I’m good at writing. I write well, so people tell me.
What I have a problem with is continuing writing. I’ll write a fragment or a start of a story, and it’ll be really cool, but I just can’t get anything else to happen.
It’s possible that the problem is my standards. I won’t even set words down to paper/screen until I think they’re perfect. Kurt Vonnegut called this the “basher” approach, and contrasted it to the “swooper,” who writes all willy-nilly until done, then goes back and fixes it. But, unlike fellow basher Vonnegut, I never make it to the end. I start off strong, but I guess I lose the thread somewhere ’cause I can’t get beyond that point.
Losing the thread seems to be pretty common. Stephen King apparently has a serious problem with it. His books always start off really fuckin’ cool but take a turn for the lesser somewhere. The Gunslinger is one of the best things I’ve ever read. The rest of the Dark Tower series is like gum that’s lost its flavor. It’s still kinda pleasant to chew, but it’s lacking. (I did like The Stand all the way through, though.)
I’m not willing to pull a King. I can’t bring myself to finish the story with any less than I think it deserves. Therefore I’ve got lots of fragments but not much that’s finished. But these fragments are good reads. I love them. So, I’m gonna start posting them.
Here’s the first fragment, intended for a novel with the working title Beautiful Abominations.
Weston is waiting for the kid to finish banging around on the red Fender Telecaster. The kid looks to be around sixteen, with spiked hair and a few piercings. He plays little smatterings of classic rock – a little Stones, some Zeppelin, a lot of Cream. Weston sighs; the kid has no touch, no finesse, no sensitivity, just youth, vigor, and sheer exuberance. Weston can feel the strings pulling out of tune, but he resists the urge to take the guitar and show the kid how to use it. The customers don’t want to buy guitars from people who make them feel stupid.
Finally the kid puts the Tele back on the rack, and moves on to a fancy new Gibson. Good. Weston never liked Gibsons, anyway. They sound too nice, especially the new ones. As far as Weston is concerned, the electric guitar was perfected in the 1950s, and the Tele is one emanation of that perfection, with its bravely trashy and cutting timbre.
Nonchalantly, Weston picks up the Tele and begins to re-tune it. An act of repair. He sits on a stool with his back to the shop’s front door. The bell rings and a customer enters. Weston feels a strong aura wash into the room, distorting the flow of things somewhat. He doesn’t turn to see who it is. Big deal. Just another punk with gallons of personality and zero vision or discipline or respect, putting that enormous natural potential to waste. All too common in the music scene. A few years ago, he would have tried to pass something on, some grain of the art, maybe even be tempted to teach. But they don’t listen, not with auras that big. Accustomed to the things they gain without effort, they are comfortable. The comfortable won’t evolve.
Someone begins playing the piano, a low susurrus of warmup notes, stretching the music muscle. Gradually it coalesces into a passage that Weston hears from the corner of his ear, his focus diverted by the Telecaster. The music triggers a little niggling in the back of his mind; it’s familiar.
“Hey, man,” someone says.
Weston looks up. It’s the kid.
“I wanna buy this axe, man.”
“Sure thing.” He puts the Tele back on the rack and leads the kid to the cash register to make the sale. Thoughts burn through his head that he wishes for all the world he could voice, but he doesn’t. You’re paying four digits for a guitar that has a soul made of space-age synthetic polymers. It has no bravery. It does not contain a single ounce of rock ‘n roll, neither piss nor vinegar. It is not a power object, and it will not increase your mana. It will not be your conduit, your staff, your axe, your samurai sword, nor your lightning rod, only your crutch.
“Here’s your receipt, man,” Weston says, not cognizant of the fact that he just put a curse on the guitar, “Rock on.”
That ordeal dealt with, the piano edges into focus. He recognizes the tune, and he ought to; he wrote it. Nobody plays Guild songs except him. Nobody knows them except him and the old members of the Guild, and most of them are dead or in Europe. Who the hell is playing a Guild song?
Looking to the piano, his throat catches as he recognizes her too. And he ought to; she has her mother’s eyes. Black hair, long but worn close to her head in some kind of crazy, curling, hair-sprayed sculpture. David Bowie makeup around the eyes. She looks to be about nineteen. Jesus, has it been that long?
“You missed that chord,” he calls out, the shock overriding his ability to hold back his correctional instincts.
The music stops abrubtly, the last note left hanging out on a slender branch, never to be resolved.
Oh, hell, now you’ve done it.
“There’s a suspended second in there. You didn’t play it.”
He steels himself and approaches the piano.
“That’s the bridge to ‘The Rose and the River,’ right? That’s supposed to be an inverted B-flat suspended second, and you played an inverted B-flat fifth.”
She blinks angrily, giving him a what-the-hell-do-you-know look.
“Try it,” he coaxes, smiling slightly.
She takes it from the top of the bridge, and plays the suggested chord when she comes to it.
“Oh my God,” she gasps, “I’ve been trying to figure that out for, like, months now. How the hell did you know that?”
“I, er… Well, I wrote it.”
She crinkles her brow.
“The hell you did.”
He pulls out his driver’s license.
“See? Robin Weston Bancroft. Check your liner notes.”
“I don’t have the liner notes, my drummer burned it for me. Besides, that doesn’t mean you’re the same Robin Weston Bancroft.”
“Oh, right, like there’s two people in the world named Robin Weston Bancroft. Look, here, I’ll prove it. Name any Lightning Guild song.”
She narrows her eyes, then gets up from the bench, accepting the challenge.
He sits down and takes it from the top. Four bars into the second figure, she interrupts.
“That’s a guitar piece, hang on a sec.”
He returns with an acoustic guitar, checks the tuning, and proceeds. It has a glimmering pulse to it that it doesn’t have on the record – it’s note-for-note, no discernible changes, but it sounds so much more present, like a living, breathing thing. She doesn’t even have time to interrupt before the dense, forty-five second composition is finished.
“Jeez, that was better than the record.”
Crow’s feet crinkle on the edges of Weston’s smiling eyes.
“I’ve had some practice since then.”
“Do ‘The Blue Dust Willow Breakdown.’”
“These are all from The Rose and the River; don’t make it so easy.”
She shakes her head.
“R&R is the only one that’s still in print. I don’t know any of the others.”
“Really? The only one? Those sons of bitches. Well, I’ll burn the others for you.”
“So, hang on a second, if you’re the Robin Weston Bancroft, what are you doing working in this piece-a-shit music store?”
“Chopping wood and carrying water.”
“Yeah? Why? What happened to the Guild?”
“I disbanded it. The mission was a failure. Everyone heard, nobody listened. We all went home.”
“You mean you gave up.”
“No, I mean I cut my losses. You might not believe me, and I wouldn’t have at your age, but there are times when endeavors simply fail, and you have to move on. You can’t just keep pumping your energy into a dying thing, trying to keep it alive. It isn’t worth it.”
“You’re right, I don’t believe you. That just sounds like a lack of resolve. Me and the Luminiers, we won’t go down without a fight. Even if that means sinking with the ship.”
He gives a short laugh and shakes his head a little. Despite that, he’s proud. Doesn’t have a right to be proud, not really. But he is anyway.
The girl suddenly jumps up once, excitedly.
“Jeez, wait ‘til I tell Josie that I met the leader of the Lightning Guild. And Mom! She’ll never believe me.”
Don’t ask, Weston. Don’t.
“Would, uh… Your mom’s not Valerie Maddow, is she?”
The girl is taken aback.
“Yeah, she is. How did you know that?”
“Family resemblance. Val was… an old friend of mine. You’re, uh, Jeanette, then? Or is Jeanette your sister?” He hastily adds the last sentence.
She shakes her head.
“I’m Jeanette. Don’t have any sisters.”
Salt stings the corners of his eyes. Keep it together, Weston.
“Last time I saw you, you were three years old.” You used to try to play my guitar, while I was playing it.
“No way! I wonder why Mom never mentions you.”
“We had a… falling out, y’know?”
He turns away to hide his eyes.
“Henry didn’t like me, and I didn’t like him.”
She snorts derisively.
“Nobody likes Henry, man. Mom kicked him out a year ago.”
“Do what now?”
In less than the time it takes to blink back a tear, a hope is born and carefully killed. Weston’s not stupid enough to entertain hopes like that. Not anymore.
“Five years too late, if you ask me. He was a good for nothing, drunk ass son of a bitch, too dumb to know what he had. I’m amazed that Mom held back on him for so long, y’know? Honestly.”
“Huh. Well, that’s, uh… Hey, did you want this piano?”
“Kinda, yeah, but I can’t afford it.”
“Tell you what. I’ll buy it for you.”
“Do what now?”
“Call it a belated birthday present.” For nineteen goddam years. He realizes with a pang that he doesn’t even know when her birthday is.