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Dead Darlings

I’ll tell you what’s not fun: spending almost a year writing like a madman, only to realize around page 800 that the story ended 300 pages earlier. I don’t think there’s a writer alive who wants to cut 300 pages of precious verbiage. I went through every permutation I could think of: “I know! I’ll split it in half”; “Maybe I can make it a trilogy!”; “I could release it in serialized form, like Dickens did, on the Internet—that’ll be a great way to develop a following!”

Ultimately, these were half-assed solutions to a whole-assed problem. I’d lost momentum in writing it, and I couldn’t figure out why. But it hit me one day, like a disappointing ton of bricks, that I’d slowed down because the story had ended long ago. I was just sputtering forward because, to paraphrase Tripp in Wonder Boys, I couldn’t stop.

I guess that’s one of the dangers of the genre I unlovingly call “autobiography with changed names.” I started writing this book after the collapse, at my own hand, of The Parallax Review. I felt like I had to process the existential/career crisis that, in part, led me to stop that site, and the only way I could successfully process it was to relive it in the form of documenting it. But, as I’ve said in the past, real life doesn’t have a dramatic arc. I formed the spine of the story on my career as a script reader—from internship to angry abandonment—but once I started writing, I realized that wasn’t the arc of the story.

Reader has become a sort of Dorian Gray mirror of my actual self. Anybody who knows me knows I’m filled with self-loathing, and it’s only in the past year that I’ve started to accept that I’m neither unique nor the worst person who’s ever lived. Writing this book helped me with that. When I started the book, the character of “Stan McCague” was as I saw myself; as time went on, Stan became more and more of the me I hate, and by the end was virtually unrecognizable as me. He’s the distorted, decaying version of me I used to think I was. That allowed me to view the book more easily as fiction, and to punish my worst tendencies and create a dramatic arc by showing the myriad ways Stan loses everything by virtue of being who he is.

After the mass cutting I did, I’d say about 80% of the novel is truthful in terms of events that occurred in my life (the other 20% consists mainly of tweaking the timeline and restaging events in L.A. instead of Chicago), and maybe 50% is truthful in terms of what Stan thinks and feels in given situations. I’m willing to bet that, after another draft or two, the story will be unrecognizable as me or my life. That’s probably for the best, because I worked through what I needed to work through, and now I can concentrate of taking this hunk of pages and turn it into something worth reading.

I need a breather. Not a long one, but I do think I’ll take a break from actual writing and do some more Cannon Corners. I’ve also relaunched the Abysmal Crucifix blog in anticipation of finally recording Girth McDürchstein’s ‘Fuck Machines’, which will combine new material with new-to-you material adapted from the failed TV-series version of Girth’s misadventures. I’ll continue blogging, for the most part, but if I miss a Monday, that’s where I’ll be.

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