Train Wreck

by jkatejohnston

8 January 2014

Dear Max,

I realized about twenty pages into my potboiler that I need a crime. Right. So I adapted one from an old case, the same one I was originally planning to use for my investigation because the innocent guy looked so guilty. Home invasion robbery, three counts of rape, forced oral copulation (both ways!), attempted sodomy, false imprisonment. I wrote it in two paragraphs in the plainest of plain style, sort of like a police report without police jargon. Then I read it and felt shitty in about ten different ways. You can’t use that. You just can’t. So now I have to make up a crime, and that doesn’t interest me at all.

It has also dawned on me that I have no idea how to write a chapter. Or a story, come to think of it. I keep writing these capsule-like essays with bursts of dialog which end abruptly just when something is about to happen.

Oh, and the timeline is insane. There are no verb tenses for the way the story jumps around in time. Maybe I should try something radical like starting at the beginning. And then saying what happened next. And making it a rule: in every chapter—however short—something has to happen. It can’t just be the two main characters eating and smoking and making amusing remarks about violent crime. (The gallows humor of defense attorneys is the least interesting thing about them.)

As it turns out, I don’t think I’m capable of sustained trashiness. I can write it. And it might hang around for a while. But then I read it, and that’s the end of that. Delete, delete, delete. I guess that’s mostly good news. I’m thinking of a story Max told me about Marvin Mudrick. Some Harvard English professor wrote a bodice ripper, just to show he could. And Mudrick’s remark was: he should be fired.

I’m not ready to fire myself yet. It’s still entertaining to do the work, so why not keep doing it? But I think I have to abandon the notion that I can write something easy and fast-paced and violent (yet funny!)—a sort of stunt that I’m not totally responsible for.

Besides, I like writing problems. The thousands of ways that writing can wrong are endlessly fascinating. I’d rather have the wrong things to happen in other people’s writing. But what can you do?

I’m thinking about putting the working version back online as a kind of documentary of how I get to where ever I end up getting, which may be nowhere. And I think I need to change the working title from Potboiler to Train Wreck.

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