Tuesday, May 7, 2019

#36 Inside The Emotion of Fiction's WATCH ME GO by Mark Wisniewski

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****Mark Wisniewski’s Watch Me Go is the thirty-sixth  in a never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece. 

Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? WATCH ME GO. Once considered titling it STRAIGHTAWAY. Big mistake, I think now, not to stick to my guns. (Publisher asked me to change title--still not sure why.)

Fiction genre?  Ex science fiction, short story, fantasy novella, romance, drama, crime, plays, flash fiction, historical, comedy,  etc.  And how many pages long? Literary fiction. 308 pages long published.

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no.   If yes, what publisher and what publication date? Yes. Penguin Putnam (https://www.penguin.com) , January 2015.

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction?
Started writing it in 1989. Finished proofing it for the publisher in 2014. A lot of revision in between, including many drafts at the behest of two agents. (Below:  Mark's writing space in August of 2014) 

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work?  And please describe in detail.  And can you please include a photo? Wrote most of this book in the lake house my wife Elizabeth and I owned in Lake Peekskill, NY (about 50 miles north of Manhattan). My office there overlooked the lake and a huge oak tree squirrels would climb up and into. I miss the view I had in that office in that house. (See photo Above Right)

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? Drank a lot of coffee. Listened to a lot of music, quite often Mark Knopfler (Above Left)
(https://www.markknopfler.com/) Wrote on a pc, often in the morning and into the afternoon. Towards the end of revising I would get up at 3 or 4 a.m. and revise and rewrite for hours on end.

What is the summary of this specific fiction work? Black man from the Bronx and white woman from Arkansas realize, thanks to horrible twists of fate in both of their lives, that they can help each other--but only if they listen to each other's stories.

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? This opening-pages excerpt shows how and why Douglas "Deesh" Sharp, from the Bronx, makes the first choice that ends up landing him in jail.

Please include the excerpt and include page numbers as reference.  The excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer.

Opening pages of Deesh's narrative:

Nine times out of ten it’s a woman who calls Bark to answer his ad in the Westchester Pennysaver, and sometimes when we pull up to her yard in his pickup, she’s outside waiting for us. Sometimes she even has something inside for us to eat, which, besides needing money, is why James and I never ask Bark if he wants our help. We just get in his truck and hope he lets us go.
On the morning he drives us north of Poughkeepsie, though, no woman, or anyone, is waiting outside. Maybe this has to do with the $500 this woman offered—she doesn’t feel the need to be friendly beyond that. Or maybe she’s with the junk that needs to be hauled. Anyway Bark pulls off the country road into her driveway, which drops through her uncut lawn toward her shabby yellow house, and we all get out, Bark headed to knock on her front door.
 “Hey,” I hear from the left-hand side of the house, and I turn but see no one. “Down here,” the voice calls, and there, crouched near an open crawlspace hole, is a woman about as dark as me, maybe five years older.
“Over here, Bark,” I shout, and Bark makes his way down the porch, then over to her, James and I lagging behind to let her know he’s boss.
“I took care of the rest myself,” she says, and Bark kneels beside her, then pokes his head and a good half of him into the crawlspace. He stays in there for a while, making sure, I figure, that we can do what needs doing. Then he’s back out, and he stands, slapping dirt off his knees.
“Just that oil drum?” he says.
“Yeah,” she says.
“I thought you said there was a bunch of stuff,” he says.
“No,” she says. “Just that.”
“What’s in it?” he asks.
“I have no idea,” she says, but she’s scratching her arm and keeps scratching it; if she’s not flat-out lying, she’s more than a little nervous.
“Because the thing is,” Bark says. “I can’t just take a drum like that to a dump without them asking what’s inside.”
“Then don’t take it to a dump,” she says. “Just, you know, get rid of it.”   
Bark grabs his unshaven jaw, considering. Probably he’s stumped by why a sister is living this far upstate; plus it doesn’t make much sense that any woman living in a house this shabby could have $500, let alone give it to us to haul off a drum with nothing bad in it. It crosses my mind this woman loves some guy who’s given her five hundred to get rid of the drum, some dude, maybe a white one, that she has it bad for and cheated with—and that inside the drum is this man’s wife. But all kinds of things are crossing my mind, including how I could use $500 divided by three.
“How bout a thousand?” the woman says.
Here’s where all of us, including her, gaze off at her uncut lawn, the dandelions and weeds in it, some of them pretty enough to call flowers. We gaze our separate ways for a long time, letting whatever truth of what’s going on sink into us while we play as if it isn’t, and I feel my guts work their way higher toward my lungs, threatening to stay there if Bark agrees. But there’s a lot I could do with my share of a thousand, especially since I’m used to walking away from these jobs with fifty at most. I could eat more than apples and white bread and ham. I could start saving for a truck of my own—to haul things for pay myself.
Then, to the woman, Bark says, “In cash?”
“As soon as that drum’s in your truck,” she says.
Bark glances at James, who nods.
“Deesh?” Bark asks me, and I know he’s working me over with his eyes, using them to try to convince me in their I-don’t-care-either-way manner, but what I’m watching is the woman’s feet, which are the tiniest bit pigeon-toed. They are also perfectly still, which could mean she’s no longer nervous, but my eyes, I know, are avoiding her fingers and arms. Still, the sight of those pigeon-toed feet coax me to trust her. I could marry a woman who stands like that.
“Why not?” I answer. I haven’t, I tell myself, actually said yes, but when I look up, James is following Bark into the crawlspace, the woman checking me out.
 “Sure appreciate it,” she says, in the flat way of someone who could do two men on the same day yet allow none of it to show on her face. But now she’s scratching her collarbone—over and over she’s scratching it, without one bug bite on her. There’s death in that drum, I think, but with her pigeon-toed feet aimed at me, I fall even more in love.
Then she walks off, toward a creek behind her house, and it hits me that if I want my share of the thousand, I should get my ass in that crawlspace, since the actual removal of the drum might take but five minutes—and the last thing I need is Bark and James saying I don’t deserve a cent. Then I realize that if I don’t take a cent, I might not be guilty of any crime that’s going on here, but thoughts like that only help if you can afford a lawyer who cares more than a public defender does, plus I need to be in Bark’s truck to get home, and even before I’m done thinking all this I’m on my hands and knees, my head brushing morning glory vines, then on its way through the square opening in the foundation of the woman’s house.
It’s quiet in there, and it stinks. James and Bark are on their bellies, snaking their way over damp dirt and rocks toward the drum, which lies on its side in the far corner. With the thousand in mind, I work myself toward them, trying to get a hand on the drum when they do—but Bark yells, “We got it, Deesh.”
“What are you saying?” I ask.
“I’m saying this is a two-man job, so back off.”
“You trying to cut me out of my share.”
“No. It’s just there ain’t enough room for all three of us if we want to get this thing past us.”
“So what do you want me to do?”
Bark humps up his backside, reaches into a front pocket, pulls out his keys, tosses them toward me. “Pull the truck down the driveway,” he says. His hands dig dirt away from the drum. “As close to the house as you can,” he says.
“Bark,” I say. “I haven’t driven in fifteen years.”
 “You’ll remember,” he says. “Just start it, put it in gear, and steer so you don’t hit nothing.”
“Okay,” I say, though Bark’s confidence in me has taken away the little I have in myself. I used to have confidence—gold confidence—but the older I get, I have less. Still, I back myself out of the crawlspace, pretend the woman isn’t watching as I jog up the driveway to Bark’s truck, hop inside it, start it, put it in drive and let it roll down there. Steering is easy, but when I put on the brake, I about fly through the windshield. The woman, still near the creek, has her arms folded now, checking me out. There’s that kind of thing between us, that curiosity about each other we’d ruin with conversation, and I want to make love to her bad.
Now Bark and James are yanking the drum top-first through the hole in her foundation; the drum is too wide to roll out. They struggle like hungry playground kids—whatever’s in that thing is dumb-heavy. Wind blows past my face, the woman now picking a weed’s blue flower from between pebbles beside the creek. It’s her husband in the drum, I think. She got carried away in an argument over nothing and the thousand is all they ever saved.
“Deesh,” Bark calls to me. “Gonna help us or not?”
I nod, toss him his keys, which he catches like it’s the old days. I walk toward him and James, and all three of us roll the drum to the driveway, flattening a strip of knee-high grass, acting like we haul mystery drums every day. This one is the rusted old orange you’d expect, but its new yellow lid has barely a scratch or a smudge on it, and as we team up near Bark’s tailgate and lift on the count of three, we take extra care to keep the lid on. Dead weight, I think as we lower the works onto the bed. If this isn’t a corpse, she would have said so.

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you?  And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? I grew up poor, and when I wanted to teach on the college level, pretty much the only jobs I was given were to teach poor students. So I knew about people like Deesh, and I felt for them.

Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt. No deletions. This part sort of came right out.

Other works you have published? The novels CONFESSIONS OF A POLISH USED CAR SALESMAN and SHOW UP, LOOK GOOD. 125+ short stories in print magazines. 300+ poems in print magazines.

Anything you would like to add? To anyone who wants to write novels: Good luck.

     Pushcart Prize winner and Best American Short Stories author Mark Wisniewski’s third novel, Watch Me Go (Penguin Random House Putnam, 2015), has been praised by Salman Rushdie, Ben Fountain, Rebecca Makkai, Daniel Woodrell, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Wall Street Journal. Wisniewski’s short stories and narrative poems have been published in print journals such as Antioch Review, TriQuarterly, The Southern ReviewNew England ReviewThe Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, Mississippi Review, The Missouri Review, Ecotone, and The Sun. (Left:  Recent photo of Mark Wisniewski)


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