Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An Inventory of Failed Attempts to Become a Man of Letters

Attempt #1: Adventure Story – Third Grade

The main character was named Thelonius after Thelonius Monk. Most other details have been lost, although an actual copy is probably located in a garage in Friend, Nebraska. I seem to recall Thelonius climbing over a wall and finding the sought-after object just sitting there unprotected. I guess one could charitably say I was aiming to turn the well-worn concept of the long quest against impossible odds on its head, but I lean toward the explanation that I was not creative. Ultimately, it just was not very good.

Attempt #2: The Little Rascals – a German playlet – Ninth Grade

Though it did allow me to play my dream role of Alfalfa – complete with natural cowlick – this stage production was not ready for off-off-off Broadway. Nabokov could write beautifully in multiple languages, but my feeble attempts to turn terrible English wordplay into German succeeded about as well as you would imagine. At least I learned to stick to the native tongue. Ultimately, it just was not very good.

Attempt #3: Dirt Track Racing Novel – Title Unknown – age 20

This was written during my days reporting on dirt track racing and was the first of many subsequent attempts to follow the maxim to “write what you know.” This particular story was rather “themey.” It focused on issues of race and class, two words that are racing terms that just happen to also have double meanings! If you don’t think I ran that particular conceit into the ground then you really don’t know much about me. The central conflict of this story centered around a plan to build a dirt racetrack – a place of joy for the common folk! – that was being held up by a zoning dispute orchestrated by the idle and evil rich who run government and like refined things that don’t involve cars going around endlessly in a circle. Budding writers remember this: a zoning dispute is always a great concept for a story. I’m pretty sure Macbeth was about a zoning dispute.

I wrote this story out in longhand, which was a terrible idea because it was quite long. I wrote it out on reporter’s notebooks, and by the end there were so many that I had to hold it together with a rubber band. I enjoyed writing it, and I have no idea where it is now. Ultimately, it just was not very good.

Attempt #4: One-Act Play About Technology, Humanity, and a Struggling Economy – age 21

This was written during my “I’m pretending I’m an anti-materialist because I secretly want a better car and CD collection” phase. The absolute worst thing about this particular play was that I wrote it for a class in college, so I actually showed it to other people and thought it was good. It did have a lot of bad language because I’m an adult now and I can say what I want! It did not work out quite as I had hoped. Ultimately, it just was not very good.

Attempt #5: True Crime Story – “Six on La Mesa” – age 25

Continuing my “write what you know” concept – which is really a thin disguise for my complete lack of creativity – I wrote this true crime nonfiction story about a sextuple homicide that I covered while I was a newspaper reporter. Unlike my actual news stories, which I knew were not good, I thought I could fill in the blanks with my own theories and create an arresting narrative. The story suffered from a lack of information, but I don’t think the police knew a whole lot more than I did. I believe the murders remain unsolved.

I still have the computer, I believe, that contains the explosive first draft of “Six on La Mesa,” but I don’t know if I can actually get the computer to turn on. And that might be for the best. Ultimately, it just was not very good.

Attempt #6: Law School Novel I Never Even Bothered to Write

I did not write this, but it was not for a lack of thinking about doing it. Once again, I was going to write what I knew and become the next Scott Turow, but I tried to focus on studying instead. I often wanted to write a spec screenplay of Legally Blonde 3, but LB1 and LB2 were so good, that I just knew I could not follow that! And, of course, I knew that ultimately it would not be very good.

Attempt #7: Essay About Past Failures

The idea was to collect all of my terrible past writing attempts in one essay and use humor to write something that a reader might actually enjoy. My hope was that such an essay could be both funny and wistful and lead the reader to think: I might like to read some of those things he wrote. My hope was that this would then lead the essay to get published, and then I would finally and truly become a man of letters. But alas, well, ultimately this essay is not very good.

Real Books That I Wish My Writing Could Be Like and Ultimately Are Very Good:

Dirt Track Racing (and somewhat similar sports that have rabid fanbases): Sunday Money by Jeff MacGregor; Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer by Warren St. John; To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever by Will Blythe

Technology, Humanity, and a Struggling Economy: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

True Crime: My Dark Places by James Ellroy; The Corpse Had a Familiar Face by Edna Buchanan

Essay About Past Failures: Zombie Spaceship Wasteland by Patton Oswalt; How Did You Get This Number by Sloane Crosley