The Funny Thing About Research

Ahhhh, research. Arguably the most important part of the writing process. How can you write about something if you know nothing about it? That old writing tip ‘write what you know’ is always apt — you don’t want to look stupid, do you?!

But how about other ways you might look in the age of the internet and having access all areas? If I was to go through the things I’ve looked up in the name of research it would paint a pretty messed-up list…

For one short story I had to research the job of an embalmer, how a cadaver appears and feels, how the process of embalming works, etc. For my work-in-progress novel American. Porn Star. President. (about a porn-addicted journalist), I’ve looked up almost every genre there is on PornHub, and what the world of the porn industry is like, from on-set slang to company rivalries. Some writers have even acted in adult film for their stories — now that’s dedication! For a short story about a protesting employee of a corporate giant, I delved into self-immolation, and have come across some harrowing and incredibly tragic cases. For my screenplay Let’s Talk About Sex, I researched the most comic and weird sex-related injuries (thinking about it still makes me wince).

One could look at this and reach the conclusion that I’m a sex-addicted, cadaver-infatuated nutjob who’s about to set myself on fire in protest at my exploitative employer (must. crush. capitalism.)…

So, is all this research essential when it comes to whatever project it is one’s working on?

In my opinion, yes… It’s like the method actor approach, although how far an actor — or a writer — would go is another thing. If I’m writing about a murderer I’m hardly going to go out and attack someone. But I would likely go to our all-knowing, omnipotent friend (or, arguably, foe) the Internet, and read about individual cases and the perpetrators… What was their mindset? How did they rationalise doing something so abhorrent? Did they even rationalise it? What was their background? How were they raised? What did their day-to-day look like?

I think it’s a part of us, though — this curiosity, this need to know… We’re voyeuristic that way… Or, as David Fincher said: people are perverts. We’re forever curious about the private lives of others. We obsess over individuals like Charles Manson and Aileen Wuornos (monsters arguably created by other monsters, but that’s for another blog post). We make celebrities out of some of the craziest people who have ever existed. We create sensations around porn stars (Jenna Jameson, Linda Lovelace, Ron Jeremy, John Holmes, James Deen, to name a few). Not that I’m saying porn stars are monsters like Manson and Wuornos, of course. To be clear, that’s not what I’m saying at all! I admire porn stars for having the balls to do what they do… pun possibly intended.

But what do they have in common? Well, they’re the outliers, right? And we’re always interested in the people who go against the grain of “normal” society, be it by doing something awful (Manson and Wuornos) or something unusual (adult performers). We’re always fascinated by the ones who don’t do the “normal” thing.

But coming back to research and writing, what does it all mean for the writer? The one who opens the doors to the often excessive, often fucked-up realities of the world? Speaking from personal experience, my research has led me to having some odd, some adventurous, and some deeply disturbing dreams (including being pulled across the bed by a demonic spirit flashing before my eyes. And yes, I do have night terrors… I scream in my sleep sometimes. It’s ridiculous, and a little embarrassing, but it has scared my girlfriend in the middle of the night, and that’s definitely a consolation. It’s okay, she thinks it’s funny).

The great F. Scott Fitzgerald said this of the writer:

“Writer’s aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person.”

For me, that’s a perfect — and profound — way to describe a writer. The first time I read it, it simply made sense. I’ve definitely found myself feeling not-like-myself after writing a certain scene or a specific character, and that’s sometimes difficult to shake off immediately. Haruki Murakami has made reference to this in an interview with The New Yorker:

“When I’m writing a novel, I wake up around four in the morning and go to my desk and start working. That happens in a realistic world. I drink real coffee. But, once I start writing, I go somewhere else. I open the door, enter that place, and see what’s happening there. I don’t know — or I don’t care — if it’s a realistic world or an unrealistic one. I go deeper and deeper, as I concentrate on writing, into a kind of underground. While I’m there, I encounter strange things. But while I’m seeing them, to my eyes, they look natural. And if there is a darkness in there, that darkness comes to me, and maybe it has some message, you know? I’m trying to grasp the message. So I look around that world and I describe what I see, and then I come back. Coming back is important. If you cannot come back, it’s scary. But I’m a professional, so I can come back.”

Coming back, even if it’s from the “real” world, is imperative. And, as Murakami alludes, it takes skill: he’s a professional, he can come back. He’s trained himself to come back. As made evident by my dreams, I’m still in training.

But to end in relation to Fitzgerald’s above quote, maybe being good has been made easier today with the existence of the Internet, which allows us to do more research without having to leave the house or office. We’re not restricted to our first-hand experiences and our sometimes-limited imaginations; we can delve into these worlds and mindsets using the collective consciousness that is the Internet.

We can write what we know, even if we preferred life when we didn’t know it.

Anyway, I hear the call for last orders again.

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

Six Short Stories

 

 

There’s a good chance you’ve heard the following well-travelled quote many times:

“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

You’ve likely seen it attributed to Mark Twain. Until recently, I would’ve thought that was correct. It was, in fact, originally written by French mathematician, physicist, inventor, and writer Blaise Pascal (thanks for that nugget of knowledge, Eric).

But let’s get back to the quote…

What does it mean when it’s applied to writing short fiction, as it regularly is? Well, if it isn’t obvious, it means short stories take a lot of time to perfect — they’re difficult. You need time to trim the fat, or kill your darlings as the literati like to say. Some of the greatest novelists who’ve put pen to paper didn’t, or don’t, have the skill (or, perhaps, the temperament) to write short fiction. Many authors over the years have said writing a short story is far more difficult than writing a novel; there’s less room to play, there’s certainly less time to say all that you want to say — basically, you’re more restricted in the short-fiction world.

I’ve been writing short fiction on and off for a number of years while working on a number of screenplays and a novel. Am I near as strong as I’d like to be when it comes to the shorter work? No, but the more I write the better I get. And I’m putting together a short story collection that I hope to publish in the future (out of all the titles I’ve created over the years, this one is my favourite).

I’ve also been reading short stories for a long time. Some writers I’ve been reading for years, some I’ve only discovered, and some I’ve known about but have only gotten round to devouring recently.

With that in mind, I thought I’d list a few short stories worth reading written by American writers. I won’t go into much detail, as going in blind is always better. Of course, I do recommend buying the collections in which these stories feature.

So, here they are:

 

 

1. Nathan Englander — The Twenty-Seventh Man

From the collection ‘For the Relief of Unbearable Urges’ (1999).

Englander 1

Nathan Englander made an immediate impact on the literary world with the release of his debut short story collection ‘For the Relief of Unbearable Urges’. The first story in the collection, The Twenty-Seventh Man, is an allusion to the Night of the Murdered Poets  the execution of 13 Soviet Jews on the orders of Stalin, on August 12, 1952.

The short story isn’t available online, but you can read the script for the play based on it here. Or, you could go buy the collection in your favourite second-hand bookstore (for you Irish readers, it’s gotta be Chapters on Parnell Street).

 

2. Jennifer Egan — The Stylist

From the collection ‘Emerald City’ (1993).

Egan - Emerald City 1

Jennifer Egan is probably best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning work of fiction ‘A Visit from the Good Squad’. I say ‘work of fiction’ because the book has been characterised as both a short story collection and a novel — Egan herself has stated that she doesn’t consider it to be either of the aforementioned.

What is unequivocal about her first published work ‘Emerald City’ is that it’s most definitely a collection of short stories. The Stylist, the first story in the collection, focuses on a divorced fashion stylist on a shoot in Africa with a photographer and three teenage models.

Read it here.

 

3. Raymond Carver — Errand

From the collection ‘Cathedral’ (1983).

Carver - Cathedral 1

Raymond Carver has inspired countless short and long fiction writers since he became one of America’s best-loved writers with the publication of his collections ‘Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?’ and ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ (the latter of which has had its title borrowed by a number of writers, including Haruki Murakami and Mr. Englander mentioned above).

One of the greatest influences on Carver was the great Russian playwright and short story writer Anton Chekhov. In Errand — a tribute to his idol — Carver re-imagines the final hours of Chekhov’s life, but brings the focus of attention on a young bellboy.

(Note: This idea has prompted me to develop a short story about Carver’s final hours, the same way he wrote about his idol. I’m still working on it…)

You can read Errand here.

 

4. John Updike — Pigeon Feathers

From the collection ‘Pigeon Feathers’ (1962).

pigeon-feathers

The American heavyweight John Updike is considered by many to be the greatest writer of the 20th century. He’s most famous for his ‘Rabbit’ series, which centres around the life of former high-school basketball star Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. Two novels from the series — ‘Rabbit Is Rich’ and ‘Rabbit at Rest’ — won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

In Pigeon Feathers, a young boy adjusting to life at the farmhouse he’s recently been moved to with his parents and ailing grandmother, faces a spiritual crises after reading a work by H.G. Wells.

Read it here.

 

5. Stephen  King — Premium Harmony

From the collection ‘The Bazaar of Bad Dreams’ (2015).

Stephen King 2

Stephen King. He’s probably the most famous author around; the man who’s seen countless stories and novels he’s written find their way onto the big screen, who’s been on the bestsellers list more times than he can remember. He’s not someone this writer has read very often (honestly, I just haven’t been able to get into his books), but he has written a short story in a similar vein to Raymond Carver, which is probably why I like it so much. In his introduction to Premium Harmony in the collection, King confesses that he’d only discovered the work of Carver shortly before writing the story, which is quite surprising since the work was published in 2009 — some 21 years after the short-story master’s death.

In Premium Harmony — which is unquestionably a pastiche  a car ride to a birthday party takes a turn when a couple stop off at a gas station to pick up a gift. This one is darkly comic, and hugely enjoyable.

You can read it here.

 

6. S.J. Coules — Photographs

From the collection ‘You Can Call Me What You Like as Long as You Don’t Call Me’

photographs-3

You’re damn right I’m plugging my own work.

My short story collection ‘You Can Call Me What You Like as Long as You Don’t Call Me’ is definitely a work in progress. Out of all the short stories I’ve completed, four, maybe five will feature in this collection. The rest are to be written  many have been fleshed out and partially developed, some I haven’t even thought of yet. Of the completed works that I plan to include in the book, one has been published, the others have either been submitted to literary magazines, or are sitting on the laptop, eagerly waiting to be read.

In Photographs — my first published short story  a crotchety man who’s found himself old and with nothing but pictures, alcohol, and television to pass the time, encounters an irritating local kid.

You can read it here.

 

Anyway, last orders have been called.

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

 

Thoughts on the Work of Book Cover Designer Chip Kidd

When I was a kid my brother would regularly draw football (soccer) kits: jersey, shorts, socks — the works. With him being older, I would usually copy whatever it was he was doing (including asking for the same Valencia CF home jersey one Christmas, which understandably infuriated him – “We’re not twins, dickhead!”). So, I picked up a variety of colouring pencils and began to draw (or to be more accurate design) my own kits. (Yes, brother, you and I were in fact practising fashion design.)

Alas, my designs weren’t up to much; there was a subtle art to designing a football kit — get too carried away and you’d wind up with something more appropriate for an LSD trip than the football pitch (although some goalkeepers jerseys over the years have definitely sparked thoughts of tripping balls).

My desire to draw didn’t end with football kits: extraterrestrial sketches, bubblified cartoons, watercolour paintings… I would attempt to tap into the creative well that existed on my mam’s side and show what I could do (for the sports genes, see the old man’s side)… which, clearly, wasn’t very much. My brother, however, certainly had a talent which he never fully pursued (although he’d tell you he wasn’t very good, which is inaccurate to say the least).

Anyway, I had tried my hand at it, and I learned early on that I definitely wasn’t going to be the next Edward Hopper, Ilya Repin, Todd McFarlane… or Vivienne Westwood.

Which leads me to the following statement: I’m hardly an authority when it comes to the visual arts.

But I do have an uneducated opinion I can share, kind of like someone on the TV who has zero understanding of basic economics talking about minimum wage and price controls — it’s an opinion we really shouldn’t take seriously.

But if I may indulge myself, I’d like to share my unqualified thoughts on the work of someone I greatly admire, the one and only Chip Kidd.

Now, when I say share my thoughts, I mean I’m gonna share some of my favourite works by Mr. Kidd — i.e. his book cover designs I admire most — and scribble a few words underneath each design, basically something like, “I dig this because the colours are nice. Isn’t the picture he used here really impactful? Don’t I sound like I know what I’m talking about?

Chip Kidd is probably one of — if not the — best-known graphic designers around, and he’s created book covers for major names in literature including Haruki Murakami, Cormac McCarthy, Bret Easton Ellis, Michael Crichton, Jay McInerney, Donna Tartt, Michael Chabon, John Updike, and David Sedaris. His designs have also graced the covers of the perennial publications Rolling Stone and TIME.

So, let me share my most-loved works by this master designe, complete with uninformed thoughts on a subject I know nothing about…

1. Imperial BedroomsBret Easton Ellis

BEE Imperial Bedrooms

The rather disappointing sequel to Ellis’ debut novel Less Than Zero, Imperial Bedrooms was released in 2010 to mixed critical response. Apathy, narcissism, violence, and debauchery are regular features in the author’s work, and this novel doesn’t shy away from delving into hedonistic territory. Kidd’s design does a good job at capturing the superficiality and overindulgence that permeates Ellis’ oeuvre.

2. Jurassic ParkMichael Crichton

Chip Kidd - The Lost World by Michael Crichton

Every now and then Kidd takes a minimalist approach to his designs. For Michael Crichton’s sequel to his now legendary Jurassic Park (arguably thanks to Spielberg’s blockbuster adaptation), Chip’s minimal execution works quite effectively: Black, white, red. Unglamorous font. Menacing T-Rex gonna bite ya… Simples.

3. FasterJames Gleick

Chip Kidd - Faster by James Gleick

This one speaks for itself. So clever. One of my favourites beyond Kidd’s work, that’s for sure.

4. The Dark Knight ReturnsFrank Miller

Chip Kidd - The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

Maybe it’s because I purchased Miller’s iconic graphic novel years ago and it’s been on my bookshelf since, but this cover instantly screams “You know you want to read this. You know it, you bastard. Now OPEN ME!!” Mr. Kidd has designed many graphic novel/comic book covers over the years, including Watchmen, Before Watchmen, Rough Justice, and All-Star Superman.

5. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Chip Kidd - The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

I could have included this purely because The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is my favourite Murakami novel. But there’s something mysterious, magical, and alluring about the cover, prompting the potential reader to pick up the book and become a curious cat. (Murakami fans will appreciate that last line).

6. Villain by Yoshida Shuichi

Chip Kidd - Villian by Yoshida Shuichi

Various human bones positioned to form the shape of a pistol + hot pink. I’m sold… Even the position of the text feels right.

7. Reporting by David Remnick

Chip Kidd - Reportings by David Remnick

The long-time editor of The New Yorker and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer David Remnick published Reporting in 2007 — a collection of his writings from the aforementioned mag. Again, Chip’s execution is simple and, in my opinion, perfect in its simplicity.

8. The Little FriendDonna Tartt

Chip Kidd - The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

Oh dear God — Kill it! Kill it!! (Now that’s an effective book-cover design).

9. GulpMary Roach

Chip Kidd - Gulp by Mary Roach

It could be down to this cover bringing out my inner perv because it reminds me of the poster for Inside Deep Throat, or it could be that it’s simply pretty cool.

10. Seek My FaceJohn Updike

Chip Kidd - Seek My Face by John Updike

This is just one of a number of pieces Chip Kidd has designed for the late American great John Updike. This painting-style (if it isn’t actually a painting), brush-stroke cover implores us to — as the title asks — seek a face. It’s somewhat suffocating, almost haunting, certainly striking.

11. What I Talk About When I Talk About RunningHaruki Murakami

Chip Kidd - What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Okay, so maybe I’m a little biased towards this one for two reasons: 1) it’s Murakami, and 2) he took the title for his memoir on long-distance running from one of my favourite collections, What I Talk About When I Talk About Love, by the hugely influential short story writer Raymond Carver. But besides all that, Kidd’s once again simple design finds a way of being effortlessly striking: The formidable font towers above the minuscule figure of the Japanese author on one of his many runs, giving us an idea of the mammoth tasks he regularly faces when tackling marathons, triathlons, and ultra-marathons, even well into his sixties. Which is all the more impressive when you consider he was a heavy smoker until his early thirties. Oh, Haruki, we’re not worthy!

12. No Country for Old MenCormac McCarthy

Chip Kidd - No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

The great American author Cormac McCarthy originally wrote No Country For Old Men as a screenplay (which begs the question: Did the Coen brothers read his draft before writing their own for their faithful 2007 Oscar-winning adaptation?). Anyone familiar with either the novel or the film will know the pickle Llewelyn Moss finds himself in having stumbled across the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong — and a bagful of cash. They’ll also be familiar with the seemingly unstoppable monster who pursues Moss, the truly terrifying Anton Chigurh. For me, Kidd manages to convey the feeling of helplessness — of being hunted — as the lonely silhouetted figure traverses the red-hot, baking terrain, as the sun goes down… possibly for the last time.

There you have it — some of my favourite Chip Kidd book cover designs. And now I’m hearing the call for last orders.

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

Nothin’ But the Hits Vol. 2

An excerpt from a story about a discontented rock star who becomes a hitman.

—————————————————————

 

It’s 2010. I’m adored. I’m surrounded by women. I’m the lead singer in a hugely successful rock band. I’m a Sagittarius. I’m the savior of rock ‘n’ roll, according to Rolling Stone. I’m the self-proclaimed Devourer of Pussy. I’m a vagrant. I’m bored. I’m writing songs. I’m playing Madison Square Garden. I’m the recipient of four Grammy awards. I’m in recording studios. I’m partial to drugs. I’m jaded. I’ve been singing in a band since I was fourteen. I’ve been touring with that band since I was twenty. Seven years up on stage. Seven years travelling, sweating, drinking, puking, fucking. Seven years having a good time. Seven years. I’m bored. Did I mention I’m bored? I met Pauly recently. Pauly. Yeah, Pauly. Me ‘n’ Pauly. All right. Seven years. Now Pauly.

   I’m gonna kill.

 

The merciless present

                                _

I’d grown a beard, and to my surprise it worked as a deterrent; people didn’t seem to recognize me. It added at least ten years. Two weeks earlier I’d been approached by a chubby sonuva bitch who introduced himself as Pauly. Pauly, who spoke with a New York accent and sounded like he was suffering from indefinite indigestion, told me that he worked for important people, whatever the hell that meant. He wouldn’t disclose who his employers were. He said they weren’t bad guys, but they weren’t necessarily good, neither. But I didn’t care. He asked me to kill. I told him I’d been killing all my life. He told me to cut the shit, that he meant really kill. I asked him who he wanted dead, and he told me it didn’t matter, and whether or not I was interested. I told him I’d sleep on it. That night, before sleeping on it, I drank, like most nights. The beard resulted in the absence of attention. I liked it. Maybe I’d keep the facial hair. One of my songs played in the bar. I sang along.

   I watched the drunks. I smoked a cigarette. I’d considered quitting because, while I loved it, my lungs were hurting. Constantly. I felt like I was on the verge of death. But the doc checked me out, said I was good. Told me I was healthy as a beautiful butterfly fluttering around in the sunshine. Another doctor once told me that if there were something really wrong, my body would tell me. The problem was my body had been telling me for so long that I could no longer believe it. My body was a god damn liar.

   The next morning I phoned Pauly and told him I’d kill, but that it would have to wait a couple of weeks while the band finished working our latest record. He told me he was proud of me. I told him to cut the shit and that I’d speak to him in two weeks.

   Did I agree to this because I was bored? Was I out of my mind? When wasn’t I out of my mind? I’d always been out of my mind. What harm was there in disposing of a few fuckheads, anyway?

 

♠♠♠♠

 

   It was to be more intricate than I had anticipated. Pauly caught up with me and informed me that the person I was to kill was, like me, in the public eye somewhat. I had never heard of him. He was a politician. Politics never really interested me – politics gets in the way of progress.

   We were sat in a bar near the Garden. It was daytime, and the bar was gloomy and stank of something stale. There were only about a dozen people there, and Pauly sat by a window with a drink in front of him.

   Pauly was tired. Not only on that day; he was simply tired. His defeated brown eyes offered no hope or expectations. They were done, disinterested. Why he kept going I did not know, but, then again, what’s the alternative, heaven? He was in his fifties and had a mass of untidy, flaxen hair. His belly always cried for food, it seemed. Every time I saw him his shirt was unbuttoned in some place. He always wore stubble. I couldn’t understand why he played the role of arranging for people to be murdered; it all seemed too macabre for him. He looked like someone who had let things get to him, a thinker, and surely that meant he was in the wrong business. Maybe he’d be murdered himself if he didn’t cooperate. I didn’t really wanna know, anyway.

   I just wanted something else.

   Something new.

   ‘You’ve sold a lot of records,’ said Pauly, sipping his scotch.

   ‘I know,’ I replied.

   ‘You wanna know why it was you who I approached, not some ordinary, everyday lowlife. Some schmuck?’

   ‘No.’

   ‘You looked tired, fed up.’

   ‘So do you.’

   ‘That’s why I got in the game.’

   ‘You were so fed up that you decided to get involved in executions?’

   ‘Isn’t that why you’re here right now?’

   ‘I’m a little bored, sure.’

   Pauly turned and faced the bar that was to my right, then sighed and looked at me.

   ‘There’s no reason to most things. Even though the people I work for see a reason in doing what we do, it’s all bullshit at the end of the day. It’s just something to keep me ticking over, I guess. Something to keep me from . . well, it’s something.’

   ‘You have a family?’ I asked.

   ‘I did. I don’t see ‘em no more. Couldn’t stand being a family man, to be honest. Too much noise. I like a quiet house.’

   Just then, as Pauly’s tired eyes looked down at his pathetic, bulbous belly, a brilliant ray of sunshine invaded the bar, shedding light on us all, and for that brief moment I felt a sense of elation. A reminder that space was still there.

   And space made sense.

♠♠♠♠

 

   Over the next few days (in between recording) I made some lists. The first list I made was apt: ‘Reasons for Killing’. Another list I made was a ‘Favorite Drinks’ list, one a ’Top Five Live Concerts’ list, and the last list was ‘Women Whose Pussies I’ve Devoured’.

   I ran out of paper.

Nothin’ But the Hits

 

An excerpt from a story about a discontented rock star who becomes a hitman.

—————————————————————

 

Preamble
                                _

Most of you who pick up this—what is this?—this ramble, will know me as the lead singer of one of the biggest bands in the world—This Week’s New Release. You’ll know me as the guy on stage who shouts and swaggers and swears and sings, who has written rock songs that topped charts in countries all over the world, who’s played the biggest venues, who’s been voted Sexiest Man In Rock ‘n’ Roll on two separate occasions. You’ll know me as the man who was labeled the savior of the music industry: the Second Coming.

   What you don’t know is what I’ve been involved in behind the veil of rock stardom. This is something I’ve wrestled with for a long time, and only now do I feel I’m ready to share this side of my story that has been known about by only a handful of individuals, most of whom are no longer with us—many of whom chocked on their own puke, or drowned in a swimming pool alone at 4am high on Valium and cocaine.

   I don’t crave attention; I’ve had enough of that over the years. What I crave is clarity—it’s what I’ve always craved, but it had always seemed elusive. At the end of this confession you will understand that I’ve found something which I hope is close to clarity.

   This does not change who I am. The words written here are probably true to what you think you know about me: The Dylan Reed onstage is the Dylan Reed offstage.

   This is merely an addition to the story.

   An encore, so to speak.

                                                                        —Dylan Reed, Berlin – May 1st, 2018

♠♠♠♠

 

I grew up in a sunny, blue-collar neighborhood. A quiet American town the likes of which seem like they’ve been lost to the past, but which still exist—you just have to look for them. My neighborhood was near a bunch of lakes and housed residents who smiled and cared about each other and who were just regular, nice people. Sure they had their secrets, but didn’t everyone?

   I’d spent days in school bored outta my mind and days after school down by the lake listening to music on my battery-powered radio: Nothin’ But The Hits was the name of the show I’d listen to day after day. The disc-jockey’s name was “Madman” Maurice McGonagall and his show would start at 3pm every day and run for two hours. On most days I’d catch the last hour but on Wednesdays and Fridays school finished early and I’d listen to it all the way through. The Stones, The Doors, The Velvet Underground, The Clash, The Band, The Smiths, The Jam, The Fall, The Beatles—all the legendary “THEs”, and then there was Dylan and Hendrix and Bowie and Iggy and all these hits would play, one after another, with some brief intervals from Maurice talking in his smooth voice like he was an MC at a dark, smoke-filled jazz club, painting a picture of himself in the studio—legs up, sunglasses on, cigarette in mouth, maybe one hand down his pants. Maybe he’d jerk off while he listened to the music along with the rest of us—climaxing during the epic guitar solo.

   I did.

   Sometimes.

   Down by the lake.

   It was my own place, surrounded by a wall of trees, the sun glistening on the dead-still water. I’d breathe in the air through my nose and it was like life invading me, telling me everything was good; everything was as it should be. And because I was alone and because I was a teenage boy I’d get hard-ons and sometimes I’d stand there among the trees, by the lake, in the quiet, and I’d work myself until I jolted and a part of me became a part of the earth. Yeah, I was one with nature and the sonic waves that surrounded me.

   Sometimes I’d bring literature to the lake. I didn’t read all that much but my old man had a few books on the chipped wooden shelf in the living room, and every now and then I’d snatch one, drop it into my backpack and take it out once school was done and I was down by the lake. One of those books was a short story collection by a guy called Ford, and I enjoyed dropping in and out of these people’s lives, just catching a glimpse of what was going on with them, learning about their struggles and their flaws and their dramas in a few thousand words or less. I liked that. It made me more empathetic. It helped me understand the long-ass wrestling match that life is for some people; and some of em don’t even have a tag-team partner.

   That’s around the time I started writing. Some would call it poetry, but I didn’t because I didn’t know poetry apart from what we had to read at school. And I hated that shit. All I really knew was my family, my street, my school, the lake, my body and my songs, because though they played through the radio and were written by all those different people, they were my songs. I reached out and grabbed them as they made their waves from the speakers and I made them mine. And so I wrote about all those things I knew and I put them on paper like songs. I was writing songs without the music. Words with rhythm but without a beat, a hook.

   I met Daniel that summer. Daniel was a scrawny thirteen-year-old, like me. He had the beginnings of a pubescent moustache, and he said he was never gonna shave it. Daniel moved into the neighborhood with his family; his mom, dad, and older sister, Maggie, and we met while I was cycling my bike, and he was cycling his, and I noticed his Clash t-shirt and without a word I nodded and he followed me and we rode together to the lake and listened to Nothin’ But The Hits together, and so we were best friends in the space of a few hours.

   Daniel and me asked for music instruments that Christmas. We both wanted electric guitars, but we argued because someone would have to either play drums or pick up the bass. Neither one of us was willing to concede the guitar so we settled it with a fight by the lake late one autumn afternoon. The sun was hanging low but the air was crisp and it was still warm. The argument reared its head again as Maurice spazzed out about a new band that was making its mark on the industry, right before he signed off for the day and ended the show with their new single. Daniel said if we ever wanted Maurice talking about us like that we’d need to hurry up and get a band started. But still we couldn’t agree on who would get the guitar, so it began with a push, and then we were rolling around on the soft grass, staining our music t-shirts, wrestling for the upper-hand, holding each other’s shoulders when one got on top, punching each other’s gut when we were balled in a brawl. After about ten minutes we both fell to the grass, exhausted; blood on our faces, aching bones and limbs. I’d tapped out after Daniel had worked my arm behind my back and threatened to break it. He had me by the wrist and elbow and pushed my arm further and further towards my neck, and as the bone threatened to snap like a twig I screamed and said OKAY! OKAY! FINE, YOU FUCK!

   So it was decided—Daniel would get the guitar that Christmas. And after he did and he practiced and I used a half-empty cardboard box to provide beats, and as spring arrived and we’d spend our days down by the lake again, I found the courage to mention my songs. Daniel asked me to sing them to him . . . I’d had some trouble with girls at school and I had gotten in trouble with the principle and with my parents for different reasons, but Daniel asking me to sing for him was the most terrifying thing that had ever happened to me. But we’d bonded and I trusted him and we loved each other in a way, and so I sang one of my music-free songs, only my voice was the instrument and Daniel listened and looked at me and I think in a way kinda fell in love with me. He didn’t say anything for a minute or two, just looked at me and at the towering trees that surrounded the lake, and he looked at flies hovering above the water—who were oblivious to how close to death they were, like some of us—and he just stared. Eventually he asked me to sing the song again, and so I did, this time with more confidence, and he began playing something on his guitar and before we knew it we’d written our first song together. Little did we realize we’d write a thousand more.

   We looked at the rest of my lyrics and we worked on more songs and we wrestled and we jerked off and we listened to Nothin’ But The Hits by the lake and we were happy.

   And that’s how I spent my teenage years.