I wrote the first draft of this story in 1987 when I was living in Albany, California, after dropping out of grad school at Berkeley, thinking I should be a novelist instead of an anthropologist (I’m quite sure I made the wrong decision, but since it’s led me to where I am now, I have no regrets). I wrote during the mornings at Winchell’s Donuts (where I met a woman who said she was Dr. J’s mom) or the Albany Bowl (great All-American breakfasts), or I’d walk to Berkeley and write at Val’s Pizza. I would buy packs of Marlboro Lights for 1.25 and smoke three or four while writing (pre smoking ban, of course). In the evenings, I would go to The Office for 50 cent Budweisers. Most Sundays I would get together with Chris Boesel and read him the latest chapters while sipping Budweiser pints at the Cafe Intermezzo on Telegraph Avenue. Many evenings I would take the BART to 3650 20th St. in the Mission to play guitars with Chris and Kurt Stevenson. I’d spend the night and write the next day at Cafe La Boheme or some less-aptly-named Bohemian cafe.
The story is based on events that happened to me in the fall of 1983 and the spring of 1984. As soon as the dust had settled, I knew I wanted to write some version of the story, but it took a few years to figure out how. The day I quit grad school, it came to me, like the concept had been sitting under a pile of books by Durkheim and Malinowski.
The first version of the story was much closer to the real events, about 75 percent true, but at some point I started embellishing, and now I really don’t know what actually happened and what I made up. I was pretty sure the novel would be published and I would be interviewed on Phil Donahue’s daytime TV program. That didn’t happen.
I re-wrote the story in the early 1990s before and during graduate school at North Dakota State University of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, where I earned my Master’s in English (not quite a Ph.D. from Berkeley, but oh well). I had decided there was too much truth in the first version, and besides, it just wasn’t very good. I thought I had become a better writer during the intervening five years or so. While writing the second version, my main reader and critic was my wife Diane, who became a model for the main female character. When I finally finished, I read the whole thing to her on the porch of the barn we lived in east of Fargo. We cried at the end. I was sure it was just a matter of time before I was interviewed by Oprah (Phil Donahue’s show had been cancelled by then.)
Shortly after I finished, I took a novel writing class from the late Rodney Whitaker (aka Trevanian). The class was at the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center and was sponsored by The Loft in Minneapolis. Rodney liked my writing and agreed to critique my novel, which he did — 50 pages of detailed comments. He said if I went through it and made the changes, he’d give it to his agent. So I did, and I sent it back, and he said I ruined it and didn’t do what he said and he would not be giving it to his agent. So I sent it out to a couple dozen publishers and agents, collected rejection letters, then gave up.
It’s just as well. Looking back at both previous versions is embarrassing. Neither one is any good, which doesn’t bode well for this version, either, but what the heck.
I wrote the first draft of this version in two weeks while living in New Zealand in 2007. I had long ago decided that if I returned to it, it would be set in high school, not college, and would be even more fictional (about 95 percent) than the previous versions. I had some ideas, but didn’t know how to start, and didn’t have the time or energy (kids, job, etc.). One day I wrote a paragraph at work and found a new voice for the character and a new frame story and the rest came very easily. I paid a fiction editor to critique it and have been making mostly minor changes ever since.
I decided to publish it online because I don’t have the time, energy or desire to go through the usual channels and hoops. I’m beyond thinking the world is eagerly awaiting my story, if only the right publisher lays eyes on it. I’m a fairly lazy writer who enjoys the first draft process but doesn’t really know what to do with it after that, thinking it’s as good as it’s going to get in my clumsy hands. Besides, the world is changing, and the old ways of publishing may be on their way out anyway. Why not save a few trees and bypass the monied interests that have been shaping the tastes of book lovers since Gutenberg?
Hope you enjoy it. Send me an email with your thoughts or impressions.