Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Noncompliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard

I am now 58,000 words into a book that has absolutely no structure, no plot, and for the most part, no characters.  It is basically 226 nightmares and dream sequences back-to-back in no real order.  (In comparison, Thunderbird was 38,844 words.)  Part of me wants to come up with an overarching story that links these pieces together.  Or maybe I should not use this structure and stitch together the pieces into longer stories.  A big part of me just wants to publish it as-is and Captain Beefheart it, and people can either like it or hate it.  I think it would be awesome to just do that three times a year for the next twenty years, but it might get old fast.

(Dream last night:  I was in London for an extended vacation of some sort.  I found a loophole in the unemployment law that would enable anyone who spoke English, even if just on vacation, to collect unemployment.  The problem was that the unemployment office was in a basement, and legislators had removed the door, so you had to climb through the window.  While looking for a way to spend my Dole money, I went to a huge department store and really wanted to buy a bass guitar.  I kept seeing people carrying them or playing them, but could not find them in the store.  Then I started wondering if the bass guitars in the UK were the same as the US, or if the strings would be upside-down.)

There’s still that part of my brain that is begging for the release of dopamine from the completion of some amount of straight fiction.  I just finished reading that Junot Diaz book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and I really loved how he described Washington Heights.  I mean, the book was much deeper than just a novella about Dominicans running around and screwing each other, but the language of it made me think about writing something other than a guy taking a dump on a roulette wheel at Circus Circus, or whatever it is I’ve been writing lately.

There are two things that have happened that have made me think about the past in a strange and opaque way, and that’s what itches me about this straight writing thing.

One, I got a leak of the new Carcass album, Surgical Steel.  (Thanks to Ray for the hookup on this.)  I don’t really listen to death metal anymore, and certainly don’t keep up with news on it, but for whatever reason, I was curious about his, and it turns out my suspicions were correct on it.  It’s an excellent album, and sounds like they went into the studio in 1993 and recorded another album as perfect as their Tools of the Trade EP.  It’s amazing that they didn’t fuck this up and insert all kinds of nu metal or have a dubstep remix or, even worse, do what metal bands usually do after a twenty year hiatus and release a SSDD polished turd of exactly what they used to do in the 80s or 90s. It’s a perfect progression from what they did before, unique, and yet with a slightly haunting and familiar sound to some of the melodies.

I was a huge fan of their 1991 album Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious and probably mentioned it a thousand times within Summer Rain, because I listened to it ten thousand times in the summer of 1992, and then constantly put it in the player when I needed to teleport back to that time during the book’s writing.  I have so many memories of that summer that are directly tied to that 48 minutes of music, because I used to open my radio show with it every week, and kept it in my CD deck constantly.

So when I hear a new album that still invokes some ghost of that album, in the tone or the melodies or whatever it is that makes the two similar, it pulls me back to that time and to my old book and makes me wonder if there’s some other writing left in that era.  There’s a part of me that wants to do some Summer Rain 2 that either takes place right before or right after that book, or maybe takes place twenty years later when the protagonist goes back to a 2012 Indiana that’s not doing very rosy and the state of the economy and the world and the experience of hitting 40 and being at that fork in the road somehow echoes what happened in 1992 when I (and/or that character) was at a different fork in the road.  I know SR was rough, and I got unending shit because the book was “long” but it’s something that sometimes pulls me back in that direction.  And it’s not helpful that I have an almost complete but nowhere near finished book of stories that take place around the same time that’s sitting on the hard drive that will probably never see the light of day.

Here’s the other thing.  My allergies are bad now.  We’re talking attack-bad, give-me-more-steroids-than-ARod bad.  And so I went to the hardware store and bought a respirator mask, like you’d wear when you’re tearing down mold-infected drywall, and I started wearing that in the house today, just to see if it would help.  (It did, but it was so goddamn hot, I had to take it back off.)

There is something in those masks, some smell in the filter that is so distinct.  I haven’t thought about it in 25 years, but pulling air through that N95 filter and into my nose gave it such a distinct odor, the smell of surgical gauze and sterile supplies, it immediately teleported me back to the last time I wore respiratory equipment regularly, which was when I was 16 and working on my first car all the time.  I’ve talked about it too much before, but I had this old beaten Camaro, and even before I could drive, I spent all of my time and money sanding away rust and beating on metal with hammers and painting it back up with krylon rattle-cans.

I spent so much time back then wrenching on that car, and it was a piece of shit, but it was my piece of shit and it symbolized this additional freedom that gave me the ability to leave my house and branch out of my limited social strata and just point it in any random direction and feel the rumble of a V-8 for a twenty-minute side of a tape, until it auto-reversed and flipped sides and I changed directions and drove back.

I spent summers and weekends wearing this dust filter, a blue rubberized plastic thing that cupped over my nose and mouth and contained some kind of treated cotton or fiber inside of it that got replaced every time it became caked with paint and plastic dust.  The smell of that filter is the same as the smell of this filter, and it immediately reminds me of sanding down body filler and mixing together more bondo to squeegee into cracks and paint with more primer.  Everyone else in my high school turned 16 and magically had a car appear in their driveway, usually a brand new 5.0 Mustang.  I didn’t, and that’s why I spent time in junkyards looking for new sheet metal on the cheap, and trying to break rusted bolts and sand compound curves in my garage while listening to Grim Reaper and Megadeth on a jambox.

So that makes me think of that time in the 80s, the struggle of being a nerd when being a nerd wasn’t cool, being poor in a school where being poor wasn’t cool, driving a Chevy when driving a Ford was cool.  I wrote a book about that too, sitting on the virtual shelf, probably not to be released.  I always think about jumping back into that one, but the writing in it makes me cringe.  When I was in Mexico in 2009, I was sitting in a hammock every morning, staring at the ocean and busting my ass trying to turn out that book.  It’s hurried writing and painful to read now, but if I had infinite time, I’d beat it into shape.

Of course, I don’t have infinite time.  This is why I never post here – I need to be writing.  Gotta get back to it.