Discover more from portrait of a body (in pieces)
Or why I'm publishing a novel on Substack
This work owes a great debt to two muses. The first is my depression, a lifelong companion, housemate, bed-fellow, drinking buddy, sometime bully, and legal advisor.
The second is John S. Hall, the spoken word artist and front man of art rock outfit King Missile, whose 1992 hit Detachable Penis served as quasi-inspiration for the premise of portrait.
If you haven’t heard it, or any of King Missile’s work, it’s a story song in spoken form about a man who wakes up hungover and can’t remember where he left his penis. It’s far more amusing and self-aware than it sounds.
Portrait began life as a short story I wrote in January and February of 2019, titled January (and other depressions). I don’t recall where King Missile fit into the development process, but I heard the song long before I started work on this story.
So it makes sense that the idea of being able to remove body parts at will was more than likely seeded by Hall’s lyrics.
When people ask where ideas come from this is sometimes the case. Something goes in – a thought, an image, a fragment – and is apparently forgotten. You carry it with you until it forces its way back out in whatever mutated form the years and ravages of time and pressures of thought have crystallised it into.
In all honesty I don’t know which came first, this idea or recalling the song. But it would be rude not to mention it or cite it as inspiration, because it’s both a fantastic premise and my initial exposure to it predated this work by some 20 years.
And now, King Missile:
Also, I must note, in respect of this inspiration the one item my main character doesn’t detach is his penis, for reasons I may explain in the work at some point.
What started as a short story about a man putting himself back together over the course of a month (after a particularly devastating depressive episode), has over the years developed into a full-length narrative.
Based in part on my adventures, addictions, and efforts in the five years since I published my debut novel, Johnny Ruin, the new work is a set over a 12-month period. You can accomplish a lot in a month, but as I’ve discovered, putting your life back together is a slightly longer project. The year this story covers is more like it.
But is it true? Who can say. Well, I can. But one of the great things about fiction is you aren’t bound to conventions like time, or scientific fields, like biology. You can make up your own rules. And a world with made up rules is a great place to hide the truth.
I keep calling it a work. I’m hesitant here to call it a novel, though I sometimes do for shorthand because people seem to get that. It’s certainly not a book, not yet at least. If anything it’s a literary work. A serial. A series of fictions bound by a central premise.
You may have questions. Why are you doing this? Why here? Why free? Don’t you have an agent? Is it not very good? Did this get rejected, or are you afraid to try?
I’m ready. It’s time. I’m publishing it here because I want people to read it. It’s free because I want people to read it. You can choose to pay, but you don’t have to. I’m doing this with the full support of my literary agent (she says hi 👋). I wouldn’t be doing this if I thought it was bad. I am good at this. I’m excited to share it with you. Publishing takes time. I didn’t want to wait two years to re-engage with an audience.
And yes, I’m afraid to try. I’m scared shitless, in fact.
Thrilling, isn’t it.
See you in January,
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