An untitled article in which I confess that, apparently, I like to lie in bed late at night and think about Christopher Moore… and I’m not sure that isn’t as creepy as it sounds.
I’ve mentioned this before, but while I’ve been trying to figure out this story idea and get up the nerve to actually write it, I’ve been reading some Etgar Keret who, as I’ve said, has been exactly what I needed to read style-wise but not I was looking for in terms of content. It’s also been an excuse to read more Christopher Moore, as if anyone has ever needed convincing to do that. For anyone not familiar with Christopher Moore, the simplest way to describe his writing is to say he’s the American Douglas Adams, but that may be oversimplifying things. However, for anyone not familiar with Douglas Adams, I must politely ask you to fuck off.
Moore is hilarious and absurd but no less a great and gifted storyteller for that, and completely right about everything while being utterly tragic and sad and really just perfect in so many ways all at once. I may be man-crushing a bit. Or is it… author-crushing?
It’s in his humor and absurdity that he truly hits his stride in the sense that he uncovers a truth about life or some fundamental, universal and completely overlooked fact of existing in this ridiculous world in such a way that, while not expecting the moment to come from him (because he’s a funny man, he can’t be sad and real), and not expecting it to be delivered as it is, he makes even an insignificant line or description stand out to you. Because in dealing with the funny or the absurd, and these comic characters, his imagination is able to look at the simplest things in a fresh way. A way someone focused on writing realistic (depressing, cold, boring) literary fiction never would.
As a reader, that moment creeps up on you while you read and uncover the words and the world and his meaning and what he’s really saying to you. As a writer, should you like to believe yourself to be one, you die a little inside because this guy just described something beautifully—more beautiful and true and original then your talentless-serious-literary-fiction-ass could.
“They stopped when he spoke. One of them hissed—not the hiss of a cat, a long, steady tone—more like the hiss of air escaping the rubber raft that is all that lies between you and a dark sea full of sharks, the hiss of your life leaking out at the seams.”
Well, maybe I’m being a little hard on myself, and maybe that isn’t even that great a line. It’s late, I should get some rest. I couldn’t sleep and this is what came out. And really… No, you know what? That was perfect. The way he said it and when he said it and just everything—everything about it. I needed that. I needed that reminder…
“What are you doing over there,” my wife asked.
“Eh, nothing. Photoshopping a seal on a unicycle.”
She reacted as one would. It sounded ridiculous. It sounded ridiculous and stupid and that’s why I didn’t want to tell her what I was working on. Actually, that’s why I don’t like telling anyone what I’m working on. I’m accused of being secretive, of keeping too much inside. But I’m not being secretive, not really. I’m just embarrassed, because what I’m working on usually sounds stupid if I try to explain it.
It usually looks stupid too, when it comes to my graphic design/Photoshop puttering. Of course, I give up on a lot of these projects about a third of the way through them, so not only do they sound stupid if I try to explain it, but look that way as well. Every project is going to look like crap for the first third of its life. And the second. And most of the rest of the time, for that matter. Pretty much until that second you step back just to see how it looks and realize you’re done, whatever you’re working on is going to look like crap.
Well, you’re going to think so at least.
Somehow, and without really meaning to or intending to or believing I would, I finished this one. It wasn’t just a seal on a unicycle, I should explain that. That sounds stupid without the context, which would explain the confused look I got.
I’ve been fooling around with this story idea for a week or so, and to get a feel for it I wanted to do a little reading. Christopher Moore’s A Dirty Job was at the top of the list, and that was awesome. Next up was Etgar Keret’s The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God, a title that has been on my bookshelf for five or six years now. More specifically, it was the long short story “Kneller’s Happy Campers”. This story was the basis for the movie Wristcutters, starring Shannyn Sossaman, who a friend of mine will forever be in love with. His obsession with her and this movie is what put Keret’s book of short stories on my radar in the first place.
Keret’s story wasn’t what I expected and not what I needed for this writing project, but his book—his writing style—is exactly what I needed to get my head back in the game. From what I’ve read so far, his writing style is stripped down; simple but not basic, if that makes sense. There’s a feeling, a voice that runs through his stories, a narration. You’re looking into these stories, getting these quirky and dark and sad peeks into life. Even when the story is told in the first person, you feel as if the speaker is… disembodied, detached from their own life at the time they’re telling you this particular story.
Getting back to ‘Kneller’s Happy Campers’: at one point Mordy and his pals are on a little roadtrip through the afterlife for suicides, or those who ‘offed’. They stop off at an ice cream stand to celebrate the miracle of their headlights working, and chat up Sandra to find out what flavors might get them trashed.
“Under her name tag was their logo—a seal in a clown’s hat riding a unicycle, and under that was the motto: ‘Low in price, high in flavor.’ ”
I had to putter. I had to. There was something about that quick description. I don’t know why I thought the seal also needed to be wearing a t-shirt and have an ice cream cone balanced on his nose, but he does need those things. Doesn’t he?
The stand had no name in Keret’s story, just a logo and motto, but it only made sense to call it Etgar’s. Right? And I know, my copy is only one of several different covers, but I used that as a template for my color choices and all that. You can do a lot with clipart and Photoshop. I think it was an evening well spent. Aside from some sizing and capitalizations—I know the font isn’t a perfect match, but I wasn’t getting sucked down that rabbit hole—I’d say I did a pretty good job.