Saturday, March 23, 2013

Growing Up With a Story to Tell - Guest Post from Chris McKittrick


Growing Up With a Story to Tell
Chris McKittrick

With age comes a different perspective and, more importantly, a different relationship to fiction – especially with what you write.  I remember thinking The Great Gatsby was dull when I read it when I was in ninth grade.  Rereading it a few years later made me realize it was my favorite novel.  In my defense, I wasn’t ready for it yet, much like I wasn’t ready for Montauk when I began writing it.

Montauk, my short novel (the word "novella" sounds to me like I'm trying to find a grander label for my work) has been several years in the making, and it was started at a point in my life where I was moderately worried that I would end up living an unfulfilling life similar to the protagonist.  In its initial stages, I was more or less creating a roadmap for how I didn't want my life to go, as the main character was (at the time) a few years older than I was and (I think) more prone to making poor decisions.  But the story didn’t read true, because I was writing about situations that I wasn’t ready to write about yet.  Heck, despite the title and the setting, I hadn’t even been to Montauk (the furthest eastern point on Long Island) for years.

I put Montauk away and focused my energies on other projects, including several short stories (one of which, “The Coney Island Cowboy” brought me to a location that plays a key role in Montauk) and critical and analytical essays for scholarly publications.  I would take a look at Montauk every few months, writing a page here and there when an idea came to me.  Still, it wasn’t until I was older than the protagonist that I fully understood the essential theme I was trying to get at all along.  I was finally able to define the character by what he wants to accomplish and what he doesn’t know about himself because I understood myself better.  In other words, I discovered something that I had that my character did not.

Part of that also came with finding my own voice.  While in college I took a screenwriting course and many of my classmates were attempting to write mafia/crime screenplays that ended up sounding like unintentional parodies of Scorsese and Tarantino films.  For a while, that’s what I felt about Montauk: like I was aping some of my favorite “undefined search” novels like Catcher in the Rye and The Moviegoer, stories about characters who are searching for something but aren’t quite sure what that might be.  It wasn’t until I was older and had undergone similar experiences to the protagonist (or, alternately, witnessed friends undergo such experiences) that I began to understand how to polish and finish the story.  I also looked at the way young people carried themselves after growing up with much of their lives in the reality show/”everyone gets a trophy era,” and how that has affected the entitlement issues that I feel so many people under thirty have these days.  For added inspiration, I spent much of the time doing the finishing touches during visits to the beach.  It is, after all, a good beach read.

I’m still surprised by those who have read and enjoyed Montauk or its various bits and pieces because I was only writing the kind of story I enjoy reading.  With that I wrapped up a lot of the history of suburbia, something that has fascinated me considering that the suburban residential style is still in its relative infancy.  I don’t think we’ve quite figured out the suburbs yet, and I think Long Island (arguably the test zone for suburban living with developments like Levittown) is the best of example of that.  For a long time the American Dream was buying a house in the suburbs where you had a big enough yard for privacy and a safe enough street so that your kids could ride their bikes on it.  Now I’m not so sure.

I hope you will enjoy Montauk and that my short novel ends up having some meaning to you.  It’s aimed at exploring the emotions between being mildly annoyed with something and wanting to jump off a building.  Since I imagine we all feel somewhere between those extremes throughout the day (and most of us find alcohol a very helpful coping mechanism) Montauk is a story that you’ll probably find very agreeable with.  If you like it and ever run in to me, I’ll be happy to buy you a drink for your support – but don’t expect it will turn into a weekend bender on the East End.  Like I said, I’m pretty sure I am somewhat better at making decisions than my main characters.

(For more information about Chris and his writing, check out his Amazon author page at http://amazon.com/author/chrismckit .  Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMcKit)