I Wrote A Book Once

iamadamquinn
7 min readMar 2, 2018

When I was in college I started writing a book. I remember starting the story, and it felt like being a puppeteer. I remember that feeling specifically — ‘If I give them legs, they’ll walk. If I give them mouths they’ll talk.’ The characters just started doing things in my head as I brought them to life. It was the act of converting the images in my head onto words on the page that actually activated the characters in my head, and got them to do things. I worked in my basement, with my computer set up on an old kitchen table. A weight bench behind me where I could take breaks and lift. I wasn’t a big guy, nor did I like going to the gym. But it helped me think. I miss that. My older brother spent time down there with me. We deemed it The Internet Cafe. The basement was the spot, the writing was about my experiences. I crafted the characters and moments, from the characters and moments from my own life. What else do you craft from? I don’t do well with fantasy. Real life is weirder than fiction, which sort of brings me to my story.

My story was based on the people I worked with, and the dumb things that happened in between. I fell in love a lot. Daily. Could be a glance and I’d be transfixed. And then it would be over. So, this story started as a collection of moments that came from my experiences of working as a garbage man and in a garage changing oil, and turned into a love story. I wrote a bit here and there through college and started sending some stories to my great uncle John. I called them my Letters To Vari. He encouraged me, and when I moved to New York out of college he introduced me to Ray Powers, a literary agent. John’s partner Alfred was an English teacher and encouraged me the whole way. They were old men. The whole crew they had were old men who had some stint in Hollywood or the New York acting scene. Ray was an ‘Agent to the stars’ or so the story goes. He discovered everyone, Warren Beatty, Antonio Banderas, Jane Fonda, or so the story goes. I never really knew the truth, or rather how much was fact and how much was fiction. But as John put it, “It’s my story, I’ll tell it how I want”. They were encouraging. I was in my mid twenties, and they were in their mid 80’s. There were others, Frank and Frank. They were still acting and writing. We’d get together and talk about our work. Sometimes there’d be four or five of us sitting around a table. They were a motley crew, and I felt connected to a world I knew nothing of, transfixed by it, confused by it, living parallel to it in another time. Eventually, that connection, or lack thereof, became the focus of my book .

400 pages of stories about three people, separated by time but connected by place, each looking to the other for that missing part of themselves.

Ray’s advice was to just write, don’t edit, don’t delete, save everything.

The Continuing Story Of Henry Clay. That was the name of it. The story about a kid, working in a garage, in love with an older woman who owned the flower shop across the street, who in turn was in love with his best friend, an old family friend and musician. They were all musicians, playing different music from different times, learning about each other through their music. They could never fully connect. Time, culture, age, needs, style. They were stuck in their own moments, parallel, unable to fully connect. This was my life. Falling in love randomly and at a distance, feeling parallel but separate from some of my closest friends.

Then Ray died.

He had a stroke at the diner we used to go to. The Madison on 53rd and 1st. Fell right into his soup, face first. John was there with him. He pushed him out of his soup, alerted the staff, and left, or so the story goes.

I changed the name of the book to Soup With Ray. Obviously.

It grew, and I grew, and I wrote more. I included the soup scenes, the moments between old and young. Had sort of a Tuesdays With Morrie feel, with a love story thrown in to complicate things. I had an editor through Ray but never had any direct contact, so after he died, there went my editor. I got another agent, a friend of mine that got it to Simon & Schuster, but it was rejected. Snookie from The Jersey Shore published her book through them. So did Tori Spelling. Tori Spelling - sTori Telling. I can’t hate on that title. Simon & Schuster is a garbage publisher. I’m not bitter. Yes I am.

I got the book to an indie publisher out of Brooklyn and maybe that was the way to go. But honestly, writing it over that much time, by the time I looked back at what I’d written, I realized it was just a collection of stories. I had about seven different endings, three middles, characters that came and went and transformed over time, influenced through the changing relationship in my own life, and a main character who learned too many life lessons to ever really go through a clear change. It couldn’t get to Logan’s rule. Josh Logan was a director, writer and actor, at the golden age of cinema and stage. His book, Josh, My Up and Down, In and Out Life, sits on my shelf with a sticky note in it, pointing to his golden rule.

“A play should take its protagonist through a series of experiences which lead to a climactic moment toward the end when he learns something, discovers something about himself that he could have known all along but has been blind to. This discovery comes as such an emotionally shattering blow (and that’s the key word, emotionally) that it changes the entire course of his life — and that change must be for the better. If he’s changed for the worse, the audience will reject the play, as they do in Troilus and Cressida, and all other failures. The audience must feel and see the leading man or woman become wiser, and the discovery must happen onstage in front of their eyes. And that doesn’t mean a happy ending. If the hero is to die, then he just must make the discovery before he dies. Of course, the classic example is Oedipus. But it’s true of Hamelt and Macbeth and down the line even to Jeeter Lester in Tobacco Road and De Lawd in Green Pastures. You’ll find it in every successful play. For when the protagonist has this revelation, one which raises his moral stature, the audience can grow vicariously along with him. Thus people leave the theatre feeling better, healthier minded than when they arrived. It’s an exciting experience. And that excitement makes plays live.” ~ Joshua Logan

That’s the golden rule.

That’s the moment I’ve been writing towards. Logan’s rule.

I want to finish it. But it needs a rewrite to get it to that place.

Writing is one of those things, though, that’s so solitary it’s tough to do. You sit alone, and write. Your fingers move, trying to keep up with the thoughts in your head and you try desperately to put those thoughts on page so that others can understand them. You get done writing and then you go back… rewrite… edit. Then you give it to someone. Sometimes they don’t like your writing style. Short choppy sentences. Long sentences that go on forever and never break for a pause. Or not. Incomplete thoughts that only work in conjunction with previous sentences. I don’t care much for proper grammar. I like writing like I speak. And sometimes that involves starting sentences with ‘and’. People do it in life all the time. There are no rules. Write how you want.

It’s been a while since I’ve just let the words come out, to puppeteer and let Pinocchio free from his strings, to let him run through the story as if I’ve lost control of him. Characters are no good if you control them. Let them talk, let them move, let them live their lives in that story and don’t hold them back. They’ll be less interesting if you do. Am I writing this for the reader or myself? Maybe myself. Maybe no one will read this and I’ll be the only one to ever read it. And that’s the state of my book. Only Ray, who’s now taken the thing to his grave, and my mystery editor are the two other people who’ve read it. John and Alfred only read parts. Maybe it needs a rewrite. But Ray is dead. So is one of the Franks. Alfred and John have both passed away, and I’m alone with this story that captured a moment in my life where I was surrounded by the people representing an era that I would never fully know. There’s almost no one left of that era. They’re all gone, except the last Frank. That’s what I’ll call him, The Last Frank.

During John’s last days, I spent a lot of time on his work, editing scripts he’d started in the 70’s or finishing plays he’d started in his 80’s. Maybe I’ll write about that experience in the future.

So I think of Ray, and John. Someday that will be me, dying of a stroke, head falling into my soup, or going crazy standing on the bed trying to get my keys off the ceiling. And, there will be someone, hearing my story, of a time they can’t connect with, learning about a book I’ve never published about a time I didn’t know.

Maybe.

Maybe I pull those pages out of the closet, read the notes, open that file and do a rewrite. Maybe it’s time for Henry Clay to introduce himself to the world.

Hello world. My name is Henry. Henry Clay.

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iamadamquinn

Founder of The Weekly Weekly, ITP grad, Ex Genslerite, Cooper Hewitter, Designer, Technologist, Dabbler. Bee lover.