My upcoming book of short short stories, Shake Away These Constant Days, originated as a project called Our Band Could Be Your Lit, in which I wrote a story under 1000 words every week. To generate this much content, I based the stories on songs suggested my musicians and writers from around the world. The original idea was 100 songs, 100 stories: find the creative common ground between two mediums and cultivating the virtue found therein.
Until September 25th, I'll be doing a blog post a day about the stories in the book. After that, it's all up to you.
(Check out "Look At How Fast I Can Go Nowhere At All" in JDP's gracious preview of Shake Away These Constant Days.)
Originally OBCBYL #27. I've really got no business writing about war or recovering from war or any sort of war-related incident aside from, possibly, a critical look at the Black Flag album My War. I was considering enlisting in the Marines my senior year of high school—to be in the band—but I quickly realized that I was not very good at saxophone and was quite the wuss.
The thing about fiction, and the thing about that old "write what you know" saying, is that you can just make shit up if you're self-aware enough about exactly how clever and shallow you are. Anything worth writing about shares the same dozen or so approximations of natural feelings: confusion, joy, triumph, isolation, etc. The experience of going to war doesn't compare to the experience of just kind of being bummed out that you're home by yourself on a summer night in suburbia, obviously. Just put on The Cure or something and invent something good.
That said, this was one of those stories whose first draft ended up being some sort of shitty, told-by-a-bystander alternate universe prologues that I had to delete. Nothing was helped by the fact that I hated the song, a vapid piece of dance pop whose lyrics are the equivalent of a shirt with #YOLO on it.
Sometimes when I read other people's stories I tell them to delete everything except the last sentence and then write forward from there. Nobody wants to hear shit like that—especially when it's internal dialogue. The original draft ended with one character being compared to the hands of a clock and the other character being the pin that holds them. I shitcanned the rest of the story—a guy watching his grandfather interact with a woman who he only sees every ten years—and had pretty much just that one sentence left for a few days. I tried to convince myself I was a big enough dickhead to call that one sentence a story and leave it as is, but no dice.
I spent a lot of time walking around at my job trying to think about what the hell I was going to do. The guy's grandfather was supposed to enlist in the Navy with the woman, but he didn't make it and she did. By chance, one of my friends at work, Keith—a Navy vet—ended up randomly telling me about the USS Indianapolis, whose sinking at the hands of the Imperial Japanese Navy led to the greatest single loss of life at sea in the history of the U.S. Navy.
Call it good, simple fortune. I went home, looked up some more details on the USS Indianapolis, and quickly wrote a draft that closely resembles the one in the book. A couple of the cities mentioned are off-hand references to other things: Ybor City is repeatedly name-checked in a few Hold Steady songs and Philipsburg is a nod to the poet Richard Hugo, whose poem "Degrees of Gray In Philipsburg" fucking rules.
This story got picked up by amphibi.us, too, when I was madly in need of validation and searching for journals that took previously published material. What good is writing if people won't figuratively blow me over it?
Tomorrow: A story named "The King" that is based on the song "Do Anything You Want To" by Thin Lizzy.
SATCD on Goodreads
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