Heads and Tails

by Joni Abilene

This week was all about ends and beginnings. I completed the first draft of a young adult novel I’ve been working on since last year—an intense first person narrative about a fifteen-year-old with a best friend bound for trouble. The book is set in 1977 and continues the story of Keith Day (The Moonflowers) into his sophomore year of high school. He’s got girl trouble, school trouble, parent trouble, but his biggest problem is Mark Denning, his only friend. Mark is one of those know-it-all nonconformists with a death wish and Keith really is too young for such things, but he absolutely adores Mark and will do anything to be with him. I didn’t know it at the time, but the themes in The Starlights mirrored 2112, by Rush. While I did listen to it while writing the book, I didn’t fully stop to analyze the story. Sure enough, I type the last paragraph, sit back, and go . . . whoa. Nerd moment. To be fair, every fifteen-year-old in 1977 was living that album in some form, but I do love the parallel this book has to Keith’s story of social conformity and 2112’s tale of zero identity under a higher power. Parents, school authorities, fears, relationships—they’re all there, only in 2112 it’s the Federation and the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx. Early on, Keith buys a guitar (which gets smashed and promptly replaced with another by an older female love interest), he starts a band, his whole life changes, his friend tries to kill himself, and Keith goes from this naive kid to a young man with too many troubles. He’s trying to break free, trying to understand his own existence, and the very moment he begins to understand, he’s told he’s still too young and doesn’t know anything.

After writing that past paragraph, or rather, the last chapter, I had emotions hitting me hard for hours afterwards. Funny how these characters have the ability to do that. There’s one line in particular which continued to haunt me, from Mark. He’s one of those cats who fell through he cracks back in the ‘70s—you know the kind, your neighbor’s son, a cousin, that guy in school you never saw again but no one talked about. Whether it was drugs or jail or suicide, no one spoke about him, and you weren’t allowed to mention him either. Over and done. That’s what this book is really about, people who fall through the cracks. Someone loved them, cared for them, cried for them. It was that elusive, forgotten kid who nudged me along while writing this book, and I wanted Keith to be the sole witness to this person’s demise. That’s all I can say without completely ruining the story.

I love the bromance in this book. Can I just say how much writing about a fifteen-year-old has shown me what a nerdy teen I still am inside? I even broke out with a huge zit this week. That, I can do without.

The beginning part of my week was writing the first few pages of the Siskel & Ebert novel. It’s questionable whether I’ll have the legal go ahead with this project, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to continue for my own enjoyment. The worst issue is confidence. Who the heck do I think I am writing about these guys? I have no clout in this business. No one knows who I am. I don’t have even an agent. But . . . in the end it’s about doing something with a great amount of love, and that I do have, so the project will move forward.

And that’s it from Kansas. I wish you all a Happy Father’s Day tomorrow.

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