Sunday, November 09, 2008

Guest post: The Whole Dirty Story

Twenty years ago, fellow book designer Steve Tiano declared, “I am not a novelist” and never again intentionally wrote a line of fiction. I invited him to write a guest post, and here it is.

When I was thirteen years old I wrote a short, short story—barely a thousand words about mortality and Coney Island in winter. For some reason I submitted it to a magazine my mother read. The form rejection slip contained a handwritten message that said, “This is very well-written, but there is not enough of it.”

Over the next twenty-two years I reworked that story a number of times. It grew to be part of the core of my first novel, for which I received enough publishers’ rejection slips to wallpaper a small room. In 1976, I drove my first cross-country trip with a buddy of mine. During the trip I kept a journal, which became the basis for my second, bad, and unpublishable novel.

I started a third at some point. This one I alternately described to myself as “a story about ambivalent people behaving ambivalently toward other ambivalent people” and “an ontological detective story; sort of a missing person story, where the missing person is God.”

I carted these manuscripts with me when I moved out of my parents’ and in with a woman I met while working as a fortuneteller. I think I read myself into her cards and life. When I moved back to my parents’ after a short stay and a break-up. I, of course, took the manuscripts. Three years later, I reconciled with that woman, a music teacher fiver years older than I. Pretty heady stuff for me when I was 29. When, after a little over three years, we split up again, I placed the now-finished manuscripts in the trunk of my new car and left them there.

In November of 1988, just about twenty years ago today, I bought another new car, a Nissan Pulsar. It was sporty, effectively a two-seater, with a T-top and a lawnmowerlike engine. When I went about dumping the stuff in the old car’s trunk, including the manuscripts, I decided to retire my old Smith Corona portable electric typewriter, as I had gotten my first computer three years before but had not used it for any of the novels.

I also threw the manuscripts in the trash. And I never looked back until now.

The last few days I’ve had the same song playing in my head, over and over: “Dreamline,” by Rush. Classic.

I was reminded of the new car and the manuscripts this morning, reading the blog of a literary agent. Although I was done wandering the country by car in 1988, it was only today I wondered what my words might have been worth if a real editor had gotten a look.
* * *
Three months after throwing out the manuscripts, on St. Patrick’s Day of 1989, I learned that my immortality had expired. Out at lunch with pretty much the entire local court system—my day job—I drank a half dozen rusty nails (scotch, Drambuie, and ice) in less than two hours. Returning to my office, I became fairly sick and one of my many younger sisters came to pick me up in her new car, the old one I’d given her when I got the new Pulsar. My new car remained in the parking lot at work for the weekend.

When I started to care about drinking to excess I fully embraced the idea that I was no longer young or immortal. And that’s when it hit me that I’d thrown my novels-in-progress away.
© 2008 Steve Tiano

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