Avalon, island of apples
If I continue in this vein, then I run the risk of not writing a novel, but some sort of meandering, stream-of-consciousness essay. In order to inject some fiction into this narrative, allow me to introduce a set of characters. I’ll tell you up front that these characters are more or less based on a set of people I met at the Center at Square One. The Center is a collective workspace for freelancers and telecommuters in the city. Two years ago when Christina and Erica started elementary school, I took a job with a large corporation, let’s just call it, incredibly Powerful evil corporation or iPec for short. True, Alice and I needed the money. My beer writing wasn’t paying the bills and my brewing partnership was foundering in licensing hell. More about all this later. The point is that I’m not a real employee of iPec, I’m a contractor. Basically, they don’t have to give me an office or provide me with tech support or benefits. I tried working from home for a year (almost), but my (creative) writing suffered. Working for iPec in the same place I was trying to create art just seemed wrong, besides I missed the social interaction of an office. The Center solved my problem.
The Center is a cooperative space run by a guy in his early forties named Arthur Legrand. Well, obviously, Arthur Legrand is not his real name. Like I said since this is a work of fiction, I’m assigning different names to the characters; different, that is, from their names in real life. Giving the people (those who I pluck out of the existing world to insert into my narrative) new names does double duty: first, I hide their true identity so I’m not violating their privacy, and second, I am more free to invent. For example, I can hardly write in my blog-novel (blovel?) that my friend Lars is cheating on his wife. What if Lars’ wife reads my this? And she tells Lars that she found out he was cheating on her from reading my blog-novel, then I’d be in deep shit with Lars. So, I simply change Lars’ name to Sven. Now when I write about Sven, I can say that he’s cheating on his wife and I can say other things about Sven that aren’t true of Lars, such as Sven likes to dress up in women’s clothing and to hang out at biker bars, and thus making my narrative more spicy and entertaining than real life.
Arthur Legrand is one of the sons of Florence Hunter, who is the founder and CEO of a successful and lucrative cosmetics manufacturer with boutiques all over the world. I gather from my conversations with Arthur that he wasn’t interested in going into the family business. Instead of getting the MBA, he got an MFA, graduating from one of those famous writing programs. (I won’t say which one since I don’t want to give up so much information about Arthur that someone will be able to deduce who it is that I’m writing about. But, then again, it’s not like people in the literary world haven’t heard about Arthur.) In fact, I’ll add, you can tell that Arthur Legrand is not a completely fictitious person since I vowed when I started on my career as a novelist (ha!) that I would never write a story or a longer work of fiction that had an MFA in it. There are entirely too many stories about MFAs and their plight. Also, I dislike novels about writers. I consider the whole setup to be too narcissistic. A writer who sets out to write a novel about a writer writing is venturing into dangerous territory, a land where I’d rather not go (if at all possible). However, it’s possible that the only people who read substantive books are other writers, and since we writers are naturally narcissistic creatures, it might just be a good strategy to write about writers writing since that is the probable target audience for a book that doesn’t involve spaceships, knights, trolls, fighter pilots, and secret agents, (etc.) namely the usual stuff of entertainment fiction. However, substantive books may include such elements, but they must do so ironically.
The Center is the third floor of an old warehouse building called Square One. The space has an open floor plan with about fifty cubicles arranged in quadrants. To get a cubicle, you have to apply, and that involves an interview with Arthur who gauges your suitability for the “cooperative environment.” (I’m pretty confident that Arthur accepted my application because I had spent the previous seven years freelancing as a craft beer writer and was presently struggling along with my friend and business partner to launch a small brewery in Long Neck. Arthur, at heart, is a patron saint of last causes.) If you are accepted, then you can rent one of the cubicles and you get a passcode to the office. I’ve been working from the Center for a little over a year now.
Arthur is the publisher and editor of Phaneron, a literary journal with some pretty good chops in the book world. Because of his play money, Arthur is able to pay well for what he publishes, so he gets a fair amount of big names into his quarterly. But his real interest lies in cultivating new, young writers and getting them started. The managing editor of Phaneron is Marilynne Ambrose, tall, willowy, black hair, pale skin, very thin, glasses, always dressed in black.
I suppose I could go ahead and introduce all the principle characters at this point, well, the ones having to do with the Center and my second life in the city. About six months ago, Arthur suggested that I write something for Phaneron. So I wrote a ten thousand word essay complete with photos about a trip I took to the Salton Sea with my long time friend and writing buddy, Peter Wright. Arthur gave me some excellent feedback and my essay appeared in the Fall 2010 issue as “The West End of Never.” Meanwhile, I’ve expanded that essay into a short novel called Wasted. And I’m in the process of shopping the book around. We’ll see what happens with that.
Arthur patiently, over many years, has constructed an extended network of literary people, not all of them writers, readers too, and it is with a few of those people that this narrative is concerned. The ground floor of the building which houses the Center is the location of a left-wing bookstore run by Gwen Pallas, Arthur’s significant other. They aren’t married, nor do they live together, but they are a couple. The bookstore features a decent café and Gwen makes exquisite espresso. And, she’s read just about every book that is worth reading.