One of my better memories is working for this seed research company fifteen years or so ago. Way out north of Lubbock, TX. There was this guy called Rooster who ran a lot of cotton and sorghum out there, fields which were all on the way to the plots we worked every day. Rooster was a shortish old guy who wore these round black sunglasses. I only ever saw him sitting in his truck. To paint it better, really, I only ever saw him sitting in his truck when I was running fast away, pretending not be carrying these big armfuls of squash and zucchini. Deal was, instead of dedicating a full eight rows for a garden patch like a lot of farmers will, Rooster had got tired of people like us treating it as the produce section. So he’d plant just one long row, way out lost in the middle of the cotton. However, he didn’t count on this one guy we had on the crew, out of either Frisco or Monday, I can’t remember anymore. He had the magic eyes. We’d let him sit by the front window of whatever truck, and he could look out across a field and pick out the one leaf that wasn’t catching the sun the same as the rest, and he’d point, and we’d pile out of the truck, be jumping rows, filling our shirts, getting to all our different kitchens that night and frying just mounds of squash and zucchini. And yeah, fried zucchini, it’s good all on its lonesome, of course. But stolen fried zucchini? It really doesn’t get any better.
All of which is to say I just finished another novel, The Least of My Scars. Well, ‘just’: yesterday, a little four-hour stretch of more Sixlets than I’ve ever eaten at once and a long tube of chocolate covered sunflower seeds and Pepsi and tea and Shooter Jennings and Meatloaf and Bonnie Tyler on high assault.
But the zucchini.
When I finished my first novel a touch over ten years ago, I was living back in Lubbock, pushing a dolly for Sears, up so early every morning that my truck was the first one to leave tracks in the mosquito dust. But there was this place, still is, Gardski’s, kind of like a Bennigan’s I guess. First place I ever tried hot wings. Had food there with Joe Lansdale, out on the patio. But between those two, right after hitting the end of The Fast Red Road, my wife and I went down there real close to closing, sat up in the loft where nobody else was and split a plate of fried zucchini, all we could afford. And I’m now figuring out why it had to be that: because writing a novel, it feels exactly like running out of a field in the daytime, your shirt full of all this stolen stuff, a smile on your face so big that you can’t turn around and let that farmer see you, because then he’ll be seeing you at your most vulnerable, your most happy, your best and your weakest.
So, yeah, The Least of My Scars. I wrote the first hundred pages in May, I think, just to see what I could do, what I maybe shouldn’t do — I feel continually challenged by Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, but terrified of it at the same time — but then accidentally looked around the corner, saw the shape it was going to maybe be, so hid from it for a few months. And that shape, it wasn’t, it isn’t, a happy one. Not even remotely. But I did finally find my way out of it. Not on my own, of course. I likely never would have finished it if I hadn’t lucked onto an early copy of Evenson’s Last Days. It gave me nerve, so in the last ten or twelve days I laid down the last hundred and twenty pages, am done done done.
As to whether it’ll ever see print: man. It’s intense, scary, wrong. But like everything I do, all of my heart’s in it. For better or not.
Too, it got me thinking, trying to sketch out a rough list of what-all I’ve even written. Something like this, with the unpubs in square:
- The Fast Red Road: A Plainsong (I’ll never get out of this book, because I put all of me in it)
- Demon Theory: an Exploitation (nevermind that subtitle got kilt)
- [ Bloodlines ] (some werewolvery down around Alpine, TX)
- [ No Sleep for the Wicked ] (vampires on Lake Buchanan)
- The Bird is Gone: A Manifesto (never want to do that again)
- All the Beautiful Sinners (here I discover Vanilla Coke)
- [ Seven Spanish Angels ] (wrote it about five times, front to back . . . )
- [ The Hedonist Chronicles ] (my first three-day novel)
- [ Not for Nothing ] (some second person hardboiled noir)
- [ The Dog Mother ] (the one that made me sick, writing it)
- [ It Came From Del Rio ] (installment one of the ‘Bunnyhead Chronicles’)
- Ledfeather (yeah, did that again)
- [ Zombie Bake-Off ] (soccer moms vs. zombie wrestlers, a cage match thing)
- [ Flushboy ] (eight hours on shift with a drive-through urinal attendant)
- The Long Trial of Nolan Dugatti (second three-day novel)
- [ The Least of My Scars ] (all happens in one apartment)
In there too I guess I wrote some screenplays as well. One, Stay, I always want to make into a novel, which I meant to write it as. Just still haven’t found the voice for it. It’s got a Steve Perry lookalike, though, a Billy Jean lead, an El Camino that no cop in Kansas can even come close to catching up with. So love that story. The other, The Quikbred Host, a cop-thriller thing (tag: ‘the perfect murder can take months, if you do it right’), it actually works as a screenplay, I think. Just the usual lack of a clue what to do with it. And, that Zombie Bake-Off: it was a screenplay first. A functional one, even. But everybody’s always adapting the other way, from print to screen. I wanted to go upstream, see what it was like. Turned out I had to use some of the Demon Theory tricks. But it works, I think. And, between and amongst all this, Bleed Into Me: A Book of Stories came together, and The Ones That Almost Got Away: Stories is coming together, for next May or so. And yeah, I’ve abandoned a couple of novels too. Bloodlines first, as it’s broken right now, but I’ve got it all figured out, how to make it better than good. It’s just going to take about 800 pages, I think. But I’ve quit a couple halfway through, too: Scotoma Mon Amour and Fictionhaus. The first is horror, has to do with dreams and blindspots, and kind of terrified me — it was right after Demon Theory, was going to be perfect, was supposed to be uncomplicated too, but of course nothing is — and the second was this alternate now where novel writers were essentially horses in the publisher’s stables. So there was all this industry jargon in there. But the novelists, they both hated what they were doing but couldn’t help doing it, but what was messing up the whole scene was that it had become a business. Pretty thinly-veiled, yeah. Which isn’t at all why I quit it. Why I quit it was that the story was getting so layered that it seemed to be more an indulgence, a place for me to put words, than anything anybody’d actually read. Only thought of it the other day when searching my inbox for something, and a chapter of Fictionhaus popped up, as that’s how I used to save everything: by emailing it to myself at the end of the day.
Anyway, I feel like I’m forgetting a novel up there somewhere. But it could just be one of the twenty I’ve already got planned, that’s so real in my head, so trembly in my fingers, that it already feels real to me.
And, no, please don’t take my chronology there as anything serious. It’s all guesswork, misremembery. More or less right, but I’d have to plow through thirty thousand messages to see which really happened when. When I’d rather be spellchecking The Least of My Scars, I mean, letting the first few people read it, then stop talking to me. It’ll be better than bringing down the law, I suppose.
Anyway, no clue where in Boulder to get a small plate of fried zucchini. Tried to fake it today at Sonic, their mozzarella sticks — they’re fried, they’re appetizers, they have that unexpected double letter, that mouthful of syllables — but I think the fiction gods, the same ones who know whether you’re cutting the belly of your fattest goat or just the belly of the goat you can best do without, they know, and don’t approve. They’re out there somewhere, though, I know. Waiting for me like wafers, like coins to place on shut eyes, like the perfect skipping rock. Like everything good.
I’ll fill my shirt with them and run.