I come near a benchmark. Everyone loses.
|When 900,000 Words Isn’t Enough, the Countdown to MillionWatch
by: The Internet
An Examination of What “Time Falls Away” Hath Wrought As Told By the Voices of the People Most Affected By It, As Well As Other People Who Really Don’t Matter
(But the world had an adhesive kiss and each sigh of affection was harder to walk away from without tearing the membrane. And if the air leaked in, all was lost.)
Perhaps He’s Overcompensating For Something
“I saw it just once, a quick glance. That was all, it was all I really wanted to see. He, ah, he had it up on the screen, I guess he was working on it but . . . it turned my stomach, it was so grotesque, just how bloated it was, it hardly seemed natural. I had to look away. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some unpleasant things in my life but this . . . it was just wrong, how sloppy and slack it was, how it flopped over everything, like he just didn’t care. The whole thing just reeked . . . of, of ego, of his twisted disgusting ego.”
“And this . . . it was early on, right?”
“Oh yes. He’d only been working on it for a few years at that point. And like I said, I only really saw it for a second and what I saw, it didn’t make any sense, the words, they didn’t even line up right on the page. I can’t even imagine what the damn thing looks like now.”
“By all reports, it’s about twice as large as when you saw it.”
“Oh God. Oh Jesus Christ. Aren’t there laws against things like that? What the hell do we have laws for, if they allow crap like that? It . . . Jesus, it makes me sick just thinking about it.”
“But you never saw a physical copy, right?”
“No, thank God. I hope he never prints it out. I hope if he does, the printer explodes and sets him on fire. Sets his whole block on fire. Burns his whole town to the ground. Because they let it happen. They all stood there and let it happen.”
“That’s a little . . . extreme, don’t you think?”
“Don’t you dare judge me. You . . . you weren’t there. You don’t know. I swear he tried to put the moves on me. I swear. I’m sure he put it in there, just out of spite. You look, and see if you can find it.”
“I’ll take your word for it. After this incident, that’s when you stopped talking to him?”
“Oh, no, he stopped talking to me. Mind you, we never really spoke. But we never spoke again. Anything that ever happened, I swear he made it all up. That’s what people like him do, just for kicks.”
“Well that is the definition of what a writer does-“
”And you can’t just shoot him and be done with it?”
“Ah . . . no.”
(The cough made his body shudder and it nearly doubled him over as it grew in intensity. Finally it stopped and he caught the faint taste of blood in his mouth. He hoped it meant he had just bit his lip. He hoped. He really did. A couple walked right around him pointedly glancing away from him, he could hear their murmurs as they strode on by, though in a half hour he'd be nothing more than a faint recollection. A half drunk man reliving his greatest nightmares.)
Such Humble Beginnings
“. . . and we never saw it coming, really. I mean, there were always hints, but it’s the kind of thing you really only see with hindsight, to make yourself feel smarter. I remember the air seemed colder that year, but I doubt that had anything to do with it.”
“What was the first solid piece that told you it was happening, that it wasn’t just some figment.”
“Probably when I realized I couldn’t hear her. We were standing outside and she wasn’t that far away and I couldn’t hear her. The wind had picked up, you see. She was telling me something, I don’t know what, just kind of pointing and gesturing, like we were playing some weird game of charades. She started running, I followed her, but I wasn’t running. It was raining a little bit by then. Nobody else was outside, just us.”
“That’s nice but what does this have to do with-“
”That’s when it happened. There was no warning at all. I barely heard a sound. The tree, it just went through the front of my house, right through the front window. I remember glass suspended . . .”
“Excuse me, what are you talking about?”
“Oh, the hurricane last year. Isn’t that what you wanted to hear about?”
“Well, not really. I was more interested in talking about where the story came from-“
”Oh, yes, yes. I wasn’t there for it, you know. Not really. He didn’t start it until the late summer and he was long gone by then. But we all saw it coming, like how you see a dust cloud in the distance and know that the storm is headed your way, or the way the waves roll back in the ocean just before the tsunami hits, or even-“
”Could we, ah, just scale the metaphors back a little bit? I’ve got a limited amount of space here.”
“Sorry. Well, like I said, we saw it coming. He never stopped writing, you know. Even after everyone stopped caring, he kept going. I haven’t the faintest idea why, I thought he was crazy myself. Most kids his age were screwing each other to the point where we were prying them apart in the hallways and there he was, hunched over a keyboard and writing stuff that nobody in their right mind would read. I thought once they started getting long he’d think it was too much work and give it up. But apparently not. Because every so often he’d lug in these large binders full of paper and each time they got a little bit bigger . . . by the end they didn’t even fit in one binder, he had two or three. I swear I could hear trees screaming every time he walked by. I wanted to ask him why he did it, when there were so many other things he could be doing. Like . . . tennis.”
“Was he any good at tennis?”
“Him? Oh no, he was absolutely terrible. He had no coordination at all, he’s lucky he didn’t put an eye out tying his shoelaces.”
“So did you read any of it? It’s said that they were getting gradually more complicated as-“
”Read it? Goodness, no. I don’t have enough time to read the books I do want to read, let alone whatever nonsense he was spewing. Especially toward the end, he was so feverish, just working nonstop, I can’t imagine they made any kind of sense. I do remember . . . I remember him talking about whatever he was working on, how it was going to be the last one, how he didn’t have anything else and he was all finished. And he brought in the last one and said, this is it, I’m done. And he was, I think. I really think he thought he was finished. But it, with these people, you have to understand, it’s like an addiction, I knew he wouldn’t be able to walk away. He lasted, what, three months? And then I hear again, he’s working on something else. I felt bad for him, honestly. He’s so stubborn, I really thought he’d make it out. But they can’t stop, those people. And now you say he’s how far along?”
“Near a million words, we estimate.”
“Lord, that’s too many. Too, too many. I wonder what happened to him. His parents needed to hit him more, I think. That worked for my children, and look at them, not a bad penny in the lot. Not like that. Not like him. A good smack could have set this all right, I say.”
(It was a tad ironic that it was his children that would end this state, though it seemed only proper when all things were considered, eh?)
That’s a Good Theory . . . Here’s Another
“Sitting down? Of course you are. Good, because this might take a minute. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this whole thing, not that it’s bearing down on us. It makes me laugh that everyone is in such a state of panic about this, like nobody ever saw it coming. Were you even paying attention? I mean, at Halfway Point, people were sitting there going, oh he’ll never make it, it’ll never happen . . . and I’m just thinking, are you serious? Are you out of your minds, that it won’t happen? It’s even more likely now, the further he gets.
“Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Come on, pull up a chair, let me clear off the blackboard, let me . . . gosh this thing is dusty. Does anyone ever clean it? Jesus. No wonder I can’t stop coughing all the time.
“So here’s . . . okay. Okay, let’s start here. Like this. You’ve got to imagine a story is like a bridge, okay? A bridge between here and the world of fiction, can you imagine that? Sure, sure you can. It’ll look, it looks like this, all right? And in normal circumstances you have an unrestricted flow across the proverbial bridge, symbolizing the reader’s access to the story. Information goes across easily, everyone is happy. Okay? All right.
“This now, this applies to your typical Stephen King or Danielle Steel novels, the ones you really don’t have to put a lot of effort into . . . but now, the problem is, if you imagine the cars that go across the bridge as words or concepts or whatever makes it easier for you . . . see now, if you start to get too complicated, the cars, they start to run into each other. Which isn’t a problem if you have a William Faulkner or a James Joyce, they direct the cars, it’s congested but the traffic, it’s good, it’s all good. Everyone’s happy.
“Except, until. Wait. Here’s the situation we’re in. Where it gets tricky. You’re piling more and more onto it, just cars upon cars, and trucks and helicopters and Lord knows what else . . . and nobody is moving after a while. Everyone wants to be the first across but nobody wants to move aside and you just have this big mass, this clump of vehicles. So the bridge starts creaking, it’s backed up now, it’s all clogged. Nothing’s moving. So things stop making sense. You see where I’m going with this, right? The whole thing starts to dip, with the accumulated mass, it all just grinds to a halt. There’s more stuff piling on but it’s not going anywhere. You see? Do you see? That’s what I’m saying.
“And . . . what’s that? I’ve considered that, I have . . . like I said, it’s so heavy now that the story is warped, it’s twisted, it doesn’t even know which direction to go in. Like a rock, you know, a rock rolling down the hill, but instead it’s rolling down the face of the sun and so it melts. But then it’s not on the sun anymore, it’s back on a normal hill . . . except it’s cooled off, it’s congealed and so now it’s not moving. It’s bloated and melted and stuck. The story’s not moving. I think that explains everything except . . . yes, yes, I know I’m getting to it. Hold on a second. Let me just . . .”
“Right, the thing . . . if we take this concept to its logical conclusion, this idea of a bridge and crap pouring on it, you take this idea and where does it get you? I’ll wait, it’s really obvious. That’s right, you’re right. Any structure, whether one made of metal or of prose, can only sustain so much weight before breaking.
“Will it happen when we reach a million words? I have no idea. I really don’t. I don’t think it’s a magic number but you never know, it might just happen that way. But I think that explains how it got the way it did. Like waking up one morning and finding that you now weigh six hundred pounds. You want to move but where the hell are you going to go? It’s exceeded its own capacity.
“But will it break? I can’t say. I’m curious to see what happens, I’ll admit but I sure as hell don’t want to be anywhere nearby when it goes down. And neither do you. Just some friendly advice. It just . . . it won’t be pretty. I’m certain of that. Trust me. Really.”
("Don't bother talking to them," a voice laughed behind him. Ranos spun and got a faceful of some sort of cloth. Angerily he shoved it away from his face, wondering what the distraction was now. So much for a peaceful dream. "It's like trying to convince yourself that you have a different name. No point at all.")
It Was a Lot Cuter When It Was Small
“I think it was a good idea when he started. Am I allowed to say that? Is that okay?”
“You can say whatever you want. We’re trying to be impartial, here. That’s all.”
“Okay, then I want to say that. Because it was, in the beginning, the first part of it . . . it’s so frustrating, you know? He starts off so promising and then just . . . the sprawl gets out of control. When you look at how it started and what it became, it’s like you have this tadpole and instead of turning into a frog, it turns into Godzilla, just crushing everything in sight.”
“What was so promising about the first section? Most reports say the individual chapters are patchy, very irregular.”
“No, see, that’s . . . it’s the wrong way of looking at it. They’re concise, it’s the way he always starts, tiny ideas presented in neat chunks and then at some point it just balloons into some kind of behemoth. That’s why drives me crazy because he can’t just keep it simple. The original concept . . . brilliant stuff. Everything that you could ever say good about that thing you can find in the first fifty or so chapters, before his ego went totally off the rails. The switching back and forth between times, the different narrators, the multiple simultaneously plots, all of that stuff was started there and was done better, I think. It really makes me want to cry, sometimes. It does. These are tears, here, honest.”
“If you say so. So you have no problem with the fact that a lot of plotlines are started that would be stretched out for hundreds of pages, with no resolution in sight? Or some of the more precious literary experiments that sometimes hijacked entire chapters?”
“Hey, you know, nothing is perfect. Nothing. I understand that and you . . . you have to take that section with a grain of salt. Sometimes a little more than a grain. He was assimilating all kinds of literary styles, trying them all out right there on the page. And when it worked, when he got his head on straight and figured out what he was doing, it was amazing. The “flash” chapter, that keeps shifting back and forth? That was fantastic. Yeah the chapter that was all dialogue or the one that was all one sentence were kind of off-putting but come on, that’s nothing compared to the assaults on literature that were coming down the pipeline, where he just started taking whatever ridiculous literary trick he had seen that week and tried to stretch it out to entire bloated chapter. That stuff is trash, it’s not even a plot, it’s just a . . . a collection of failed ideas that are trying to tell a story, like when you take a bunch of animal bones and shape them into a human skeleton, it’s not the real thing it’s just a construct. Hollow and fake. In the beginning, it was . . . you had to have been there I guess but it was . . . rather exciting in a way, to see different ideas tried and discarded, refined with every chapter, this complex plot being moved forward piece by piece. And how it all dovetails, and then comes back together . . . it’s good stuff. The ending of that first part kills me every time, because it’s a surprise and you don’t see it coming and it makes perfect sense. I’d name my children after it, if it had a name. That’s how much I enjoy it.”
“Really? All of your children?”
“If I had more than one, sure. Why not?”
“Hm. Does it stand alone, then, as a separate work? Because a lot of things are left unresolved . . .”
“Not at all. But you know, I’d rather have it that way, to have this truncated piece and sit there and think, well what could it have been? Because as it turns out, the answer to that question is the mess we see before us. It would have been better if he had been hit by a bus, everything would have been better.”
“So you find nothing worthwhile in further chapters?”
“Listen, he should have quit while he was ahead. If he hits the magic number, and I’m sure he will, he should take a step back and look at what he’s done . . . and then bury the rest of us, deep enough so that nuclear waste dumps will look shallow. Cut off the body and save the head, I say. Start fresh, with new ideas. I’ve got some he might want to use.”
“The back of my hand. Idiot. And I’d put my hips into it, too, so he’d really remember.”
(He considered sitting down in one of the rows, just for a bit, but what was he going to do, sit and stare at the coffin? Try to imagine what it felt like to be inside? Probably cushioned. Definitely this year's style. He'll be the envy of all the other dead in the graveyard. Strutting his stuff as only the dead can. A catwalk of maggots. An audience all waiting eagerly for the magician to stop pretending to be deceased and demonstrate the final trick. Poof! See? See? Death is nothing more than illusion. We've been burying people for no real reason. It's all in our heads. All these years God's been pulling that old sleight of hand trick and we've been falling for it. Boy weren't we stupid. Good thing we know better now. No more deaths from here on out, that's for sure. We'll keep our eyes on his hands the entire time and not a damn thing will get past us.)
Excuse Me, The Back of Your What?
From the Department of By The Numbers Department
When speculation runs rampant, statistics come to the rescue. A random survey was taken of people who couldn’t outrun us, to see what the Millionth Word might be. The results were . . . evocative.
23% - chapter
15% - the
14% - bulbous
11% - Gotterdammerung
11% - puppies
8% - getawayfromme
5% - end
4% - blanket
3% - serviette
3% - leavemealone
3% - adverb
Breaking it down further, we asked what type of word it might be.
45% - noun
35% - verb
15% - a type of word that is not a word
4% - preposition
1% - integer
And because we had a captive audience, we asked our sample what their favorite “bedroom name” was.
26% - snuggles
21% - poofynuffykins
14% - the back of my hand
13% - Stanley Jollonfritz
10% - where I come from, names aren’t necessary
8% - Captain Tingles
7% - Did that last guy really say “Captain Tingles?”
1% - Dance for me, Moon Dog, in my tree of love
Sadly, at that point, the sample group escaped.
(A ghost wavered in his vision, features strafed by sideways rain. Do I know you? I think I do. Cluster memories smelled of the beach. Of the dry air, long gone. Have we mentioned that winter is coming? It’s always there, just down the road.)
A Bloated Middle? That Just Makes It Like the Rest of America
“Now, do you think it’s wise to pass judgement on a part of the story that isn’t even completed yet?”
“Jesus, what are you, blind? Or stupid? Or blindly stupid? Of course it’s going to be the best, those other people, they’re just a bunch of whiners, they don’t know what a real story is. I mean, you ever see that thing, it’s got heft, man. Mass and stuff. You hit someone with that thing, just the second part and man, teeth are going to fly. You ever knock out someone’s teeth with The Bridges of Madison County? No, you can’t, because the pages are all soggy from those wusses reading it and weeping over it. Oh boo hoo, like horses don’t die everyday. Get over it.”
“I don’t think that quite happens in that book-“
”Listen, they all miss the point, every single last damn one of them. The first part, I have to give some respect to it, you know? Because you have to start somewhere and that somewhere might as well be the beginning? Right? But the second part, aw man it just crackles. You know what I’m saying. Everything, it’s all bigger, the man went and took every bit and blew it up to giant size, bigger than giant size . . . what’s bigger than giant-size?”
“The word behemoth was thrown around before but I’m not sure if-“
”That’s it, then. What you said, about bees and bugs and stuff. It’s there and it’s just so dense, if it was a flock of birds you wouldn’t be able to see through it, it would just blot out the sun. That’s big, man. You’ve got all this stuff happening, like three or four things at once and it just blows my mind, I can’t even describe it. The scene where the narrator is shouting out nonsense syllables? A guy down the hall from me made a dance track out of that, man, he said the beats were all he needed. It’s multimedia, it’s a painting without pictures, you have to assign colors to the flow and just go with it. You have to read a page a day and just study it, until like, the words get into your head and they’re just floating around and sinking into your brain. I’m doing that now and I can feel it, it tingles.”
“Right. But you are aware there are accusations that the story lost all sense of pacing completely once when the second part unfolded. Where the first part was taut and concise, the second part could be considered sprawling and unfocused.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. You say these things like they’re bad. Like they shouldn’t be. He was just letting all the boundaries go, like the barriers weren’t even there anymore. There was no limits, he was approaching every chapter as a separate animal, sometimes you can’t even tell if you’re in the same story or not because they’re all so different. You never knew what you were getting into and you know the best thing . . . hey, I’ll tell you, the best thing is that each one furthers the plot. Maybe not by a lot but baby steps, man, baby steps. It went from a clever story to something epic, man. Just huge. All the stuff that anyone ever remembers is in the second part and don’t let anyone try to tell you differently because they’re lying. The dream sequences? The part where the guy dances? The radio transmission sequence? The house that keeps talking to people who can’t hear it? All those scenes where people are talking to each other and answering something else and it’s like two conversations going on at the same time? The bit where the aliens get shot in the head out of nowhere? The stream of consciousness sections, where it’s like he’s getting right into your head? With all the bizarre metaphors, the sentences that are all gnarled up, like an army of guitars playing their best solos ever? You’re going to tell me that none of that stuff counts?”
“Well, if it’s buried underneath a lot of, how shall we say this, rubbish . . . it’s going to be hard to pick out the decent moments. And besides, if you keep writing and writing you’re going to have a good moment or two, even if it’s by accident.”
“Ah, man, you people, you make me twitch, you all do. You don’t understand, he blew it all up, he blew all the walls down. The first part, all right, it was cute, okay? It was nice, it did what it had to do. But it was the city, you know what I mean. All those buildings and cars and people, it’s all so closed in, all that congestion and smog and crap. And you don’t realize how smothered you are in there, how closed everything is. And then you go out to the country, I mean where everything is wide open and it’s different, it’s like you’ve left the planet. The air is cleaner, you can see for miles, it’s all so spacious. That’s the second part right there, it’s totally country and you people don’t realize because you’ve lived your whole lives with buildings on either sides of your head, you can’t even see the sky anymore. You have to go out there and take a deep breath of it. You don’t know, until you. Until you’ve got it in your lungs.”
“Indeed. Still, you know the second part is coming to a close soon. Any chance the third part might take its place in your . . . affections?”
“No chance, man. Do you switch the woman you’ve loving just because something prettier comes along?”
“I don’t think I know how to answer that.”
“I’ll tell you. You don’t. It’s yours and you just have to live with it. I’ll like what comes next, but hey, I’ve made my choice, you know? This is going to be the last part with a big ending, I know that. He’s coming through the window, we all know it’s coming. They’ve been playing it out for years. It’ll refine things, I’m sure, but it’s the bombast that keeps me coming back. I love how unnecesary it is.”
“Do you think, with the third part so much closer, that the millionth word will still fall in the second part?”
“I’d love it, I really would. I’d want the two millionth to fall in there, too. In my perfect world. But it is what it is, you know. No matter where it is, we’ll always have the vibes. Sometimes when you least expect it, they hit you, man. And you get all these colors and you just sort of . . . whoa. Yeah.”
“Ah, I think we’re done here.”
(Which places do you attend when you have no routine left to suffer through? The ringing will make you free. It was years before he heard a bell and learned what it meant. Nothing. Sound is just the vibration of your interpretation. What do you hear? Nothing.)
Sure, Why Not Ask The Man on the Street?
Let’s throw one out to the people: What will the Millionth Word mean to you?
- “It’s a big step, I guess but you know at the same time, maybe it’s a sign that it’s time to quit. I mean, a million words, Jesus, who’s going to read all that? I certainly wouldn’t. Maybe I’ll read the one word, just to say I did. That way I’m not left out of the conversation completely. I don’t want the others to think that I’m slacking.”
- “When the Word appears a glorious light will come down from the sky and illuminate everything. It will be delivered by a giant hand descending from the heavens, and it will come to rest on the ground where we can all marvel at its perfection. I’ll touch my baby to it, and he’ll be healed. It will cure us all and remake us anew. And I will sing and sing and . . .”
- “Well, it’ll be an excuse to have a drink, which in my mind is always a good thing. Heck the nine hundred thousand, nine hundred ninty ninth word is a good excuse as well. And hey, which word is he on now? I’m sure that’s worth celebrating.”
- “I’ve always had a fondness for the oak, for how it refuses to bend in a storm and always grows tall, sheltering everything around it with cool shade and beautiful leaves. I definitely would have no problem with . . . wait, am I answering the right question?”
- “Good God, he’s still writing that? I bet he still lives at home, too. Loser.”
- “What does it really mean, though, in the end? Does it actually signify anything, like the way a partially broken branch hanging on in a stiff wind can signify the tenuousness of our presence here on Earth or is it just empty meaning, a gesture for the sake of a gesture, stringing together word after word in an attmept to make it seem like it means something when it may just be empty posturing, the kind of thing that . . . hold on, where are you going, I’m not finished yet . . .”
- “That’s not so special. I did that one time in a day. Copy and paste, man. Me and the guys were giggling about it for hours, especially when the . . . whoa, you’re not writing any of this down, are you?”
- “Will it make Mommy and Daddy love each other again?”
- “Million words or not, the bastard still owes me ten bucks. You tell him that I’ll beat it out of him next time I see him.”
- “It’s an accomplishment that definitely speaks to a single minded determination that we really don’t see these days. Even if the story itself is no good, he’s stuck with it for this long, when a lot of people would have just given up by now. So that’s something, right there, that you can’t really take away from him. He’s going to do it and it really doesn’t mean anything because, you know, it’s just a number but still . . . it’s a milestone, in a sense. So that’s impressive. It’d be more impressive if he got out of the house more, but maybe that miracle will happen after the next million. But I wouldn’t get my hopes up.”
("I can see that dear," his mother said. "I bet he can't even remember my name." Her name never showed up in the narration. Nobody had ever thought of giving her one. They never expected her to show up. "This must be confusing for you, son, but it should all make sense before the last page.")
But Where Is It Going, If There’s No Driver At The Wheel
“How do you wrap up something so large? That’s the question I think everyone is missing, because they’re all wrapped up in a number. So he might get there. So what? What difference does it make? The damn thing can’t go on forever, it’s got to stop sometime. He said there were three parts, originally. But the second part is so expansive, it’s like six novels buried in there, and you wonder what the third part is going to be like.”
“Something that large is going to take a while to wind up. I think we can agree on that. But will the third part merely serve to deaden the story’s momentum so that it won’t come crashing to a halt and instead glide to a gentler landing? It has the hardest job of all of them, really, because it has to forward everything while at the same time tying it all together. If he can pull off this balancing act, it might be the most memorable of the three sections, regardless of its length.”
“Nah, he’s got to do something different, to set it apart. All that wacky stuff that happened in the second part, he has to take it to the next level. Everyone says it’s so complicated, I say it’s not complicated enough. You know that one guy who’s going backwards in time, I’d have a whole fleet of people like that, make them the narrators and have them tell the whole story . . . in reverse. Even better, have them talk backwards.”
“See, I don’t think excess is the answer here. For any kind of impact, I think he has to fade the story out with quieter elements, to sort of bring it back around and allow the reader to digest everything they just read. A bombastic ending might have more immediate satisifaction but wouldn’t resonate in the mind the way that a good ending should. It’ll fade too soon.”
“Are you nuts? All the stuff that’s supposed to happen and you want a quiet ending? You’ve got the serial killer about to cut loose, the guy who’s lost his memory getting ready to wig out, the family about to break in half, all those immortal gods and stuff at each other’s throats, the mindreader pulling himself together, the fate of creation about to be decided. If he doesn’t go about it widescreen he’s doing it all wrong, I’d get wider paper, use bigger words, blow it up totally until it’s some kind of sensory overload, only with words. The pages should vibrate with action.”
“That’s nice but even after all that happens, the whole story should take a solemn moment to reflect, maybe make the spaces bigger between the words to give it more of a hushed feeling. You could wait until the printer is out of ink so the text is lighter, giving it an airy, ghostly feel. Like a story that just isn’t there.”
“Christ, good thing you’re not writing it or you’d take it into Lifetime movie territory. Airy and ghostly, what’s wrong with you? If there was any justice, he’d write the thing in all caps, he’d wrinkle the pages up so it looks like they’ve been through hell just to get to the reader.”
“I think you would ruin any atmosphere the story had managed to build up in the previous two parts. It marks the end of an era, that tale, and it’s a clear demarcation in the continuity and you . . . you would treat it like some kind of cheap action movie . . . it should have ambient music encoded into the pages so that it puts readers in the proper frame of mind.”
“Whatever, I’d say you were smoking something if you even knew what that was, you out of touch moron.”
“Now, let’s not get personal-“
”I mean, action? You want action? I’d have the book catch on fire while you’re reading it, to give you that edge of your seat, feeling. It would come with headphones that would blast death metal right into your brain, so that your ears would start bleeding.”
“You’re missing the point, you buffoon. How does that help the story? Words are what matter, gentle, caressing words that will ease the reader into a pillow-soft ending that they can carry with them until the end of their days.”
“Holy crap listen to you. I think you left your dress back at home, buddy. Fine, you wants, you got them. The biggest bombastic words ever, I’d have spaceships crashing into planets, sound effects cascading down the page, everyone would be shouting at each other, the whole structure would just break down . . .”
“Yes! Like snow falling softly on hallowed ground, with the text getting smaller and smaller, finer and finer as things wound down . . .”
“No, larger and brighter. And . . . and he would write it in another language completely. And backwards! No, we did that already, maybe, ah . . .”
“Until at the end, you could have the text vanish, like the story becoming tatters in the wind, breaking apart because all things are ephemeral . . .”
“. . . screw the backwards stuff, we make the letters bigger and bigger, until there’s like one letter per page, aw yeah, no, wait even better, we, we do it in another language, but not any normal language, nothing terrestrial, some simple yet beautiful language he’s made up, the whole story will devolve into that but it’ll still make sense because of the context . . . oh Jesus, the context, it’ll be great . . .”
“. . . so that we’ll end with just blank pages, maybe like five or six of them so that you turn and you turn and it’ll sink it as you discover each blank page so that when you close the book, you’re rewarded with a sense of stillness, of things closing off and nestling together, the way nature intended it to be . . .”
“. . . damn, it’ll be so awesome . . .”
“. . . ah, yes, it will be sublime . . .”
“You know, you really are a weirdo.”
(He wasn't even sure things were progressing in the proper order. Everything seemed disjointed and out of sequence. Time falls away. Who said that? A minor voice strung in from the sidelines, roaming the edges and slinking through abstract shadows. It came from nowhere. It meant nothing. He felt like that as well, and that feeling seemed genuine. He didn't feel real, just some half formed image wandering through people's lives. Transparent. Stick your hand through them and they short out like circuits. Shake a little and drop to the floor. Decide you don't want them to breath anymore. His hands were wrapped around someone's neck and a voice that he was his but wasn't his laughed while a man thought of his children and died. It almost made his cry. Nothing came. Nothing at all. His tears were dried from crying for himself, self pitying bastard.)
I Thought It Was Your Job to Stop Him
“Here’s the thing. People have been talking, about the Millionth Word, about what it means. They’ve even been using capital letters, which I’m sure goes a long way toward stoking the ego of a person whose name we won’t mention. Opinions have been really divided over it, some people saying it will crush all literature as well we know, others noting that it will just crush itself under its own weight, even more saying that it denotes some kind of benchmark. Everyone has something to say. And that’s good, after all, discussion is always good, it gets people talking. But I think they’re all focusing on the wrong component of this, on what the word will be rather than the very Concept of the word itself. The word itself is nothing more than a number, hell, he’s probably just tallying it up using whatever stupid automated counting device his word processing program uses, so chances are it’s counting things like the chapter headings and the time and date stamps that open each chapter. So the true Millionth Word really won’t be the one we think it is. Like the North Pole, we know it’s up North but it’s not exactly where you’d expect it to be.
“But now, that’s the problem. People are looking at it without realizing what it means. Once you pass that point, you cross a psychological boundary, mentally you jump over this river into a country that you weren’t in before. It’s a different place. Before, any discussion on the story, as tenuous and rare as it might have been, was focused on the story itself. But the problem is, and I think we’re the only people to really point this out, is that once you cross that boundary I mentioned before, the story becomes less about the story itself than about the length of it. You don’t talk about it like oh, this is the story where such and such happens, as much as you discuss, isn’t that the really long story that seems to go on forever. And that’s not what fiction is about. When you start calling attention to the construction of the fiction, then you start losing sight of what makes us read to begin with. You paint a big red neon sign of how artificial the whole artiface is. It only reminds people that you’re just making it up as you go along. And we can’t have that. But what are we going to do about it?”
“This really bothered the team for a long time, because really, we love literature. We really do, there’s nothing we love more and there’s nothing we hate more than seeing a story become bigger than itself. And watching it, you sit there slack jawed as it goes from being a story to this horrible growth, like a tumor that keeps feeding on itself, spreading out all over the place. You wonder if it’s ever going to end, or just consume everything it touches. And like I said, nobody cares then really what it’s about so much as how long it’s going to be. Like those people who browse the bookstore looking for the largest spines they see so they can impress their friends with how erudite they’re being. This runs the risk of becoming that, the sort of footnote laden, archly precious, pretentious mess that gives the alphabet a bad name. It hurts to say this, honestly, it really does. Because it had potential in the beginning, before it got sucked into its own gravity and disappeared up its own hole. There are some scenes in there that could be really good reading, if it didn’t waste so much effort calling attention to the fact that it’s clearly fiction, as if he’s afraid that people might take it too seriously, or that he’s so afraid of being sincere that he has to constantly remind people that he’s just writing and people shouldn’t read into it. Which only makes people try to read into it. Gah, it makes me sick.”
“So . . . killing him was out of the question. That never works the way you hope it would, although he’s so accident prone it would have been our easiest assignment ever . . . no matter what we did to him, no matter how bizarre, it would have looked totally natural. The problem with that, is that you tend to freeze them in some weird cone of nostalgia so that people tend to look at what might have been, in terms of where the story might have gone. And unfortunately because the readers aren’t crazy, the scenarios they would imagine are probably more entertaining and coherent than anything the author would have made for himself, giving the story a bit of final resonance it really doesn’t deserve. Which would have been awkward. We had to find another solution then and I think we hit upon something that just might work.
“With something like this, any exterior force that acts upon it is only going to make the work appear better, because it makes the story look reactive, when really it’s just a thrashing beast grasping for some kind of purpose or motive. But it’s a beast that can’t sustain itself forever, and so the best thing to do was to let it grow and grow until you get to the point where it just starts to collapse upon itself. Because once it falls down under its own weight, you leave the fictional skeleton stripped bear and people will see what a twisted, ugly mess it’s become. But that can only happen once you’ve achieved and passed critical mass. To that end, we encouraged him as best we could, egging him on in every crazy idea that popped into his head, as it applied to the story. Nonlinear chapters? We were all over it. Plots you can’t follow with a flow chart? He was halfway there already. Thirty page dream sequences with little impact on the overall plot? Sadly, that one he did on his own. So once we got the ball rolling, it was a snowball going down the hill and it was just a matter of time waiting until it hit bottom. And standing back. That part was key.
“We didn’t just rest with simply beaming nonsense into his brain. We paid off his friends of course, to simultaneously encourage and discourage him, we had them practicing those are you serious looks for hours . . . by the time we were done he was torn between giving up completely or simply forging on out of pure stubborness, the result of which was the mildly withdrawn, socially awkward misfit that we eventually wound up with, trapped in delusions that he actually mattered while at the same time torn by the knowledge that nothing really made any kind of difference. The tension inherent in that was something to see, we thought he might crack just from that. Still, we went one step further and made sure that the books he read and the music he listened to all did its part in steering him toward a state of mind that would lead to more and more of a manic state of writing, disappearing deeper into himself so that while his output was coming out faster and faster, it really only made sense to himself. But all the while he was convinced he was churning out brilliant works of genius, although in reality he had stopped making sense a long time ago.
“And that’s the point we’re at now, where as we grow closer to the Millionth Word the story has become nothing more than gibberish and it shouldn’t be long before it tips over the edge completely. It will probably take him with it, he’s been bonded to the story for so long that it’s probably more of a map to his head than even he realizes. We’re all taking bets, to be honest, what his first act of utterly out of character insanity will be. The guys down in reseach have the lead so far, they say he’ll take him dancing, like wild uninhibited dancing. I personally think he’ll tongue kiss the first person he sees, then wig out and drink himself into sweet unconsciousness.
“It’ll be interesting to see regardless, because when you’re dealing with a person this unstable, it’s hardly like work at all. Half of our job, he’s done for us. It really makes the days go that much faster, all told. I suppose I could thank him for it, if he at all understands. Which he probably doesn’t.”
(The voices sounded like they were tape loops running from those already departed, but it must have just been a problem with the sound system. Old tapes always came out like that. Once in an idle moment he had played back a recitation of a chapter and could hardly believe that it was his own voice. Even the words had seemed altered, like the speakers had some sort of malevolent intent of their own. But that's just paranoia. Not everything can be against you. Even enemies have allies. Even allies have to forage somewhere. What?)
Raise Your Hand If You See This Ending Well
From the magazine that dare not speak its name
Q: I’ll try to make this quick because I don’t have a lot of time. And I really don’t care.
A: Well, that’s, ah, refreshingly honest of you.
Q: Whatever. Let’s cut to the chase, then. Why did you do it?
A: Do what? Write a book?
Q: We’re certainly not discussing how you romanced a hundred woman in the course of a long night. Yes, write a book. But just any book, an absurdly long book.
A: It wasn’t long when I started-
Q: Don’t give me that. It wasn’t funny the first time and nobody believes you anyway. Really? Come on now. I’m going to pretend that I want to know.
A: I really didn’t mean it to get this long, honest. Normally my stories start out small and get larger as I write them. This time I had a sort of epic idea and it blew up into some mega-epic. I can apologize, if you want me to.
Q: I think it’s too late for that. So you didn’t know how long it would turn out when you started?
A: Sorry, no. I just keep writing until I run out of story essentially. This time I found I had a lot more than I planned. I basically rammed a bunch of novels together, which doesn’t sound as spectacular in practice as it should.
Q: That’s fascinating. I don’t mean that. So does the upcoming word count milestone mean anything to you other than the product of far too many lonely nights spent indoors? Is it a personal best, as loosely as we define that?
A: We hit personal best at somewhere around five hundred thousand words, so everything after that was just more. Still, there’s not many stories that can sustain themselves for that long, so I guess that’s something. And I do go out.
Q: As your tanned and toned complexion can attest to, I’m sure. So it was never a goal to churn out that many useless sentences in a row?
A: Not an immediate goal, no. And what kind of question is that? Once I started getting near a million words, I wondered if I’d be able to attain that benchmark but it was never in the plan. The story ends when it ends.
Q: And do you ever see it ending? Or are you going to torment us forever? The story, what little of it I could stomach, looks nowhere near finished.
A: We’re coming to the end of the second part and there’s still part three to finish, so we’re closer than when we started I guess. Hopefully part three won’t be three thousand pages also but people are living longer all the time, so I guess there’s still hope.
Q: Not from where I’m sitting. So would you say this this the best thing you’ve ever written?
A: It’s certainly the most ambitious. It’ll probably only ever have meaning to me, since it’s a tough slog for anyone else, but I think it has a lot of my best moments. And it’s certainly a good example of what happens when you don’t have an editor. I love all my stories. They’re like my children.
Q: Would you say that the length of this has warped you at all?
Q: Let me talk slower. Were you always this much of an asocial malcontent or did the years of sitting alone in your house writing page after page of a story that no one cares about or will ever read finally just make you snap?
A: Well, hey, people care, they just . . .
Q: They don’t care. If they read it at all it’s just out of politeness. Is that what drove you to this anal wall of privacy, this disgusting lack of self-worth, the inescapable fact that even if you wrote the bestselling book of all time it would still be a steaming load of crap?
A: You know, you’re awful hostile for a-
Q: Would it kill you to leave your house just once in a while? Would it hurt to make some attempt at human contact, you sorry excuse for a writer, no, I’m sorry, for a human being. Argh. You make me so angry, just sitting there, just being around you makes me want to . . .
A: Maybe, it’s, ah, it’s time for you to-
Q: Why did you even write it, you self-righteous, arrogant, piece of . . . arrgghhh!
A: Whoa, hey, watch it there, don’t . . . hey, what are you-
Q: Christ, I just want to wrap my hands around your throat and-
A: No, get away from me! Hey, get, get away don’t, hey don’t-
Q: I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!
Q: You bastard, I think I’ll-
End of transcript.
December 2005: 964,902 words
God help us all.
“Bad habits make our decisions for us . . .” - American Music Club, “Ex-Girlfriend”