Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Friday, October 16, 2015

Novel Uncompleted Turns Reality

Looking back from so many years later it may seem silly to say I never completed a certain novel out of fear. "Fear of what", you may ask, "that some evil doppelgänger of a character might spring to life like a Stephen King plot?"
No, it wasn't that, but something a little bit like it. Perhaps the plot would become reality and that would have been terrible.

It appears a silly notion because I am not a household name author. In fact, I am a barely known, barely noticed writer, and that not even as a novelist. I have in my lifetime had quite a few stories, poems, articles, reviews and other non-fictions bought and published, as well as a song, a couple plays, some cartoons and even photography, but never a novel.

It isn't I never penned (or keyboarded) a novel. I actually did a few, and in fact, I considered one of the earliest things I wrote, when I had just turned twelve, a novel. It really wasn't truly lengthy enough to fill the bill, but in did have chapters, so a novel I called it.  I not only called it a novel, I called my novel, IT.  Yes, I beat the aforementioned Stephen King to that title. It was a pastiche or perhaps a mishmash of Robert Lewis Stevenson's Treasure Island, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Doc Savage.

(It was not the only title Stephen King infringed off me. My wife and I did a kind of graphic novel in
1968 called Danse Macabre, a title he used a few years later. Of course, that title goes way back, so we all kind of borrowed it. I even had a book of classic erotica (the elitist terminology for old-time pornography) with that title. Mr. King's book was not a novel either. It was a non-fiction about horror literature. My wife and mine concerned the rash of civil rights riots occurring across America at the time.

We used pen names as you can see from the cover, "Jean O'Heaney & Eugene Lawrence".  I was using "Eugene Lawrence" as a non de plume on what I wrote in the Underground Press during the 'sixties. I also published under the byline "Loop" in that period of time.

Anyway...a couple years after It I penned a second novel called Attention, Teacher!.   That book was pretty autobiographical, dealing with my first couple years in junior high school; although, it was slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect and the names were changed to protect the innocent or more to the point, protect me from a beating. It also was a good bit longer than my first boyhood attempt, but still fell short. It might have passed for a short novelette or a long short story with chapters.

I probably could rewrite this one and make it into an honest novel about coming of age. I think it was pretty humorous, but maybe it would be best to keep it under wraps until certain friends of mine either pass on or go into senility; although, there is a good chance I won't outlast them to those ends.

Undaunted, I made another attempt at a novel at age 16. This was a much more serious endeavor, deeper and epic in scope. The title was, "Breadth of the Earth" it was conceived to be an allegory of the end of the world.  I sort of bogged down somewhere along the line with that one and it almost became the end of the novels for me. I felt more comfortable sticking with the short story, comedy sketches and poetry.

In 1960 I did pull together three novellas into a collection under the title, Smoke Dream Road. This sounds like a drug themed thing, but it had nothing to do with drugs at all. "Smoke" was a sic-fi story of a future totalitarian state. "Dream" was a radical reworking of my very first venture, the so-called novel, It. I probably rewrote that thing every year of my teens, each time getting further and further away from the original plot, as well as using up a lot of titles going from It to Quicksand Island to Dream of Horror to just plain Dream. Road was a horror story about a dead teenager trapped where he had been killed and a tale of vengeance, original title, "Hot Rod Road".

I actually like these tales, but I never got them into the computer and they are so long I've put off the retyping. I am not only getting old; I'm getting lazy. (By the way, if my friend, Ronald, ever reads this post, he may recognize his old home on Boot Road was used for the cover design.)

"Hot Rod Road", of course, fell into a common theme in my stories during my mid-to-late teens. I was a great fan of Henry Gregor Felsen's novels at the time and also Hot Rods were a part of life where I lived then. Hot Rods and my life experiences became the basis for the next two novels I did, Come Monday and Forty-Dollar Car.

The oddity in these two separate novels written five years apart (1964 and 1969 respectively) is both were based on the same events, yet they are about as different as could be.

Come Monday (originally titled, Ronald Candle) revolves around cars and three boys who are best friends, and has tragic consequences for all three. For anyone who wonders about writer's use of self in characters, two of the main ones are based upon your's truly. "Ronald Candle" was who I believed I was; "Casey Scott" was who I wished to be. "Jerry Wakefield" was based on my very close friend at the time, Richard Wilson. Rich and I were not only friends, we co-wrote a number of pieces and stole cars together.

Consider Come Monday a tragedy and Forty-Dollar Car a comedy, two sides of the same coin. There were two main characters in Forty-Dollar Car, Eric Walters and Frank March. Once more Rich Wilson was the model for "Eric" and I was the model for "Frank". If ever you stumble across a story I penned by accident or purpose and you see a character named "Frank March", you'll know that is my alter ego and the story probably has a lot of autobiographical information hidden within. "Frank March" is my "Nick Adams", and Forty-Dollar Car is very autobiographical. It is pretty close to non-fiction, except for the ending. I even stuck my mug on the cover along with the real forty-dollar car that Rich had bought when he was 16. (Richard Wilson, pictured left in 1957, prematurely died in 1994 at age 53.)

After Forty-Dollar Car I didn't complete another novel until 1998 with Gray. I consider Gray a dark
and frightening story. It tells of a stranger who shows up in this peaceful community and he is never known by any name except "The Gray Man". He is there for a very nefarious reason involving kidnapping and human trafficking. The theme is no where is safe from evil or terror.

And that word terror brings us to where this whole exercise was aiming from the beginning.

In the near 35 years between completing Come Monday and Gray, I did have several ideas for other novels that I outlined. There were two on which I even did a considerable amount of writing.

In 1978 I worked on Red Moon Rapist, a story about mistaken identity,  false accusation, political exploitation and news media sensationalism. It had some basis in the growing graphic depiction of sex in Philadelphia Art Theaters and the political career of Frank Rizzo. There were a number of events in my life that interrupted my writing career during and after that year. For one, our first child was born. Life interfered with art and I never got back to that book.

But  in 1966 I had been well along in a novel when I made a conscientious decision not to finish.

Why? Why did I do that?

Well, back in 1966 I was beginning to sell what I wrote pretty regularly both in the Underground Press and in the above ground press. I still held onto dreams of making it big as a writer, you know, best sellers, Pulitzers, National Book Awards, the Nobel Prize. The culture around me was changing rapidly, too. It seemed to be bordering on revolution and the assassination of President Kennedy three years earlier appeared to be a harboring of some downward spiral for this nation. By 1966 the Civil Rights Movement had grown and was about to bleed, Medgar Evers had been gunned down, marches had occurred in Birmingham and "Bloody Sunday" in Selma and the Black Panther Party just formed. The youth of the country was drifting away from old values. The Diggers were pushing against private property in San Fran, the Hippies were becoming a movement and the drug culture of LSD was taking root. Protests were also breaking out over the escalating Vietnam War and in 1965 President Johnson had behind closed doors signed an Executive Order removing the exemption from the draft for married men without children. There was a growing need for cannon fodder in Southeast Asia. I had received my own "Greetings" from Uncle Sam almost immediately. Chaos, anarchy and riot was blowing in the wind.

All this seismic activity socially was being reflected in art, in music, in theater and film. Along with everything else, an assault on the repressive stances on sex exploded around the cities. In Philadelphia came peep shows right in Rittenhouse Square and then a spate of "Adult" Bookstores. Nudity and sex was no longer in the shadows of the red-light districts.

And I began a novel about this upheaval. The book was called,
"Raab", and Raab was a popular folk singer, pattered after Bob Dylan (left), with perhaps a bit of Phil Ochs (right) thrown in, who grew in fame, but then dropped from sight as his music became the anthem for disenchanted youth and angry revolutionaries.

Eventually a group of these Raabite protesters turn more and more violent and resort to terrorism in their efforts to change America. They used attacks on malls, movie theaters, schools, anywhere that would cause people to fear living normal lives and they used a tactic of making it look like Black civil rights groups were behind these acts in order to foster a racial war.

Then the fear set in. What if I did finish this novel and what if someone did publish it and what if it sold well and what if...what if it gave some radical group ideas? What if the schemes of the villains in "Raab" inspired exactly that kind of terrorism.

So I File 13'd it.

Now it seems the repugnant ideas I had nearly fifties years ago as fiction are becoming reality.  I don't know if the reality can be so easily trashed.

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