Tuesday, September 12, 2017

False-Starts, Full-Stops, and Ice-Cold Thumb Drives - Jesse Miller

False-Starts, Full-Stops, and Ice-Cold Thumb Drives

The longer life goes on, the more it takes on for me this kind of David Lynch blue-wraith dream-state where everything, the eggy binder of reality, could just come apart and slip away in the next frame. (Couldn’t it though?)  And so, it’s been a long, strange trip getting here, getting this novel to materialize on this planet.  Incredible, and in short, I’m stunned and humbled: Unwarp Your Candy, this THING I’ve been trying to will into existence for more than a decade, now actually exists. 

I started this book years ago in grad school when I was roughly the same age as the protagonist, our ever-itchy Thomas Evans.  Sometime afterward, I started submitting the ms. around which didn’t amount to much.  I was learning how to engage the world while not understanding what my place in it actually was. (How do you get a fucking agent?  No seriously.) At some point the rejections tallied up and I recognized it as a really good, slow fight—clean shots to a face.  Most to the guts.  I wasn’t in fighting shape and the project just sat.  I questioned, as most writers wonder, if I’d ever be able to endeavor with any seriousness on a new book again.

But after a while, I came to wonder if Unwrap Your Candy might simply be an apprentice-novel—one that could lead to another. Was I imagining a kind of Stephen Hero-situation?  Sure, privately, sure.  And would some heroic women I’d burn for retrieve it from the flames?  Again, sure.   It’s just that it can get so binary with big writing projects—success or failure, winner or loser.  That’s all it can seem like.  Conceiving of the book as something that might lead to something else unblocked me, and quite honestly, pardoned me from the self-flagellation I was used to.  I don’t know how I did this but I did.  I’d ultimately begin work on another project—this would eventually become ARK, my first published book, and soon to be rereleased from Common Deer Press.

Unwrap Your Candy sat around on a thumb drive in cold ectoplasmic storage for years.  I was a fool—I didn’t even think I might lose it that way.  (How many stupid thumb drives have you broken or lost in your life?)  Though maybe some part of me was hoping this would actually be the case—there is a kind of quelling of one sadness by weighing it down with another bigger sadness, right?   I was sort of on ice there for a while too—removed, working at night, writing during the day, everything out of phase and cut off.  Where it gets interesting and harder then, I think, was what happened next: moving around a lot, dropping in and out of a couple of near-career jobs, a kind of timeshare of my own identity—fast, faster, fastest—the sizzling fever dream of your late twenties where your whole world feels like Francis Bacon painting. Little did I know that this would actually be an apprenticeship to my life as an adjunct professor down the line as I was trying to find my way as a working writer while ingratiating myself within the professoriate.

Eventually, I’d meet my Emily, who would go on to be my reader.  Do you know what I mean by that?  It’s the person who I am able to share work with at various stages without feeling shame.  It’s as simple as that.  Some people find it awkward to share raw work with their partner, but I didn’t, thankfully.  It’s never been that way with my wife—she’s it, baby.  At some point, she encouraged me to revisit UYC and even gave me notes—good ones.  Christ, she even sat me down with a copy of James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room to help me get a handle on some of the snarling disgust stuff I had bulging around in the book.  She did this, of course, because she saw something in what I was trying to do, and pointed me toward a high priest who actually knew how to handle complex and unattractive feelings on the page without engendering a disgust for the writer.  My wife has a master’s in public health from one of the best programs in the world, but she could probably teach a literature class as well as I can most days.  Emily helped to endow me with the kind of energy I needed to really re-see and re-think about the book again.

From there, after a great deal of searching, I found a publisher who was interested in my work.  Eventually they’d drop me, the bastards.  I won’t dwell on this—really, the work I did under that arrangement was meaningful, and was ultimately a benefit to the novel.  It was another good lesson, another good fight to get in, I suppose.  But lots of shots to the groin.  The world’s a cold, cruel place for writers and artists.  Endless shit without fail, wall-to-wall.  Cliché, sure.  But reality too.  

Those ensuing months were bleak.  Maybe I didn’t really write for a year or so.  It wasn’t exactly like the ending of  Charles Bukowski’s Post Office, where our man has the butcher knife to his neck and then reconsiders, but I had to come to that thought myself:  Easy old boy.  Easy.

What felt like full-stops were more like false-starts.  What it’s come down to, I guess, is if everything could fall apart at some point, if that’s a real premise to living and working and feeling your way through the world (and I am actually shocked to even imagine this), then maybe, in some other, odder way, the opposite is also true.  Maybe I’d rework my novel, I thought.  And, well, then I did.

I would eventually find Common Deer Press and I am so grateful we found each other.  (How could I not be?)  I’m here now, the book is here now, and the world may end full-stop tomorrow.  But today, I’m sailing wild in love with the way the book has turned out, and with the way so many things have turned out.

Unwrap Your Candy
Jesse Miller

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Common Deer Press

Date of Publication: September 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0995072985

Number of pages: 252

Cover Artist: Ellie Sipila of Move to the Write

Tagline: Imagine Woody Allen made a movie about Dilbert and James Joyce wrote the screenplay. That’s what you should expect from Jesse Miller’s Unwrap Your Candy.

Book Description:

Thom’s life has a soundtrack. Unseen glass phalluses—thousands of them—whirring softly along conveyer belts on the other side of the factory wall. The snap and splash of eggs against plaster. The scratch-fizz-tang of cigarette lighters being flipped again and again. A thousand throats swallowing a thousand swigs of beer; a thousand sets of lungs choking on a thousand French inhales. Hard fists sinking into soft flesh; soft chunks dropping onto hard sidewalks. Plop-flush-drain repeat. And moonsong, high above, forever calling and calling, “Stud, rub her with the Stud Rubber.” If only it were so simple.

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He tried not to notice Esther’s stomach cresting over her desk as he walked down the hallway. She noticed him through the glass though, and as he peeled open the doors, she began the procedure of rising from her chair. With only a few strides, he stood before her, neck craning and head in a slight confused cock, as though peering down into the unwrinkled skin of an empty swimming pool. Family photos lined the edges of her desk, the frames gradually becoming smaller and smaller as he surveyed from left to right. He tried to follow each picture frame, imagining each one was a progressively smaller family member, like a nesting doll spread out across her desk. He tried focusing on the four pairs of scissors variously arranged in increasingly more libidinous positions, but mostly his eyes stayed locked on her stomach.
–I’m very sorry, Mr. Evans.
 Her head shook gravely, and she pushed on her thighs, both spreading in the limited facility of her ascension. Her entire body, including her sour-bell ears, urged itself upward.
This was Step 1: The Hand Plant.
The few of times he had been in her office, this was how it had begun.
–No problem. No problem at all.
Step 2: The Dismount.
This, predictably, involved a groan or two. Today, though, there were three.
1) Emmmmmmmmmm.
2) Eeeaaaaaaaaaaaa.
3) Emmmmmmmmm.
With the added straining sounds, he had difficulty not picturing her on the toilet. Her knees looked as though they might buckle under the teetering gumdrop they supported, wrapped in pattern-dazzle polyester. Momentarily, Thom was compelled to help her. It seemed like such a waste, her standing routine—this long-standing routine to collect his modest wages. He knew where the checks were, where it all was located. He could handle it without a single groan.
She very well may end up back in the chair or on the floor like an overturned truck. Would he have to help her; would he be able to help her up? The deeper he thought about this possibility, the more his mind began stretching away from the logistics, the angles and leverage, the footing. He could see her without any clothing, could see those two starving mottled gluttons squealing below her waist. And yet then, just then, he was                                                  gone.
The pendulum swung the other way. Now he desperately wanted her to fall. He felt passionate about the fall. The polite mummery of suspension would finally be over. People should point and laugh; she should be a shut-in, or filling the screen of a talk show, or dripped on by a thousand pandemonic men. Beyond the beyond. He could crack a chair over her head or slowly peel away her underthings to see if any washcloths had been lost among the rippling waves in the sea of her stomach. Make a million selling her body as soap.
Thom returned to the rickety tableau before him and quickly extended a hand toward Esther. She clasped firmly and smiled as she rose.
Finally, Step 3: The Ascension.
She made it.
4) Ooohhhhhhhhhhh.
Thom’s hand returned to his side after she released it; her feet tilled the carpet as she headed to and from the safe. Her grey zebraic polyester pants, practically bellbottoms, dripped past her off-white sneakers, and her back humped up, causing each arm to come forward, closer to the ground. She stood in front of him. He smiled fully.
–Forgive me, Mr. Evans. I apologize.
She passed him the check, her wedding band strangling her ring finger.
–Not a problem. No big deal.
He reached forward to take the check then quickly withdrew.
–Have a pleasant weekend, Mr. Evans.
One long white hair swung slowly from her protracted chin.
–Yes, you too, Mrs. Polly.
Thom raised his cheeks lightly to show her a slight smile then spun around, arms outstretched like a tornado. Had someone been behind him they would have collided. The cracking of teeth. A human toast. Maybe he shouldn’t have assisted. To help is to whelp.  And, as long as “maybe” is in play, maybe he should not have delayed the enormous man in the cra behind him. Maybe he’s a dentist. Or a doctor…or a liposuctionist. Thom passed through the office, closed the door, and dreamed of pulling it off the frame.

About the Author:

I am a writer and a teacher.

I tutor and mentor students working on a variety of writing projects.

I'm always looking for new ways to share my work and insights on teaching the craft of writing, and I welcome new teaching and workshop opportunities. Please feel free to contact me to read from Ark, or my forthcoming novel, UYC!

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Unknown said...

Thanks so much, Roxanne, for hosting Jesse and Unwrap Your Candy!