Stick. Not because he’s good with a bat and not for the size of the stick in his pants, not that I had any clue about that, in any case. I'm curious, sure, but I'm curious about most of the boys my age, or some of them, most of the time. But Stick is Stick because he’s tall and thin, or tall for his age a few years ago, must have been before I met him. Stick isn’t much taller than me I know. But he doesn’t use his real name.
I wrote that paragraph back in August of 2009, almost 10 years ago, the start of a short story titled "Stick" that became my first submission for a fiction class I was taking at Rowan University, my final year of study for my MA in Writing. I needed both a short story idea and a novel idea for my final-year thesis, given that I had exhausted my time and energy on the previous novel I'd been workshopping for three years at Rowan, the long forgotten (and likely really terrible) Five Day Morning. I was reading a novel at the time called What We Do is Secret, about teen punks in LA in 1980 dealing with the death of The Germs lead singer by suicide, and what was fascinating about the novel was the way in which the narrator spoke - a sort of ultramodern stream of consciousness, like Holden Caulfield on speed, one of the many drugs the narrator of the novel was actually on. I loved it - I still love it - and I wanted to try that style of writing so I took a stab using an abbreviated version of one of the many bizarre character nicknames in the novel ("Stickboy") and turned it into the free writing paragraph above. And lo and behold, just those lines gave me two characters (Stick and the narrator) and a story of sorts -- the narrator's attraction to Stick, his best friend. I loved the short story and I loved writing it and many many many versions later I was able to publish the short story "Fireworks" based on the same characters, in a flashback sequence in the novel I ended up writing for my thesis, which began with the same exact paragraph as "Stick." And now, 9 years later, in a completely rewritten story, plot, timeframe, and with almost all new characters, that novel is getting published. The Young Adult novel "I Will Be OK. Everything" will be released in January 2020 by Amphorae Publishing. So yes, I buried the lede pretty far down in this post but I'm getting published!
And the character of "Stick" remains.
When I decided to expand "Stick" back in 2009 to a full-length novel for my thesis, I was at the same time reading the history of Merge Records, an awesome book about my favorite band of all time (Superchunk) and the indie label they'd accidentally founded in the early 1990s to release their friends' bands' cassette tapes. Eventually after a 3-album deal with Matador ended, Superchunk began releasing their own CDs on their own label and a legendary record label was born. (Side Note: Merge Records released Neutral Milk Hotel's "In the Aeroplane over the Sea" in 1998, which I discovered via Merge mailers in 2001, and the discovery of that album fueled my adult life indie rock fandom and concert attendance up to this very day...). Anyway, Arcade Fire was signed by the label in 2003 to release their debut full-length and the story of their rise from Canadian unknown to superstar Grammy winner was told in a chapter of the Merge Records story and inspired in me the idea of having the two boys in my story (the narrator and Stick) attend the first ever NYC concert for Arcade Fire at the Bowery Ballroom in 2004. That became the novel I used for my thesis, "Us Kids Know", which went through multiple edits and workshops from 2009 until 2012 at which point I had moved to Hoboken, made awesome new writer friends, went to concerts in NYC all the time, and met my awesome boyfriend... and the things I was writing about in the novel were no longer as relevant in my life.
I started another novel in the spring of 2012 -- based loosely on the indie rock band Mountain Goats' "the Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton", then spent another couple years workshopping and re-writing (and changing the setting from Denton, TX, a place I'd never been, to a location I actually knew) and then in 2015, I signed on with my awesome agent Veronica Park of Corvisiero Literary Agency at the Writer's Digest Conference. We (or she) shopped "Hardcore PA" while I looked for my next project idea... but every time I tried to start something new, I kept coming back to Stick. The character, yes, but also the style of writing and the situation - two boys going to a concert in the city - and I couldn't let it go. In addition, the "Fireworks" scene that got published was some of my best writing and I couldn't get it out of my head. So I started with that, the Fireworks. And then I centered the story on the two boys' families - an element missing from "Us Kids Know". One of the families is very loosely based on my boyfriends' unique upbringing and the other is based very loosely on the family of my best friend for 20 years, and her dynamic group of relatives. What followed was a complete rewrite of the novel, replacing the 2-day plot with a full summer story starting on the 4th of July ("Fireworks") and ending on Labor Day weekend I replaced the story and narrative for both characters, replaced the band - Arcade Fire - with a more modern version (The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die) and changed the title from an Arcade Fire lyric ("us kids know") to a song title from The World Is.... "I Will Be OK. Everything." And pretty much everything else has changed from that story 9 years ago, with a few exceptions... the fireworks scene ; the "bathroom scene at the concert" (no spoilers) and the name of the character the narrator is in love with. Stick.
Watch for I Will Be OK in January 2020 and watch for me doing more prolific blogging - if I somehow find the time - like I used to do all the time around the time when I was once an Arcade Fire fan. Thanks for reading :)
This blog belongs to Bill Elenbark.
Lover of songs. Writer of wrongs.