W. P. Johnson

Archive for December, 2014|Monthly archive page

No, It’s Not Over Yet (Research, MFA Cocksuckers, and Being Poor (Sort Of))

In Uncategorized on December 11, 2014 at 11:52 am

There’s nothing worse than seeing deadlines get pushed back AGAIN.

I take that back. The other day I was researching “flaying” for this one scene in the novel and went to images, thinking there would be some old wood prints (which there were), but there was also a picture of a man’s face without it’s skin and his own dick and balls shoved into his mouth. I thought, “that looks corny, bad movie effects” and clicked the image only to find a link to some Mexican newspaper reporting on cartel violence. Those guys don’t fuck around. Not only was this guy’s face ripped off, leaving his eyes intact, his limbs were removed, his dick and balls were shoved into his mouth, and this entire mess was left out front of a dance club. If that doesn’t get the message across, I don’t know what will.

I’d imagine the cartel members satisfied by this, going out for a round of beers after for a job well done. Skinning faces is hard work. Enjoy a cold one on me boys (that’s frightened sarcasm by the way, for anyone that missed it).

Research is a funny thing. Richard Thomas, who has been working on his second novel The Breaker for Alibi books, has been making daily posts on his personal facebook page about the novel research, which is much more interesting than my plain “another chapter down, x amount to go before the book is finished”. I should take a note from him and add a few notes about what I’m looking into while writing said chapters, though for the most part I’m not really researching anything at this point with the exception of the flaying bit. 90% of the book has been culled from my life and while I’m happy with it all, it also begs the question as to what the hell the next novel will be about. I mean, I’m really blowing my load here with this book and it’ll take another year or two of throwing myself into situations to find the next one. Either that or TONS of research.

It brings to mind another social media post by J. David Osborn (Broken River Books), who, I’d imagine, is getting submissions from cookie cutter MFA students who’d found their voices in places they’d never go. Essentially he was saying that he wasn’t interested in reading rich kids write about poor kids smoking crystal meth in trailers if it was obvious they’d never done it. The term “cocksucker MFA goobers” was eventually lobbed in the discussion, clarifying his position on academia vs life when it comes to developing as a writer. After having weighed the cost vs benefits of a MFA in this current culture of academia, I couldn’t agree more with the adage. There’s no jobs, tons of debt, and your work will probably read like everyone else’s. Plus you’ll be stuck in class with a bunch of rich kids who think they’re the next Franzen or something, and I’d rather sit on a shotgun than hold a conversation with someone gushing over Faulkner. Yes, the guy’s a genius, but no, I don’t think he’s that interesting to talk about over craft beers.

Still, I wish I could afford a good MFA program and I wish I could’ve gone to a good college without having to work. On the other, I see what Osborne means by writers creating work that, while good, doesn’t seem to be honest or have any meat to it. MFAs can make you a good writer, but I don’t know if they can give you anything good to write about, which is sort of like someone being really good at painting by number. Sure it looks good, but it’s not really saying much, is it? And I think that has to do with the fact that rich people don’t have the same tension in their lives that poor people do. Rich people can fuck up and still be better off than the hardest working poor person. The best written novel by a rich person will not have the same depth of life experience than the earliest writings of a person who had to fight for everything, and I believe there are countless examples of this.

I’ve lived a pretty comfortable life, relatively speaking. I’ve scrapped for sure and def know what it’s like to have to choose between food or gas on a particular day, and I’ve had that moment of checking my bank account and seeing a negative balance, realizing I need to earn more than fifty dollars just to take out ten dollars. The warehouse scenes of my book are in Kensington Philadelphia, which is known as being the sketchiest part of the city. I feel comfortable writing about this stuff because I lived there for a year. Same goes for the scenes regarding punk houses in South Philly, and places like JRs, a bar/club which is called JJ’s in the book to avoid getting anyone in trouble. Though I suppose it’s all a bit of a wash: alot of these places are gone now. Alot of the punks I knew have either moved on, grown up, or died. The rest are fighting for scraps, trying to make something out of nothing. I suppose they will, but I don’t know if I’ll ever hear about it.

At the same time, I’ve never really felt immersed in these places or a part of the scene when I think about it. For most of my life, I’ve sort of just watched from a comfort zone of being unnoticed and a little disengaged. For all the years of playing in bands, I never quite had that Get In The Van moment. I like a soft bed, a hot shower, and food that isn’t out of a can. My experiences with hard drugs (to go back to the Osborne critique) were largely inauthentic, and when I really think about it I don’t know how much of my life experiences were done in earnest. It’s like I was always taking notes in my head, even when I did something I genuinely wanted to do. Sometimes I think I was just doing something to have it in my reservoir of experience (not that I didn’t enjoy any of it). Shallow, maybe, but I’d always imagined myself a writer and that my life was nothing short of research for some book I’d write someday. At the same time, I don’t think I’d ever imagined the book I’m writing now being the one I would put so much of myself into. My years playing in bands were never done with the idea that, “when this is over, it’s going to be a book”.

I’d like to think that will show in the work.

Anyway, the book is almost done. Rewriting what I have third act before continuing with the rest. It’s a hell of a ride and I’m surprised how, even at this point in the book, there are still surprises. I hope for all my hard work, I fare well. I hope that it wasn’t for nothing.

But even if it was, I don’t think my life will be that much different. After all, when you don’t have anything, what’s there to lose?

Until next time, here’s to being scary.

-Bill

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