Beginnings inevitably lead to endings, or at least towards them. It is said that we start things in order to complete them, but how many stories are every truly completed?
I've spent a good amount of time in recent months thinking about myself as a writer and how my beginnings as a writer needed to lead to some kind of conclusion. I've been writing since I began reading. As a child I would read a book and then write my own, although those books were usually four or five pages long and handwritten in crayon. My mother still has some of those. She likes to imagine they will be worth something one day. It was a pattern in my formative days. I would read something and then write something, often because I was unsatisfied with elements of what I read and sometimes I would just write my own version of a story with an ending modified to my own tastes. As a child I had an obsession with two particular stories, The Velveteen Rabbit and Are You My Mother? Many of the stories, or "books," that I wrote when I was a child were clearly derivative works of those two stories.
Over the years I have had a habit, purposely hatched and cultivated, of giving manuscripts of drafts of novels to a variety of people. At times I gave them to people looking for critical appraisal, but the main reason for doing this was to, in effect, scatter my ashes over a broad range of territory. Over time, many of the people who were holding onto these manuscripts disappeared from my life. At times they have resurfaced. And in almost all the cases of resurfacing, they informed me that they were still holding onto the manuscripts I gave them and wanted to know if I would like to have them back.
The reason why I give these manuscripts to people I am close to along the paths of my life is not for safe keeping with the expectation of getting them back one day. It is for my own brand of relevancy. The time at which I wrote these things is connected to the time when I was close to this particular person. This is important because it tells me what my state of mind and outlook on life was at that given point in time.
When people remind me that they have my old manuscript, I ask them to tell me what the title of the manuscript is and what it seems to be about in their summation. This tells me everything I need to know. Old manuscripts are infinitely disposable, like toilet paper, but unlike toilet people they reveal relevancy to me. Debra, a woman I lived with for a year, who was only supposed to need a place to stay for a couple of months while she found an apartment, and who then decided she never wanted to leave, holds a manuscript entitled Clouds Over Budapest. It is a strangely titled tale of a woman "trapped" in an asylum where no one seems to work except a janitor and a psychiatrist who may or may not be a figment of her imagination. There is no real reason, in the reader's mind, as to why she stays in this asylum, but as the story progresses we see there are reasons of her own making. It has relevancy to that period of time in my life. Others follow suit, but that is the clearest example in my mind of the course of action I follow as I litter manuscripts in my wake.
I really never knew what to expect from these undiscarded manuscripts. They were rarely disposed of, sometimes lost, but most often held onto even if they were shuffled off to a box in a back closet or into a self-storage facility with other items one plans to go back for someday. At the very least there was a recollection of the story and what it was about to she who held the manuscript.
And I never asked for them back, even when told years after the fact that they still existed and "Do you want it back?"
"No, but I'd like you to tell me what it is about."
I wanted her perspective and her intuition. What did it mean to her? And in the cases where the manuscript was directly related to, and often inspired by, the woman who held it, this made perspective all the more interesting to me.
It would all eventually lead to something, even though he was never sure what that something was.
In 2002 I began writing a story. This story was originally intended for the reading audience on this website and for no other intent or purpose. I was done with the business of writing novels. The business part of it was just too insane and two decades of dealing with publishers, editors and agents had driven me away from the mere concept of the publishing industry. I was not going to write another novel. I would write for people in whatever venue I could find, which is what really brought me to Everything2, because having my work read was infinitely more important to me than trying to market it to people who weren't really reading it and who, over the course of twenty years hadn't broadened my readership to any measurable degree. It was tiresome and led me to writing things I didn't want to write just because I was told they were marketable.
That serialized story, known here as "The White Darkness series," began to develop a life of its own after it got me more positive and enthusiastic feedback from people reading on this site than any other fiction I've posted here. It changed considerably from the story here as it became the first two chapters of Beauty Atrophies, which was a title I had been sitting on since 1996, when my then girlfriend, who was a graphic designer, created a cover for a novel written by me with that title. It came from a phrase I repeated over and over one night when I was tripping on LSD, "Beauty atrophies when it isn't appreciated."
I completed the first draft and a complete rewrite during the summer of 2004, when I had a lot of time on my hands. It grew into a monster, drawing strongly from a novel I had written in the 1980s that I considered to be my most publishable work. Since it was one of the few manuscripts I kept around, I went back to read it and found it to be awful but with interesting themes, characters and concepts. Reading back over other manuscripts and bits of manuscripts, I found much of the same feeling in other old writings of my doing.
Beauty Atrophies stopped being a novelization of "White Darkness" and essentially became a rewrite of every novel I'd ever written.
It fed off of every novel I'd previously written, taking themes, characters, ideas, plots and settings from them all. It provided a great deal of healing as I did it, as those old manuscripts stopped being doorstops and takers of space on my many moves and became useful again. They would not die in vain.
This sounds hokey without understanding the nature of Beauty Atrophies and how it serves as an exploitation of one character's perspective on the story of the world around him. That character may or may not have a skewed perspective because of mental and emotional issues that plague him throughout the story. He is surrounded by other characters whose perspectives on reality are well away from the center. One is working night and day to try to reprogram reality through his computer. Another is trying to immortalize himself by making the dormitory suite he lives in at college famous for any reason he can find or create. The other characters are generally more subtle, but they are all defining reality on their own terms while Miles Cole, the main character, wrestles with his own definitions and perspective.
Every character is his or her own story and they are all woven together, just as Beauty Atrophies weaves together the elements I desired to keep from all those pushed aside manuscripts. Every character is discarding the elements of themselves and their lives that are no longer wanted or seen as desirable, just as I am discarding the elements of those manuscripts that are no longer wanted or desirable to me.
"This is a photograph of a person having a good time.
This is the kind of time you will never have."
The monster that Beauty Atrophies became left me with an empty feeling when it came to an end. The story itself reached a conclusion but the characters, their individual stories and their existence within me were not satisfied. It became clear to me after a good deal of drinking that the story was not complete with Beauty Atrophies. There was a story arc that was beginning here that was not nearly complete. Much of what was resolved, in what three readers of the draft called "the complete and total mind fuck of the last two chapters" left me unsatisfied. That which seemed to have no logical or reasonable explanation, such as drug dealers falsely confessing to necrophilia and a girl buying heroin to inject into her teddy bear, make sense in the end. Well, they make sense in my twisted worldview, but that is besides the point. These things could be wrapped up in that sense and left at that and it would still be a novel I am proud of, but there was more.
The plot that drives the novel is resolved, but the characters are completely unresolved at the end.
That novel from the 1980s that I spent a great deal of time pitching to agents and editos, that I did seventeen rewrites of and which looks like total crap to me today, involves many of the characters who appear in Beauty Atrophies. That novel, originally entitled The Matrix, involves events happening between 1983 and 1987. Beauty Atrophies involves events involving the same characters and settings between 1978 and 1982. It wasn't intended to be a prequel. It was intended to use the same characters, themes and settings without rewriting the original story but instead going back in time with them to create a deeper and more meaningful story involving them. The Matrix, which was retitled Blurred Reality in 1989 after my then agent told me the title was unmarketable, was something I did not want to do an eighteenth rewrite of. I wanted to use the same characters, themes and settings but I didn't want to tell the same story so I went backwards in time to tell a different story.
"Everything you tell me about this story is that it has to be a trilogy."
Readers provide me with more insight in one statement than any editor or agent ever gave me. Beauty Atrophies was the beginning of a trilogy, but the second and third books could not be sequels that followed the same line of thinking. They had to take the story somewhere else. The second book had to be about the events I already knew about from the unending rewrites of Blurred Reality, but it could not be the same story told in the same way. I could not go through that again, especially some twenty years later. I found myself agreeing with the harsh assessment of one editor who told me it was sophomoric. Its attempts at humor were definitely at the level of college gross-out films, which made sense as the original version was written specifically for a readership made up of my college classmates when I was a freshman in 1983.
The second book, Beauty Entropies, developed slowly. The first and second book are told completely from the limited perspective of the main character.
They don't have the same main character. They have different names.
Beauty Atrophies is the story of Miles Cole, his life in the town of Tungsten and his adventures in his first two years of college at Southeastern State University. Beauty Entropies is the story of George Iaconi, who comes to Southeastern State from Tungsten and hears the stories of Miles Cole and what supposedly transpired in the years he was there. Kettles Johnson, the character from the first novel who sought to make suite 324 famous, is still working to those ends, but now he is a resident manager instead of a suitemate. He, and the others, are feeding George Iaconi, known to friends as "Icon," the story of Miles Cole because Icon is a writer and Kettles Johnson wants him to write the story and publish it because he figures such a novel will make suite 324 famous.
Beauty Entropies at the most basic level renders Beauty Atrophies to be a complete and total farce. At face value it says that Beauty Atrophies is a work of fiction created by the main character of Beauty Entropies based on tall tales and heresay.
Many of the tales from the original story are related with many of the same details by characters with no known relationship to each other except a common association with Miles Cole, who may or may not appear to Icon over the course of the story to fill him in on missing details. Does Icon imagine him as the protagonist of his novel in progress or is Miles really coming to see him in order to set the record straight? Setting the record straight was an obsession of Miles Cole in the original story. He is completely in character, but does that make him real or is this just Icon developing the character?
Icon develops many of the same relationships with other characters that Miles had and lives many similar, if not identical, adventures as Miles Cole. How much of his own story is he writing into the story of Miles Cole? Or are people purposely leading him to experience the adventures of Miles Cole in order to give him the insight and inspiration to write the story?
The manuscripts that were given over time to women I were close to have been resurfacing at a rather rapid rate over the past year. Stories I'd forgotten writing combined with the perspective of those who knew me and read these stories granted me a new window of vision.
Everyone sees a story in a different way and takes something unique away from that story. The manuscript resurfacing taught me this in magical ways. The elements of those varied perspectives fueled the writing of this trilogy, which is about the nature of perspective and reality. If Beauty Atrophies is about the dangers of relying on a single person's perspective of reality, then Beauty Entropies is about the dangers of one person trying to define that reality.
The nature of the final book of the trilogy was defined by the varied perspectives of dozens of readers of dozens of pieces of crap I'd written over the years. Some had copies of the same manuscript, or perhaps a different draft of the same story, and saw the story in very different ways. Others had copies of different manuscripts and saw that story in a very similar way to how someone else saw a different story.
And this taught me the meaning of the final book in the trilogy, which became simply titled, Beauty. It was to be the defining end of the story and the defining conclusion to the stories of all the characters involved, many of which had been involved in other stories and other novels of my creation over decades of writing.
They would be given peace.
Or the closest possible thing under the circumstances.
Beauty Atrophies happens between 1978 and 1982. Beauty Entropies happens between 1983 and 1987. Beauty jumps ahead to the modern day, exact time never really given, but at least twenty years have certainly passed. Miles Cole and George "Icon" Iaconi are together, providing a split perspective as dual protagonists, and in some cases dueling protagonists.
All those years between them and the events that have transpired, events consigned mostly to memory, and Icon and Miles are now looking for the truth behind the perspective. They are attempting to find it by exploring the memories of the characters they each encountered along the way. Can the truth of two fictionalized stories be boiled down to truth by talking to everyone involved about "what really happened?"
Or is that even what they will end up accomplishing as they learn what is important and relevant from the perspectives from all their supporting characters from the previous two novels?
There is truth and that might be the spoiler. The truth is that the entire trilogy is based on my life story. Most works of fiction have some basis in the experiences of the author, and the Beauty Trilogy draws not only from my life story but from over twenty years of my attempts at writing novels. I am Miles Cole, a fish out of water who falls into a life that seems completely absurd. I am George Iaconi, a writer who was asked to write the story of a bunch of people in a college suite together and to make the story "more interesting." And these days I explore the perspectives of numerous people in order to find my own sense of truth, both about my life and the stories I've written and told. The truth is everything I have forgotten.
Or, as one character points out in Beauty Entropies, "We are creatures of memory, not of truth. Memory is incompatible with truth."
"All those moments will be lost in time like tears in the rain..."