Weekly Shocks' Blog



Jack and Mike or How I Got Me An Idea For A Totally Mediocre Novel

So, let me tell you about my novel.

I’m very fond of my novel, in much the same way a mother is fond of her delinquent, pain-in-the-ass offspring who can’t hold down a job and lives at home, rent free, until he’s forty. Jack and Mike will never be published: it’s amateurish, totally unmarketable, and no matter how hard I try to pummel it into shape, it’s still a flabby, fat-assed mess who sits on the couch all day watching Jerry Springer, eating bon bons, and scratching its belly. Ungrateful toad. Nevertheless, it is my baby, and I love each and every trite, crappy page.

I started writing Jack and Mike back in February of ’06, although the idea for it was born a few years earlier. In the spring of 2002, when I was but a wee, innocent undergrad, I took a creative writing course and have been regretting the whole hellish experience ever since. Some creative writing courses, I’m sure, are wonderful opportunities for writers to present their work to interesting, thoughtful students and mentors, and then get helpful feedback, perhaps even make a few connections in the publishing industry. Some creative writing courses are barely disguised group therapy sessions in which the participants bitch and moan about their latest breakups or half-hearted suicide attempts or how mummy and daddy just don’t UNDERSTAND. Guess which kind mine was. It didn’t help at all that I went into the class thinking that the whole thing was BS and I could just hot dog my way to an easy A. And it really didn’t help that my primary form of writing is humor: humorous essays, humorous fiction, humorous sketches of the weird and totally irrational world in which we live. I tried the whole earnest, serious, caring human being thing for a while, and it just doesn’t work for me. I’m much better off laughing at you while you’re being earnest, serious, and caring. Yup. You’ll be making a difference in the world and getting paid an obscene amount of money to do so, and I’ll just laugh at your sorry, overachieving ass while I eat lima beans in a cardboard box, pick fleas off my body, and burn my devastatingly witty scribbles for warmth. Yeah. That’s right. How you like me now, bitch?

Sorry.

Anyway, one of the problems in writing humor is that you run the very high risk of exposing your work to people who don’t find you funny at all. The students in this creative writing class, of course, did not find me funny. Not even a little. Each week, fifteen other students would show up, and bellow out free verse poetry that usually went something like this:

RAGE
And i bleed red red bloodwine into the streets
of this wasteful City of empty trolls
Fools, all!
Meanwhile, my semen travels it’s slow path to the womb of destruction
(!)
it’s offspring spawn will cry out in birth pangs
and our tears will mesh as one river
in the desert of Time.

I don’t write poetry and I don’t particularly like blood or demon spawn or deserts, so there wasn’t much I could contribute to the discussion. Most of the other people in the class loved this kind of stuff, though. There’d be a good twenty-minute debate following the author’s presentation about whether or not there should be more exclamation points after the semen’s journey, some arguing viciously that one punctuation mark alone was insufficient in expressing the necessary RAGE, while the poet himself heatedly explained that a single exclamation point “represented the unity and oneness of RAGE’S BEING, man.” After the argument was settled (the poet, I believe, grudgingly agreed to add a second exclamation point), I’d read aloud, in a nervous, trembling voice, my latest pathetic attempt at self-conscious wittiness. And I’d get a big, fat nothing for my troubles. Nothing at all. I don’t think anyone in the class so much as cracked a smile at anything I wrote that semester, although occasionally a fellow student would ask, with a pained expression, “But what does it MEAN?? It was like being in hell. If you’ve ever told a joke that fell flat on its face or said something that you thought was incredibly funny but everyone else found incredibly insulting or incredibly stupid, just go ahead and relive that misery, then magnify how you felt by about a thousand. That’s pretty much how things were for me every Tuesday evening that semester.

After a while, I simply stopped going to class. I’m amazingly good at coming up with excuses for skipping classes I actually enjoy, so it was no trouble at all to create a semi-valid reason for missing this beast of a course in the ten minutes it would take me to trudge down from my dorm room to that dingy torture chamber in the middle of campus. I ended up with an A-, which was much more generous than I deserved considering my absences, but I was still pissed off about the grade and at those self-absorbed students who just didn’t UNDERSTAND me and how brilliantly funny I am. Fools, all! I was angry enough to stop writing humor altogether for a while, because if no one was going to get it, then what the hell was the bloody point?

Anyway, I’m getting all hot under the collar, and, besides, I’m taking the long way around in explaining how I got the idea for Jack and Mike: the book is about a couple of college kids who, for a variety of reasons, sign up for a creative writing course thinking the thing will be a breeze. Instead, the class is an absolute nightmare of pretentious students, impossible assignments, and a fascist dictator of an instructor who threatens to fail both of them unless they get their shit together and write some meaningful RAGE poetry, pronto. So Jack and Mike decide, in the grand American tradition, to fudge things a bit, and instead of writing their own stuff, they buy it off the black market and submit it as their own. (You might think this last part is totally fanciful, but ask any English major at your university about the black market for poetry. They’ll strenuously deny such a thing exists, sure, but notice how they fail to make eye contact, shudder unconsciously, perhaps even whimper a little. Trust me, your average English major has had more than his fair share of violent run-ins with the seedy underworld of buying and selling sonnets, villanelles, haikus, and ballads on the insidious poetry black market. It’s a terrifying, terrifying place, and I thank God every night I escaped its evil clutches.) The instructor falls in love with the cribbed stuff they present, and, imagining the poetry to be the direct result of his sadistic bullying, he shops the kids around on all of the talk shows, presenting them as his brilliant young protégés. Of course, it has to come out eventually that Jack and Mike did not actually write this stuff, and, oh gosh, do they get into some big trouble then. Antics ensue. Silly nonsense happens. It all gets resolved. (Actually, not really, I’m still kind of working on that part.) The end.

So, that’s my book. Certainly not a prizewinner, but it’ll do. There is, of course, a cheesy attempt in the novel to present a rather clichéd message: just be who you are, and do what you love, even if it means you get criticized for it. It’s obviously a theme that no one has ever written about before, and it needed to be done, damn it! Frankly, the book is just goofy, meaningless fun, but it was nice for me to return to writing amusing nonsense and not give a flying rat’s ass if other people “get it” or not. OK, that’s not true: I do want people to get it, to smile when they read it, maybe even to chuckle a bit. I don’t think you ever stop seeking praise for doing what you love. But I promise not to fly off into a psychopathic rage if I don’t get that praise. (Although, admittedly, if I did, it might be quite funny. Sounds like a pretty good idea, actually. Maybe for my next novel…)

Regardless, thanks very much to all of you who have asked to see my book. It’s very kind of you and I blush and giggle like a little schoolgirl whenever I read your praise. Let me run it through another draft or two, and then you can all have at it to criticize as you please. Just please don’t ask, “But what does it MEAN??

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Comments

  1. * wonderlandhwy says:

    Actually there is a book with the smae theme/message: “just be who you are, and do what you love, even if it means you get criticized for it.” It is called the FountainHead by Ayn Rand. It’s about this guy who comes up with a new style of Architecture and everyone criticizes him for not using a classical style and they claim his styles will not hold up. He ended up turning his dreams to reality from my recollection of the book. Perhaps it might serve as your muse and help you finish your mini-novel. ;]

    By the way, I love your sense of humor. Perhaps that I might say something about me… I live my life as a pretend writer too. ;]

    Posted 8 years, 1 month ago


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