There 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.