Open Wounds


Y Wormhole Y

I’ve written about this before. I must have. Unless I haven’t and it’s all been in my mind. I do a lot of talking in my mind but not out loud. I think writer’s do this a lot.

The third piece of the story.

My best friend, Joe DePalmo, was hit by a train when I was 13. We were the kind of friends who saw each other every single day. Living on the same block helped. He left school on a day filled with rain and thunderstorms. I don’t know why he left. No one does. He wore thick glasses. He crossed a railroad track and was hit by the LIRR. They announced it over the loudspeaker in 8th period while I sat next to his empty seat in math class.

Write what you know.

I wrote about it in 10th grade for an essay competition in school. I didn’t win because my spelling was so terrible – seriously I placed but didn’t win. I’m so grateful for spell-check now. The piece of writing is gone. I never got it back. I’ve tried to rewrite the essay a few times but just can’t do it. So it worked its way through my subconscious, into my conscious, and after 42 years into the life of Illya Kuryakin Cruz-Archer – IC for short. IC’s 16. He plays a tabletop miniatures game called 40-K and he practices yoga and his parents are HIV positve and Brad Sologashvilles just gave him the Mark of Zorro.

inhale exhale.

Wormhole AKA Wormhole

melted boi graffiti by thezork

I lied.

The hit was one of the ideas to start the novel I’m working on, but not the only one.

Four years ago Evelyn Fazio, WestSide Books Editor and all around wonderful person (she did publish my first novel Open Wounds!), told me to write about my HIV/AIDS work. We’d just had lunch and I’d told her about my day job. “Write about it,” she said. Her suggestion stuck with me.

About a year later I wrote this line:

Did you ever wish you could be invisible, like The Invisible Man from that H.G. Wells book? He wrote that in 1897. Unfucking believable, my uncle Hatch would say. Both Wells and Hatch knew something about the need to disappear.

Then I wrote ten pages about a boy named IC whose parents were living with HIV. Then I found the hit tucked away in an electronic file. Maybe it found me. Something told me to put it in front of IC. It came first. I started at the end. Then I wrote two hundred pages – forward up to the opening scene, finished it, and kept going into act 3.

I wanted to write about HIV but not about someone who had HIV. HIV is much more a chronic illness today than it ever was and there’s a whole generation of long term survivors who are in their fifties and sixties who are dealing more with old age, albeit accelerated by their HIV, than HIV. They’re also dealing with AIDS Survivor Syndrome and loneliness and depression, and … It truly is a time when we can end the epidemic. Inhale exhale.

I’ve worked in the public health field of HIV/AIDS for over 25 years.

Write what you know. There’s a third element. I forgot about it. It’s unpleasant so I forgot about it even though it happened in reality before the hit did. It’s another expedition into the wormhole. I didn’t realize until now it was these three things that begged to be written about that came together into one story. I’ve kept them separated in my head where all the work it partitioned off. I’ll get to the third part because they all tie together under the write what you know label. Just not right now. I need to circle around just a little more.

Wormhole WTF

Image result for images marc maron

I listen to Marc Maron’s podcast called WTF two to three times a week. He interviews comedians mostly but also all sorts of creative types including musicians (Keith Richards and James Taylor were two particularly good recent installments), playwrites, writers, actors, visual artists, record producers, magazine editors and screenwriters. Besides his quirky “I’m an asshole” style – which I find fascinating – he talks to people for 60-90 minutes a shot usually in his garage in LA and tends to go deep into family history to see if he can figure out what makes people tick creatively – of course all filtered through his own neurotic lens. He does not do short interviews. Oh yeah he recently interviewed Obama.

His interview with Annie Baker a Pulitzer prize-winning playwriter, on 10/12 was an interesting one. I found her mostly annoying but I also thought she had some thought-provoking things to say about writing that I was mostly able to hear through my own annoyance. She said she couldn’t write about her life or the people she knew because it was too close to home – that she needed distance from them. Maron’s comedy is mainly derived from his family and those he knows with no distance from his version of the truth whatsoever so the contrast was interesting.

It made me think about the old trope, ‘write what you know.’ I believe everyone writes from what they know (how could you not, it has to come from somewhere in you, right?), only some distance themselves from it to some degree and some don’t. As an example, in the book I’m writing now I had the following in mind:

When I was 13 I saw a guy put a hit on a bully in the hall right down from my locker. I believe I was the only witness. The bully’s name was Brad and he stole kids lunches in the hall, tipped their books onto the floor, and burned their lockers – you know, the usual. He stole my lunch once. I can still picture him running down the hall, meat loaf sandwich-stained lunch-bag in tow, his long hair flying in the air behind him as he ran past. He was left-back-one-year big. I didn’t have him in any classes but I knew him. We all did. He set fire to my friend’s locker two or three times a week, every week. He never got caught but we all knew he was the one who did it.

I played football with the guy who ‘hit’ him . His name was Michael. He was big, quiet, and scared people just by walking into a room. We both played linebacker on the football team, me the small blitzing LB, him the hulking plug-up-the-hole LB. We never talked. 

One day I heard someone paid him $20 to  put a ‘hit’ on Brad. The hit consisted of running into Brad and throwing him against the wall, punching him in the face and ribs. I saw it. Michael took him out quickly and efficiently without saying a word, then he left. I left too. As teachers arrived I slipped down the stairs.

I started this book 9 years ago with this scene in my head, and the scene of the protagonist in the principle’s office right after Michael takes Brad out, on paper. The protagonist refuses to tell the principal what he saw happen. The novel starts with this question and one step away from the reality of what occurred. The scene was three pages, maybe 500 words.

So to me everything happens from real life only the characters, as they come to life on the page and in my head, change things. They distance themselves from what happened to some degree, some of the time.

Here’s a few of my recent favorite WTF interviews:

Annie BakerRobert Rodriguez / Jonathan AmesSir Ian McKellen (listen to him speak Shakespeare at the end), Sir Patrick StewartPeaches

Wormhole 42

Wormhole 42

Wormhole 42

I wrote ‘the end’ yesterday. A lot of writer’s talk about it, the feeling they have when they write ‘the end.’ I find a bit of sadness and a bit of anxiety and a bit of satisfaction as in. It’s not a first draft but it’s not a last. It’s a draft that says to me,

I wrote ‘the end’ yesterday. A lot of writer’s talk about it, the feeling they have when they write ‘the end.’ I find a bit of sadness and a bit of anxiety and a bit of satisfaction as in I can’t get no. It’s not a first draft but it’s not a last. It’s a draft that says to me, I need to be read and validated and edited now.

Overall it’s a pretty good feeling.

It weighs in at 301 pages and about 70,000 words in courier font because courier reminds me of a manual typewriter. It’s taken two and a half years to get here and a couple of wormholes and a few false starts – though I wrote the opening page about nine years ago. It’s funny how that works.

My first reader is my wife, Karen. Always.

She asks me, “Am I going to get upset?” I nod. Of course. She knew the answer before she asked. I could tell you about the plot but it doesn’t matter because it’s really about my friend who died when I was twelve. His name was Joe, same as me, and I still, 42 years later, think about him.

I’ve been working hard on this book, pushing, since June. Since June I wrote the last act, some 80 pages, and read through/edited three times – lunch-time when I could. Some late nights. Some weekends. I made time. I gave up some other things instead. I found a good rhythm – one that, as a novelist, I haven’t been able to find in a while. It feels really good to find it again.

Now I don’t know quite what to do with myself except wait and try not to ask Karen, “Did you start reading yet?” I asked her this morning. I have no impulse control about this. Really, I don’t – never have.

Rejecting Rejection at Writing Barn blog

Bethany Hegedus (author of Between us Baxters and Grandfather Gandhi) asked me to write a blog post for her series Rejecting Rejection at Bethany was the reader who read Open Wounds for Westside Books and told them they should buy it. She helped me break the rejection streak and I’ll be forever grateful. Check out the other posts on Rejection. They are inspirational, some funny, and overall give me the feeling of being in good company. Everybody deals with the big R. Everybody.

Also take a look at The Writing Barn. What an awesome place to go on a writer’s retreat…/