Monday, May 30, 2011

novel excerpt

What follows is a short excerpt from the novel I've been working on.

Club 88. Elephant Smeat decided he wanted it, even though it was an abandoned, rundown piece of crap. But he didn't care what it looked like, or even if it made any money. Dr. Bernhard Schultz, Professor Emeritus of German Studies at the university, had named it for the year he himself had bought and opened it. Achtundachtzig, as he would say. He had envisioned it to be an authentic reproduction of a Biergarten in Munich. But he was never able to achieve that ideal, as even on its best days, it looked like nothing more than just another nondescript hovel.

During its heyday, if such could be said of it, Dr. Schultz would pounce on unsuspecting patrons as they walked through the door, welcoming them into his place with a spray of native German saliva directed into their faces: “Wilkommen zum Club Achtundachtzig!”. The few returning customers would learn to sneak in through the side door. Barely two years later he had already gone out of business. The fact that he was able to keep it afloat for even that long was a miracle.

Being unoccupied for another two years did nothing to improve its appearance, as one of the local gangs had seen fit to bust out the windows and tag the hell out of it. And the inside looked even worse: trash strewn all over the place, broken furniture, more graffiti and a smell that El could not identify. Even the rats and cockroaches wanted nothing to do with it. If Eurystheus had been able to add Club 88's renovation to his list., Hercules would've shit himself. But El never had a second thought; it suited him just fine.

He decided he would keep the name. When he heard the number 88, the first thing that popped into his head was the 88 mm anti-aircraft gun used by the Germans during WWII, a piece of history that was near and dear to El's little heart. He even had one mounted atop his warehouse hidden deep in the woods in Bastrop county . He thought about moving it to the top of the bar, to give it a little class. But that would draw too much attention to the place. That would not do.

He had often fantasized using it (he kept it in fine working condition) if the rapture ever came, and it was raining angels. A crooked smile would wrap around his cigar as he imagined himself shooting down as many of the winged bastards as he could before they dragged his sorry ass to hell—provided he could get to it in time. And provided that angels actually existed…or a heaven and a hell…or a god, for that matter, which El seriously doubted. It was difficult to believe in an all-powerful, ever-loving supreme being when you had seen and done the things Elephant Smeat had. But, still, just in case.

He knew he didn’t know the first thing about running a bar. But it couldn’t be that hard, he thought. He had run across enough bar owners in his dealings over the years, and not a single one of them could be considered a mental giant. Besides, he knew he would have to hire someone to run it for him anyways, as he wouldn’t be spending that much time there, what with all of his runs down to Mexico.

The closing was scheduled for Monday morning, May 11, 1992, at 9:00 am, usually much too early for El. But Dr. Schultz had insisted on it, claiming he would not be able to accommodate a later time, as he had a plane to catch that day to his beloved Deutschland, “und vuld not be beck vor zum time.” He really seemed anxious to get through it as quickly as possible, and after the last signature was recorded, his short, fat legs propelled him like a bullet out the door and into a waiting taxi.

Once El was the official owner of Club 88, his first order of business was to place a call to Chango, the leader of the local gang who El identified the tags with. He had barely hung up the phone, before the nervous gangbangers showed up to repair and repaint the place. He told them he didn’t care what color they painted it, and left to go back to his apartment and crawled back into bed.

Friday, May 27, 2011

dirty old man

Now, this time say it with me, but with a British accent: “Yuh a duhty olde mahn, bubba. Wot a filthy olde buggah, you ah!” There, now don't you feel better? I know I do. Now back to bidness.

Well. I’ve gone and made some major changes to the novel. I cut out almost half the original characters—suckers have been dropping like flies. I realized there was quite a bit of redundancy, with two or three characters carrying the weight which one could easily heft, making them much too one-dimensional. This allowed (required) me to tighten up the storyline(s), so it’s starting to look much more manageable.

But. However more manageable it has become, one thing I have noticed is that all of a sudden there seems to be quite a bit of sex going on. Where the hell did that come from? Everybody is shtupping everybody else! It's rally quite disgusting, you know. What I had intended to be a serious story is turning into erotic literature. Ah, who am I kidding? Can I in all seriousness attach the moniker “literature” to what I write? Not this piece of hackish trash. Maybe it would work as a screenplay for a porno? Do porno’s even have screenplays? And why all the sex? Hmmmm? A lackanooky at home driving this?

Oh, and what was that about intending it to be a serious story? Me, serious? I can't open my mouth without cracking a joke, or making a wisecrack. Haven't my wife and daughter pointed this out to me umpteen times? “Can't you be serious about anything? Why does everything have to be a joke to you?!” So. They're right, of course. And of course, of course...A horse is a horse, of course, of course, And no one can talk to a horse of course. That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mister Ed. So of course, I never intended it to be serious. Of course not.

But there is humor, and then there is humour. So humor me for a second while I cogitate on what type of humour my novel might exhibit.

The other day, well, it was yesterday, actually, I was listening to something on youtube on my phone on the way home. What was I listening to, you ask? Why the song from Blazing Saddles, you know the one, the one Madeline Kahn sings on stage, “I'm Tired.” And why was I listening to it? Well, my boss mentioned he was tired, and used a line from that song (he loves quoting from Blazing Saddles, but then again, who doesn't,) and I realized I hadn't heard it in a while, so I found it on youtube, and enjoyed it on the way home. And then I remembered that Madeline was in another of my favorite movies, “Young Frankenstein.” And then I started thinking about my book, which I spend most of my waking hours thinking about. And I thought to myself, if I am truly myself with this thing, and write it how it would amuse me, wouldn't it be along the lines of a Mel Brooks film? I don't know, I'm just riffing out loud, you know? Mainly the Scotch talking. But when 16 yo Lagavulin talks, shouldn't one listen?

Interesting little side note: I wanted Mena (one of my major characters) to stay with a family in my little German town, and have the husband be the Burgermeister (please forgive the missing umlaut) there. When I looked the town up in wikipedia, just to make sure it actually has a Burgermeister (because, you know, my knowledge of how local German government works is woefully thin,) I was surprised to see that the current one’s last name is the Germanized version of my own Polish name! How weird is that? Is that a sign I’m on the right track? I’m not superstitious, not in the least, but when things like that happen...

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Tower

Dreamed on the night of Thursday, May 12, 2011

This was an unusual dream for me. I don’t usually remember dreams. And when I do, they are not really worth remembering as they are normally without much action--just as boring as real life. Needless to say, I've never had the inclination to blog about one. Until now.

Obviously the town officials would ask me for help, knowing my expertise. We surmised, by using some computer models, that the killer’s target destination was some old forgotten tower. So our plan now was to get there before him, and use it against him, as he had intended to use it against who knows how many innocent citizens.

This tower was at least 20-30 stories high, and getting to the top would not be easy. Many of the handholds had become sunken into the concrete, and it was difficult to get a grip. But after a very difficult climb, we were finally able to make it to the top.

The top of the tower was much bigger than we had originally thought. It was as big a city block, if not bigger. And the terrain was extremely varied, with alcoves and outcroppings and a mass of electrical equipment rising in the middle of all of it. To make matters worse, we discovered that there were quite a few people who were living there. Obviously homeless people with nowhere else to go, they had made for themselves quite a little community up there. They couldn’t stay, since they would only get in the way of the mission, or worse, might get shot or killed in the crossfire. So they were told to leave. They were not happy about this, as this had been their home for quite some time.

As they were grumbling amongst themselves, it occurred to me that once down, they might tell everyone we were up there, and then the killer would get wind of this, and our mission would be compromised. Nothing was more important to me than eliminating this killer, and I would do anything to see it through. So I suggested throwing them off the tower, but quickly retracted that as the killer might see their bodies on the ground and deduce something was amiss. So then I proposed we just eliminate them. This didn’t go over too well with the officials, and it was decided they would be escorted off the tower.

As this was being done, I figured I’d better start surveying the area. It quickly became apparent that the original plan would have to be altered. Due to the layout, there was no way I could see him before he got up the tower. So I decided I would scale up the power equipment to give myself a better vantage point; once he was up there, I could just pick him off.

It was difficult fitting through all of the struts, beams and power lines. And the power lines were buzzing with electricity—one wrong move, and I would be fried. Luckily, in my dream, I was much thinner than I am in real life, so I was able to safely squeeze through.
When I got to the highest point I could, I discovered that I still could not see much of the top of the tower, plus I was pretty much wedged in and couldn’t move around. If he saw me, I would be a sitting duck. I carefully began working my way back down.

On the way down, I saw the killer. But he was not alone. He was surrounded by a group of very well-dressed people, and it was as if he were happily giving them a tour of the place. They looked to be very important people, and were laughing and joking, obviously oblivious to my presence.

But the mission was the mission, he had to be stopped. So I started shooting indiscriminately amongst the throng, hoping to get him. They began to panic, screaming and running around. I could no longer tell who was who, so I started trying to pick them off one by one, and hopefully the killer would be one.

Where in the dream did I become the villain? My original intent was to help the town rid themselves of a terrible monster, but as the dream progressed, he became respectable, and I was now the monster.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Happy Blahday

Another birthday. Another year older. I remember birthdays as a kid were so exciting. It wasn't so much the gifts, it was more about just having a special day all to yourself. Your one day a year you could call your own. May 12th. That date used to have such meaning. Such power. Now it's just another day. But the power I always associated with that date never completely went away. There's still a slight residue there, a niggling feeling something special should happen. But it never does anymore.

I had taken the day off from work, to spend it at my daughter's school. Today was their track and field day. She was very excited, and I was excited for her. She means everything to me. But it was rained out. We needed the rain, no doubt about that. But it meant I spent the day accomplishing nothing.

But I have had some time to think. And I have resolved to myself that before I see another birthday, I will have finished writing my book. Goddammit, I have to accomplish something in my life! Because if I don't, what was the point of it? I don't want to look back on a string of wasted years. Wasted years of dreaming of doing something, instead of just doing it.

When I was a kid, all I thought about was being a writer. I figured that by 35, I would have at least one good thick novel out. Now, 35 seems like a lifetime ago. And aside from a handful of poems published in some small publications, I have nothing to show for it. I need to focus all of my attention on my writing.

Up to now, I've just been tinkering around with it, working on the outline, trying to flesh out some characters, but haven't done much real writing. It's like I keep finding excuses not to write it:
  • I haven't found my voice.
  • I haven't completely figured out the storyline.
  • What should the narrative structure be?
  • The characters are still too ambiguous.
  • I really don't know what the fuck I'm doing.
When what I really need to do is just write--and not give a shit what it looks like.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Reader's Block by David Markson


When it comes to experimental fiction, no one outshines David Markson. David Foster Wallace revered him, and in a 1999 article for, said of Markson's “Wittgenstein's Mistress:” a novel this abstract and erudite and avant-garde that could also be so moving makes "Wittgenstein's Mistress" pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country.

Much the same could be said of “Reader's Block,” written eight years later, as well. It is comprised of a disjointed mishmash of cultural and literary quotes and anecdotes. Interspersed with these entries is a running commentary on the nature of the book itself, as well as “Reader” trying to work out the details of a book he is having trouble writing. “Reader” is how the narrator sometimes refers to himself, which is explained by the introductory quote from Jose Luis Borges: First and foremost, I think of myself as a reader.

However, it is not all as simple as that, as narrator = Reader = Protagonist (main character of Reader's book.) This trichotomy of Markson's is exploited and explored thoughout the book, making for a fascinating conundrum of who is who.

With respect to what is what, as in what this book actually is, the narrator is not exactly sure.

Nonlinear? Discontinuous? Collage-like?

An assemblage?

And later:

A novel of intellectual reference and allusion, so to speak minus much of the novel?

Many of the entries have to do with isolation, mental illness, death, incest, the Holocaust, etc… However, the frequency of two particular categories far exceeds any others:

  1. So-and-So was an anti-Semite

  2. So-and-So committed suicide (sometimes going into detail, sometimes not.)

With respect to the first category, it is not altogether clear what Markson is striving for. Those he brands as anti-Semites run the gamut from Saint Thomas Aquinas to Dostoevsky, with scores and scores of writers, philosophers, artists and scientists in between. It is never stated why they could be called as such; all we have is just the statement that So-and-So is.

In addition, there does seem to be a preponderance of entries that deal with the Holocaust. So, is Markson saying that anyone he classes an anti-Semite would have approved of the Holocaust, thereby making them as much of a monster as the Nazi’s actually responsible? If so, this would in turn nullify any contributions they might have made (which, by the sheer number of those “outed,” would be a very large percentage of the Western canon—i.e. all of the books that narrator/Reader/Markson has enjoyed reading over a lifetime.)

However, not all is Holocaust and suicide. Many of the entries are just little tidbits he has picked up among the books he has read, and he often creates interconnections between them, sometimes playing them against each other to great comic effect. For example, in one entry, it is revealed that Mallarme learned English for the specific purpose of reading Poe. Then, five entries later, there is a quote from Henry James, who said, “an enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.”

As for the book Reader is contemplating writing, he does not yet have a name for his main character, Protagonist, so starts trying on names of characters from famous books: Raskolnikov, Bloom, Mr. Kurtz, Mersault, Harry Haller, Molloy/Malone/Estragon, etc… He constantly shifts back and forth between them and others, and then back to just plain Protagonist as Reader tries to make up his mind. He never does.

Also changing constantly is the setting of the novel. Does Protagonist live in a house in a cemetery or in an isolated house on the beach? Both are explored, making up storylines to go with each, but again, he never settles on one.

What is Protagonist’s background? Having trouble creating a world for protagonist, Reader starts giving him scenes from his own life (having a son and daughter, having written books, etc…) Also, the statements of isolation (nobody comes, nobody calls, etc…), which are pervasive throughout the book concerning narrator and Reader are also projected onto Protagonist, further blurring the lines between narrator, Reader and Protagonist.

By the end of the book, all of the dark ruminations on isolation, suicide and death have built up to a deafening crescendo. The Protagonist is gone, being replaced by an elderly man (Markson?), and it is asked what if the elderly man in the house at the beach were to walk unremarkably into the ocean? Or if the elderly man in the house at the cemetery were to turn unremarkably to the gas?

The last line of the book:


Wastebasket. What does it mean? Is the wastebasket where all of this nonlinear, discontinuous, collage-like assemblage should go? No, I don't believe so. I believe another conclusion has been arrived at: The world is a bleak, hopeless place where even the so-called giants of literature are really just monsters in disguise. For someone who has built his life around books, this is not a welcome conclusion. And so now all of the entries concerning suicide finally make sense.


Stand on the wastebasket and hang himself. Have I misread it? I don't think so. And what makes the ending even more of a punch in the gut is knowing that David Foster Wallace would certainly have read this book.