Essay Authors Note

Essay Authors Note-42
I was representing the sainted and patriotic humanities.

I was representing the sainted and patriotic humanities.In short, I listened to the Congressman for Wisconsin’s 5th District spew forth a litany of accusations, misinterpretations, and talk-radio-perpetuated myths and sat on my proverbial hands.

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The next weekend I went over with my laptop and a desk lamp and tried to write. Something about the claustrophobia of a dank, antique basement seemed well suited to the sort of novel I was trying to write, and I wrote faster than I have ever written before.

I was in that cautious phase of a new project, when a writer worries that he or she will wreck the flow of words. Within four months, I had finished a 450-page draft of a novel called .

I wish now that I had asked him if a man born a millionaire can have any idea about how hard an American family must work to make ends meet, let alone a family of migrant workers. All of the phrases that went unsaid at our meeting seemed to come forth from my fingertips, blackening the white screen in front me.

Or what it feels like to choose between making the minimum payment on his student loan and the minimum payment on a hospital bill. Given all of these facts, what I really must say, for personal and political and legal reasons, is this: This is a work of fiction.

The house, at least the upper floors of the house, served as a lodging facility for an arts center—Shake Rag Alley—and two of the board members of that center, upon hearing that I, a young father, was having trouble finding a quiet place to write, offered me this place.

One weekend, I went over and vacuumed and dusted and cleaned; I found an old desk and some bookshelves and set them up facing a cinder block wall where a fireplace had once been.The problematic character was a minor one, a creation named Mack Fences, who is based on my dear friend, Mark Gates.Those of you in the world of publishing may recognize the name, as Mark was, for many years, a well-respected, talented, and diligent sales representative for the prestigious publishing house of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Most of my time on Capitol Hill consisted of meeting with (and occasionally lusting after) twenty-two-year old staffers, dressed, for the first time in their lives, in professional and dapper business wear, all of whom made me feel impossibly drab, chubby, and poorly dressed.I did have a meeting that afternoon with a real live congressman, Wisconsin’s Jim Sensenbrenner, who was, in fact, the last congressman I thought I’d get any face time with at all. He had, also, no idea, or the desire to have an idea, about the difference between the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.He was also named Sales Representative of the Year in 2006 by magazine. Mack Fences was initially a minor character, a sort of fop designed to provide a bit of levity from what was an initially dark and stormy little novel.Mack Fences chain-smoked, he drank too much, and he was intellectually fierce and witty but also a wee bit of a coward.I remember one scene in particular that I thought stood out: Mack, confronted by a rabid and renegade Homeland Security Agent, quickly buckles under the weight of federal inquiry and begins naming the names of his friends involved in “un-American activities that were cynicizing [sic] the nation.” I was quite pleased with his role in the novel, and I do admit that I secretly imagined Mark, and many of his good friends in the industry, chuckling aloud at a few of the inside jokes that peppered the manuscript.Somewhere around the time I turned in the second draft of this novel to the woman who was once my editor and whom I thought would be my editor for a long time—this was in December of 2007—Mark Gates was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, which had spread to the brain.It was an ambitious novel, an attempt to merge Turgenev’s into a seamless tale of generational strife and mysticism set in southwestern Wisconsin. A great deal of the material came from my own personal life, and thus the novel was easy to write, particularly because the main character, Zeke, was sort of an amalgamation of all of my worst tendencies and tactics.Zeke is so weird and intellectually obscure and lonely that he has increasing trouble functioning in contemporary society.


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