I was 19 years old the summer that I wrote my third novel. That may sound like the introduction to a memoir, or perhaps a novel or short story about a writer, but it is actually, in this case, a fact. How I came to write it and why I am now mentioning it is the subject of the rest of the piece. The reason this piece exists is that over the next several (days? weeks? months?) I will be putting it up on the blog in its entirety and I want to provide an introduction as to why, especially since it takes me so damn long to finish all the film writing.
Well, that’s one of the reasons I am doing this. Because this is a different kind of writing, one that will hopefully allow me to also get some film writing done. It is also because fiction writing used to be almost entirely what I did, but two major factors meant that I, for the most part, stopped writing fiction a decade ago (Thomas getting old enough that I couldn’t do it as much at home combined with the bumpiness of the Red Line preventing me from writing while on the T) and I am trying to revive it. Part of it is also because of where I have reached in my Nighthawk Awards. I have pulled out my old datebooks for the pieces about what films I saw in the theater and that has prompted a lot of memories of college of which this novel is a major part.
Now, sleep now the angels is not the novel that I wrote when I was 19. Over the years, things changed, and I will get to that in a minute. But it is the version of the novel that I will be putting up in pieces.
I wrote my first novel when I was 14 and I blame Carol Mooney, my high school English teacher. One assignment in our Freshman Honors English class was to write a short story at least 7 pages long. I got inspired. I wrote 28 pages (unlike everyone else, I didn’t get to read my story in front of the class). Those 28 pages eventually became over 200. They were written and rewritten over the next decade, but it was my first novel and it was basically done by the end of Freshman year. My Junior year of high school I wrote a novel about two teens on the run from corrupt cops. In both of these cases, I was writing fictional stories about real people – me and my friends. If we were good friends, you ended up in my novel (if only this shirt had existed back then).
Flash forward to May of 1994. I was living in San Jose with my brother and his wife and missing my college friends. Though I had just finished my Sophomore year, I had been on a floor full of Freshmen and had developed a solid group of friends who lived in my dorm. Inspired by something that had happened just before the end of classes, I wrote a short story in which the first two lines happened, but everything that followed was fictional. Except, this time I didn’t use real names – since this was fiction, I created actual fictional characters. So, if you went to Pacific University in 1993-94 and you think a character in this novel is based on you, you are incorrect; they are all fictional. I wrote that original story on 31 May and 1 June. By the end of the summer, I had written several stories. Or, as it turned out, a novel.
During the school year that had just ended, I had read two books which altered my view on fiction. The first was Winesburg, Ohio and the second was The Things They Carried. Both of them made me realize something that could be done – a series of short stories that could be read individually, but also formed together as a coherent whole; a novel.
The first story, which I am deliberately not naming because of the event which prompted it, was simply a story about college students living in a dorm. Then I had an idea for a second story called “The King of Santiago”. I began with just a title, but, working backwards from there, I realized this could be set in the same dorm as the previous story. The title of the story also gave me the idea for the college: Santiago Oaks University. Now, if you’re from the central Orange County area, that name might sound familiar; that’s because it’s the name of a fantastic regional park in Orange, which is where I got the name. The name also inspired a decision about the stories. Though I was modeling the physical look of the university and the town on Pacific and on Forest Grove, I decided that the town and college in my stories would be in California instead of Oregon. That also meant deciding where to place it, so I invented Santiago Oaks, California, a small town of 23,000 about 35 minutes east of Sacramento, nestled up in the mountains on the way to Tahoe. That gave it the same proximity to Sacramento that Forest Grove has to Portland and allowed me to write a town I was familiar with, but also allowing me to adapt as I wanted.
Those two stories gave me the idea. I have a stained piece of paper from a yellow legal pad, the same pad where I started hand-writing “The King of Santiago”. It lists all the stories, what order they will take place, who narrates it, the character the story is really about, a relationship chart, a sex chart and a roommate chart. The novel would chart the course of a group of friends through all four years of college, from 1993 to 1997. I mention that because those are the years of my friends and not me. Down at the bottom of the sheet, I list what would eventually be the prologue (covering Orientation) and the Epilogue (Graduation). I had an idea and over that summer, the idea came to life. So, that was Stories from the Halls, my third novel, and once it was complete, that was how it sat for some seven or eight years.
In the meantime, Santiago Oaks did not sit idle as a fictional town. My original high school novel continued to evolve, dropping the real names, changing much of the story, and eventually I decided that I would move it from Villa Park, the of course real high school where it had originally been set, to Santiago Oaks and, while keeping some basic aspects of it, I would rewrite a novel about friends in a rich suburban high school to a high school in a smalltown (while also changing the primary character, originally me, to someone raised Catholic and struggling with that while all the changes go on through high school). I mention this because the high school novel covers my years (1988-92) and, when, eventually, I would start to revisit Stories from the Halls, that would become relevant.
Long story short (too late, I know), they intersect, not just through a town, but through one character who never actually appears in sleep now the angels but whose presence carries through much of it. I will make more of a note of that when I get to that character in one of the stories.
So, back to the main idea here. Sometime in 2001, I started writing a story about a character in an airport and I began to realize that I knew this character. In the original Stories from the Halls, he was the character I ended with, and I had ended it with him being married. But this character in the airport had lived a life far beyond what I had originally written for him. At the same time, I conceived another story, the final story, and I realized that the title character was his daughter. Something had happened and these characters had gone places I had never originally envisioned. So, years after setting it aside as complete, I began to revisit Stories from the Halls. I decided there was more to tell about these characters and that the original novel was only part of the story. So, I came up with a new concept, one which took Stories and placed it in the middle. I wrote a new guide page to plan out the book as a whole and that became sleep now the angels. Some of the original stories were excised, including the prologue and epilogue. I decided to write a story of the romance of two characters who had not even been in a relationship in the last story but were married in the original epilogue. One of the stories was moved from the middle and put in the first part. The story would be taken up in 2005, with the characters eight years out of college. The actual novel would cover the events from August 2005 to April 2006, but there would also be some fill-in stories, taking place between 2002 and 2005.
So, starting now, is the novel, as currently conceived. Each story will be put up in the order they go in the book. First up will be a Table of Contents. That’s because that table, which has quotes that are relevant to each part, would feel awkward tacked on to the first story of each part. Also, this allows me one central spot to link to. You can read the stories as they post, but I will also, once a story has posted, link to it on the Table of Contents page. I will also include some notes about the various stories as they post because there are some things I want to say about how they developed and this introduction is way too long already. The notes will be in a separate piece that will go up before the first story and will be updated with each story. The novel, by the way, is in large part about people in college. There’s explicit sex and language, so you have been forewarned.
Three last little things. The first I blame on Stephen King. A lot of my stories have rock and roll quotes. That’s part of why I never really pursued this getting published – because getting all the approvals would be such a pain. I will list in the notes any words that don’t belong to me. I haven’t gotten permission to use any of them, but hey, I’m also not making any money from any of this, so I’ll be nice and acknowledge them and they’ll be nice and not sue me. A lot of it is Springsteen, but you’ll see why.
The second has to do with the formatting. WordPress has its advantage (it’s free) but its formatting was clearly designed by aliens. I can’t get it to indent properly and their paragraphs are usually separated by a space. These will all be formatted with no indentations and with a horizontal line in place of a big break.
The third thing has to do with one character. I am a bit defensive here. Just like it’s not funny if you have to explain a joke, I believe if you have to explain something about your writing, your writing isn’t strong enough on its own to hold up without the explanation. But, most people can also read a whole novel at once and not have it parceled out in pieces. One of my characters is a young girl, ages 6 to 10. She does not talk like a 6 to 10 year old. Other characters notice this. There is a reason for it, as will eventually be made clear. So please don’t point it out, just wait until the characters themselves deal with it.