I woke up this morning to this online review of 600 Hours of Edward.
The salient bit:
If not for the swearing it would have received five stars and been one of the best books I’ve read lately hands down. As it is I don’t feel I can recommend it to my children or friends…unfortunate.
I don’t hear this often, but I do hear it. And I feel bad every time. First, it’s a missed opportunity to bring a reader fully into my work. More than that, I hate it when my own reading experiences pull me in two irreconcilable directions, so I have no wish to leave others with that feeling. It might have been more satisfying for this reader to have hated everything about the book. It certainly would have left things less muddled.
I have a policy about not responding directly to critics in an online forum, a stance that—so far—has kept me from gaining notoriety for all the wrong reasons. That policy goes hand in hand with a general sense of gratitude I have toward those who spend time with what I’ve written and take the initiative to share their thoughts. This is walk-the-talk stuff. You can’t bask in the five-star reviews and take them as confirmation of your literary genius and then turn a blind eye to those who find flaws in your work and present their case in a coherent way.
So instead of rebutting this review—because it’s a well-presented, well-spoken opinion and thus needs no rebuttal—I’d like to instead talk about why blue language appears in my novels and why, even if I wanted to, I cannot keep it out.
The stories I write are given birth by my imagination, but the characters inhabiting them are dumped out into a world that’s very real to me. Edward Stanton, the protagonist of 600 Hours of Edward and its followup, Edward Adrift, in particular inhabits a place I know well. He lives in Billings, Montana, where I live, and shops at the Albertsons on 13th and Grand, where I shop. His house is modeled on a dwelling I once lived in, and it’s situated at an address (a made-up number on a very real street) a block away.
And in this world, bad things happen and intemperate things are said. I have an intellectual responsibility, when I write of this place, to reflect it as I find it. This isn’t something I think about overtly—there’s not a message above my computer that says “remember your intellectual responsibility.” Instead, it’s an interior compass that guides me as I go, that assesses each paragraph and each quotation and asks this fundamental question: Is this true to the story? If it is, it stays.
And let me be clear: Even gratuitousness can be true. I once spoke to a library group about my second novel, The Summer Son, and was challenged on both the language and the violence in it. The reader asked why I felt compelled to present it in such a graphic way. That novel took place against the backdrop of another world I once knew well, that of oil rig workers and their itinerant lives. My response was that I presented that world as it presented itself to me. Impasses were addressed not with the high language of a diplomat but with the raw anger of hardened men. Where language wouldn’t do, fists would. I said I couldn’t see any other way to show it. And I can’t. And I won’t. This is where differing sensibilities have to be given respect. And sometimes, as in this case, the author and the reader simply can’t find a way across the street to one another.
One last thing: The balancing factors of ugliness and crudity are grace and elegance. Just as it would be irresponsible of me to present a world where no one curses or kills someone, so, too, would it be irresponsible to show a place where the light never gets in. I’m fundamentally a hopeful guy, and so the work I do bends toward that hope. In the end, I have to think that carries more weight in the work than the battered world in which the characters live.
As I begin writing this, it’s 12:27 in the morning. I’ve just come off my regular night shift at the newspaper, one of six remaining in my long career—it would have been 25 years in November—as a full-time journalist.
You see, aside from a fill-in shift here or there, I’m leaving the only line of work I ever thought I’d do. The reasons are myriad—personal, professional, perhaps even foolhardy. I always hoped I’d know when it was time to go, and it turns out that I did. So there’s that.
What will I do from now on?
Well, first, I’ll write a lot more novels and stories. When you have a full-time job and a family and, you know, all the many elements that constitute a life, writing time is the first thing that gets crunched. That can’t happen anymore. I’ve managed to write and publish four books these past few years, but increasingly, my available time to go deep into my imagination had begun to erode. So, too, had my energy. I had to make a choice. The only way I’m going to do the things I wish to do with the remainder of my life is by making the conscious decision to put them first. I should have done it a long time ago.
Given the distinct challenges faced by newspaper companies, and by the publishing sector in general, I’ve read the parting words of plenty of colleagues who’ve said that they didn’t quit journalism, but rather that journalism quit them. I’d love to hide behind that reasoning, but it would be a lie. Without a doubt, the workaday life of a production editor at a daily newspaper has become increasingly difficult in recent years, with staffing stripped to the bone, a news environment that values quickness rather than curation and the seeming inability of corporate overlords to deal with technology that has simultaneously made their product more widely available and less reliable at delivering the revenue required to support a large newsgathering operation. To work on the inside of most newspapers these days is to be wracked with uncertainty about what the future holds.
And yet, that’s not why I’m quitting.
Some profound things happened between the age of 18, when I first settled into a newsroom chair, and 43, as I prepare to take my fat ass out of one for good. Where once I looked for excuses to be in the newsroom and took every extra assignment (and every bit of extra pay) offered, in more recent years I’ve valued nothing above my time away from the job. Workweeks seem excruciatingly longer with each passing year, and days off, once they finally arrive, seem ever shorter. I’ve found that my tolerance for top-down management, ridiculous canards like “do more with less” and a creeping acceptance of mediocrity were turning me into the sort of bitter soul the younger version of me would have avoided (or mocked). I don’t want to be that guy. I’m not gonna be that guy. And as much as I’ve liked the actual work—and I have, right up to the end—I realize I have to kill the old me to let who I am now run free.
The other big development in my working life has been an entrepreneurial spirit I didn’t know I had and a rekindling of my love affair with work, this time unbound by the whims of newspaper company stockholders and quarterly reports. When I was 39, my first novel was published. Now, at 43, I have three novels in print, a fourth being written and a short-story collection knocking around. I’ve won some awards, built an international readership, found a publisher who loves what I do and is willing to let me do it freely, and at long last I’m making enough money at it that I can step from one career to another and continue on happily.
Let’s be clear: I’m not retiring. In some ways, the hardest work of my life is yet to come, as I try to be more ambitious in my writing and fill in the margins with the occasional bit of freelance work. I’m going to design a quarterly magazine. Lead some writing workshops. Do some manuscript editing and book design. And, yes, write fiction. It’s all hard, honest work. The important part is that what I do from here on out will happen on my terms, by my choices, and in the service of my life and the lives of those I love.
There are things I’ll undoubtedly miss. There’s no place quite like a newsroom on a big news night, and no group of people quite as whip-smart and funny as a bunch of newspaper hacks. The work I do now will be more solitary, less collaborative, quieter, more contemplative. And that won’t necessarily be easy for a big, bombastic guy like me.
But somehow—when I’m able to linger over dinner with my wife (something I never get to do on a night I work), or take an impromptu vacation, or say “the hell with it” and retire to a baseball game for the afternoon—I think I’ll manage to warm up to this new life I’m building.
Thanks for riding along.
Yesterday, the Kindle Post hosted an interview with me about the re-emergence of 600 Hours of Edward. It used three questions of a wider-ranging interview that my good friend Jim Thomsen, a freelance book editor and author, had conducted with me. Here, then, is the rest of the story …
Unlike Edward, you don’t have Asperger’s Syndrome. But, like Edward, you’re a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, of the TV show Dragnet and of the band R.E.M., and you live where the book is set, in Billings, Montana. Talk about how you blended the factual and the fictional.
I get asked this a lot, and my sheepish answer is that I chose to incorporate all of those things into the narrative simply because I knew them well and could thus write about them with authority and great speed, a distinct requirement of the arena (National Novel Writing Month) in which I was working. Without that constraint, who knows what I would have chosen. And in subsequent works, I’ve begun to see the merits in putting fictional twists on real places. It opens up the imagination and allows me to more fully immerse myself in the little worlds I try to create. That said, I think a lot of people in Billings who’ve read the book have gotten a kick out of seeing, say, their Albertsons store represented in print. At one event I did in Texas, a boy with Asperger’s, the son of a high school friend, came up to me and said, “Is there really an Albertsons at the corner of 13th and Grand in Billings, Montana?” I was proud to tell him that, yes, there is. I shop there every week.
How fine a line do you find there is between Asperger’s characteristics and just plain old human eccentricity? Edward is a slave to his routines — his constant logging of everything from wake-up times to weather to travel distances — but, to varying degrees, so are many of us who don’t have Asperger’s. How relatable do you think readers will find Edward to be?
What makes Edward work—for me as the author and for folks who read the book—is that he’s reflective of things that don’t know boundaries that are generational, ethnic, medical or educational—things like isolation, familial estrangement, the struggle to fit in and find one’s path, to make friends, to live life instead of letting the days pass by. That he has Asperger’s simply puts a different set of filters on how he experiences those everyday things.
600 Hours of Edward is such a lean, breezy read. Many literary authors tend to issue debuts full of dense prose and writerly devices — lots of metaphors and similes, exposition, backstory. Was it difficult to steer clear of that, or do you find your natural writer’s voice is an economical one?
I think the peculiarities of the story imposed some of that. 600 Hours is structured in a deceptively simple way. It starts with Edward’s waking up on a mid-October day and ends 25 days later. Everything proceeds in a straight line, and because the story is told in his voice, it’s naturally spare and devoid of rambling exposition. The few times he stops and speaks of past events, they always have a direct correlation—at least in his mind—with what’s happening in the moment. I do prefer spare to verbose, simple and clear to dense and poetic, and I think some of that can be attributed to my journalism background and some to my story sensibility. I put great faith in Hemingway’s idea of the iceberg’s dignity of movement, that you can write confidently and without adornments, and readers will fill in the details with their own minds. I like the idea that readers’ imaginations are active participants in the stories I write.
Another literary convention from which you steered clear was giving Edward an obvious love interest (though his disastrous evening with a woman he met on an online dating site is one of the funniest parts of 600 Hours of Edward). Did you wrestle with that as you wrote it, and did you have any misgivings about that based on the reactions of early readers who might have wanted to see Edward in love?
I never considered a love interest essential to this part of Edward’s story. What I knew about him is that he was straining against some of his self-imposed barriers, and his attempt at online dating is part of the way he challenges himself to connect with others. What I tell people who read the book and ask me what happens to this storyline or that storyline is to use their imaginations. This is a 25-day snapshot of a life in transition. After the window closes on Day 25, the story I told is over. But that doesn’t stop Edward, as a character living in readers’ minds, from going on.
I’ve been waiting for today for a long time.
My debut novel, 600 Hours of Edward, is making its own debut, as a newly published paperback, Kindle edition and audiobook under the auspices of Amazon Publishing. For a long time now, I’ve been living with Edward Stanton, the middle-aged man from Billings, Montana, whom I created four years ago in twenty-four fevered days of writing, and he continually surprises me. Today is no different.
If you count the original self-published version of this novel, and I do, this marks the third iteration of his story, and this one leads to new horizons: at the end of the new book sits the first chapter from Edward Adrift, the sequel coming next year. I can’t wait to share where Edward’s story goes, but first, the challenge is to introduce him to a whole new audience. Amazon Publishing, which also put out my sophomore novel, The Summer Son, is primed to do this.
So today, I feel nothing but gratitude for this novel and this character, both of which have allowed me to chase my dreams as a novelist. It all seems amazing to me still that the story could begin as a lark and turn into the work I want to do for the rest of my life. I’m grateful for the people who’ve believed in Edward along the way–starting at home, with my wife, Angie, and extending out to Chris Cauble and the team at Riverbend Publishing, who gave my book a chance back in October 2009, to my editor, Alex Carr, and the team at Amazon who’ve been such cheerleaders for this book, to all the readers who’ve had so many nice things to say about the work (including one from Belfast, Northern Ireland, just this past week!) and the many writers I deeply admire who’ve shown me kindnesses along the way. I’m so thankful.
But this isn’t a valedictory, not by a long shot. With time and luck and hard work, there will be many, many books to come.
Thanks for reading.
Now that 600 HOURS OF EDWARD is about to be unleashed in a new edition, I have a confession to make.
But first, some backstory:
Almost four years ago, when I sat down to write what became 600 HOURS OF EDWARD, things were a lot different than they are now.
For one thing, the words 600 HOURS OF EDWARD hadn’t even entered my consciousness. The working title of the novel I wanted to write was “Six-Hundred Hours in a Life That Will Get Only 630,270, Assuming It’s a Life of Average Length, And I Don’t Like Assumptions,” as seen below on the original manuscript.
Second, as you may have gathered from the working title, I had no expectations that I would (a) finish the novel or (b) get it published.
So as I wrote about Edward Stanton and his world, I picked something I knew well–Billings, Montana, where I live–and dropped him into it precisely as I see it. His Albertsons exists. So does his Home Depot. And his golf course. And his downtown. His street address isn’t real, but the street he lives on is.
One of the places in the original version of the book, published in 2009 by Riverbend Publishing, is the Billings Gazette. It’s a crucial, feel-good part of the story.
When I was writing Edward, I gave absolutely no consideration to the fact that, a few years later, I might write a sequel. I certainly didn’t consider that there would be other books, other writing about Billings, a whole world that would take shape from my keyboard. And so I made the Billings Gazette, well, the Billings Gazette. Easy-peasy.
But here’s the problem: In the second book, which is coming out next year, the newspaper in Billings also figures into the storyline. But it’s not so feel-good. And here’s an even bigger problem: I work at the Billings Gazette. The one here in the real world, not the fictional world where Edward exists. I get paid and everything. It’s a significant factor in my daily life, to say the absolute least, and one I’d just as soon not compromise.
So here’s how I handled the delicate position I wrote myself into:
Because Amazon Publishing acquired the rights to publish a new edition of 600 HOURS, the original publisher, Riverbend, was contractually obligated to pulp the remaining copies and stop selling it. In a commercial sense, that means the original no longer exists (obviously, several thousand copies exist on people’s shelves and in readers’ heads). This represented the best chance I was ever going to have to make a material change to the book.
So, in the manuscript I submitted to my editor at Amazon, the Billings Gazette vacated the stage and a new newspaper, the Billings Herald-Gleaner, stepped in. Subsequently, I made the same change to the manuscript of EDWARD ADRIFT, which I was preparing for submission. With a few keystrokes, I changed Edward’s world — and made mine a lot more comfortable.
This also had the nice side benefit of tying together my work a little better. In my short-story collection, QUANTUM PHYSICS AND THE ART OF DEPARTURE, the story called “Paperweight” concerns an aging reporter at a newspaper called the Herald-Gleaner. That character, Kevin Gilchrist, and Edward Stanton are now connected, as are Edward and the father character from my novel THE SUMMER SON (Edward’s dad was Jim Quillen’s boss). The sum is a fictional world that has threads connecting my Montana-set stories, which blend real and imaginary places and, I hope, give depth to what I’m trying to do.
This idea was clarified for me in an elegant way several months ago when I interviewed Emily M. Danforth, the author of the wonderful debut THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST. Here’s what she had to say about using the real setting of Miles City, her hometown, in her book:
“In terms of setting, specifically, anyone who has any familiarity with Miles City will recognize some of the local attractions — the swimming hole, the Bucking Horse Sale, the Montana Theater, etc. — but each of those locations has also been fictionalized. I understand that this might be disappointing for some readers who want every street name or video rental place, whatever, to match exactly to reality — though businesses close and re-open all the time, right, so there isn’t a ‘fixed’ reality that a novel can capture and hold ever, because ‘the real world’ will always keep changing.”
I had another idea for a blog post today, but a few of my colleagues were taking a rip at this topic, so I thought I’d join the fun. There’s always tomorrow for my own idea.
Here’s the thing: No single piece of bad advice sticks out. But if I were to gather up and stack the advisories with the least merit, I think I could fit them all under the general heading of “the mechanics of writing.”
You see, I don’t want to hear orthodoxy about outlining or not outlining. Of buffing and polishing each sentence to a high sheen before moving on to the next one. Of vomitous first drafts. Of writing at nighttime. Of writing during the day. Of listening to music. Of writing immediately after a shower. If it works for you, great. But that’s as far as it goes. My patience runs thin with writers who, however well-meaning, think only their experience has merit.
In a box buried in my office sit 18 sheets of yellowing paper, the beginning and aborted end of a novel I tried to write when I was 19 years old. I purported to write about lives I didn’t know and couldn’t imagine, of experiences I hadn’t had or heard about, and I did so without a net–no notes, no outlines, just me and a word processor. In retrospect, I’m fortunate to have made it as far as I did.
There were other attempts, too, ones that I didn’t save, for whatever reason. They died of other causes: neglect, lack of hope, a wandering eye, inconsistent discipline. I wasn’t ready to finish them. A novel is a test of your ideas, your willingness to submit, your longevity, your tenacity. I wasn’t prepared to pass that test.
I can’t tell you why, at age 38, I was finally able to finish a novel–and finish it well enough to get it published. I finally tried outlining, and it served me well, but four years clear of it, I think the idea would have forced itself onto the page no matter what. I was a little older. I’d been through some shit, as they say. I was ready. I wrote my second novel with an outline, and as I look back, I think I was impeded a little by it. I’m proud of the book, yes. But I can do better. My third novel–coming next year–was stream of consciousness, baby, and I think it’s my best one yet. So am I now off outlines where once I swore by them? No. I’m off hard-and-fast rules. That’s what I’m trying to say. It ain’t the method. It’s the result.
Now, when someone asks me how to write, there are exercises I can offer and experiences I can share that might help dislodge some ideas. But I cannot take my method, whatever it happens to be, and apply it to you. I won’t insult you by saying that I can.
My advice is, simply, this: write. Keep writing. Find that reservoir within yourself that makes your ideas come alive on the page, drill deep down inside and draw on it for the rest of your life.
Here are some other posts on this topic:
On the occasion of my 42nd birthday, this one’s from me, for delivery at a time to be announced later.
Here’s what’s been going on:
Even my slimmed-down version of NaNoWriMo crashed and burned. I still love the story idea, still think about it a lot, still like what little progress I’ve made on it, but I won’t be finishing any time soon. It just needs some more cooking time in my head. The longer I do this — and I’m three books into it now — the more I realize that the words and stories come in their own time. I can’t be a crank-o-matic. Wouldn’t even want to be one.
I’ve kept busy with some freelance gigs, mostly of the editing variety. This brings up a good opportunity to do something I don’t do very often, and that’s to pitch my editorial services. I have good, competitive rates, I turn the work around quickly, and I’m handing off good work to appreciative customers. Whether you’re prepping a manuscript for submission to agents and publishers or preparing to go it alone as a self-publisher, I can help you create a professional product.
Three years after 600 Hours of Edward was written, we continue to find appreciative audiences. One of my more interesting gigs was two hours with about twenty-five knitters at a local shop, Wild Purls. Check out this account of the evening on the store’s blog. I had so much fun. (And here’s a blatant tease for you: I expect to have some exciting news about 600 Hours in the near future.)
E-readers and e-books should be all the rage this holiday season. If you’re lucky enough to get a fancy new toy, you might consider loading it up with my latest, Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure. The e-book price has been dropped to $1.99 through the New Year, which is a heck of a deal. Go here for the Kindle version. Go here if you have a Nook.
Here are the grim numbers:
- Date: November 3
- Number of words at the start of writing today: 4,828
- Number of words at the conclusion of writing today: 5,291
- Words written today: 463
- Words written in November: 2,623
Blame modern convenience for the paltry total. I came home from work at midnight, wrote most of a short scene, then checked the DVR for new shows. Turned out I’d recorded Seven Days in May, a terrific political thriller from 1964. Burt Lancaster (no relation). Kirk Douglas. Ava Gardner. Fredric March. Martin Balsam. Choice!
So I lay down on the couch to watch it, and promptly fell asleep.
My new rule: Sleep trumps all.
I’ll try to play catch-up tomorrow.
Here are the latest tabulations as I keep myself accountable on a novel project I’m tentatively calling Rayfield:
- Date: November 2
- Number of words at the start of writing today: 3,738
- Number of words at the conclusion of writing today: 4,828
- Words written today: 1,090*
- Words written in November: 2,160
* — This is why I’m calling this Quasi-NaNoWriMo, because 1,000 words represents a very productive writing session for me but is far short of the mark if one wants to put down the 50,000 words necessary to be a “winner” at National Novel Writing Month. To turn that many words in a single month, you have to write an average of 1,667 daily words.
So I’ll say this once and be done with it: I’m not interested in 50,000 words in November. I’m not interested in a daily minimum. I’m interested in a solid month of progress, and that’s it. To those of you striving for the NaNoWriMo benchmarks, I give you a hearty salute, because I’ve been there.
In 2008, when I wrote the entire first draft of the novel that became 600 Hours of Edward — all 79,175 words of it — my daily counts looked like this (the daily totals are in parentheses):
Nov. 1, 2008: 5,763 (5,763)
Nov. 2, 2008: Off
Nov. 3, 2008: Off
Nov. 4, 2008: 11,183 (5,420)
Nov. 5, 2008: Off
Nov. 6, 2008: 13,721 (2,538)
Nov. 7, 2008: 16,963 (3,242)
Nov. 8, 2008: 20,439 (3,476)
Nov. 9, 2008: Off
Nov. 10, 2008: 23,085 (2,646)
Nov. 11, 2008: 27,293 (4,208)
Nov. 12, 2008: 30,744 (3,451)
Nov. 13, 2008: 34,558 (3,814)
Nov. 14, 2008: 39,886 (5,328)
Nov. 15, 2008: Off
Nov. 16, 2008: Off
Nov. 17, 2008: Off
Nov. 18, 2008: 43,846 (3,960)
Nov. 19, 2008: 51,811 (7,965)
Nov. 20, 2008: 54,816 (3,005)
Nov. 21, 2008: 60,837 (6,021)
Nov. 22, 2008: 63,957 (3,120)
Nov. 23, 2008: Off
Nov. 24, 2008: 73,208 (9,251)
Nov. 25, 2008: 79,175 (5,967)
I don’t know what that looks like to you, but to me, it can only be defined as insanity. I’m glad I did it, glad what came of it, but I don’t ever want to do it again.
On May 2, 2011, with this post, I began everyday blogging around here (well, Monday through Friday, anyway). For nearly five months, with the exception of a legitimate week’s vacation, I made sure something new was up every morning at 8. On Fridays, I even posted off-the-cuff short stories, inspired by words suggested by my friends.
I did this … why? To be sure, no one was clamoring for it. I did it because new authors — and I’m certainly one — endure this barrage of advice about building a platform, self-promoting, cutting through the muck and the mud of the publishing world and making a name. Daily blogging is one of the pillars of the author platform, or so we’re told. So I blogged. Even when I had little to say. Even when I needed the ample muscles of a friend.
And then, last week, I stopped. I did one last short story, big turd that it is, and that was that.
I’m done. Which isn’t to say I’ll never be around, never have something to say. In particular, the opportunity to bang the drum for other books and other writers is appealing to me — because of how interesting those folks are and because my daily wankery is not on display. Expect to see much more of those things and much less of the other, lesser stuff. This note aside, I’m tired of listening to myself, tired of reading my own facile words in this forum. It’s time to step back, shut up, and get busy doing what I’m here to do, which is to write stories. Social media, for all its wonder, has its hooks in the wrong parts of me, and the tweets and Facebook posts and blog posts and other nonsense have come to take up far too much of my time. I have a full-time job and a going-blind father and a sideline publishing business and a wife who’d like to see me once in a while, and I have books to write, too. There’s not room for everything, every day, and mine is not the sort of personality that can easily impose moderation, so we’re going to give this austerity thing a whirl.
Interestingly enough, I’m going be on a panel discussion about the role of literature blogs during the Montana Festival of the Book later this week. I promise, this screed aside, I’ll have something cogent to say.
The drill: Each week, I’ve asked my Facebook friends to suggest a word. I then put the suggestions into list form, run a random-number generator and choose the corresponding word from the list. That word serves as the inspiration for a story that includes at least one usage of the word in question. This week’s contribution is courtesy of Lisa Roberts, and it’s the 21st and final installment of this series. For previous installments of The Word, click here.
I don’t much care for people who don’t come out and say what they mean. You want to come at me, come in a straight line. Roll your thoughts out there, in simple terms with precise meanings, and I’ll meet you in the middle and hash it out some way—even if I hate you for what you’ve said, even if I disagree with you to the ends of the earth. I’ll respect you. At least I’ll do that.
Uncle Forrest, I don’t much care for him. Here we are, at my grandma’s house—his mother’s house—for her ninetieth birthday, and here he is, thinking it’s the time and place to try to figure me out. He’s lived no more than a mile away my whole damned life, all eighteen years of it, and has never shown much interest. Why here? Why now?
“You’re a mercurial fellow, aren’t you, Everett?” He shoves a slice of German chocolate cake into his hole as he says this. How I detest him.
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t know what ‘mercurial’ means, Everett?”
The son of a bitch (no offense, Grandma).
“I want you to define your terms. Is your context elemental? Are you saying I’m a poor conductor of heat? That I’m a heavy metal? That I don’t react with most acids? That I’m good at forming amalgams? I just want to understand you.”
Forrest licks chocolate from his fingers.
“Or maybe you’re speaking in mythological terms. I’m a messenger with wings on my feet. I stole Vulcan’s net to catch a nymph. Is that it, Forrest? It’s your dance. I’m just trying to understand the rules.”
The party has stopped now, and everyone is looking at us. Grandma has full eyes that look like, God help me, mercury. Mom is standing on the other side of the table, fists on her hips, crimson-faced. Aunts and cousins and neighbors are staring at us, agape. And I keep going.
“Or perhaps, Forrest, you’re just relying on the common, Webster’s definition. You think I’m subject to sudden or unpredictable changes.”
He’s edging away from me, smiling stupidly, unwilling to say what he means.
“What is it, Uncle Forrest?”
“Let’s just drop it.”
Mom comes into it now. “Yes. Drop it or leave, young man.”
So I do the thing that requires integrity. I kiss grandma on the cheek—she’s full-on crying now—and I leave.
I stand on the porch, and I tremble. I am not Mercury. I don’t have the speed. I don’t have the cunning. I am a boy who doesn’t fit in. But I am strong. Stronger than Forrest, for sure. Stronger than all of them. I am Mars.
I am going back inside.