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

Maybe we should have celebrated with dinner out instead of eating Alphagetti at home?

JEFF

It’s okay.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

So, did you catch that press conference with the Mayor? Who do you think is responsible for stealing the meteorite from the city museum?

JEFF

Why are people even wondering? I mean, I’m no super detective with an awesome computer but I’m guessing it was probably the Doom Gang. They seem to be responsible for basically everything bad that happens around here.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

      Hmm. That’s very astute, son.

Awkward silence.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

They say the meteorite is supposed to be very powerful. Like someone could use it to make themselves stronger or smarter, or something like that. Doctor Wizard was explaining it but it all sounded like a bunch of weird mumbo-jumbo to me.

JEFF

I don’t know. I don’t really care about all that. I just want things to be normal around here.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

      Like back when your mother was still here?

Jeff turns to the framed picture of his mother.

JEFF

Hey, I miss mom but I wouldn’t say it was normal around here. I mean, she was kidnapped by Vince Vengeance every other week in order to draw you and Corvid-Man out into the open.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

(Thinking about it)

Yeah, I guess she was.

JEFF

But then the last time, when the Doom Gang attempted to cut the moon in half and accidentally blew mom into sub-atomic particles with their giant gerbil-powered plutonium laser –

CHIEF O’MALLEY

      Jeez. Sometimes I forget about all of that.

JEFF (cont’d)

– well, things definitely changed around here. Sometimes though, I wonder if it isn’t EASIER now.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

      Easier? How can you say that?

JEFF

What I mean is things really weren’t that great when mom was alive. They were just…different. What I want is for everything to just be NORMAL. None of this good guy/bad guy/hero/villain stuff.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

Well, unfortunately that’s my life. Like it or not. I can’t change that Jeff. Now come on, let’s just finish our Alphagetti.

Jeff rises from his chair, taking his plate and glass with him.

JEFF

I AM finished. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got one whale of a marine biology final exam to study for.

And they’re Zoodles dad! How many times do I have to tell you? Those aren’t W’s? They’re monkeys! MONKEYS!

Chief O’Malley looks at his plate, amazed. He pokes at his food with a spoon. Before Jeff can leave there is a KNOCK AT THE DOOR. Jeff opens the door and we see CARL and MIKE. Carl is carrying a backpack.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

      Hey Carl! Mike! Come over here.

(Holds up his spoon)

      Does this look like a monkey to you?

Mike walks over to the table. Carl and Jeff remain standing together. Mike takes a noodle from the spoon and tastes it.

MIKE

Doesn’t taste like monkey. I think they’re just noodles, Chief.

Hey, what can you tell us about that museum heist? Did you talk to Corvid-Man yet?

CHIEF O’MALLEY

      We did more than talk. We had breakfast together!

MIKE

      NO WAY! Awesome!

CHIEF O’MALLEY

      No kidding. He even paid, too.

MIKE

      Whatta guy! Hey Carl! Did’ja hear that?

CARL

      Yeah, that’s super.

(To Jeff and Mike)

Come on guys. We’ve got that big test we need to study for.

Jeff picks up a pile of books from the kitchen counter.

 

JEFF

Let’s go outside to the old treehouse. Man, that biology exam isn’t gonna know what hit it!

 

Jeff and Carl hi-five. The three boys head for the door together.

 

MIKE

See ya, Chief!

 

CHIEF O’MALLEY

      Hit the books, boys!

The three boys exit. Chief O’Malley sits alone at the table. He picks up the framed photo of Mrs. O’Malley and SIGHS heavily.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

Oh Mary. If only Mister Everything hadn’t saved you that time from Vince Vengeance’s Metamorphosizer Ray. You could have lived out a peaceful existence as a simple dung beetle rather than have been blown to smithereens by the Doom Gang’s Plutonium Laser.

(Sighs again, then looks at the food on his spoon)

      God, I can’t believe I bought Zoodles!

Scene 6

INTERIOR TREEHOUSE – NIGHT: JEFF, CARL and MIKE enter the Treehouse behind the O’Malley Home. This is where the three boys have grown up together, and much of their boyhood is still hanging on the walls in the form of posters, maps, toys and books.

Jeff and Mike sit at the large table in the centre of the Treehouse as Carl prepares to deliver some important news to them.

 

MIKE

Man, I miss this place. The old treehouse headquarters of the Thunderous Three! Super villains beware! Bad guys were sure afraid of us, weren’t they?

JEFF

What bad guys? The Thunderous Three was a joke. We were just three idiot kids who had nowhere else to hang out for fear of getting beat up.

MIKE

Well, my mom said we were awesome. And she’s awesome too so I gotta believe her.

CARL

You’re delusional Mike. You’ve always been way too obsessed with super heroes.

MIKE

Obsessed? Give me one example.

JEFF

You’ve collected every one of their trading cards.

MIKE

Okay, fine. But that’s only ONE example.

JEFF

You memorized all the stats and origins and superpowers on the backs of the cards.

MIKE

Fine. Two examples.

JEFF

And you keep them all hermetically sealed and filed categorically in a secured, off-site storage locker.

MIKE

My mom says they’ll be worth something someday!

CARL

All right guys, shut up. I’ve got something important to share with you.

JEFF

      Wait, aren’t we going to study for the final exam?

CARL

      Not quite. This is serious.

JEFF

Serious? How’s this for serious: if I don’t get at least ninety percent on this test I’m gonna seriously ruin my chances at Ivy League.

Carl plunks his backpack onto the table and unzips it.

CARL

      Maybe not.

Carl reaches into the backpack and pulls out the stolen meteorite fragment, placing it in the middle of the table.

CARL

Boys, we may not have to worry about things like grades anymore. Not with THIS in our possession.

JEFF

      What is THAT?

MIKE

(Sarcastically)

      Wow, a rock. That’s real impressive Carl.

CARL

Don’t you watch the news? This is the meteor fragment that was stolen from the museum last night.

JEFF

Are you out of your mind, Carl?

MIKE

Why on Earth would you break into the museum and steal a meteor?

CARL

WHY? How about: because I CAN? Is that enough of a reason for you guys? Listen, this rock is supposed to grant awesome power! It can make us stronger, faster, SMARTER!

Don’t you see? With this in our hands we no longer have to worry about school, homework, superheroes or ANYTHING anymore. It’s is our big chance to ditch this dead-end town. To get out of the rat race!

JEFF

What rat race? We’re sixteen!

CARL

(Really excited now)

Exactly! We’ve got our whole lives ahead of us, boys! Why stay here and keep wasting them? It’s never too soon to grab a hold of our dreams! And we’ve got to grab ‘em like they’re free donuts on Sports Day! And I’m talking Boston creams!

You have dreams, right? Don’t you guys ever feel like singing about it? I know I do!

The lights dim and a spotlight shines on Carl, as he breaks out into a brief Broadway-style song and dance routine.

CARL

(Singing)

      No more mid-terms to re-write

No more poems to recite

Forget the schemes

I have my dreams!

Now stand back boys, watch them ignite!

No more sleepless, wasted nights

No more washing darks with lights

Say so long tears

It’s my premiere!

I’m outta here, I’m outta sight!

JEFF

What the hell was THAT?

MIKE

(To Carl)

And YOU think I’M delusional?

CARL

It’s called having FEELINGS guys!

JEFF

I dunno Carl. I think I’d rather just hit the books. Find success the traditional route, you know? Without all the singing and dancing.

Out of curiosity, Jeff picks up the meteor and inspects it closely.

JEFF

What are you supposed to do with this thing anyway? How does it work? Just crack it open?

Jeff bangs the meteor on the edge of the table, with no effect. Mike holds his hand out and Jeff passes it over.

MIKE

Maybe you’re supposed eat it?

(Carefully licks the meteor with the tip of his tongue; reacts unfavorably, spitting and rubbing his tongue with his sleeve)

Yee-uck! Could use some hot sauce maybe.

Carl grabs the meteor from Mike and stuffs it into his backpack, zipping it closed.

CARL

I don’t know how it works, but I’m gonna go figure it out. And then I’ll be on my way to Broadway!

(Slings his backpack over his shoulder and heads for the door)

      And if you guys were smart you’d stick with me.

Carl exits abruptly. Jeff and Mike stand in silence for a moment before Mike heads for the door too.

JEFF

You’re not actually going with him, are you?

MIKE

I’m just gonna give that rock one more lick.

(Licks at the lingering taste still on his lips)

I’ll call you later Jeff!

Mike exits, leaving Jeff alone. Jeff sits at the table and opens one of his textbooks.

JEFF

      Well, this test isn’t going to study itself!

He reads for only a moment before CORVID-MAN enters through the treehouse window. He enters quietly and stands motionless across the stage, watching Jeff.

JEFF

(Still with his head down)

I know you’re there. I can hear your nose hairs rustling in the wind.

CORVID-MAN

      I need your help Jeff.

JEFF

Let me guess: the case of the missing meteorite? Why not get those Hero Team buddies of yours to help?

CORVID-MAN

They’re all idiots. You know that. They won’t listen to me.

JEFF

You just want someone to boss around again, is that it?

CORVID-MAN

Come on Jeff. Don’t be like that.

JEFF

It’s true though. There’s no other reason you’d be here now.

CORVID-MAN

Poppycock! I know you can help me! And you’re the best kid for the job!

JEFF

What could I possibly do that Mister Everything can’t? He can do ANYTHING.

CORVID-MAN

Believe me, he reminds me every three minutes. Apparently Mister Everything KNOWS everything too. God, that guy really chaps my hide.

JEFF

He’s a moron all right. A real dunderhead.

CORVID-MAN

Dunderhead? Who says dunderhead?

JEFF

Sorry, I guess I used to say things like that all the time when I was your plucky, wide-eyed sidekick. Some of those stupid words still creep out sometimes.

CORVID-MAN

Maybe you should dust off the old costume then? Become KID CROW again! Don’t deny your true identity!

JEFF

(Pointing at himself)

THIS is my true identity! I’m not your sidekick anymore. Kid Crow died the night my mom was atomized by the Doom Gang!

I just want to be a normal high school kid for once. Do you know that I’ve never even talked to a girl who didn’t wear a spandex uniform?

CORVID-MAN

What’s wrong with THAT?

Jeff and Corvid-Man both throw their arms up in the air, each of them realizing it’s no use.

CORVID-MAN

Well, you don’t have any solid leads by any chance, huh? Heard any good rumours around school? My computer’s still processing the data from the museum. Stupid PC’s. I know all signs point to Vince Vengeance but there’s something not right here. There’s more to it than that.

Jeff thinks for a beat, wondering if he should rat out Carl.

JEFF

Sorry.

CORVID-MAN

Well, if you change your mind you still remember how to flash the Corvid-Signal, right?

JEFF

My dad’s still got it up on the roof of our house. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.

Corvid-Man climbs back out the window.

CORVID-MAN

I know you’ll do what’s right.

Corvid-Man swooshes his cape around dramatically and then disappears. Jeff sighs heavily and returns to his studies.

Scene 7

INTERIOR HERO TEAM HQ – NIGHT: MISTER EVERYTHING and THE SNORKLER are sitting at the Hero Team meeting table. Mister Everything is reading the newspaper and The Snorkler reads a copy of his own book, Beyond the Snorkel.

Corvid-Man’s super-computer is beeping and blinking in the background.

MISTER EVERYTHING

      So how are the book sales going?

THE SNORKLER

Horrible. Nobody seems interested in the real life of a real life superhero.

MISTER EVERYTHING

Yeah. Or YOU.

THE SNORKLER

Ha ha.

MISTER EVERYTHING

What do you think: should we just call the Doom Gang and ask them if they’re responsible for the museum heist? You know, put ‘em on the spot.

THE SNORKLER

That’s a terrible idea! Those guys lie for a living. That’s what they DO. Plus, you’ll just believe whatever they say.

MISTER EVERYTHING

No I won’t.

THE SNORKLER

Yes you will. You think everyone is good and honest and pure of heart. You believe EVERYTHING.

MISTER EVERYTHING

(Tries to think of a clever response)

No I don’t.

We hear a TOILET FLUSH from off-stage, and DOCTOR WIZARD enters the meeting room.

DOCTOR WIZARD

      Methinks yon toilet is plugged once more.

MISTER EVERYTHING

Don’t worry about it Doc. We really just need to get a new one.

THE SNORKLER

You see? This just proves my point. You believe EVERYTHING. Doctor Wizard ALWAYS plugs the toilet! It’s obviously HIS fault!

MISTER EVERYTHING

      He says it wasn’t.

Doctor Wizard just shrugs in The Snorkler’s direction.

 

THE SNORKLER

      Can’t you just use your magic to fix it?

DOCTOR WIZARD

Magic doesn’t work that way. Don’t you have a plunger in that costume of yours?

The Snorkler waves an arm, dismissing the comment, and goes back to his book.

CORVID-MAN enters the meeting room, walking directly to the computer.

THE SNORKLER

      Hey, Crow Guy! Doc Wiz plugged the crapper again.

CORVID-MAN

Not now, morons. I think my super-computer has finally finished its calculations.

Corvid-Man pushes some buttons on the computer as the rest of the team continues to talk amongst themselves.

THE SNORKLER

What do you guys think?

(Pointing at Corvid-Man)

Do you think him and the Mayor are really the same person?

MISTER EVERYTHING

WHAT? No way.

THE SNORKLER

So where was he during the Mayor’s public address this morning?

DOCTOR WIZARD

Maybe t’was HE who plugged yon crapper!

THE SNORKLER

Nice try Doc.

Doctor Wizard sinks down in defeat.

MISTER EVERYTHING

If we were to call the Mayor right now I guarantee you he’d DEFINITELY answer.

THE SNORKLER

Why don’t we do that then?

MISTER EVERYTHING

Okay. Prepare to blow a big fat apology out of that snorkel of yours.

Mister Everything pulls his cell phone out of his pocket and dials. Corvid-Man’s phone starts BUZZING, he looks at the number and then looks over to the table and then cancels the call, putting his phone back and returning to his work.

MISTER EVERYTHING

      I just get some weird out-of-office message.

(Puts his phone back in his pocket)

      Well, that doesn’t mean anything.

Corvid-Man takes a print-out from the super-computer and brings it to the table.

CORVID-MAN

At last! The results are in and all fingers point to Vince Vengeance.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m missing something here…

MISTER EVERYTHING

I knew it! Why were we wasting so much time discussing it?

(Pulls out his phone again, starts dialing)

What do you say we give the Doom Gang a call?

THE SNORKLER

For a superhero team we sure sit around a lot making phone calls…

MISTER EVERYTHING

Oooo! It’s ringing!

Scene 8

INTERIOR DOOM GANG SECRET HIDEOUT – NIGHT: The Doom Gang is gathered for a meeting of their own. Standing around the meeting table are VINCE VENGEANCE, BLACKBEARD, GORDIE N. KNOTT, THINK-BOT-5000 and MRS. O’MALLEY.

VINCE VENGEANCE

All right, fools! I hereby call this meeting of the Doom Gang to order. First things first: let’s take roll call.

Naturally, I’ll start with myself. As you all know, I’m Vince Vengeance! Genius-level mastermind and arch nemesis of Hero Team! And not too bad looking either.

(Motions towards Blackbeard)

Next up: Blackbeard the Pirate! Deranged plunderer of the Seven Seas, as well as some small, mostly uninhabited islands on the Pacific west coast from time to time.

(Motions towards Gordie N. Knott)

Gordie N. Knott! Master of riddles and other assorted conundrums. Still not entirely sure what kind of threat he poses to anyone.

(Motions towards Mrs. O’Malley)

Mrs. O’Malley! Deceased wife of the Chief of Police. They all thought she died but we’ve preserved her brain in this super-realistic robot body. She’s our ace-in-the-hole for some future scheme! Until then, however, she’s mostly just taking up space at our table.

(Motions towards Think-Bot-5000)

And finally: Think-Bot-5000! The Doom Gang’s mechanized wonder! His computer brain is so advanced we don’t even have to write down the number for that pizza place anymore. Plus, he can calculate tips too!

GORDIE N. KNOTT

Why do we still do intros at the beginning of every meeting? We all know each other. Our roster hasn’t changed for years now.

VINCE VENGEANCE

That’s not true, what about Holy Cow? The Hindu Cow God? Whatever happened to HER?

THINK-BOT-5000

Correction. Holy Cow was most definitely a HE. Think-Bot-5000 looked one time. Cannot delete image from data bank.

VINCE VENGEANCE

REALLY? But he was a COW. That doesn’t make any sense. Whatever. Let’s address the elephant in the room here: Blackbeard, where the hell is your beard? That’s your thing, dude. You’re Black-BEARD.

BLACKBEARD

      (Scratches at his chin with his hook)

Arr! You be rememberin’ that scheme we was hatchin’ on the alternate reality world of Xanthum-17? We was attacked by killer wasps and those insects be buildin’ a nest in me beard. Had to shave it off, mate.

GORDIE N. KNOTT

But you could have changed your name to Beard of Bees! That would’ve been so perfect!

VINCE VENGEANCE

Without a beard, what are you offering us?

BLACKBEARD

I be growin’ it back, okay? It’s just taking a while.

(Scratches his face some more)

And man, does it be itchin’. I keep poking me face with me hook!

THINK-BOT-5000

Think-Bot-5000 suggests Blackbeard change name to Captain Hook.

Blackbeard raises his hook and sword in anger.

BLACKBEARD

That be not funny! You know I hate that blubbering wannabe! Take it back, you computer hack!

VINCE VENGEANCE

Stop it fools! Break it up. All right, moving along here –

Gordie N. Knott interrupts.

GORDIE N. KNOTT

(Pointing at both Vince Vengeance and Blackbeard)

Hey, since we’re on the subject of accessories, don’t you think it’s time one of you lost the eye patch? Two villains with eye patches on the same team is too much, man. Plus, neither of you guys even NEEDS an eye patch!

VINCE VENGEANCE

I’ll have you know, my first evil act ever was cheating on the Third-Grade spelling bee. I wrote the words on the back of an eye patch so I could win. And I did! And I haven’t stopped winning since!

(Laughs triumphantly)

Plus I liked how it looked so I just ran with it.

Blackbeard angrily raises his sword and hook again.

BLACKBEARD

An’ I’m BLACKBEARD THE PIRATE! No bogus buccaneer is gonna tell ME what to do!

GORDIE N. KNOTT

Hey, you guys made me ditch the monocle and top hat when Doctor Peanut was on the team! That’s all I’m gonna say.

VINCE VENGEANCE

All right! Shut up, all of you! This is why these stupid meetings always take so long.

Why can’t you all be more like Mrs. O’Malley over there?

The villains all turn to Mrs. O’Malley who is filing her nails. She is very stiff, prim like a 1950’s secretary.

 

MRS. O’MALLEY

One day women are gonna say enough’s enough and do away with all you chauvinist pigs. You’ll see.

THINK-BOT-5000

You’re so hot. How about giving Think-Bot-5000 a call sometime?

Think-Bot-5000’s PHONE RINGS. He has an old rotary-style phone attached to his body.

 

THINK-BOT-5000

            Yes! That’s what Think-Bot-5000 is talking about!

VINCE VENGEANCE

            Calm down, Think-Bot.

 

Vince Vengeance walks over to the robot and picks up the receiver.

VINCE VENGEANCE

            Hello? Who is this?

(Wait for response)

Mister Everything! How nice of you to call.

(Wait for response)

Did I WHAT? Steal a meteor from the city museum? It’s nice of you to think of me Mister E, but I assure you that I had nothing to do with it.

(Wait for response)

What’s that? You believe me? Just like that? Well, okay old chum. It was nice chatting –

Gordie N. Knott is waving at Vince Vengeance, trying to get his attention. He wants to speak to Mister Everything.

VINCE VENGEANCE

Hold on Mister E. I think Gordie wants to speak with you.

Vince Vengeance hands the phone over to Gordie N. Knott.

GORDIE N. KNOTT

            Hello hero!

(Wait for response)

What? No, I didn’t steal it either. But I’ve got a little riddle for you to solve. See if you can answer this one, Mister Everything:

“You’ll find me when you need the time,

My eyes are yellow, orange and lime,

The limits of my reach are vast,

My socks, though clean, still smell like ass.”

Gordie N. Knott LAUGHS and hangs up the phone.

BLACKBEARD

Blubberin’ idiot! Why you keep doin’ that? You know they’ve solved every riddle you’ve ever given ‘em.

GORDIE N. KNOTT

Not EVERY riddle.

BLACKBEARD

Yes, EVERY riddle! They’re probably on their way here right now.

GORDIE N. KNOTT

I can’t help it. It’s my thing! You guys all have YOUR things!

THINK-BOT-5000

Correct. But our things are all cool.

GORDIE N. KNOTT

      (Pointing at Mrs. O’Malley)

Really? The robot with the dead chick’s brain? Is THAT cool?

VINCE VENGEANCE

SHUT UP! Oh my God guys, are you serious? Let’s get rolling here. The purpose of this meeting was to address the issue of the stolen meteorite. WE didn’t do it, so WHO DID?

BLACKBEARD

I’m bettin’ it be the mob! Those landlubbers are always tryin’ to steal our booty.

VINCE VENGEANCE

Yes…the mob.

(Turns to Think-Bot-5000)

Think-Bot?

THINK-BOT-5000

Running data.

There is a seventy-five percent probability of the mob being responsible for the museum heist.

(Turns to Mrs. O’Malley)

And a ninety-nine-point-nine percent probability of Think-Bot-5000 being free tonight.

Mrs. O’Malley continues to ignore him.

VINCE VENGEANCE

So we attack the mobsters, steal the meteorite fragment from them and then use it for our own nefarious purposes! It’s perfect! This almost makes me want to sing about it –

Vince Vengeance is suddenly interrupted by TWO MOBSTERS kicking down their door. They are holding guns and smoking cigars, just like mobsters are supposed to do.

MOBSTER #1

We’ve found ‘em! Give it up Doom Gang! We know you’ve got that rock here!

VINCE VENGEANCE

Well, isn’t this perfect timing?

MOBSTER #2

Yeah, so hand it over.

(Notices the meeting table in the room. This is the same prop used for the O’Malley Home, the Treehouse and Hero Team’s HQ)

Say, that’s a nice table.

BLACKBEARD

      Thanks, mate. ‘Tis real mahogany!

MOBSTER #1

You fancy-pants super villains are a joke. Have been for years!

MOBSTER #2

Yeah, and your underwear’s showing!

The two Mobsters laugh and snicker to themselves.

 

GORDIE N. KNOTT

(Standing proudly)

Show’s what you know. Our underwear’s supposed to be showing!

MOBSTER #1

Face it, you morons don’t stand a chance against the mob!

VINCE VENGEANCE

What, all TWO OF YOU?

 

The Mobsters look behind them. Crap. We’re the only two guys who showed up.

Blackbeard attacks them with his sword while Think-Bot-5000 fires some sort of invisible laser. The two Mobsters fall to the ground dead.

 

THINK-BOT-5000

Correction. There is now an eight percent probability of the mob being responsible for the museum heist.

GORDIE N. KNOTT

All right, so if it wasn’t those idiots, which idiots was it?

Vince Vengeance stops to think. Suddenly a brilliant idea comes to him.

VINCE VENGEANCE

Doom Gang, I think I know where we might get some answers!

Cue music: “Du-du-dun!”

 

VINCE VENGEANCE

(Motioning to the dead bodies floor)

            But how about you guys get these bodies out of here first?

Blackbeard, Gordie N. Knott, Think-Bot-5000 and Mrs. O’Malley carry the bodies of the two Mobsters off-stage.

Scene 9

INTERIOR HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM – AFTERNOON: JEFF, CARL and MIKE are seated in math class. Carl keeps his backpack close to him, in his arms on his desktop. There are other STUDENTS in the classroom as well as their teacher, MR. LISTER, who is at the front of the room. He talks in a very slow monotone.

MISTER LISTER

Now class, if you would please open your texts to page one hundred and eighty-nine you will find some of the very exciting problems we’ll be working on this morning.

CARL

            Man, this guy couldn’t possibly be more boring.

MIKE

So Carl, have you figured out how to harness the power of that meteor yet? Feeling any stronger?

CARL

No luck so far, Mike.

(Motions to his backpack)

But I’m not letting it leave my sight until I do.

MIKE

Have you tried flying? That’d be the first thing I’d try!

CARL

No offense Mike, but that’s probably the worst place to start. You jump off a roof and then what?

 

MIKE

You FLY man! You fly!

(Motions to Carl’s bag)

Can I lick it again? Please?

JEFF

Would you guys keep it down? I’m actually trying to learn something here.

CARL

Sorry, Copernicus. We can’t all be as interested in this snooze-fest as you.

JEFF

Come on, Carl. I just –

MISTER LISTER

(To Jeff)

Mr. O’Malley? Is there something you’d like to share with the rest of the class?

JEFF

Sorry, Mr. Lister. Carl here was just saying he wanted to take a stab at question four.

MISTER LISTER

Fantastic. Carl? If you’d be so bold?

CARL

(Opens his textbook to a random page and starts reading)

Uh…okay. So John F. Kennedy leaves the Lincoln Memorial at 8:00 AM. Abraham Lincoln gets off a plane at JFK airport to meet up with Kennedy to watch Oliver Stone’s JFK at the Lincoln Theatre at…

Jeff and some of the other students snicker.

CARL

I’m sorry, am I on the right page here?

MISTER LISTER

Please turn to page one hundred and eighty-nine.

There is a knock at the door and Mr. Lister goes to open it. BLACKBEARD, GORDIE N. KNOTT and THINK-BOT-5000 enter the classroom.

MISTER LISTER

      May I help you gentlemen? Are you parents?

BLACKBEARD

      Sufferin’ seagulls! Do we look like parents?

MISTER LISTER

      I wouldn’t know. Mine abandoned me when I was only three.

GORDIE N. KNOTT

Sucks for you, Teach! And it sucks for Jeffrey O’Malley too ‘cause he’s coming with us!

(Pulls Jeff out of his seat)

Let’s go kid.

JEFF

(Struggling)

Hey! Let go of me!

MISTER LISTER

Gentlemen, we’re trying to have a class here. This is very rude of you. If you don’t have a riddle of your own to contribute I’ll have to ask you to leave.

GORDIE N. KNOTT

You want a riddle, do you? Finally someone who can appreciate my talents! Here you go: How do you fit seventeen manatees in a mailbox?

Chew on that one!

The criminals exit the classroom, dragging Jeff out with them.

MISTER LISTER

Okay class, simmer down. It’s only a kidnapping. Nothing to get excited about.

MIKE

(To Carl)

What are we gonna do? Do we go after them? We’d never be able to take on the whole Doom Gang on our own!

CARL

I don’t know, Mike. Let me think! Why would they kidnap Jeff? Because he’s the police chief’s son? Or is there some other reason?

CORVID-MAN enters the classroom.

CORVID-MAN

      How about you let the professionals figure that out?

MIKE

      Corvid-Man! AWESOME!!

CARL

      What are you doing at our school?

CORVID-MAN

Following some leads.

(Sniffs at Carl, as though he knows Carl is guilty)

The evidence brought me here, and now I know why.

(Sniffs again, closer to the backpack)

Which way did they go, kids?

CARL

The riddle guy said something about a mailbox and seventeen manatees?

CORVID-MAN

The manatees in the mailbox riddle? Crapping crows! That’s the easiest one in the books! Gordie N. Knott has really got to stop leaving riddles behind. I mean, we solve them EVERY TIME! If he’d just keep his mouth shut the Doom Gang would probably get away with a lot more.

(To Carl and Mike)

Let’s go kids.

MISTER LISTER

(To Corvid-Man)

Come now. These interruptions are altogether very impolite. I have students who want nothing more than to learn.

The Students all pelt Mr. LISTER with paper and pencils. Amid the chaos, Corvid-Man, Carl and Mike exit.

Scene 10

INTERIOR DOOM GANG SECRET HIDEOUT – AFTERNOON: VINCE VENGEANCE and MRS. O’MALLEY sit at the table, waiting for the rest of the Doom Gang to arrive. BLACKBEARD, GORDIE N. KNOTT and THINK-BOT-5000 enter, dragging JEFF along with them. Jeff is still struggling.

 

JEFF

      Put me down, you goons!

 

The villains let him go and Vince Vengeance stands up in front of him.

 

VINCE VENGEANCE

Welcome to the Doom Gang’s secret lair, Jeff O’Malley.

JEFF

If you really wanted to keep this place a secret you should’ve thought to blindfold me.

VINCE VENGEANCE

(Motioning towards Gordie N. Knott)

Trust me if I was worried about staying hidden I wouldn’t have THIS jackass on the team.

GORDIE N. KNOTT

Hey! I told you, riddles are my THING!

VINCE VENGEANCE

Gordie, listen. Have you ever thought that this maybe isn’t the right line of work for you? Ever considered a different career path? Maybe writing Sudoku’s for the newspaper? You’d be good at that!

GORDIE N. KNOTT

(Dismisses Vince Vengeance immediately)

The Daily Bungle is a rag!

You know what? I don’t need this anymore! And I don’t need the Doom Gang. I’m going solo!

Gordie N. Knott walks off-stage.

VINCE VENGEANCE

(Yelling after him)

Good luck with that!

Gordie N. Knott comes back on-stage.

GORDIE N. KNOTT

On a side note, should I forward you my new mailing address?

VINCE VENGEANCE

Yeah. Can you send me that in the form of a riddle?

Vince Vengeance, Blackbeard, Think-Bot-5000 and Mrs. O’Malley all LAUGH. Gordie N. Knott stomps off-stage again.

 

GORDIE N. KNOTT

      Screw you guys!

JEFF

So what do you want from me anyway?

MRS. O’MALLEY

Jeffrey, don’t talk to Mr. Vengeance so rudely. And tuck your shirt in! My goodness, we’re guests here.

      JEFF

(Turns to Vince Vengeance, not really bothered by the fact his mother is here)

Come on. Did you seriously turn my mom into a robot again? When are you ever going to stop with this crap?

VINCE VENGEANCE

      I’ll never stop!

(Leaning in closer to Jeff)

I know about you. About your past. Your…alter ego.

JEFF

(Trying to play innocent)

I…I don’t know what you’re talking about.

VINCE VENGEANCE

Stuff it! I know you were KID CROW. Corvid-Man’s trusty sidekick!

MRS. O’MALLEY

(Clicks her tongue in disappointment)

      Jeffrey! Keeping secrets from your mother.

Jeff dismisses her; keeps talking to Vince Vengeance.

JEFF

Yeah, well. So?

VINCE VENGEANCE

So here’s the rub, kid: I didn’t steal that meteorite. I’m actually quite embarrassed to admit that I have no idea who did. But I AM willing to bet that your old babysitter has some leads, and YOU’RE going to tell me what he knows.

JEFF

Corvid-Man doesn’t know anything.

VINCE VENGEANCE

Come now. Do you really expect me to believe the city’s greatest detective hasn’t cracked the case yet?

JEFF

That’s what I’m saying.

Vince Vengeance leans in closer to Jeff, inspecting him carefully.

VINCE VENGEANCE

But YOU do know, don’t you Kid Crow?

I admit that I was always a tad jealous of you, the junior detective tagging along with Corvid-Man on all of his adventures. Solving mysteries together. Signing autographs together. Accepting keys to the City.

JEFF

You mean “doing good?”

VINCE VENGEANCE

Dammit, yes! Doing good.

JEFF

But you’re a BAD GUY! You’re Vince Vengeance. You’ve got the eye patch and everything.

VINCE VENGEANCE

(Meekly)

It’s not too late to change is it?

(Stamps his feet)

I wanna be a super hero!

JEFF

You killed my mom!

VINCE VENGEANCE

(Pointing to Mrs. O’Malley, who’s gone back to filing her nails)

      Not her brain!

Well, what if I promised to never kill your mom again? Pretty please? Pinky swear!

Vince Vengeance holds out his hand for a “pinky promise” but Jeff simply swats it away.

VINCE VENGEANCE

Fine. Well, if YOU can’t tell me who stole the meteorite, who can?

CORVID-MAN, CARL and MIKE enter. Carl is holding the meteorite now.

CORVID-MAN

      This is the end of the line, Vince Vengeance!

THINK-BOT-5000

Running data.

There is a ninety-nine percent probability of Corvid-Man knowing the whereabouts of the meteorite.

Blackbeard whacks Think-Bot-5000 with his hook.

VINCE VENGEANCE

Thanks, Think-Bot. You’re a big help.

So, to what do I owe the honour of having Corvid-Man show up at my doorstep?

CORVID-MAN

You can thank Gordie N. Knott for giving away the location of your hideout.

VINCE VENGEANCE

I’ll thank him the next time that fool comes crawling back because he’s run out of toilet paper.

(Notices the meteorite in Carl’s hands)

Well, well. What have we here?

CARL

      Hi dad.

EVERYONE (Confused)

      “DAD?!?!”

THINK-BOT-5000

      Does not compute!

CORVID-MAN

      Poppycock!

JEFF

      What are you talking about, Carl?

CARL

Vince Vengeance is my dad. Well, sort of.

JEFF

How come you never said anything before?

CARL

Guys, my name is Carl VENGEANCE. Haven’t you ever thought that was weird?

MIKE

You know, I never made that connection before now. Never even thought about it.

VINCE VENGEANCE

It’s true. Sixteen years ago I cloned myself in an attempt to win the heart of Jennifer Juniper. Of course, I failed. Like I always do.

(Hangs his head in defeat)

So instead of marrying Mister Everything’s girlfriend, I decided to just send my clone to school as my son. I mean, what am I gonna do with a kid hanging around here all day? It’s not like there are any toys to play with! Not since that time we melted all our Legos down and built that giant plastic crab monster.

CARL

And yet I still managed to turn out like you, dad. I’ve been shoplifting licorice and cigarettes from the corner store since I was five.

MIKE

(Put his arm around Carl)

We all have been Carl. We ALL have been.

CARL

And that’s why I broke into the museum. I can’t help stealing. It’s in my genes. LITERALLY!

VINCE VENGEANCE

I’m torn Carl. I want to be proud of you for following in your old man’s footsteps, but I also think I should scold you. You’re grounded, young man!

(To himself)

Oh! That felt good! Parenting’s a real rush!

(Back to Carl)

But WHY steal the meteor? What were you planning on doing with it?

CARL

I’m going to light up Broadway, dad!

(Holds up the meteorite)

With this rock I can dance like Baryshnikov! I can sing like I’m auto-tuned! I’ll be a superstar!

VINCE VENGEANCE

You sure you don’t want to be a surgeon or a lawyer? Maybe something with a little more job security?

CARL

I’m sure dad. I’ve never been more sure! And you can come with me. Bust out of the doldrums!

(Looks around)

I mean, LOOK at this place! It sure isn’t very inspiring.

MRS. O’MALLEY

      I’ve been telling these guys the same thing forever.

(Gets up from her seat, EXITS off-stage)

            Always the same thing with these men…

BLACKBEARD

Actually, we’ve been meaning to get some plants to add some colour around here.

THINK-BOT-5000

Lilacs are wonderful this time of year.

CARL

            All I know is I want to be HAPPY.

(Motions to Corvid-Man)

Not all brooding and serious like that guy over there. Why so dark and scary? I mean, crows aren’t even all that brooding, you know?

CORVID-MAN

      Crows can be brooding.

VINCE VENGEANCE

I’ve never considered crows to be brooding.

CORVID-MAN

Well, I’m sure somewhere at some point throughout the history of crows there had to have been at least ONE who agonized over SOMETHING. One of them had to have had a bad day.

CARL

I dunno. They seem pretty happy to me. They talk too much though. You definitely don’t talk too much, so that doesn’t really work either.

CORVID-MAN

YOU talk too much.

CARL

Come on man! All this superhero stuff’s taken the fun out of you!

 

The lights dim and a spotlight shines on Carl. Again, he breaks out into a Broadway-style song and dance routine. He TOSSES THE METEORITE TO VINCE VENGEANCE.

 

CARL

(Singing)

Where’s that light gone?

You used to shine!

Where’s that smile?

You’re disinclined!

You’ve got to chin up, cheer up!

Before you blow up, erupt!

JEFF

(Yelling)

Stop it Carl!

BLACKBEARD

            ‘Tis awful!

(Covers his ears, poking himself with his hook hand)

OW! Me ear!

CORVID-MAN

(To Carl)

You sing too much too.

VINCE VENGEANCE

Well, Carl. If this is your dream then the best I can do as a father is support you.

CARL

            Thanks dad!

Vince Vengeance and Carl hug. Everyone stands around confused. There’s a moment of awkward silence.

CORVID-MAN

            So, where does that leave us? What do we do now?

 

Before anyone answers, GORDIE N. KNOTT enters once again.

GORDIE N. KNOTT

Sorry guys, one last thing. I just forgot my brolly in my cubby. Also, I’m moving back in.

(Looks around at everything that’s going on)

Wait, what’s happening here? What did I miss?

CHIEF O’MALLEY and MISTER EVERYTHING enter now too.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

Well now, what have we here? Looks like Corvid-Man’s solved another one boys.

(Shakes Corvid-Man’s hand)

You truly are the BEST!

MISTER EVERYTHING

(Sees Vince Vengeance holding the meteorite)

YOU! So, you had the meteor all along? I can’t believe you lied to me!

VINCE VENGEANCE

It…it wasn’t me! It was, uh…

(Points to Gordie N. Knott)

It was HIM!

(Points to Blackbeard and Think-Bot-5000 now too)

      It was ALL OF THEM!

GORDIE N. KNOTT

WHAT?! Man, you totally threw us under the bus!

THINK-BOT-5000

Not cool.

CHIEF O’MALLEY

Take ‘em away boys!

MISTER EVERYTHING and CORVID-MAN take GORDIE N. KNOTT, BLACKBEARD and THINK-BOT-5000 off-stage.

VINCE VENGEANCE

Oh man! Being a superhero – AND a super DAD – is totally awesome!

(Looks down at the meteorite fragment in his hands)

Well, I guess the next thing to do is return this to the museum?

CHIEF O’MALLEY

I’ve got bad news for you. Doctor Wizard informed us that this thing is worthless. It’s not even a meteorite fragment; it’s just a rock that a local hobo dug up from the dog park.

Vince Vengeance holds his arm out, turning his nose up at the thought of what he’s holding. Ew.

CHIEF O’MALLEY (Cont’d)

It doesn’t actually have any sort of magical or extra-terrestrial power. You can keep it.

MIKE

(To Jeff and Carl)

Well, I’d say the Thunderous Three have done it again! I’m proud of you guys!

JEFF

Mike, all that actually happened was I got kidnapped by a pirate and rescued by Corvid-Man. Plus, Carl broke into private property and stole what turned out to be a dog turd.

MIKE

But we learned a valuable lesson, didn’t we? Guys? I mean, we DID learn SOMETHING, right?

CARL

(Thinking)

I don’t think so.

MAYOR NAIZE ENTERS. He’s holding a medal in his hands and walks over to Jeff. Corvid-Man’s cape is clearly visible, hanging out from underneath his coat.

MAYOR NAIZE

Jeff O’Malley, on behalf of the entire city I’d like to personally thank you for risking your life to recover the stolen artifact!

Please accept the city’s official Medal of Courage and Honour and Other Stuff!

Mayor Naize places the medal around Jeff’s neck.

JEFF

But I didn’t actually DO ANYTHING! All I wanted to do was study for my marine biology final exam, which I’m probably going to fail now.

MAYOR NAIZE

(Turns around and walks back off-stage)

Well, good luck with that!

MIKE

      I FEEL like we should have learned SOMETHING here today…

CHIEF O’MALLEY

(Holds arms out wide; everyone moves in for a group hug)

      Well, I’m still proud of you guys. ALL of you.

VINCE VENGEANCE

      Aw, thanks dad.

Scene 11

INTERIOR O’MALLEY HOME – DAY: JEFF, CARL and MIKE are in the O’Malley Home. Carl is packed up, ready to leave to pursue his dreams.

 

CARL

      I can’t believe school’s over already. Man, that went fast!

      How’d you guys end up doing on that biology final anyway?

JEFF

(Ecstatic)

I scored a ninety-two. Aw, yeah! (insert name of lousy local community college), here I come!

MIKE

Hundred percent.

JEFF

(To Mike)

How on earth did YOU do so well on the test? As far I know you didn’t even study.

MIKE

I don’t know. It certainly couldn’t have been from licking that meteorite so much…

CARL

Mike, we’ve told you a hundred times: that wasn’t a meteor. It was dog feces.

Mike simply shrugs his shoulders like it was really no big deal.

A car horn HONKS outside the house.

CARL

(Picks up bags)

Well guys, my cab’s here. I’m finally off to Broadway to pursue my dreams! The next time you see me I’ll be the star of…MESOPOTAMIA THE MUSICAL!

JEFF

That really doesn’t sound very promising.

CARL

It’s like Cats but set in ancient Mesopotamia.

MIKE

That sounds even worse.

(Hoping to change the subject)

Hey! Where’s your dad? Doesn’t he want to say goodbye?

CARL

(Calling)

DAD!! I’m leaving!

VINCE VENGEANCE comes running in. He’s wearing a new costume: he’s become the new Kid Crow, Corvid-Man’s sidekick. The costume is a bit small though, being the same one Jeff wore when he was Kid Crow.

VINCE VENGEANCE

            Sorry gang! I was just monitoring criminal activity in my hideout!

JEFF

            You mean the treehouse in my backyard?

VINCE VENGEANCE

That’s the one. Boy, being Corvid-Man’s new sidekick is a real rush!

(Strikes a kung-fu pose)

And the all-new Kid Crow is a force to be reckoned with. I’m a real dandy!

JEFF

Well, I’m just happy you could make use of my old costume. You sure it’s not too tight?

VINCE VENGEANCE

(Obviously in discomfort, but trying to hide it)

Not at all! It’s hugging in all the right places!

Outside, the car horn HONKS once more.

VINCE VENGEANCE

My Crow-Sense is cawing! There’s trouble afoot!

CARL

Dad, that’s a car horn. My cab is here. It’s time for me to get going.

(To everyone)

Well good luck with everything guys. See you in the funny papers.

Group hug. Then Carl exits.

 

VINCE VENGEANCE

Hey Jeff, old buddy? You mind showing me how that police scanner works again? Ever since Think-Bot-5000 got thrown in the slammer I can’t figure ANYTHING out! I miss that guy.

JEFF

(Sighs)

All right. One more time.

VINCE VENGEANCE

To the treehouse!

VINCE VENGEANCE and JEFF exit, leaving Mike alone.

Mike LAUGHS a little to himself before turning to the audience.

MIKE

They all thought me so stupid. You probably did too, didn’t you? Mike Something! The idiot member of the Thunderous Three. Well, would an idiot continue to lick away at dog feces so unapologetically?

(Pulls out the “meteorite” from his pocket. It’s much smaller than it was before)

Until it’s nothing more than a wet nub?

(Takes another lick)

Well I wouldn’t have aced that biology exam without it. I wouldn’t have aced ALL of my exams without it!

(Looks around suspiciously)

And I’ve got super powers now. Some pretty good one too! At least I think I do.

They all thought it worthless. USELESS! And just threw it away like it was nothing more than a bag of cat pee. But it’s not cat pee; it’s dog poop! Magically delicious dog poop! And now it’s MINE! ALL MINE!

(Laughs maniacally)

Now I’m gonna go jump off a roof!

MIKE runs off-stage LAUGHING.

END.

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!

Cody

For some reason lately, maybe it’s the planetary alignment or because people just want to talk to me, I’ve had a few queries about the dedication in my first novel, Molt. Inquiring minds have wondered of its origins, the who’s and the why’s.

For Cody

In Memory of Cody. And if you’re now wondering too, here’s the answer.

When I was in the 12th Grade, there was a new student at my high school. After a brief conversation in the hall one day we quickly became very close friends. And it was at a time when new friends were difficult to come across and very much appreciated. He and his two brothers were social animals, which was definitely unfamiliar territory to me, but I was seen as a welcome addition at their house parties and other gatherings. Though most everyone there would be drinking and/or smoking as typical teenagers did in these settings, I didn’t. It simply was never in my character; I had no interest, and no one ever felt the need to pressure me on the matter.

During these gatherings, my friend’s father would generally always be present. Not acting as some sort of adult supervision. Quite simply, he just lived there. That was his home. His name was Cody and he was a quiet man, certainly not unapproachable or unfriendly, he just liked his space. He would sit on his favorite chair oftentimes playing solitaire on a tiny card table. Drinking whiskey and smoking. I liked to sit with him sometimes; the both of us not really talking as much as watching. I liked his company, and I enjoyed the idea that he liked mine as well. I don’t think I ever knew what he did for a living, but that never mattered much at all. He liked to talk about his four sons (the oldest of which I’d never met) and their many moves along the way to where they’d currently landed.

It was within one of these moments that we got to talking and I learned how he was – and had been for quite some time – writing a book. My mind was blown. I’d never known anyone with the ambition to write an actual book. At the time I think I assumed there were only like a hundred people who have ever written a book. Ever. Obviously I’d never really thought about it much before then, but I assumed only really incredibly special people would ever consider doing so. But this was just a hobby for him. He was attempting to write a book about his family history; family trees and lineage and stuff like that. To be honest, I never really learned much more about it, but I always made an effort to ask him how the book was coming every time I saw him.

Let’s jump ahead to many years later. Cody and his sons had all gone their separate ways, as families inevitably do. I didn’t even talk to my friend much at all anymore though I thought about him often and fondly recalled the few years we grew up together. Cody was certainly a part of those memories too. On a whim of creativity I began to write a screenplay. And then another. And another. I soon hit the proverbial writer’s block and needed a jump start. I entered a 3-Day Novel Writing contest where I wrote a 65-page novella. From there I wanted to challenge myself further so I began work on a full-length novel. And all along the way I continued to remember Cody and how I always thought writing a book was an impossible task only to be taken upon by very prolific individuals. But this quiet man was not going to stop at anything to write about his family history. And now I’d done it too. It took a few years, a few battles with confidence, a few rewrites and a few lapses of judgement but I was slowly finishing the edits on my first full-length novel.

As it happened, this old friend of mine was getting married and he contacted me and invited me down to California for the wedding. Of course I knew that his father would be there and I was so excited and surging with energy at the thought of telling Cody what I’d been up all these last few years and what I was on the verge of finishing. I knew as I was nearing the end of my novel that I wanted nothing more than to thank Cody for sparking something from somewhere within myself. I knew he’d be proud of me. And then I saw him. And I told him. And it was an awesome feeling. I’m ashamed to admit it but I’m pretty sure this was the highlight of the trip, more so than the actual wedding. His approval was extremely meaningful to me. I promised to get a copy of the book to him as soon as it was done.

I don’t think it was any more than three weeks later that my friend called me to tell me Cody had died in a motorcycle accident. DIED. It was horrible and devastating and I still get choked up thinking about the very last time I saw him, more than five years ago. The book was done very soon after. Molt was finished. And there was no question that I would be dedicating it to Cody.

I can’t believe sometimes how lucky I was to have seen him so soon before he died. I wish I could have sent that copy of Molt to him that I’d promised. But life’s roads take unexpected turns and its streets intersect more often than we think they will. Horrible things will happen and happy coincidences will occur. To me, Cody will always represent both and I’m very proud to have his name in my book.

Thanks again Cody.

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…

Themes

As I (slowly) write my third novel, and try to hone my craft a little more with every sentence, the idea of THEME keeps popping into my head. Buzzing around my brain all the while nagging me to not forget what my point is here. I think with this story, much more so than my previous two, I need to keep my themes evident in everything; every word in every sentence of every chapter must all be leading somewhere, hoping to say something coherent and meaningful.

My third novel (tentatively named “THIS NEVER HAPPENED”) juggles such ideas as Identity, Dreams, Reality, Memory, Happiness, Depression, Purpose, Family and Love. It treads into Boy-Meets-Girl territory. It plays with the reader’s head, making them question what is real and what is not. And before you it, it turns itself over and transforms into a far-fetched and sci-fi laden mystery. Yes, that’s a lot to think about. And it takes a lot of planning and outlining to keep everything on the tracks, heading in the right direction. The key to this? A solid theme, of course. But there’s more to this as well.

A question or two: Do most writers pick one single theme and run with it? Do they keep it loose and not worry too much about whether the reader will identify their theme? Are their books thematic-heavy, impossible to not pick up on it? Is it more common a writer’s work to have multiple themes? Does it sometimes have no theme at all? Does anything go?

Next, I decide to revisit my original synopsis for the book, the hook if you will, hoping my burgeoning ideas for the story will remind me why I’ve chosen to write the story. Here is one of the first things I wrote when I started this project, then tentatively known as “EPOCH”:

Epoch: A black hole collapses and ten thousand years later a baby boy is born. Each event is linked wholly to the other. As the boy grows up he feels as though he doesn’t belong anywhere and he eventually becomes certain he was never meant for this world.

After much deliberation and considering my original hook and dissecting the ideas and chapters I’ve already gotten down, I decide that my main theme is Identity. My main character has never felt like belonged and has always had a difficult time trying to fit in and figure out who he was meant to be. But knowing where this complicated tale is headed, I also want to make Reality a theme. I figure this particular novel is best suited to be heavy on these two themes so how do I start really tying them into the story?

Next, and with a fine-tooth comb, I go through the five full chapters I have so far (roughly 10,000 words) and make sure the idea of Identity is really tied into what my characters say and what my main character thinks (this is a First-Person Narrative). I take a look at all the words and re-think why they’re there and if I could use a better sentence. This is something that will be done again in the editing stage, but by then it will mostly be for grammatical reasons and making sure my exposition reads clearly.

Reality is something that begins to be questioned later in the book, and plays a large role, but it’s the kind of idea that is best used with a smattering of clues, first unnoticeable, then with a light dusting, and finally a full-blown “make the reader question everything that’s happened” scenario. I remind to think about this as I go, but the truth is that with proper outlining the editing stage will help me decide when too much information is being given or if more is needed.

But for now I’ll be saving my document and closing my computer for the night. In bed I’ll think about this more-refined direction and hope that the words will start to flow a bit faster tomorrow.

How about you writers out there? How do you tackle the use of theme in your work?

Open the Box

The dusty, brown box stares me down, blaming me for the funk I’m in. I haven’t written much lately. Nothing worth noting. It’s not my fault, I tell myself. It’ll come, I say.

I’ve been misled by my own misdirection. Hey, look over here. There’s something worthwhile over there. Open this book and your eyes will land on the most galvanizing passage. That website is sure to inspire you if you will only keep clicking. The box just needs to be opened.

I am not unlike a tree at winter’s end, my bare branches waiting to be full again. But unlike the tree which simply waits for spring, I am responsible for filling my own branches.

Here, let me open that box. Watch the words grow once more.

The Falling – Chapter Twenty-Nine

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: From Montauk to Morningside Heights

ONE YEAR LATER.

The wind bit into Tommy as he waited for the E-Train out of Jamaica. It didn’t bother him though. If Rachel had told Tommy that he would one day enjoy the two and half-hour train ride from Montauk he would never have believed her.

The train station was full of sketchy and unsavory characters, but Tommy didn’t mind them either. A pair of homeless men huddled in the corner, ignored even by the security guard who wandered listlessly on patrol. The two men could have been twins for all Tommy knew; with their scruffy beards, drab monochrome clothing and matching New York Islanders hats. He had bought a wholly unspectacular Spartan apple at the station, paying for it with a crisp twenty, and Tommy tossed the men all of the change that had been rattling in his pocket ever since. They probably weren’t really Islanders fans, he thought in an attempt to justify his own charity.

Tommy had surprised the Ponzinis that morning when he showed up on their doorstep asking Dick Ponzini for his daughter’s hand. Patrick told him the whole scenario sounded a little old-fashioned, but he didn’t want to dissuade his friend from making any life changing decisions. Tommy’s father had done it the same way, as did his grandfather before him. No one in the family was quite sure how Leyland Mueller had proposed but Tommy imagined it must have gone down in the exact same fashion. Just a day before, Tommy visited Ellis Island to find his great-grandfather’s name; he felt it would serve as some sort of familial approval of his proposal to Rachel. It took him well over an hour to find the tiny name etched into the Wall of Honor. It was both comfortable and unsettling to read his own moniker nestled in amongst thousands upon thousands of faceless, long-dead immigrants. A year ago, Tommy considered going by his proper birth name, but the truth was that he still hated it. He decided to stick with Tommy rather than pretend things were any different than they had always been.

Heeding Patrick’s advice from the day of the tennis match, Tommy agreed to simply tell Rachel he loved her. He paid her Columbia professor fifty dollars to give him ten minutes at the start of the lecture, Rachel’s Socio-Cultural Anthropology class. Tommy put on a smelly tweed jacket and a fake mustache and proceeded to bore the entire lecture hall by bull-shitting about the societal merits of Super Mario Land for a full seven minutes. He hadn’t practiced any of it, but the majority of students weren’t really listening anyway. Rachel knew it was him right from the start, but she was simply too dumbfounded to do anything but smile at the man’s lunacy. Eventually Tommy just wrote “I love you Rachel Ponzini” on the whiteboard. He asked her to see him after class, and then he left. Rachel moved into Tommy’s 113th Street apartment exactly four days later.

The E-Train finally pulled in and it was even colder inside because somebody thought it would be a good idea to leave the air conditioning on. Still, Tommy refused to let anything bother him. The cars clack-a-lacked beneath Forest Hills and Queens Boulevard and Hunters Point before thundering through the East River. Tommy loved the ease of the subway system, but if there was one thing he missed when riding into Manhattan from Long Island, it was seeing the glorious skyline of the world’s greatest city coming into view. New York City never ceased to stand guard, ever vigilant as its people perpetually changed. They continued to face new ordeals every day, but the wisest of them knew it would always be so. Their ebbs and flows were not pre-determined but they were also not entirely unexpected. The city would always breathe in and out.

John Galloway died suddenly in his sleep on Christmas morning. By then he’d entirely forgotten who he was, but he never forgot how much he loved his wife. Keekee Kaufman awoke one evening to discover she was perfectly fine; her schizophrenia was simply no more. She walked out of Bellevue and made her way across the Triboro Bridge. As she looked down onto the East River she found no desire within herself to jump off. Troy “The Shark” Dunlop was found dead and shirtless on the floor in the men’s room after suffering a severe heart attack from massive energy drink consumption. Apparently he had been practicing some ultimate fighting moves in the bathroom mirror when it happened. He never did find his missing Randy Couture bobble head doll. Dwayne Reamer eventually found himself in an editing position at Pendulum Publishing. He even garnered his own small office overlooking West 39th Street. His office was big enough for a mini-fridge, so nobody could steal his yogurt anymore. He had also been putting the finishing touches on his own book: Catch Me if You Can: the Next Generation of American Catchphrases.

Tommy transferred subways at the 50th Street Station, taking the 1-Train north. The station smelled particularly grimy that afternoon, but the grimier the better. To Tommy, that only meant the city was running as it should. It was comforting. He sat as far back as he could in the train’s very last car. A beggar with no legs slowly patrolled the subway, pushing himself on a skateboard with his calloused hands. Tommy had no change left in his pocket, but he did find a pen which he dropped into the coffee tin hanging from the man’s neck, claiming everyone could always use a good pen.

An unfunny lawyer named Hugh Morris contacted Jesse Classen one day in February, letting him know that something had been left for him in John Galloway’s will. It was a comic book collection, still mostly unsorted and piled up in the basement of the Gramercy Park home. When Jesse went to collect it, he was astounded by the sheer volume of valuable rarities. At first he refused to take them, but once his friends managed to convince him that it would represent the final stage of the healing process, Jesse finally succumbed. There was a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #1, an assortment of rare Buck Rogers and Lone Ranger comics, a three-hundred issue run of the newspaper edition Spirit comics from the Forties, and most incredibly of all, a near-mint copy of Detective Comics #27. Jesse quit his job as assistant manager at Midtown Comics and used the value of the collection to open his own comic book shop in the Lower East Side. He called it Edie’s Bunker, and he was the store’s sole employee. When Jesse was ready to see Sharona again he did just as he was instructed and went to the streetlight on MacDougal Street to find the necessary information regarding her next show. But there were no posters to be found. There was an ad for free computer lessons, and two of the nine phone numbers had already been torn off the bottom. And there was another girl there, taping up her own poster for a lost cat. It wasn’t her cat, Jesse learned, but her friend’s. Betty Bentley hated musicals and chicken wings and black licorice and comic books, but the two of them decided to give each other a shot anyway. Jesse soon found that compromising was far better than living alone with regret.

The 1-Train came to a slow stop somewhere between Columbus Circle and Lincoln Center. The lights went out and most everyone onboard panicked. Tommy could easily tell which of the passengers were tourists and which were not by the levels of alarm they displayed. It was funny to him just how obvious people could sometimes be. He took the moment to appreciate the artwork spray-painted onto the tunnel walls just behind the window. There were areas of New York that Tommy knew he would never get the chance to see, which bothered him more than most anything else. It was moments like these that he savored, considering himself even luckier than he was just the moment before.

Kate Prince and Gene Schneider divorced in March. It turned out that Gene had never had an affair, nor did he want one, but Kate was done either way. She took enough time for herself to finish her first novel, The Falling. She self-published the book but failed miserably in promoting herself. She wasn’t looking for fame or notoriety; she was just happy to have finally finished it, and she was proud of herself. When The Manhattanite eventually did end up being a success, just as Tommy predicted, Kate still did not let it get to her. Tommy deserved all the accolades he got. Eventually, she found an editing job at another publishing company and the very first book she pulled from the slush pile turned out to be an award winner. Kate finally returned to the gym, but balanced her new lifestyle out by taking up smoking. She claimed to have curbed her Nicorette addiction through cigarettes. For her birthday, Jesse made Kate a collage. It was a collection of GAP ads taped together with the addition of comic book word balloons glued above Kate’s head. The many denim-clad Kates were saying such things as “Bow before the might of Doom!”, “Walloping web-snappers!” and “By Odin’s Beard!” It was very Warhol-esque. Kate kept the collage above her desk at home, proudly showing it off to anyone lucky enough to spend time with her.

From the Cathedral Parkway Station it was only two more blocks to the coffee shop, but Tommy leisurely took his time. He was looking forward to meeting with his friends and telling them the big news, but he’d been in much less of a hurry lately than he usually was. Besides, he knew his friends weren’t going anywhere. New York was no longer just his; it was all of theirs. They still continued their attempts at convincing Patrick to get out of Brooklyn and move back to Manhattan, but they didn’t push him too hard since they all knew it was bound to happen eventually. Sheldon was already starting to show the signs of a budding Thomas Mueller. The boy loved being in the city, he loved hearing the trains underground when he passed a station stairwell or a grate on the sidewalk, and he quivered a little bit before heading back home to their apartment on India Street. Sheldon was quick to make friends with hotel doormen; he helped Uncle Jesse out every Saturday at Edith’s Bunker; and once a month he would bug Tommy enough to take him on the three hour sightseeing boat tour around Manhattan. He loved listening to Tommy tell the stories of every building and every street and every bridge they passed, and never ceased in suggesting Tommy give tours for a living, since it sometimes seemed Uncle Tommy had nothing else to do with his time. Tommy’s only response would be to challenge the boy to do the same.

As he approached the corner or Broadway and 112th, Tommy stopped for moment to process everything that had gone through his mind that morning. He thought about his brother and how much he would have loved to have had the chance to share the city with him. Everything was perfect there; it no longer mattered how much things changed or whether or not they remained the same. Tommy would continue to love New York City forever. Patrick, Kate and Jesse watched him from the window of Tom’s Restaurant. I couldn’t help but watch him too. His passion would never cease to astonish and baffle us all. Patrick almost gave Tommy another second to collect himself, but he chose to bang on the glass instead, snapping him out of his fervor.

 

THE END