The next book is called They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach. And this post is a respite from feeling like I have to work at it. Thank you post!
What else compares to the chasm between inching forward in life and looking back to see how far one has come? Nostalgia wins every time. The present is hard. The future uncertain. Except now, the now now, since it feels pretty here at the blog, as opposed to where it was a moment ago, at the Word file titled draft 8 of the book.
A year and a half ago, on the first of the new year, I put the first rambles together for what would be this next project. I knew three things before beginning: that I wanted it to serve as my thesis (part of graduating) for grad school, that I wanted it to be novella length, and that I wanted to be finished by May.
Earlier this week, I went through those early drafts, to see when exactly the protagonist’s name occurred to me. Maybe I figured going back to the moment the name hit me would lend some insight into who I originally wanted him to be. (Can you tell I’ve been stalling lately?) Lo and behold, the opening sentence to my first ever draft of this project reads as follows: “So begins the story of Ilya Ivanovich.”
(Can you tell this character came from me and no one else?)
Nah, I think I had read The Death of Ivan Ilyich the month before and wanted to play around with the name-patronymic combo, by inverting it. As far as I can tell that is the only relation between Tolstoy’s classic and my bud of a bud, the story yet born. To really try to separate the two names, despite the seed so clearly borrowed, I changed Ilya’s father from Ivan (hi) to Nikolai. And to make it even less apparent that the 19th century court judge had anything to do with my hero, I borrowed a soviet hero’s last name, Gagarin.
And thus we get the conclusive and stuck for good name: Ilya Nikolayevich Gagarin. Which to me sounds cool because his initials become the silliest letters to write in cursive together, the gerund indicating, “-ing”. Do you see that -ing next to -ing? It’s everywhere-ing. Let the subconscious attraction be beginning.
Note from our editor, “ING is also a Dutch bank.” We look out the window of our apartment, and see she is right. It has an orange lion logo on blue background. Nice.
As far as influences–you’re interested, right? you’re reading this, right?–self-consciousness abates, goodbye–one degree closer to my project are the novels: The Brothers Karamazov, for its weight and voice; and Ilf and Petrov’s Twelve Chairs, for its lols. But only one degree closer, because I don’t feel I’m borrowing anything specific from them; those books are just in the back of my mind as I write, so to speak. Closer still would be Shteyngart’s Russian Debutante’s Handbook, for its lols; and Anzaldua’s Boarderlands, for its cross-genre-cross-culture tapestry.
Probably the book most influencing They Lived They Were at Brighton Beach is the version of itself that doesn’t exist yet. I want to write something new, something fun and creative, pop and experimental. Every quarter hour at the keyboard is a chance to reach that goal. It all happens here, where I am now, with the skills I have now. But, as writing this post attests — because, shouldn’t I be working at that novel? — I keep holding on to this feeling that it isn’t getting done, the inching, the chasm, the nostalgia . . . One idea leads to more, leads to other necessary chapters. I’m never done. The work is overwhelming.
For example, we just read an off shoot! Weren’t we walking towards something specific? The thesis background to TLTW. So, what had happened was, I submitted a presentable draft to my advisor, Sigrid, in May 2018, got the grade, and left the project on my laptop to collect digital dust. I had been happy to just finish, but a nagging between the ears told me the project was in no way complete. Folks liked sections, friends liked parts, family heard the intro. It was dandy, but nowhere near the dream: something worth people’s time.
A whole year passes. The debut novel becomes an even older project, as if it has grabbed an earlier numbered ticket. Fine. It’s May 2019 and I want to rewrite the silly novella about an Ilya Gagarin. He is still a DJ. Still struggling to get his EP recorded. Still falling in love with a mother figure named Yulia who seems to have fallen from the sky. Both lovers stale as week old rye bread . . .
woah. lower-case woah.
After staring at this screen, I have just made a discovery. Yes, yes! My whole struggle has finally translated to the page! So dig this, I’ll work this out as I go, so follow me.
Ilya is 22 years old, ok. Young stud, a little dumb, but so full of passion it hurts him and others. Yulia is (hah! was!!) 33 years old. Jesus-aged, wise, caring, a news anchor who can help Ilya achieve his dream. I couldn’t ever get why all they did was meet up and talk. It was absolutely lame. If ever I wrote a dialogue between them they only ever talked about Tolstoy and Repin and Tarkovsky and . . . lame, lame. I became so upset by this — as Robert Pirsig of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance would say, my mind lacking inner peace — that I have been for the last couple of weeks writing around this problem, trying to make other sections interesting, to do anything to add some conflict to this drama, short of introducing Russian spy dogs from outer space.
Dude, no, Yulia isn’t 33, she’s 44 years old. She really will be a mother figure. You see, Ilya poor boy lost his real mom in a 21st century Bruce Wayne kind of way, in Manhattan, at night, while out to the movies. Only the bad guys who took her life before his very eyes weren’t wearing masks, didn’t hold a gun. It was a drug addiction that took her life, when she spotted some dealers and left a 6-year-old Ilya alone at a book store, the mother never to return.
Yes, yes, so he meets Yulia at, sorry, she falls from the sky — she’s an angel I think — and she is 44, works as a respected news anchor, has a boy of 6, that makes sense right? Repetition is a big deal for this novel about a DJ of electronic music, boom, boom, boom, boom.
All that lack of fire in the dialogues is perfectly explained by their now bigger age gap! Ilya, and the reader, shit even me, have no idea what plays in the subconscious. Now we can write those juicy sections where Ilya realizes: wait a minute, she’s single and of consenting age, and so am I. I bet you she knew this all along. That explains the flirting. YES!
Gah! Can you tell that I’ve deviated again from my original story about the history about this book? But who cares, this time it lead to a neat discovery. Anyway, what’s there to say, I’m excited about this book. It is processing and it is progressing. I hope to have it done before the fall. A boy can dream, right? Love.