Edits and Updates!

Had a great conversation yesterday with my editor (and breathed a giant sigh of relief when I realized all his edit proposals were straightforward and minor, nothing super big or structural). Here’s my editing station–N64 controller, stolen CTA map and all!

Editorial Work on Here’s Waldo has Begun, and a Cover Concept is Coming Soon!

Working with Atmosphere Press and Nick Courtright has been a true joy. They’ve been fast and responsive throughout, Nick is communicative and kind, and he really “gets” the book. Bonus points for having the same name as me. 😂 But seriously, I couldn’t ask for a better publisher. Editorial work is officially underway (coincidentally exactly six years to the day since I started writing this manuscript), and a cover concept is coming soon!

 

Here’s Waldo is Getting Published!!!!!

This is what it looks like when a dream comes true. I can now officially announce that I’ve signed a contract with Atmosphere Press, and my coming-of-age novel Here’s Waldo is getting published!!!!! There’s still the process of development, editing, and publication ahead of us, but when that’s done, my book will be available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers, both in print and digital. I am honestly in shock right now, in the best possible way. It’s been 6 years since I first started writing this. I’ve put so much time and effort into this story, so much of myself into it. I was that poor kid living in the torn-up part of town. I was that young man struggling to make it in the world, and now I’m about to be a published author. A novelist. This is surreal. Dreams really do come true. To everyone who has read drafts of this over the years, followed along with all of my posts and updates, and given their support: thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!!

The Genesis of Genesis

When I was younger, I wanted to put everything I made into a category, a code, identifying theme and character, plot and arc, never fully immersing myself in the work, or else only in fits and starts before I’d look at the strings again and ruin the illusion. I guess that’s just how you have to start, or at least how I had to start, because it all seemed to work out in the end, but for a while there it was like banging my head against the wall, magic-appreciation-wise, because it didn’t seem as fun to constantly see what you were doing with a story, to not be in it but somewhere apart from it, outside of the action. But that’s the beginning of creation, the genesis of genesis, making every story about the creation of story, pieces populated by characters who know they’re characters, and the only magic you can find then is in look-ma-no-hands writerly showmanship, pointing out to the audience just how much you know about what you’re doing, making your characters just as self aware as you hoped you were appearing then at the time. That’s what I was doing. And it’s fun to go back and look at this work now, to see just how much it’s all changed, replacing sarcasm with honesty, irony with earnestness. Wanting to participate in a radical new sincerity, still, less jaded now than I was then, even though I know publication, know the slog of it, the hours and hours that go into rejection after rejection, until something clicks into place and gives you temporary respite, and you’ve gotten a piece out into the world, just to start the process over again. It’s like that now, and it makes it easier going through this process when I’m doing that for others now too, having to accept and reject and coach and advocate and do all the rest that comes along with editing, and the world seems much smaller than it once did, more accessible, less daunting, when you can read the work of people in countries you’ve never visited and get a piece of that experience for yourself, see the similarities that outweigh the differences, recognize these disparate struggles as the same as your own, and you realize that this is what they mean when they use that oft-tread phrase, coming-of-age, as if it’s something you just stumble upon one day, as if it isn’t something you have to work for, over time, developing your voice even as life develops your character, desperation giving way to something more calm, more sustainable as you develop faith in the process and let it happen the way it’s going to happen. And suddenly you’re back where you were when you started, in a room by yourself, smiling at something you’ve written, something you’ve read, seeing for yourself the magic of the written word, of the stories we can tell as people.

 

Featured Image

Doctor Manhattan Vision

Rewatching all those old videos that we made as teenagers, those short films, is like having a viewable time capsule. Last weekend, I took the time to rip them from YouTube and Dailymotion, set up a shared Google Drive folder so that Matt and I could watch them whenever, so we could save them for posterity. Mostly I did it because I haven’t talked to Chris in years, and I figure it’s only a matter of time before he takes them all down. He already emptied out his YouTube account, so I had to rip the ones I had on mine and find the duplicates on Dailymotion where possible, come to terms with the ones that are now gone forever.

I realized watching them that it’s possible to miss the times you shared with a person while not missing the person you shared them with. To be nostalgic without being rose-tinted, with the years and the fights and the growing, all of it intervening. To miss the person they used to be. And if I’m being honest, how I used to be too. I make it a point every few months to travel back to Chicago–my home. I live a good 700 miles away now, so it’s an effort, but it’s something I do regularly. And there are those phantoms, those half-forgotten places, and the things I did there, but more than that, there are the people I miss.

When Matt and I meet up, we don’t endlessly turn over the past, although we definitely could. There are moody teenagers younger than our friendship. No, what we do is catch up with the way we’ve changed in a sentence or two, a look maybe, and we get back to the friendship timeline like nothing has changed, because it hasn’t. There’s that realization that I’d take a bullet for him, not a realization so much as a simple acknowledgment, and there’s remembering how we got here. The fact that I didn’t hang out with Matt as much as I would’ve liked to when I was friends with Chris, and that icky feeling that came with being mean, something I’d do when I hung out with Chris, and the fact that I knew it couldn’t last, not much past early adulthood, that I couldn’t let it last.

There’s also that simmer of feeling where once there was a boil, and the way it used to put a knot in my stomach but here, now, it doesn’t make me feel much of anything. Life has a way of moving on, a geologic smoothing away of the peaks and valleys that used to matter so much, the words both said and unsaid that would burn in my throat, now harmless and inert–something to be studied.

Sometimes I wish I had a chronovisor, a device with which to look into the past, to experience it without disturbing it. I think of time travel tropes in old movies and comics, and then I remember the comic Chris and I started working on that dealt with similar subject matter. But before it gets too wistful, I remember that I wrote several issues and Chris just never did the art for them.

In thinking of time travel, I forget the very real version we already have–the pictures, the videos. The stories both written and remembered. And even then, it’s the things kept out of picture and memory’s frame, the words shared before and after the shot. There’s the dizzying, beautiful, terrifying, wonderful realization that things truly did work out the way they were supposed to. That I’ve done these things and become this person because of, not in spite of, what happened to me. That had it not been for all of those events in that sequence, I wouldn’t be able to have this Doctor Manhattan vision, this way of seeing the future through the past, of understanding that I’m now surrounded by the people who are meant to be in my life. That I’ve made it without knowing I ever left.

Create

It’s summer, and I’m twenty-two years old. That puts us at 2012. I got my BA yesterday. I wanted to enjoy my graduation, and I did, but I couldn’t really focus. My brain was only half there, floating over story concepts and character sketches that I’d been hashing out up until the last day of the last semester. I don’t feel like I earned my degree. I mean, I fulfilled all the prerequisites, passed all my classes and all that, but I don’t feel like I wrote the story I needed to write before I could graduate. Maybe that should be put down as a requirement in the future.

I’ve written so many stories, created so many characters. I’ve written flash fiction, micro, short stories, novels, but I haven’t hit on that one thing yet. I don’t know, maybe I’m being too picky. All I know is that here I am one day after graduating college, and I hardly feel any different.

I want to be understood.

If there’s a point to all of this, I guess it’s to tell lies to get at the truth. Isn’t that what fiction is? But who determines what the truth is? Is it the thing that happened, or the feeling of it? If you come back to it in 20 years’ time, is it still the same truth you remembered?

I’m sitting on the beach, scribbling away in this notebook and trying to keep the sand off the pages. I’ve got to transfer this over to digital at some point, I just don’t know when. I’ve got to do a lot of things. I miss my friends and family, and not just the ones who have died. I miss my home. Maybe I’ll go back. Or maybe I’ll just write about it. Maybe both.

My mentor always got this smile on her face when she handed me her notes on one of my stories. At first I just ignored it because the notes were really good, but eventually I got curious. She told me she could tell I fictionalized things just enough where I could hide from the reader. She said she could see the fear beneath the words. I took it personally and started saying I wasn’t afraid and that she didn’t know what she was talking about, and she told me it’s okay to be afraid. It’s good, actually. Follow the fear, that’s where all the good stories come from. So I calmed down, and composed myself, and apologized, and thanked her, and then I kept turning in the stories that made her smile like that. She kept smiling like that all four years that I was there, kept smiling like that even during my last semester. When graduation was over and she gave me a hug, I looked and saw that same smile on her face. She said she knew I was going to be great, and I could tell she meant it. Even so, I felt like something inside of me had fallen from a great height.

I’m sitting on this beach with my toes in the sand, watching the New York sky shift from pink to purple. The night’s getting away from me, and I feel like I have to do something. I don’t know what, but I have to do something. I pull out another notebook that I have with me, one that’s labeled CNF for creative nonfiction. My mentor gave this to me as a gift years ago. She’s the one who scrawled “CNF” on its cover.

I flip open to the first page, and there’s nothing there. There’s nothing on any of the pages. I close my eyes and I see Des Plaines, IL in all its bittersweet glory, smell the growing spring and setting summer as the cicadas scream in the background. I see my old complex, our apartment in Bay Colony, and the pond at the center of it that I used to go down to when I was a kid. I feel a smooth stone in my hand before I skip it across the pond’s surface, watch the willows’ fronds dip down and reflect themselves over water too tired to move. I see a thousand reflections of myself in a thousand mirrors until I’m right here where I am. It seems like I’ve lived many lifetimes, but I’m still here.

That’s what I’ll write about. That’s what I can do. I take the CNF notebook and look at that blank first page. All I need is the title. Once I have the title, I have the story.

I already know what it is. I scribble it down and look at it, and even now I can tell that it’s right.

It says Here’s Waldo.

Breathe

It’s summer, and I’m twenty years old. That puts us at 2010. I’m sitting in the bath, and it’s perfectly cold. The air above my head is different. It’s so hot that I can almost see the heat shimmer in this apartment that has no AC. Reb will go in after I’m done, because if the heat is bad for me it’ll only be worse for a dog. In the meantime, he sits next to the bathtub and smiles as he pants.

My roommate left abruptly about a month ago, breaking the lease and leaving me with no way to cover the rest of the rent. Student loan refunds can only help so much, and I learn quickly that New York City rent is on another planet compared to Des Plaines, IL rent.

I take to sipping cheap beer while sitting in the tub, convincing myself that I’m drinking to fill myself up while at the same time cooling myself down, trying to ignore the fact that my dad used to do the same thing with the same brand of beer. My empties form a mountain in the corner of the bathroom, and I amuse myself by thinking it’s an art installation.

A memory comes from an indeterminate age. All I know is that I was small enough for the bathroom’s door knob to be at eye level, the bathroom where my father called me over. He called me over, and I went, not knowing how drunk he was or even fully understanding the concept of being drunk. I just knew that sometimes Daddy fell over while he was trying to walk to the fridge, and you never knew if he would start laughing or yelling after he got back up. I knew beer bottles being hurled against the wall and my mom telling me that Mommy and Daddy were just kidding, just playing a game. I knew my dad driving us home from a little league game and stopping the car, opening the door to puke. I knew the effect, but the cause eluded me.

But in this memory where I am at door knob height, my father calls me into the bathroom, and I go, and when I open the door he’s soaking in the tub with an open can in his hand. His eyes are glassy, and there’s a vein visible on his forehead. In this memory, he tells me that he’s empty. He tells me that he needs another beer. He asks if I can be a good boy and do that for him. I nod my head and see that all around him there are bubbles like the bubble baths I always insist on having. My father notices and smiles. He tells me he’s having a bubble bath just like I always do. He smiles, and he looks at me, and he says that sometimes he likes the bubbles and sometimes he doesn’t. He puts his hand in the water between his legs and starts swishing the bubbles away, back and forth.

The memory stops.

I’m here in my own bathtub more than a decade removed, in another state, and my chest is tightening. It feels like I am being pulled outside of myself. My shoulders and back start to hurt, and it’s only when they do that I realize my entire body is tensed up. I feel like I’m beneath the surface of a great body of water, splashing and flailing. I don’t know what to do, but then I remember that I do.

I’ve been going to a Zen Buddhist temple for a few months now, and I watch and listen as the techniques and words come back to me. An image of a stream with leaves calmly floating down it. Understanding that thoughts will pass, that they don’t have any more of a hold over you than what you give them. That the breath regulates everything and not the other way around. That memories can’t kill you no matter how painful they might be. That you only need to sit and breathe and be.

I don’t know how long I stay there in that tub, but the pain leaves my shoulders and back, and eventually I can breathe again. I come back into my body and can feel and hear and see things normally again. I just breathe.