Unpublishable Narcissism

NarcissismThere are only two works of fiction that I spend any time at all working on these days. The first is the video series “The Post-Postmodern Comedy Hour.” And it is a very sad. Because nothing I’ve ever written works as well. Nothing I’ve ever written so encapsulates who I am as a person. It is sort of like The Kumars at No 42 combined with F for Fake and a healthy dose of scientific nerdology. Thus far, I’ve written two of the six episodes I have planned. And once I’m finished with it, it will sit in a drawer, because videos require production and that requires people and that ruins everything. These scripts are the most perfect thing I’ve ever done and production would only reduce them. Art is like that.

Speaking of which, over the weekend, I sat down and read over what I had written of my second novel, “Treading Asphalt.” It was always meant to be my Moby-Dick. By that I mean that I was not going to limit the book to narrative. I would just write about whatever I wanted. And the way I’ve gone about writing it is very unusual for me. I’m a linear kind of guy. I wrote the first novel in the order that things occurred. Of course, in that novel, I had no idea where I was going. I had read The Shipping News shortly before it, and had decided that it really wasn’t necessary to have a plot. But half way through, a plot started to emerge and then all hell broke loose.

“Treading Asphalt” is simply a collection of scenes from all over the place in the novel. So it isn’t even something another person can read. But I do have a map, because I’ve had the plot laid down for at least a decade. But because of the kind of book that it was always intended to be—a book for me—it shouldn’t be surprising that the 50,000 words of disjointed prose pleases me very much. But I couldn’t help but think that no one else would ever want to read this. Or at least, no one would want to publish it.

It is, in a very real way, my Moby-Dick. But Moby-Dick was a flop when it was published. And it is only the towering figure in American literature now because of a fluke. And really, in many ways, it isn’t that great. I’ve really cooled off on Melville who I think usually renders scenes with less clarity than any major writer I know. And that’s in “Treading Asphalt”! Since it is written in the first person, it goes off on tangents that would mystify most readers.

And here’s the thing: it is a mystery. I know it would annoy readers. They would want to know what’s going on in the mystery and the narrator is off arguing that Houdini was gay. It’s filled with that kind of stuff. Again: I love it. But it is the very worst kind of narcissism. On the other hand, what is the point of trying to write a novel for someone else? Who would that someone else be? How could you possibly know what they wanted to read? And if you write just for yourself, at least you know that you’ll please one person: yourself.

Except: no. Because the problem with writing a long piece of fiction is that it never satisfies. I think that’s why I always feel happier with plays: because they are never actually finished. Or at least, they are never finished for me, because no one is going to produce them. But it is hard not to grimace at every sentence in your own novel. And that’s why “Treading Asphalt” remains unfinished. But coming back to it, it actually seemed fairly good. But I know if I start writing it again, I will quickly determine it is total crap. Of course, if I do that two or three more times, it’ll be finished. And then I can know for sure that it is unpublishable.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Unpublishable Narcissism

  1. I think you should take the risk and get other people involved with "The Post-Postmodern Comedy Hour". It’s really good! Find some good people and get it out there! Don’t let assuming the worst about others sabotage something you love believe in. I have always thought that one could really catch on. Also, I have read what you sent me of "Treading Asphalt", and it kept me interested and engaged through the whole thing. That’s very hard to do. I hope that you pick it up again some time soon and just crank the rest of it out. You can always "fix" whatever you think ails it later. The important thing is that has all of the ingredients needed for a good novel as it is now.
    As far as the question of "writing for yourself"–I think we all do, no matter what. The trick is to write what we love and want to write about, but to occasionally consider the experience of the reading audience: Are we confusing them? Being didactic? Boring them? That doesn’t mean we are writing for them, it just means that we’re considering the audience.
    I really hope you get this work out there. It’s good, and I think a lot of people would take it.

  2. Hiya Kristen! I wasn’t expecting you to be listening out there in the ether. I want to make a few clarifications. First, I don’t think those people would destroy PPMCH. The problem is that rendering is necessarily harmful. I’d love to meet some young people who would take it up. But I don’t see that happening because I’m too isolated. But I’m willing to try–go take a class at public access. Although the 6 episode idea actually came from you. And I’ve made some changes since (this is actually a great act of hope on my part) to make it easier to shoot.

    You haven’t read "Treading Asphalt." You read "Kamping on Asphalt." And I truly am sorry about my continued use of asphalt, but I do love it as a metaphor. KOA is a much simpler narrative. And probably publishable if I would just fix it. But it needs a lot of work.

    I was talking about you today! I told Andrea and you both really annoy me because you write so well and I’ve spent decades working and can only kind of write at that level. Now I know that much of your technique is hard won too. But really, 30 years ago I could barely construct a sentence!

    Anyway, I am going to continue working on this stuff because I enjoy it. But you know how it is. And then there are all these other projects that I have scratched out. I want to work on them but then I say, "No! You must work on something that is too far along to abandon." I’ll let you know. I’m sure!

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