Beginning of a new project perhaps to be shopped by my agent soon. Thoughts? Suggestions? Good jokes?
By the end of this story I will either be dead or imprisoned for the rest of my natural life.
And I’ll deserve it, too.
There will be no injustice, simply consequences for the atrocities I have committed. Things that are heinous. Things that are vile.
Some claim that all writing is autobiographical. That, to a degree, everything the author writes comes from experience, whether it be a character, place, story, or observation. This book is autobiographical in that sense.
But also another.
We think of autobiographies as creative works spawned from a lived life, but what if the inverse is also be true? Perhaps sometimes, it is the art that creates the artist.
Art is what makes us human, after all. Without our imagination, our ability to create alternate realities, we’re just the same as any other animal. Miring in simplicity, there would only be the mundane, with existential suffering the sole respite.
Art is what sets us free.
It keeps us entertained. Inspired. Fulfilled. It provides us purpose and individuality. Identity. It even allows artists to live beyond their physical years.
Everyone wants that taste of immortality.
Even if it’s a knock-off brand.
I may die for my expression. Others already have. Their bodies have been butchered, mutilated; the savagery an intricate detail of a beautiful process. In death they have become a part of something so much more magnificent. Once this production is completed, regardless of the consequences, it will all be worth it. Every horrific thing I’ve done will be absolutely worth it.
There is no art without sacrifice, after all.
She’s looking at me amorously, lashes fluttering as she bats her eyelids up and down in an intentionally slow motion. Her eyes are locked onto me, honed in on every movement, waiting for every word, but she looks dazed, in a dream-like state.
It’s the type of look you’re flattered to receive but ashamed to enjoy.
I stand in front of the class and wonder what the hell I’m doing here. Tall and skinny, my suit billows around me, wafting with every motion, somehow the correct size and baggy at the same time. My tie is too tight, so much so that it feels like I’m choking, and my glasses just won’t seem to stay on straight.
What am I doing here?
Sure, I had signed on to adjunct this course. Yes, it was research for the next novel, and of course I had a lesson plan for the class…
But I’m no professor.
Even as Melody Brooks, the curvy brunette Junior stares at me, plugging me into her hot for teacher fantasy, I do not fit the role of professor. I did not go through a rigorous Ph.D program; I’ve never taught a course in my life.
I’m just a writer.
A New York Times Bestseller of transgressive fiction, gory and grotesque works at that, but a writer of books all the same. If you tear away the titles, labels, the fanfare, we’re all just human deep down.
Well, most of us.
I walk back and forth in front of the classroom, surveying the bored and distant faces of my students. I am surprised to see that they look incredibly young. I’m barely in my thirties but this crowd looks wide-eyed and babyfaced. I’m supposed to feel out of place, intimidated even, but the sight before me eases my woes.
“Write what you know” is a principle nugget of wisdom used by many writers. Fiction is more engaging and authentic when it’s been seasoned by real thoughts and experiences. My latest novel is about a college professor, Thomas Murrow, a stuffy pompous type from a privileged background. He’s been a refined egghead all of his life, and currently is residing in his ivory tower, but soon something else rises to the surface.
My last two books, while commercially successful, have been panned by critics as hollow, inaccessible, inauthentic, and too sparse. They say the books lack a “genuine voice.” Thus, I contacted my alma mater, the University of Drayton. I offered to adjunct a course, one per semester, nothing intensive, just a way to dip my feet in and experience the life of a professor.
I write a phrase on the whiteboard, a light thumping noise echoing throughout the room as I construct the letters, underlining the phrase when I am finished. There are fifteen students in my class, and I will attempt to learn the names of a handful, the types that distinguish themselves as memorable.
If life was a book, would you be a named character?
Would you be mentioned at all?
“The first line of a novel is the most important,” I read the words in a cliffhanger tone. I survey the sea of faces in the classroom, each staring to me in one of two ways. A few are interested, leaning forward, lips pursed together and brows furrowed. A majority of the students choose the second option, vaguely glancing my way with glazed, glossed over eyes; attention as a mere formality.
I pace back and forth. I stare at the faces with an air of challenge to my expression.
The first line is the most important in a novel because it’s the baited hook. It’s what captures the reader or lets them slip away. People won’t read stories that don’t interest them, that don’t speak to them right away, so it’s imperative to begin the book with an intriguing message or description.
The students stare at me. One lets out a yawn.
While the hook is very important, it is nothing without some line to keep reeling the reader in. If the hook is followed by fluff, unnecessary description and needlessly long words, it’s practically literary masturbation.
Is that writing done for the audience or the author?
A student snickers at the word masturbation used in an academic setting. The metaphor catches the attention of a few of them, whose eyes shoot open in surprise.
A student raises her hand. She’s a blond and reveals her name to be Leah. She asks me, in a soft and timid tone, if any writer can truly create art. If the practice is not purely subjective.
Postmodernism at its finest.
I tell her that art is certainly subjective, as everything is, but within subjectivity is a form of consensus, a type of hive mind if you will, where certain techniques and works strike a chord with an array of hearts, truly touching humanity. In this way, the artist has engrained themselves within the viewer in a meaningful way, changing their perspective or outlook, in their own sense, becoming part of the viewer.
A good book never leaves us, after all.
The girl appears unconvinced but nods, biting her lip and not following up her question. It’s a topic we will get to in time, and I make a mental note of Leah’s name. She may prove herself worthy enough to end up in a book one day.
I scan the room and see that some students have offered me their attention, however, there are others who still slack. In particular, the scruffy kid in the second row, who taps away at his phone while barely bothering to hide it. His hair is oily and greasy, draping down in limp curls over his pudgy face. If I were pressed to describe him in one of my books, I’d call him doughy and forgettable.
I remove a pen from my shirt pocket and walk over to him, twirling it in my fingers. The smile on my face is warm, soft, and welcoming; the type of look one would reserve for an old friend. I slam my hand down upon his desk and he jumps.
He looks up at me, face lit with surprise, and opens his mouth to apologize, a harebrained excuse en route just as I cut him off.
By stabbing him in the throat with my pen.
This is called a tonal shift.
I drive the fountain pen (solid metal and with the finest of ink, no expense spared) into the zit-pocked nape of his neck. He lets out a stunted cry, the sound of violin strings snapping, as I sever his jugular. The screams of his classmates rise around me in a chorus.
I seize hold of his shoulder, fingers digging into his shirt, and rip the pen from his neck. A rush of blood sprays out, a line of it shooting across the aisle and dousing another student. She cries out and falls from her desk to the floor, wiping her face like a maniac.
The student (Gary, I believe his name is) lets out a wet choke and slaps my arms away. He falls from his seat to the floor but I’m upon him, standing over him as I drive the pen down, piercing his throat again. I grab hold of him, continually stabbing him with the pen, the side of his face and neck turning into a punctured jelly doughnut.
I stare down at the frantic, dying man, and think about how this is an excellent teaching moment for my class.
A central challenge of writing transgressive fiction is balancing the descriptions of violence and gore to the point where they are effective yet not too gratuitous as to push the reader away. For example, I could describe how, through the mutilated mess of Gary’s neck muscles, I can see his ravaged artery flapping as blood squirts out of it. While this detail would be powerful to describe the pure intensity of the scene and truly convey the utter savagery of my action, it would be ill-advised since it borders on the grotesque, a move that would simply be gore for gore’s sake.
Gary flops around like a fish out of water, splashing in the blood pooled around him, leaving streaky hand and shoe prints on the floor. His face is a torn and ragged palate. I take a moment to appreciate just how much damage I’ve done with a simple writing instrument.
The pen is mightier than the sword, after all.
The students are shrieking. Gary’s breaths are shallow. He looks to me, his eyes glazed and listless, a bubble of blood caught on his lips. His complexion is pallor, his ghostly white skin staunchly juxtaposed by the dark puddle growing around him. I stand over him, leaning down for our final exchange.
“Use of technology for social media purposes in class is expressly forbidden,” I say.
Gary stares at me.
I drive the pen into his eye and erase Gary from existence. His body jolts before going rigid. A final wheeze of air slips out from his lips before he exits the world.
I stare down at my body. My hands and suit are stained with blood, My hair is wild with gore. I must look like some kind of psychopath.
I clear my throat, regain my composure, and turn to face the rest of the class.
“Now it’s time to cover the syllabus,” I announce.