The Mark Blog

Defending Your Life

So it begins. The final push. Having birthed the first draft, now it’s time to grow this baby into something I can be proud of; into a bound volume that can share the shelves with Shakespeare, and all the other greats and even just really good writers who’ve come before me and articulated our human condition more eloquently than I could ever hope to. So why should I try?

I don’t know.

But, goddammit, I’m going to anyway, in my own way. I will finish this book and make it as good as these ten fingers, two eyeballs, and one monkey mind can muster.

This will be my first bona fide experience blogging. It’s a different kind of writing than I’m used to. Go with the gut, don’t spend a million years editing—that’s what the manuscript’s for. That’s where I can chip away at the stone until it looks and sounds and feels like it was meant to.

But there’s a long road before we get there, one that began with the Project Defense. Much has been written in previous blogs about the accuracy of the term 'defense,' including Antoine Wilson’s bad pun during mine, which went something like, “It’s what surrounds de-house.” I will just say that it felt less defensive and more like an in-depth conversation about the book with three smart cookies (and one lucky writer—me).

I should say something about The Book here. It’s a story collection, currently titled Adults Only. While some stories share characters, settings, themes, and even T-shirts, I wouldn’t call them linked. Or even dating. They’re more like fuck buddies. Let me put it this way: if one of the stories had crabs, they’d all have them by now.

Yet the Defense helped reveal that one of the stories is so unlinked, it may get the boot. And it happened to be one of my favorite stories. (As Faulkner said, “Kill your darlings.”) The smarty-pants trio (which, in addition to Antoine, included Rob Roberge and Libby Flores) caught on right away that this may be the ugly duckling that needs to leave the flock to find its true path. Possibly… a novel?

Other than that, I was also accused of being sexist, sex-obsessed, and shallow. Oh no, sorry, that was my characters. I guess, taken as a whole, these stories, which include a lot of sex, drugs, and soul-searching (curiously, not a lot of violence, unless you count armadillo abuse), may seem rather male-centric. As I so eloquently put it in the defense, “These men think with their dicks.”

That's not to say they don’t eventually think (or feel) with other parts. But that’s how men often communicate. For example, the other day I was parking my car in a lot where I used to live, and the attendant, whom I hadn’t seen in years, asked me, “So how are the women?”

“The women?”

“Yeah…” he said, cupping his hands over his chest, miming huge tits, “you know, the women.” And did I tell him I thought his gesturing was sexist? Of course not. I just said, “They’re good man, they’re real good.” And he gave a lecherous laugh, like he knew exactly what that meant. That’s fairly standard male communication, for better or worse.

Hmm, sounds like I’m getting defensive now. Actually, I think the committee’s point was that the female characters weren’t as dimensional, that they seemed like pawns in a male protagonist’s game, rather than fleshed out characters with desires of their own. I don’t disagree; in fact, it’s true of most of the supporting characters. It just happens that women are frequently the objects of the protagonist’s infatuation. For readers to care about them, they need to be more than that. And they will be.

Maybe the two strongest takeaways from the Defense were to solidify what these character want, and to write past some of the endings. The first question has always plagued me, ever since acting college (where we called it your “objective”). As if people wanted just one thing! Take a sandwich. Why do you want it? Because you’re hungry. You like turkey. It’s in a sourdough roll. It reminds you of home, San Francisco, the local delis you used to go to as a kid with your cool uncle who smelled like scotch but always bought you Baskin Robbins for dessert… And that’s just about a sandwich!

Then Libby asked me if my characters want salvation. My gut answered, “Yes.” Who doesn’t want to be saved? But saved from, and by, what? Biblically, it would be from the Devil by God, but that’s not what she meant. Still, the question does imply morality. And what happens when you start to lose a moral sense—when you’ve lost belief in anything that vaguely smacks of fantasy: God, the Devil, true love, everlasting happiness, eternal misery..? So I said, “Maybe not salvation, but redemption.” They want their lives to have meant something, to not be the failures they fear they could be.

Yes, art reflects life. I hope this holds true for my own work as well. That's why the last directive, to write past the endings, excites me so much. To venture into unknown terrain, that’s what keeps me going. Because you never know what you’ll find there.

Time to get back to work.