I’ve spent the last few days doing something somewhat monotonous and incredibly nostalgic: importing the manuscript for Summer Rain into Scrivener. The import itself wasn’t difficult, except that the original book was written in emacs, which meant every single line ended in a hard return, and all of the quotes were straight quotes. Both of those are trivial fixes in Scrivener, though.
The reason for this project was to retire the iUniverse and Lulu editions, and do a CreateSpace and a kindle version. I also wanted to hit the thing for some very basic spelling corrections, a different interior design, and a new cover. One of the problems with that is just the sheer size of the book: it weighs in at just over 220,000 words. I had to do the page layout in Word, and also used it as a second opinion on the spell check. Word can deal with a book that long (about 700 pages), but not without the occasional stutter. I think if I had the manuscript in a single Word file during its composition, the resulting bit rot of repeated saves would have quickly corrupted it. Luckily, Scrivener doesn’t have issues with that, because internally, it’s storing the book as fifty or so files.
I had mixed feelings about this book going into the project. It’s very much not what I’m writing anymore; it’s not gonzo or bizarro in any way. It’s not even terribly funny. There might be a chuckle or two in the book, but nothing like my recent stuff. So there’s a strong desire for me to discount the book, or maybe retire it. But I also felt some need to revisit it. I just didn’t want to spend my time rewriting it, trying to do anything similar, or go off on that tangent of straight fiction or creative nonfiction, which isn’t really my bag. I love to read that stuff, but I’m of the opinion that my real life is much more boring than the twisted world inside my head, and I’m probably better off trying to get that down on paper.
That said, there’s something mystical about going back through this book again. For one, I don’t know how the hell I managed to write this. It’s so damn long, and although it’s not as heavily plotted as a best-seller, it’s got some serious amounts of character development. The most interesting part of this is that one of the main characters is entirely fictional. I mean, writing semi-autobio stuff lets you cheat on the character development, because you can just ramble on about yourself, and you sort of get it for free. But I spent a lot of time futzing over the character Amy, trying to make her believable, and I’d forgotten how much went into her story.
And it’s been twenty years this summer since the events in this book happened. That’s a serious amount of distance, and it makes me think about what did and did not happen. I mean, at this point, it’s hard to separate what really happened in 1992 and what I think I remember happening, and in that pre-web environment, there’s no clear way to untangle the two. That’s always why I take great interest in when I run across an old friend from back then, or I find some old trove of photos or an old newspaper or some other relic from that age.
For example, I recently found a youtube clip from this band Haunted Garage, which I absolutely loved back then. They were a sort of splatter-punk/metal band, sort of like Gwar, with elaborate stage antics that involved a lot of fake blood and guts. The band only did a single album and then fell apart, but me and Ray used to worship that album, and I played songs from it constantly on my old radio show. Watching this few minutes of interview was a portal back to the early 90s for me in a strange way, because sometimes 1992 seems like it was 18 months ago, and then I see a video like this, done on crude VHS camcorder technology, and see how it was really last century, and half a life ago.
Going through the book again was full of touchstones like this, bands I’d forgotten about, events that fell out of my brain, feelings I don’t really feel anymore. And it makes me think about when I wrote the book, too. I started writing this book in 1995, less than three years after the events really happened. The difference is that when I was in Seattle or the start of my time in New York, there was still this feeling that I could go back. I returned to Bloomington a few times in the late 90s, and although the pizza places changed hands and the undergrads looked way younger, it still felt like the same life to me. I felt back then that I could always go back, that I was a plane ticket away from that summer I spent there. Now, especially when I was there in December, I don’t really feel that anymore. I still have fond memories of the place, but I know there’s no real bridge back to the era anymore. If I moved back to 47404 and rented out an apartment and decided to start over, I would just be that creepy old guy, and not a part of the experience.
The other thing I think about when reading this book again is how the writing has some power and depth in places, how I could capture some of that emotion. It’s not like when I go back and read Rumored again, which I still find magical and incredible; SR is pretty uneven, and there are some parts that are a total dud. But, for example, when I read the last chapter in the book, it always feels like I nailed it.
It’s also hard to believe it was almost twelve years ago I handed this thing off to iUniverse and shipped. I have regrets I haven’t done more in that dozen years, but I’m picking up some momentum, and I know what I need to do now, so there’s that.
Anyway, stay tuned. I’m hoping to get the new version out there in the next couple of weeks.
(And that picture of the car above — trade secret — it’s not the VW I had in Bloomington. I had a second Rabbit in Seattle in 98/99. It was silver and had the moon roof and was a stick shift, but the one shown above was a two-door, and had a gas engine instead of diesel. Yes, I bought a near-duplicate car during the writing process of the book. That’s what you call research.)