Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I Keep Wanting To Call It "The Axe"

I just finished reading Donald Westlake's The Ax, one of my many acquisitions from Berkeley's mah-vel-ous used book stores. The book's the kind of piece of work people describe as "hard-hitting"; it's about a guy who gets downsized right out the door from his company, can't get a new job, and finally finds his dream job after getting increasingly desparate over a couple years. The problem is that someone else already has his dream job. Our narrator decides that the solution is to kill that someone else - but first, he's got to kill the other people on the market for a job who have a better chance of getting his dream job than him.

It's a good book, very tightly plotted - in non-buzzword lingo, the story gets right to the point - and it really is difficult to stop reading once you've started. Unless you've got a repulsion for rooting for an effective serial killer. I did wonder why, on the Character side of things, would someone like this think to resort to killing. The fact that he kills is reasonable (as much as it can be) within the story's context, but it's not super clear what gave him that idea in the first place. It's not like crazy murderous ideas don't happen to Joe Average Ordinary Person, but we tend to bend under the iron hand of Social Tradition and put those naughty thoughts right out of our minds. Then again, worrying about this is kind of missing the point. The book's clearly in the realm of social satire, in all its bitter pointedness. The ending is rather surprising in that he neither gets caught nor 'redeemed' in the way these tales usually go. And being surprising is always a plus.

I've got a question, though: [SPOILER ALERT!] Would someone like this really THINK to resort to killing - and do it so well?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Square Peg, Meet Round Hole

I hate academic writing. I loathe it. I'm in love with the colloquial. I like swearing for effect. That's a good way to get university teachers to hate you. Don't get me wrong - I love academic theory, and I'm a huge nerd. I just hate the writing. Why, oh why, must good theory be tainted by practices like using twenty billion words where one would suffice?

Of course, I also hate academic writing because I'm not very good at it. When I'm forced to do it enough, I find myself developing new and interesting writing problems to overcome. For example, a strong inclination towards the practice of utilizing an egregious number of unintelligibly lengthy phrases to - oh dear, there I go again. I meant to say, I find myself using too many words to explain things. Hell, I've done that on this very blog. I'm probably doing it now!

I just wrote two 30-page papers on a couple subjects I find fascinating: a senior thesis on nontraditional stories in contemporary graphic novels ('comics', if you will), and how queer sexuality is dealt with in fantasy fiction. I keep looking them over and thinking about how much more I'd like them if I'd written them as blog posts. True, there's no way I would've spent hours, days, weeks on research on a blog post, but still...

On a side note, I've discovered the Blogger saves all your drafts. All of them. Ever. Which means that I officially love Blogger, because I'm constantly doing about 500 things at once, and often can't just sit down and write a journal post all in one go. Problem solved! Maybe.

Now Anticipating Co-Writers' Block

My sister text-messaged me a couple weeks ago with a message that said, basically, that "We need to get together sometime and right a book" about our childhood. (She meant "write", in case I needed to point that out.) This isn't a new idea; in fact, my brothers and sisters and I have been telling each other that for years now. Looking at the text message, I got the distinct feeling that the time, as they say, had come.

Pretentious? Presumptious? Everyone's had a childhood, right? Why is ours so book-worthy? Allow me to present a short version of the case, in bullet point form:

  • There are nine children in my family. (I'm the oldest.)
  • My father and mother were religious fundamentalists (well, are, though my mother's lightened up since then - I'm betting the bitter pill of getting an outside-of-religious-law divorce helped) who decided the best solution to the Dangers of the Heathen World was to ensure that we had as little contact as possible with it.
  • I was twelve before I met another human being close to my age. Before this, the number of children we'd previously met was four, not counting a couple cousins, who we saw about once a year.
  • Until I was twelve, none of us had a life outside our home. We were homeschooled, knew no outsiders, and weren't allowed into the front yard. (No fences to shield us from neighborly eyes.)
  • My father developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder over the course of the years, making our strange situation even stranger. We led a strange, ritualistic life within the four walls of our home - not counting the years we were homeless. One juicy detail: In the last years, our house itself was wired with cameras!
  • Everything, of course, went dramatically to shit, in the kind of story that sounds like you'd made it up If It Hadn't Really Happened. (Adding drama: the fact that most of this story takes place smack dab in the middle of Orange County, for an added dose of "It Could Happen Here"!)
  • More, uglier details that are a little too unpleasant for this particular blog post, but very dramatic nonetheless.
  • And, of course, there's the dramatic story of how we were introduced to The Outside World, and thereafter incorporated ourselves into it.
I've graduated from Berkeley this very week, and I'll be living down in Orange County again after two years, where the rest of my family still lives. Perfect timing. And, as for writing a book... hey, I'm already writing a book! I've taken writing workshops, I can edit, my style is marginally passable (read: no longer makes readers want to claw their eyes out).

I won't be writing it alone, though, even if I can form the skeleton of the book. The three oldest of our family were the most affected by it, so we'll write the majority of the book. And the rest of the family might contribute. (Not all of them are old enough to even remember the crazy years; I'm 23, and we're all two years apart - do the math.) We'll see how that goes!

An interesting thought: Since our names all begin with J, that could make an interesting "by" line: "J. Jesson, J. Jesson, and J. Jesson, with contributions by J. Jesson and J. Jesson. Special thanks to: J. Jesson, J. Jesson, J. Jesson, and J. Jesson." Of course, my mother's initials are C. Murphy, which screws the whole thing up, but what can ya do?

My current thorny questions number two:

1. Shall we use our real names? Or pseudonyms? (I plan to use my real name, but I'm not sure about everyone else involved.) If real names, then do we change the names of our brothers and sisters, particularly the ones not writing this or old enough to understand? (Using middle names would screw up the whole "J" theme.) What about - and here's a thorny question - our semi-estranged father?

and 2. What do we call the book?

Perhaps I should read other memoirs - I'm sure others of this kind exist - and see how they handle this...