Well, it may be a mistake, but I’ve decided to post the opening of my WIP. It doesn’t currently have a title — it probably never will have one, since it would only need one if I ever tried to publish the finished product — and it’s probably going to suck just as hard as everything else I’ve written, but I feel like there are quite a few good bits so far, and I’m going to post those later on.
The opening…well, it’s not bad. Not by my standards. It’s a bit awkward, though, and a bit…almost argumentative. (Given my narrator’s character, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.)
I’m a little unsure about the way I handle the lists right at the start. Feels a bit cheesy, but “1. Once” would feel pretty cheesy, too…
1ce upon a time, there was a beautiful girl.
2 She was being abused and/or was very unhappy.
3 A handsome prince rescued her.
4 They fell madly in love.
5 The end.
There’s a whole slew of fairy tales that follow that outline, though sometimes steps three and four are reversed. The motif infected other genres, always following the two cardinal rules: the lovers must be young and beautiful, and they must decide they’re in love almost immediately upon first meeting. (And don’t think high literature is exempt from this dreck. How long did it take Romeo and Juliet to decide they were in love?) Hollywood inherited the outline and embraced it with considerable verve, though they did eventually add a slightly improved variant:
1ce there was a good-looking boy.
2 He set his heart on a beautiful girl way out of his league.
3 He almost won her love…
4 …but then he lost it again.
5 Then he decided he loved the girl next door better anyway.
6 The end.
Yeah, it’s better since “the girl next door” is often his “best friend” at the beginning of the picture, but it’s always hampered by the fact that she’s either so hot that it’s utterly unrealistic that he’d bother looking any further than her in the first place, or the filmmakers work to make you feel like he’s “settling” for her and could really do better. (Sometimes they break their backs to do both. And that absolutely should not be possible.) And, bottom line, it still gives you the message that love is based on physical attraction, and that you can decide you are or aren’t in love overnight.
Now, I won’t lie. Physical attraction is very important to love. Maybe it’s even at the center of it. But not everyone sees the same things as attractive. Sure, we follow what society tells us to a certain degree, but we don’t follow that far.
You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you all this. Well, it’s because I want to do my part to fight those outlines. I want to tell you a story where that isn’t the case. Love based on a moment’s glance at a pretty face is doomed to failure, but love based on a lifetime of friendship…well, that’s another matter altogether, isn’t it?
So if you want a story about a girl who sighs “I knew the moment I saw his face that we were destined to be together forever!” and is never proven wrong, I suggest that you put this book down and go look for another one. There’s lots of ‘em out there.
What kind of book is this? Well, it’s the kind filled with words. Currently in English. (I could translate it into ancient Greek or Latin, if you’d like?) And in those words is a story. Is it a true story? Well…basically, but in the Dragnet sense of “the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” And it was more than twenty years ago, so I’m fudging some of the dialog, I’ll admit it. Maybe a few people got combined into one, or split into mulitples. Or whatever. But at the core, it’s a love story. And an anti-love story.
And it’s a story about collegiate finances, if you’re into that. (Is anyone actually into that?)
If you’re looking for a genre to classify the book under — if you want to know what section of the book store or library it belongs in — well, you could put it under biography, or fiction if you don’t believe me that this happened.
I’m hoping at least part of it will classify as “Humor.” Or you could take the easy route and put it in the LGBT section…though it’s really mostly only G, with a little bit of L waving “hi” from down the hall.
As to the when and the where this takes place, it’s something that happened in the spring semester of 1982, at Midheights College. (Yeah, look it up all you want; it’s a pseudonym. I don’t think they’d want me telling this story, particularly not like this.) For those of you too young to remember 1982, let me tell you that it wasn’t the ‘80s you’re thinking of. The giant hair, over-made up teenagers, Madonna wearing her underwear on the outside, that all came later in the ‘80s. Decades don’t change at midnight like Cinderella. For the first few years, they’re struggling to figure out who they are, trying out new fads while they’re still free, before the Powers that Be in Hollywood and Madison Avenue decide their fated character. That’s always my favorite part of a decade.
So 1982 was both still clinging to the ‘70s, but also trying to figure out just what the ‘80s were going to be, and nowhere was that more apparent than on the campus of a small college.
No, I wasn’t a student: I was a teacher. The second youngest teacher on campus — I turned 33 that year — and according to certain female students, I was the hottest teacher on campus, too. Not that I had much competition before the fall semester of 1981: in my two previous years there, I had been one of the only two teachers under 45, and all the others were pretty ugly. Unsuccessful politician ugly. It was that bad.
Fortunately, I always had my best friend, Paddy Morris, to go home to, and he’s the most handsome man in the world, if you want my opinion. (Even if you don’t want it, I’m giving it to you anyway.) Though his mom’s an Irish immigrant with flame red hair (a lot like mine, actually), Paddy has dark hair, and his skin turns a beautiful bronzed color at the first hint of a sunny day. He has beautiful green eyes, a bit larger than you’d expect them to be, a strong jaw, and a cute little nose. He’s my height — almost six feet — and about my build, somewhat slender, but muscular: to use an anachronistic term, we both still had a nice six pack at that point. We were both on the swim team and the track team in high school, and kept up with both sports as well as we could after leaving high school. I used to swim laps in the school pool at Midheights with the swim team, and not one of them could keep up with me. (Always a satisfying feeling.)
Of course, I couldn’t technically go home to Paddy: we didn’t live together. But he had a 9-to-5 desk job that didn’t follow him home at night, so he had a lot more free time than I did, and I could — and did — go to his place almost every day after school let out, even if I could only stay for dinner and then go home to work to prepare the lessons for the next day, or grade homework. Paddy would have been disappointed if I didn’t go over to his place for dinner, in fact. His favorite outlet to make up for the boredom of his day was to cook, and there aren’t many recipes out there designed for just one person. And if I didn’t go to his apartment to eat the rest, who knows what he might have done with it. He might have even gotten a girlfriend and given it to her!
That was absolutely the last thing I wanted: no matter how much my mother tried to teach me, I never did learn how to share. Not the things that really mattered to me.
I had no issues with sharing the spotlight of student attention at Midheights, however, so I was thrilled when the new Head of the Science Department who started in the fall of ‘81 turned out to be quite the looker. Dr. Gordon Isching, specializing in some obscure branch of physics that I frankly never bothered to care about, was about forty at the time he started at Midheights, I guess, but he didn’t really look it, as his chiseled features were the type to age well. He had all the usual qualifications: degree from an Ivy League school, formerly taught at a near-Ivy League school, won a few awards, and had published a slew of articles in professional journals where you can’t even understand the abstacts unless you’ve got at least a Master’s in the subject. (I can’t get on his case for that, though; I’ve written articles with abstracts that are indecipherable unless you’re fluent in ancient Greek.) Beyond his qualifications, ol’ Gordon was exactly what a school wants in a professor, and what a student doesn’t want: rigid and inflexible about everything in his work environment. Rumor had it that at his last gig, he had refused to give an excused absence to a student who had just lost both her parents in a catastrophic plane crash. I think, like most rumors, it was 99% exaggeration: even Gordon was never that heartless. But he did refuse to give students excused absences for religious reasons. (That actually got him sued and fired from his subsequent teaching job, in the late 1990s.)
Gordon was only the second Head of the Science Department at Midheights. Not because the previous head had been there forever, but because the entire maths and sciences side of the college was terribly new. Up until about 1975, Midheights had been Liberal Arts only: literature, languages, history, all that good stuff. Then they finally caved in to the (very reasonable) criticisms of pretty much everyone, and added a department for mathematics and science. Not that they had no math or science until then, but it was barely above the high school level, and students couldn’t major in it. Well, that all changed in 1975, when they brought in a huge number of teachers in both math and science, and added a weighty scientific curriculum. That actually pissed off a lot of the old guard professors who had been with the school since before WWI (or so it seems, anyway), and they all resigned in a body of protest.
That was a God-send for me, of course, because that meant that by the time I got my Doctorate, Midheights was still desperate for new faculty, having gone without a full complement for a few years. That was particularly important, because it meant I didn’t have to leave town and try to come up with a way to convince Paddy to leave town with me.
Since about half the faculty had been at the school less than five years, the Science Department still hadn’t jelled by the time Gordon took over. In fact, it was a ruddy mess. Gordon was determined to repair that damage, applying nearly military discipline to whip both department and students into shape. (Ironically, he never served in the military, having flat feet, asthma and a host of minor physical conditions that barred him. Meanwhile I — who Gordon considered the most criminally lax man on campus, worse than most of the students — had served two tours of duty in Vietnam.)
Well, Gordon had done his job, but he had done it a little too well. By the start of his second semester, his department ran like a well-oiled machine, but he had scared away a lot of his students. Not that he scared them out of majoring in the sciences, but that he had scared them right out of the school; more than twenty percent of the incoming freshmen transferred away during or immediately after the fall semester of 1981.
That meant Midheights was in a bit of a financial crisis in the spring of 1982. There was talk of slashing salaries, of firing staff, of firing faculty, even of getting rid of whole departments.
“Why don’t they just raise the tuition?” Paddy asked, when I told him about the problem, after the pre-semester faculty meeting in early January.
“I’m sure they will, for next year, but they can’t do that this semester,” I explained, prodding my dinner with a fork. He’d been experimenting with French cuisine around that time, and that stuff…some of it’s a little fancy for me. And disgusting. Who wants to eat pureed goose liver?
“So what are they going to do?”
I shrugged. “They told us to think of fund-raising ideas…or ways to cut the budget.” I hadn’t liked the way Gordon was eyeing some of the other professors when the president of the college told us that. If this story has a villain — as I’m sure you’ve realized by now — it’s Gordon.
“Don’t some of the science staff have expensive projects going on?” Paddy asked, taking a slurp from his wine glass. “Couldn’t they just cut the funding on those?”
“Yeah, Gordon had them build a massive facility in the woods just off the campus. I don’t know what they’re doing in there. Smashing atoms or something, probably.” I kept expecting them to create horrible nuclear mutants over there. Or cause a world-ending explosion. “Thing is, it’s half-funded by the government,” I sighed. (Which was, of course, how it had been finished so quickly.) “Not a damn thing we can do about it.”
“Military funding?” Paddy’s beautiful forehead creased with worry. “I don’t like that.”
“I’m not positive it’s military,” I admitted. “Could be from some kind of energy commission. There’s an energy commission, isn’t there?”
Paddy laughed at that. “Ashe, you need to pay attention to the modern world, not just the world of two thousand years ago!”
“I pay attention to plenty of things in the modern world,” I insisted. Most of those things having to do with Paddy, of course, but…I also paid attention to movie times, the price of beer, and of course my salary. And you’d better believe I paid attention whenever someone dinged my car! It’s a 1956 [make model], convertible, sea-foam green, in perfect condition. And before you ask, no, of course an adjunct professor couldn’t afford a classic car on his salary. It was, technically, my mother’s car, which she’d had since buying it brand new in 1956. But she gave it to me — in all but official government title — when I came home safely from the army. (I doubt she gave my father anything half as nice when he came home safely from WWII. Especially considering I wasn’t born until four years later.) “Anyway, know any rich guys at work who’d want to donate money to the college?”
“Not really,” Paddy admitted. “I’m still low man on the totem pole.”
“Still?” Paddy had gone right to work after getting his undergraduate degree, after all. And although he’d had a few jobs in the time I was working on my doctorate, he’d been at that job longer than I had been with Midheights…
“Yeah. They don’t think I’m committed enough, or something,” Paddy said, with a grimace. “I guess I can’t blame them for thinking that, since I don’t want anything more than to get the hell out of there.”
I laughed, and changed the subject to other jobs he could hold, and it quickly turned into a joking session, where we each suggested more and more ridiculous jobs the other could hold. But Paddy was wrong to laugh when I suggested he could be an exotic dancer: I was serious about that. He’s got great rhythm, and a fantastic body…
I’m conflicted about the second list at the beginning there. Feels like it’s contrary to his point a bit.
About the line “It’s a 1956 [make model], convertible, sea-foam green, in perfect condition.”…the reason it says [make model] is because I haven’t figured out what kind of car it is, naturally. Something cool, with tail fins. But I don’t know enough about cars to know what kind would be right. Obviously, if (once the draft is finished) I decide this is worth giving a re-write, then I’ll do a little research into 1950s cars and pick a model, changing the year if need be.
Anyway, what you can’t tell from this opening “scene,” but which you would know if you were reading this as a published novel (lol, yeah right!) is the basic idea behind the set-up. In a lot of modern romantic comedies — or so I’m told, as I don’t watch that kind of movie — the heroine has a “gay best friend.” I’m sure that said friend is a terrible stereotype, but the idea struck me of “what if he wasn’t a stereotype? What would the story look like if told from his perspective?” And I had these two characters sitting around desperately begging to be the center of their own story so they wouldn’t die horribly in the backstory of a different novel, so…I thought I’d try fitting the two together. The “collegiate finances” story is the story of the movie (Gordon being the movie heroine’s love interest), and the story of Ashley trying to tell Paddy his feelings and get them returned is the main story that wouldn’t have made it into the movie.
I wonder if I needed to have a moment near the front somewhere where he defends his own name. When he was born — in 1949 — Ashley was a man’s name, but somewhere in the 1990s or so it started to become a woman’s name. Consequently, by the time he’s writing, young people would start giggling when they hear his name. In fact, I should have that be part of the epilogue, how in his later teaching career, he got to watch the confusion on the faces of new students when they found out that their professor was a man, not a woman…which I suppose means I shouldn’t have that moment of defending it, because addressing that subject twice would be redundant.
As to why it’s a period piece, that’s because of the way these two started their fictional lives. If I moved them to present day, I’d have to give them new personal histories. Plus it wouldn’t make sense that Ashley would be in the closet. And there’d be the whole AIDS issue. (Not to say that’s never addressed in the book, but in 1982 it was still pretty new, so it’s not a huge factor in the story.)
Anyway, there you have it.
I welcome comments and critiques, but please keep in mind that this is a first draft WIP, ‘kay?