Beyond The Pale

Running, A New Book Idea

I’m back. Suffice it to say that I’ve had a dirty month. This morning (12 October) I took my second shower since the last time that I updated this site, and it was wonderful. During the last month, I’ve spent a lot of time writing, reading, and thinking. Most of what I’ve been writing, I’m not going to post on here until I get back to the states because it was immediately autobiographical and needs time to stew for perspective. My thoughts, on the other hand, are available for immediate discussion, but it’ll take a while to unpack them. In the last month, my I’ve rambled the mental gamut of physics, ontology, eschatology, scatology (lots of that), political science, critical theory, buggery, creativity, theology, perspective, my own personal need to practice book reviews, sophistry, aesthetics, and why processed sugar tastes so unreasonably good. Rather than just upend this suitcase of issues, and make a mess in the process, I’m going to go about taking each piece out of my bag and placing it in its place on the shelf in an orderly manner, which my wife will attest is far from my typical cleaning method.

Imagine my surprise when I got back from my business trip—ahem—and, to continue the metaphor, I found a bit of laundry on the floor before I got around to even unlatching the fasteners on my suitcase of ideas. Specifically, I actually have an idea for a book, of a type that I had decided that I wouldn’t ever write because I’ve lost some respect for the genre over the last several years. P.T. Anderson has William H. Macy’s character in Magnolia say “We might be through with the past, but the past isn’t through with us.” Well, I might be through with Science Fiction, but maybe Science Fiction isn’t through with me.

Enough equivocating. The morning that I got back, I was out running around the compound, listening to the introductory minutes of my audiobook of Dan Simmons’, Hyperion, when Josh Tarsky went riding past me on his Hond (a cheap Pakistani knockoff of Honda) motorcycle. I waved.

“Gotta love it,” came his response, one of two favorites, the other of which isn’t appropriate for a blog that my parents read (Hi Mom!). I chuckled and thought of the daily ritual Josh and I had for the last month-plus. I’d jump off of the roof where I slept, and say good morning. He’d raise his eyebrows.

“Well, I think there’s one thing we can all agree on,” he’d say. “Morale is low.”

My morale wasn’t low, and I don’t think that his was either. After all, we didn’t have to deal with the inconvenience of toilets, showers, or beds. My hygiene consisted of daily brushing my teeth with filtered water and occasionally rubbing a bar of dial on my face, armpits, and hair before sticking my head under the water of a hand-pumped well. I was never really clear on if this left me cleaner than I started, however, because the general consensus was that the well was about the same depth as the hole that we used as a toilet. If I’d have forgotten my toothbrush, I’d have been as happy as a pig in muck.

Thinking along these lines, I rounded the first corner of the compound and saw Josh perched on the top of a burm, trying to start his bike. As I ran by, I asked him if he needed any help.

“No help.” He hollered between ineffectual kicks of the starter. “I just need a manclass on how to ride a motorcycle.”

Josh has a degree in theater from Yale, so of course the only thing that keeps him from being the biggest fag Uncle Sam has ever had the misfortune to employ is the fact that he is married, and that only counts for so much (If you can’t see my tongue planted firmly in my cheek with this entire sentence, don’t bother commenting, just go read someone else). Thus, Josh receives daily manclasses from other guys on his team, everything from naming constellations to motorcycle lessons to exhortations to kill any non-republicans or small mammals in sight. Just so you know: men don’t drink cappuccino, neither have they ever worn Birkenstocks or dreadlocks.

As I passed the burm where Josh was rabidly cursing out his motorcycle, I realized that I had been listening to my audiobook for almost a quarter of an hour, and I had no idea of a single word that had been said. I would have to start over, so I reached into my pocket and pulled out my Zune. In the time between pulling my Zune from my pocket and hitting the stop button, I had the entire plot of a science fiction novel come to my mind with enough detail and character development that I could immediately start working on it and let the details fill themselves in when I needed them. I have no idea if that is how it normally happens or not.

Fifteen minutes later, I stopped my audiobook at the same place that I had stopped it before. I would have to listen to that first quarter hour a third time before I ever figured out what was going on, though when I finally did, I would realize that those first fifteen minutes where pointless, either a poor introduction or a poor reader—probably why I had trouble with them in the first place.

I find myself with a conundrum. Separate as I am from other writers and the people I used to share fiction with, I have no clear vision of what I should do with this story—aside from writing it. In the last five days (16 October. Yes, you just experienced real-life time travel while reading the last 900 words), I’ve written approximately forty pages worth of exposition of characters, universe, and plot, and I’m far from running out of steam, though I don’t relish the work of transferring that material from my paper journal (everyone should have one, if only to give their grandkids the difficult decision of trying to decide what to do with volume and volume of painstakingly crafted detritus after their expiration). I find I’m at a loss as to what to do. My mom is useless (Sorry Mom, I’m your literary blindspot) because she thinks that whatever I poop out and smear on the page is just wonderful, as is my wife, who has impeccable taste but absolutely no willingness to criticize. Jonathan, my dearest friend, is an excellent evaluator of prose and poetry, but his experience with science fiction is meager (this stems from his having wasted his time reading real literature—bah!).

I’m stuck weighing in the balance the options of either making my work much less publishable because it has been posted on my blog as I write it or making it much less publishable because it sucks from lack of intelligent criticism. My current inclination: wait and see. I haven’t finished my first chapter yet, let alone I first draft, though I’m pretty pleased with how it’s coming along. I think I’ll know what to do with it when it’s ready for me to do something with it.

By the time I got back around to where Josh was fighting, and losing, with his motorcycle, I was starting to wonder when blood was going to start spraying from my lungs and thinking something along the lines of the last paragraph, only with “word” in the place of “chapter” and “chapter” in the place of “draft,” but I was happy with the muse stroking my brainstem (kinda tickles) and couldn’t wait to get back and get to work.

“Hey Josh,” I called. “Everything ok? You want me to push start that thing for you?”

“No. I’ll get it.” He replied. “You’ve got to admit though: morale is pretty low”


October 16, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. This was great. Morale is pretty low here, too, just so you know. Josh sounds like a good sort of guy; was he the first to coin “manclasses,” or am I behind the colloq. times? Keep it dirty, my friend, but stay away from mossy teeth; dirty skin doesn’t rot like teeth, and a little foul smell is good for the development of masculinity. Don’t listen to feminists; they’re clearly just jealous. You know what they say: the grass is always greener (unless you’re a man).

    It’s true that my science fiction experience is limited; it’s also true that you’ve (self-admittedly) read a lot of sci-fi garbage. Frank Herbert’s son is generally a flop, yes? I’m reminded of a crack addict scraping the bottom of a dumpster (haha). But really, I know a good or a bad book when I read one (I think), so genre’s no excuse. Besides, I’m transgressive and count Calvin and Hobbes as Great Lit. After all, didn’t Ender’s Game kick me straight in the face? My point is that I’m willing to pretend like I know something about science fiction.

    Comment by wordorgy | October 19, 2009 | Reply

  2. I will also read it (though you never know how long that could take with the way that school and commuting seems to sap the life out of me) and I will even try to criticize, though your writing is better than mine and I have a hard time suggesting ways to improve. But I can try. On a related note, I have shared a couple of scenes from sir Spencer with my class, and while most of the class gives me blank stares and can’t understand half the words, there is one girl who wants to read the whole thing right now. That ups the motivation to keep working, I guess, but I have not had any new insights into the story so I don’t know what I will tell the poor girl. Which reminds me of the way stories come to you – whole worlds, with fully developed history, geography, life forms, etc. just waiting for characters and a story to populate them – and wanted to say that I don’t think most people get stories quite in that way, but it is certainly normal for you.

    You are IMing me so I’ll sign off. 🙂

    Comment by Andrea | October 31, 2009 | Reply

  3. This is the most random comment I’ve ever left. I’ve known Josh for many years. In fact, we’re having our 15-year high school reunion this Saturday. Josh mentioned he wouldn’t be able to make it unless the reunion moved overseas, which is a shame because I really miss him. Anyway,one of my friends was googling him and found this blog post. I just wanted to say that reading your interaction with him is EXACTLY how I picture him. And the things you said about him could not be more on point. If you run into Josh soon, please tell him Heather says hi. 🙂

    Comment by Heather | November 24, 2009 | Reply

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