I spent my learning years (about five to eight years old) in the village of Corrales, New Mexico, just north of Albuquerque across the Rio Grande. My parents were professors at different universities in Albuquerque, and I used to make up stories and act them out as I went along in pure imagination with the friends I made at Sandoval Elementary, inventing names and characters and plots on a daily basis with entertainment and adventure in mind, and act those stories out with homemade wooden swords in that village separated by a system of ditches and a weird gray forest called the bosque from that ancient river, where a ghost called La Llorona prowled nightly, mourning her drowned babies’ ghosts and seeking revenge. This was the first manifestation of spontaneous creativity in my life as a personal habit. At puberty, the narrative of my own life became more captivating, with the development of my personality and getting into a couple of different imaginary bands, the first sexual stirrings of wanting to be wanted. My family had moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where nobody had a good time, and Denver, Colorado, by the time I discovered Jack Kerouac’s writing around fifteen years old, and learned from him the lesson that my own life or anyone’s is just as worthy of a novel as any grand imaginary plotline, considering how immense and strange and huge this world, in fact, is, and deserving of equivalent attention . . . the only pitfall or potential danger being boredom on the reader’s part, which is where editing comes in. I would say that the best of my writing comes without any forethought, but that intuitive editing after intuitive creation equates to intuitive completion, however partially deliberative (things like tightening the flow, making sure the grammar and syntax are true).
I picked up all Kerouac’s tricks through dedication to the spell he cast on me as a reader as opposed to deliberate imitation of his style, eventually developing my own after accruing further strong influences (among these Flannery O’Connor, Charles Bukowski, John Fante), then I ended up going to school long years later and having writing, previously my own private destiny thing, instructed to me as a craft, which caused me to see it in crafty, practical terms, like, “If I do this, it will have this effect…” and so on.
My ex-roommate Minerva a couple of years ago was an immigrant from Mexico. Knowing me to be a writer, one day she asked me, “How do you do that?” and it made me ask myself again with her forthrightness, made it back into a technical sensory question, the kind you ask yourself when just beginning, like what does it take to do that correctly, and which techniques constitute writing well, in my opinion. I’d been going on my own steam so many years it was like a chance at starting over, getting back to the very raw basics of how to portray thoughts and feelings and happenings and conversations and reactions.
Market Man was written as it happened, without a forecast direction or conclusion, using the passage of time as recorded by news events on social media and things my friends said to give it a narrative spine. I just wrote this book as the year went along without planning, and the plot came together. One friend’s comments on the Greek God Hermes became relevant to one interpretation of the plot as a recreation of ancient mythology. A co-worker had a degree in Organizational Psychology, which played into the pantheon of Greek gods and the layout of the office I then worked in equally well as an appearing plot point. Writing this unplanned book was great therapy for me. Arranging the parts of my life, the things that happened to me this year, preoccupations new and old into orderly formation, thus mastering them by defining them objectively at arm’s length with the objectivity and grace of their maker not the helpless fear of their victim or subject. Not to mention that Minerva shared her name with the Estrucan goddess of wisdom, war, art, schools, and commerce, counterpart to Greek Athena.
For many years I have known that in some crucial way I create the realities I experience. I think this is true for everyone in some sense. We see what we want to see. Having decided to look at my life as a novel, to live my own life as its main character, I may or may not have enacted a gravitational pull of some kind. Or it may be the case that life itself is an assumptive phenomenon, bound to show the percipient whatever he or she expects. You will see what you want to see.
Every story needs a Motive Engine, some kind of force that makes the story move, either by pushing or pulling. There’s a function in in Word where you can look up specific words, and if you know you have a problem with junk DNA like “some kind of” or “little”, pet words like this are pruned easily for a faster, smoother flow. Or they can be replaced. And the adage “show don’t tell” is the same as Kerouac’s Don’t stop to think of words, but only to see the picture better, and W.C. Williams’s line about so much depending on a red wheelbarrow etc. Visual writing that plays mind-movies for readers. Because maybe that’s where consciousness is going, and I have lately given serious consideration to animating my drawings and making a go of it that way. Not much progress there so far, but I’ve learned a few things about writing this year.
Autobiography of any type, self-referential writing, even fictionalized, can feel completely personal no matter how publicly shared. It will carry an inherent dependence on ego-based matters of making a desired impression personally. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and can be worked with, but is a weight of considerable size. Fiction, on the other hand, can be far more revelatory of personal fact, maybe since your imagination is subject to the same database as the part of your mind that records, and sometimes you will startle yourself with your stabbing insights about real life, if you’re willing to go all the way into fiction. Which is a paradox, but true. I only learned the secret of writing without ego after joining a writing group whose focus was on brevity; whatever you wrote, you had to write it fast. Being a clown, I decided to write every prompt in an abstractly humorous nature thus discovering something I named “subconscious fiction”, writing two sometimes three even four weird little blurbs a day, completely obviating writer’s block after completely surrendering my ego in favor of humorous effect, if you see what I mean, just like acting out those stories as a kid, which gives me hope for any future animation prospects. In my writing career so far, I’ve gone as far as I felt able into truth, then tried blending it with fiction looking for a balance, then pressed on further into purely imaginary fiction than I had previously felt myself capable, a deep valley between, so much freer without any baggage of ego. Is one way of describing what happened. No conclusions yet.
Remember how I used to make up stories. Market Man is about a guy avoiding Group Thinks of all kinds after Trump gets elected as best he can which leads to a lot of self-examination as he goes through the year. He calls it doing the opposite, by which he means the opposite of joining the ready-made stalemate that sprang up. I threw in a handgun after I saw something about the laws being relaxed. The main character buys a handgun and keeps losing it and broods abut it sometimes. I figured I’d remove it unless there turned up a way to capitalize on its addition as a plot point. Because I was writing this book as it happened, and because of being highly sensitized to day to day events by fake news from both sides about Trump on social media, I was always right on time for every news event this past year, like the me too movement, and all the school shootings. I mean the narrative was always current in that way. I had already noted a couple of those in passing, then the one at Parkland happened just as the book was in its final pages. I have Porkowski find the gun and break it down into a different kind of symbol as the book comes to a close. This book was so timely I was worried about ending it too soon. I didn’t want to end it right before the next big world-changing event, since it felt/feels like such a fertile time, this piece of time we’re in. Of course, the news cycle hasn’t stopped since I finished that book, but I wanted to end it in harmony with the real world timeline that was one of its sidebars.
And the revision process uncovered the fallacy of one of the book’s central truths or motive engines, thus providing the perfect comeuppance for its hubristic foil, Porkowski Styles. Readers, having been led to believe this character’s intuitive ability was a special magic or science, or at least convinced of this belief on his part, are provided with an unexpected climax to be resolved, requiring honest admission of that flaw and the need to justify or manifest it in some final way. Porkowski has a conversation with a Native on social media site IdentityPal, which had always performed the function of something like a barometer in his new way of Doing the Opposite, because it let him see so many sides while keeping his distance, let him keep the temperature or forecast the weather in this new landscape of fake news on both sides and multiple possibilities. Native Americans knew more about the hard facts of being lied about or misrepresented in the media than my protagonist ever could, as well as he figures he knows it in abstraction, which hearkens back conveniently to an early part where Porkowski has dinner with a devotee of Rhada Krishna who tells him something about demonstrable spiritual knowledge always being better than abstraction.
Following the Parkland shooting, Porkowski Styles finds his lost gun and starts riding the light rail out past where he’s ever been before, meanwhile dismantling the gun to the tiniest piece to use it as a hook, we don’t know why. He ends up drinking a milkshake in a place called SUNDAES and asking the clerk, “Where’s the nearest fishing hole?” “Well, it’s getting dark out there, mister.” “Night-fishing, then. Have you heard of it?” Night fishing in the nowhere everywhere of his own mind. That’s how it ends. A surprise conclusion of the character Porkowski’s insistence on abstraction in the face of had facts almost like a deliberate delusion. Summoning what he wants with his eyes closed and sensing its presence with his mind rather than striking out at it with a gun. There’s another mythological tie-in here. Egyptian god Osiris was cut into fourteen pieces by a vengeful Set, all of which were recovered except for his penis, which was swallowed by a fish called medjed, which is close to “media”, the big villain in my book, which ends with a stubborn Porkowski striking out to go night fishing in unfamiliar territory with his repurposed gun just to prove to the moon he can do it.
Zack Kopp is a freelance writer and editor in Denver. He is the author of six novels so far, a short story collection, a book of poetry, a collection of metamorphic prose and a collection of articles, essays, interviews, reviews and commentary. Kopp has also worked as a ghost writer and editor. His latest book, Market Man, was just published by Boston's Big Table Publishing.
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