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You Can't Go Home Again | 2010 | Five Years In Ten Minutes

03.20.10 11:05 p.m.

Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the minds of his audience.  

-Henry David Thoreau


You Can't Go Home Again

The idea plagues me as I am trying to sleep, because these ideas can never just come to me when I am sitting at a keyboard fighting off my writer's block. No, it must always be when I have to be up for work in five hours or when I am showering and have shampoo in my eyes, because what is art if you aren't suffering?

Within a day, by combining notes and old journal entries that I am using as a skeleton, I manage to have 140 pages of consecutive story. I know the real work begins here, the months and months of editing and revision before I dare to foist it on other eyes, but there is a delight in having so much outlined and ready before I even have a real title (the placeholder is Year and a Day) or time to think it over. It is inspired partially by the romantic drama in my proximity in the last two years and largely my dissatisfaction with the journey in Nick Hornsby's High Fidelity. Hopefully and probably, none of my original text will remain and the brief edits I have made already make the character based on me seem as weak-willed and gullible as I, evidently, was. Melanie wants the character based on her, currently a Russian girl named Cecilia, to be much more devious than she is herself capable of being in my presence.

I know now that I couldn't write much of anything else for the specific reason that I needed to write this book and couldn't acknowledge it until the moment I did. Now that I have begun on this, writing resumes its ease, because I am not ignoring the divine nudge by plodding through stories that just won't coagulate. A short story for Cave Drawing Ink finds it voice, a half dozen journal entries finally make sense, and I realize the perspective that might improve my first book (though I am going to finish Year and a Day before starting on the task of changing tense and inserting a narrator in We Shadows).

I had felt clogged because I cannot read without needing to write, which is inconvenient given how much I read of late thanks to my Sony eReader and the questionable moral compass that allows me to justify stealing digital copies of books I legally possess in paperback (or, you know, have once seen in paperback). Each book refills the well or, as in this case, annoys me such that I have to respond to it with writing of my own. I rarely read in my claimed genre (urban fantasy), because reading those better than me at what I overtly should be doing makes me feel indolent. This doesn't mean I don't come to revelations about the rules of magic while reading about escaped Australian convicts trying to build new identities in India.

Next month I am getting published by Paragon Press, reinforcing my belief that I am a legitimate writer and thereby granting me ego gratification. They sent me a letter, inviting me to the premiere party of the book to read my story aloud. I google the location and decide I am not inclined toward the thirty-two hour drive to read Always Darkest, no matter how open the bar is, but it is nice to get the nod.

Melanie is quick to remind me, when I smirk and say she might be dating a real writer, that I was a real writer well before I got other people put their money on the line to publish me. But I need this acknowledgement. Were I to self-publish or, far worse, allow myself to go unpublished, I feel I would be announcing to the world that I am a phony. The literary world is largely peopled with those who are not good enough or brave enough, because each rejection letter (and I have gotten a hundred by now, most form letters) is a ding to one's ego. I want to be read and I'm certain I could be by giving it away, but those who read my work wouldn't feel I had the skill or confidence to be worth my pittance (as someone else put it, I am a whore, not a slut).

My freshman year in high school, I got it in my head that I was to be an actor because I was cast as the villain in a Shakespeare play. The next fall, when I was not cast for the play, I sulked for days, until the director told me to stop being emo (except the neologism had not been conjured yet) and suck it up. I believe I was self-aware enough to peep at her, "But I'm an actor and, if you won't let me act, what am I good for?" The next year, when I got refused for a role in another play, I did not pout. Instead, I funneled my angst into creating an improv troupe that met in the cafeteria and soon got both school funding and a couple of gigs. By my senior year, I directed a production of Tim Kelly's "The Zombie" through the improv group before deciding that acting is something I enjoyed and at which I succeeded, but it was not something I am. However, this was not before pushing as hard as I could by not allowing some other person or circumstance to define my identity.

Writing is something I am and, in retrospect, has been since the moment my writing grade ceased to be about form (I have always had atrocious handwriting) and turned into function in second or third grade, transforming my grade from a D to an A. In finding my high school SAT scores for an interview, I note that I was in the 98th percentile in verbal (though less impressive in math), reinforcing that this is what I am for. My whole life to this point - the acting so I could get into characters' heads; the six years of disparate college majors that always turned either into English or English Education; learning enough HTML coding to make a website to display my works and get feedback; my job as a proofreader to cement grammatical use through arguments with five states; falling in love with one of the most merciless critics of my work; the constant reading, scribbling, and typing - has been to the goal of keeping me a writer and not letting me wriggle out of my purpose. I certainly won't allow some interrupted dreams and showers get in the way.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, ideas, interviews.

last watched: True Blood
reading: Shantaram
listening: Jonathon Coulton

You Can't Go Home Again | 2010 | Five Years In Ten Minutes

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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