All posts by Jay Massiet

My Kerouac Experiment: Writing a Novel One Paragraph at a Time

Every time I begin a new project, I try to do something new that will make me think differently about the way I write, or to practice writing about people or things with which I’m unfamiliar. Now that I’ve finished the first draft of my thesis novel for my MFA, I started on a new project. Two actually. I first started a horror/thriller novel, and the POV would be through that of a Jewish woman. People who know me know that Judaism is nothing new for my stories, but women are something I’ve rarely written about or through. Though I’ve written short stories with female protagonists, I’ve not done so for a novel-length project. However, after writing the first thirty pages, a desire to write another novel became too strong to resist. So my experiment with writing through a female’s POV for a novel has been put on hold for a few months while I delve into a new project, which means a new experiment(s).

Now I’m writing a literary war novel, and have three personal experiments going on.

Experiment One: write through multiple POVs.

Experiment Two: write through a child’s POV.

Experiment Three: write like Jack Kerouac

So I’m not trying to write like Kerouac in terms of style, content, word choice, etc. My current experiment has to do with simply getting the first draft on paper without worrying about revising, correcting grammar, or anything that takes away from getting the story out from beginning to end. I didn’t find this difficult to begin with, but sometimes I waste too much time on things other than writing new content. Here’s what my experiment is: write an entire novel in a single paragraph, á la, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: The Original Scroll.

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Kerouac’s On the Road was originally typed out on several sheets of paper taped together to form a single scroll.

It’s no secret On The Road is one of my favorite novels. I’ve read the most well-known version twice, the one with altered names and such. However, I’ve always been curious as to what Kerouac’s original novel is like. I recently purchased On The Road: The Original Scroll. It’s not the easiest book to read, much harder than the popular version, but it’s still interesting. Why is this version for difficult to read? The entire novel is one paragraph.

Here’s the description from Amazon:

Typed out as one long, single-spaced paragraph on eight long sheets of tracing paper that he later taped together to form a 120-foot scroll, this document is among the most significant, celebrated, and provocative artifacts in contemporary American literary history. . . .

. . . The differences between the two versions [of On The Road] are principally ones of significant detail and altered emphasis. The scroll is slightly longer and has a heightened linguistic virtuosity and a more sexually frenetic tone. It also uses the real names of Kerouac’s friends instead of the fictional names he later invented for them.

After starting the new book I’d been wanting to write, I wanted to see what my writing would be like if I attempted to write my new novel in one paragraph–no chapter, section, or paragraph breaks. What have I learned now that I’m 45,000 words into the story? Damn, writing the story in one paragraph is freaking hard, but I get more words out in a day than I typically had when I thought about all the superficial aspects of writing.

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When typing out a novel as one paragraph the search bar becomes a very good friend. I mean it. So good a friend you start wondering if you love her. Then you visit Kay Jewelers where you buy a ring that costs three times more than your monthly salary. Once at home, you start the computer and word processor, and propose by typing in “will u marry me? :).”  She tells you “No Matches Found,” which hurts more than anything, because she obviously doesn’t reciprocate the love, and has blatantly told you that you and her do not match. Or maybe this was just me.

Of course, paragraph breaks, chapter breaks, etc., are not just superficial and play important roles, but they aren’t completely necessary unless you’re the type of person who cannot write a book without editing as you go along. Some people do better that way. I’m not one of those people. If I don’t get the whole story out before revising, writing becomes a chore and so difficult it sometimes takes me a while to get back to it. By writing every day and focusing on moving forward rather than looking back, I get more story out and quicker, but most importantly, I have more fun.

What typing the first half of the book as a single paragraph has taught me is to remember how much fun it is to get a story out of my head and onto paper. It’s too difficult to go back to revise when a story is written this way. Of course, I have a separate document full of notes about what I need to do once the first draft is finished (which means this draft is probably more accurately described as a pre-draft). Some of the notes are ideas to think about, points to insert, changes, etc. I’ve been having a lot of fun writing lately. It did take a week to get used to writing this way, but, at least for me, it’s been worth it.

I have a feeling my story will benefit during the revision stage as well because of this experiment. It’s often easy to scan over things that need fixing during revision, which necessitates multiple drafts. Perhaps by writing a novel as one paragraph, when I go to revision I’ll be looking at the story more closely than ever because not only will I be looking at the big picture, but the small points as well because I will be looking and reading carefully for where paragraph, chapter, and section breaks would work best. While multiple drafts will still be necessary, maybe I’ll have a rather decent one after the first revision. This is something I will speak about more once I reach this stage and find out if I’m correct or not.

So far, I’m enjoying this experiment, but that may change later when I begin revising. I do recommend attempting it and seeing if it helps or not. Right now, I feel my story has only benefited from this technique.

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Welcome to JayMassiet.com!

So who am I? My name is Jay Massiet. Technically, Jayp Massiet. A cookie to whoever pronounces my name correctly on the first try. Oatmeal raisin. Sorry, no substitutions.

I’m a former Army Sergeant, spent just under six years in the service, completed two tours in Iraq, and was awarded the Purple Heart Medal for injuries sustained in combat. I left the Army in 2009, moved back to my hometown of Palmdale, California, where I tried to find a job, failed, moved to Little Rock, AR, tried to find a job, failed, moved back home, tried to find a job, failed, decided to go to college, failed . . . oops, I actually succeeded in something. No, really. I attended Seton Hill University where I graduated summa cum laude (3.91 GPA) in 2013. I’m still at SHU, this time going for an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction.

So what do I write? Horror, mainly, but I try to write stories that fit within various genres. I’ve written a 99,500-word dark fantasy novel as an undergrad, for which I am currently seeking representation. I’ve just completed the first draft of my thesis novel (93,000 words) for my MFA, this one supernatural horror. I’ve since started a third novel, which at the time of this post sits at 35,000 words with a goal of 60,000-70,000. It’s mainstream literary, and focuses on the tragedies–and humor, boredom, excitement, fatigue, enjoyment, heartbreak–of war. It will be a shorter book, but I feel that’ll be best for the story I’ve been developing.

On my website, I will be speaking about whatever I feel like at the moment, or whatever inspires me to write a post. I figure most posts will have something to do with writing, in some shape or form. Sometimes posts may just be about something that tickles my fancy.

If I really like a book, I may write about it. If I dislike a book, I may write about it and discuss why I felt that way, and what I, and perhaps other writers, can learn from the experience. Really, my book reviews will be highly subjective, and I don’t expect everybody to agree. If you do or don’t, feel free to leave a comment.

Healthy discussion and debate is always encouraged. Trolling is not, however, so please be civil. What’s the point of interacting with people, even through a medium as anonymous as the Internet, if they hate your guts? You don’t want people to hate you, right? Sure, others may feed you, make you fat. But then you’re just a fat person behind a keyboard, and anonymity is the only way you can hide troll-some fatness. So don’t be a lard.

Anyways.

Many of my posts will be about my personal experiences as a writer. I try to experiment as often as I can with my stories, whether it’s through genres I’m not as well read in, writing techniques, or whatever I feel will help me become a better writer, and I plan to write about my successes and failures as I play with the written word.

So. It’s time to get back to working on my story, so more to come soon.

Take care,

Jay Massiet

P.S. This blog was originally my blog for a course in my MFA and you can find the posts I’ve written for it below. Some are better written than others, but I’m keeping them so that others can read them should they choose to do so.

Who You Gonna Call? Ghostbusters!

220px-Ghostbusters_coverGhostbusters.

Still awesome.

End post. That’s all I gotta say about this childhood classic of mine.

This film actually came out in 1984, the year before I was born, which means by the time I remember watching it, part II had already come out and I had seen that one as well. I remember thinking to myself how much better the first movie is than the second. Do I still feel that way now?

Absolutely. And I’ll tell you why.

The original Ghostbusters never takes itself seriously, and while the second one may not either, you can see that there was pressure for it to perform just as well or better than the first. It seemed like an attempt to duplicate the original with a new story. It just didn’t work well for me, though this is just me and I’m sure there are those out there that disagree.

Ghostbusters is not always logical, the stars are not devilishly, CW handsome (I don’t know if they were considered so back in the day, but I was -1 years old when it came out, so I just don’t know), and the jokes are nonstop. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is the most memorable villain of the movie, which deviates from traditional movie monsters. Despite all this, the movie is still more consistent than many monster movies. Perhaps the reason for this is screenwriters of traditional monster movies attempt to make the monster scary or too unique, and when they push too hard, the movie loses all hope. However, with Ghostbusters, the film doesn’t get too serious–yet just enough when it has to–and this helps with the “reality” of the monsters. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is a joke, yet believable. Why? Because the Ghostbusters are forced to choose what will destroy them, and Stantz can’t empty his mind, so he thinks of the least threatening thing he can. The least threatening thing becomes the destroyer. This plot device, that is, the characters decide what will destroy them, made the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man believable.

The believability of the final villain, despite it being ridiculous, is something done well in the film from which we can learn as writers. Nothing is off-limits, really, as long as you can make it believable for the readers. Except for garden gnomes. Why people are scared of those things is beyond me. (But, hell. If you can think of a way to make them scary and believable, by all means go for it.) If Ghostbusters can make a giant marshmallow a threatening villain, then anything can be made threatening if handled the right way.

I still enjoy Ghostbusters, despite its age. Until now, I haven’t watched it in many years, but I’m glad I revisited it now.

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol

christmas carol 3d 02I wasn’t sure how I wanted to analyze Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Should I write about it through a historical context or through the modern context that is really all I know. You can study the past as much as you like, but it’s always through a lens of modernity. For this reason, I decided to look at the story as I would any story published today.

First off, I enjoyed Dickens’s story; it is a quick read with few flaws, in my opinion. Scrooge is famous for being a scrooge. (I wonder where that word came from. Joking aside, it’s theorized it came from the word “scrouge.”) Scrooge doesn’t treat people well, cares for money and little else. He does have a backstory, though, that explains why he became such a despicable person. Dickens sets up the backstory in an original way, in that rather than providing an infodump, his past is incorporated into the narrative by way of a ghost who takes him there, or at least lets him view it.

Scrooge wasn’t really all that bad when he was younger, but he has always loved money, which pushes away his fiancée. He was a lonely child, but, thanks to his surrogate father, it didn’t seem to affect him as much as it could have. Perhaps his greed ended up being the root of his future sins, that and the death of Marley, which impacted him greatly.

Stave Two and Three are areas where I do have some difficulty believing Scrooge and his character. He’s a miser, mean-spirited, greedy, and cares for only himself; however, there are times he shows remorse or even somewhat repents during his travels with the second spirit. It doesn’t stick, but it seems instantaneous. Now, would Scrooge act or feel this way in reality, especially this soon in the narrative? His intense apathy, even hatred at times, for others seems like it would prohibit such contradictory emotions after very little revelation. For the average person, the revelations would be huge, but no so with Scrooge. He’s see suffering, suffered himself, caused much as well, so why does he feel this way so quickly? Sure, he only shows it for very brief moments, but it still pulled me out of the story.

I enjoyed Stave Four the most, and it’s where the reader also gets to see Dickens’s ability to provide humor during serious scenes. This could ruin a story if not done right, but Dickens is a master for a reason. Ultimately, Scrooge gets to see what happens after he dies. One of my favorite parts of the story is when he discovers no one will attend his funeral except for local businessmen, and only if they are provided with a lunch. This, I found, to be hilarious. Furthermore, all his possessions are taken away and sold; not a single person cares for him enough to take care of his grave after he passes; he lived a life alone and full of greed and possessions, but dies alone without even his possessions to comfort him.

Scrooge turns his life around after seeing what will come if he doesn’t. But does Scrooge really deserve salvation? One thing I kept asking myself while reading this is how often ghosts help others out? You know, ones who may be on the wrong path, but haven’t quite been so miserable as Scrooge? Do people with lesser sins suffer a fate worse than what Scrooge will eventually face because he was given the opportunity to view his life in advance? I think this is what troubled me the most during my reading, that Scrooge is saved while others may never be.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

220px-The_Exorcism_Of_Emily_RoseThe Exorcism of Emily Rose is one of my favorite movies, particularly in terms of possession movies. A reason for this is the exorcism is always put into doubt in this film. The combination of supernatural and rational thought makes for a film that is, I believe, thought-provoking for all but the firmest believers of either science or the supernatural.

The film is loosely based on an actual case, that of Anneliese Michel–a German woman who underwent an exorcism and later died. The film is a dramatization of Michel, her exorcism, and the trial later held. What I find interesting about this film is the juxtaposition of evidence of possession with countering evidence that Emily Rose, as she’s called in the film, is actually mentally ill. Was she mentally ill or was she possessed? It’s up for the viewer to decide, but I would say that the movie does lean toward possession. I think this is shown by the film’s representation of the characters: the pious nature of the parents and religious figures, and the almost antagonistic behaviors of the prosecution. The prosecution is doing their job, so I don’t hold anything against them, and most people may believe they are right in real life, but when watching a film, the tendency to rationalize everything may not be there in the way it would be in life.

What makes this a horror film instead of just a courtroom drama is how this movie portrays the events as real life. For many people, the possession of Emily Rose–whether she’s possessed by a demon or a mental illness–can happen to any of us without becoming aware beforehand. Something is wrong with Rose, that much is certain and uncontested in the film, and whether or not you believe in the supernatural, something like this can be inflicted on a person and change the person’s life for the worst. Mental illness is real, many people suffer from it obviously, so one day you can be walking your dog, waving to a friend, and just as you are about to take a drink of your venti cafe latte, boom, something is wrong, you’re paralyzed, or you’ve entered into an episode of epilepsy, or whatever else that can happen suddenly. Sometimes a person never experienced effects until they are older, or the effects were so subtle they almost went unnoticed. For Emily Rose, the suddenness of her mental illness, if that’s what you believe affected her, prompted the theory she might have been possessed.

Without warning, if you were afflicted, would you believe it’s medical or supernatural? For me, I would lean medical, but I’m also not the most religious person; if I were, who knows what I would think. Either way, what makes this movie horror is that something can happen to us that we can’t immediately explain, much like Emily Rose, and it doesn’t matter what is causing it, it can kill you.

Paranormal Activity

220px-Paranormal_Activity_posterParanormal Activity is a movie people either love or hate. I’ve never spoken with a person who is “blah” about this one, though I’m sure they exist. I like this movie, despite my hatred for found footage films. While I thought found footage was cool at one time, I now think they are overdone, and merely a way to film something on a smaller budget than what would be needed for a standard production. Paranormal Activity has its problems, but I still enjoyed it.

The problem with found footage films is how unrealistic they are in a big way: why would you continue filming something when you should be running away. For this movie, when something big happens, rather than immediately rushing to find out what it is (therefore protecting his wife without hesitation) the camera and footage becomes more important. When my house was broken into a couple of years ago, I didn’t wake up and first grab my camera, I ran toward the sound of the noise and chased the mother****er out of my house and down the street while my wife called the cops. To me, that seems like what a natural immediate response should be, but in found footage films this rarely happens, including this film.

Another thing, the characters doing the filming are often assholes. In Paranormal Activity, Micah is a jerk. No matter how many times Katie asks, tells, and sometimes yells, for him to please put down the camera, he refuses or he will put it down without turning it off. There’s no way to have sympathy for a character like this, one who seems to care so little for his significant other. He only angers her more by bringing in a Ouija board into the house. Kind of asking for something to happen? Yeah. The bad thing is I probably would have brought in something to communicate with as well and if my ass wound up haunted, it would be my own damn fault.

I liked Katie in the film. I had a friend who said she nags too much, but I blame that on Micah being a jerk. She is a character I felt for. Considering these are the only two important characters in the film, at least I liked one.

I did appreciate how the movie attempts to frighten viewers not through gore or excessive violence (not that I’m opposed to either of those by any means), but rather through suspense. This does cause the film to run slow at times, but aside from found footage films tending to do that, it doesn’t harm the story all that much.

I think what Paranormal Activity does best is kill time for however many minutes it runs. I talked about it with friends after seeing it the first time, but it’s not one that lingers in conversation, and is perhaps just a note in a conversation about horror.

Elaine Mercado’s Grave’s End

gravesElaine Mercado’s Grave’s End is another “true” ghost story we’ve read this semester in my MFA’s readings in the genre course. While this book claims to be true, it just wasn’t enjoyable for me, although I did enjoy it slightly more than The Amityville Horror.

Whether or not this really is a true story, I don’t know. I’m very skeptical about books that claim to be true, with plenty proven afterwards that they aren’t, or only a small portion is. The “true” tag this book has may be part of the reason I didn’t enjoy it all that much; I went into this already with doubt, so instead of reading it for the story, I read it with judgment. Before reading this book, I had seen an episode of Paranormal Witness dealing with this story, and I had already established doubts about the veracity of the claims, so once I realized the episode was based on Mercado’s story, those doubts were carried along with me as I read.

My doubts weren’t the only thing that stopped me from enjoying the story; the writing also played a part in that. The writing is often repetitive, which is one thing I usually become annoyed with in stories. Instead of focusing on the story, I start focusing on redundancies. The book is already a slim book, but it could have been shorter; and I feel a more succinct story would have been better.

For the haunting itself, the fear the family felt wasn’t really present in the story. Rather than creating suspense for the reader (which can be done for nonfiction, if that’s what this really is), an exclamation point would mark the end of the sentence as if saying, “see how serious this is?” and that’s not a way for the reader to feel the same tension. Part of the reason why the terror can’t be felt is the atmosphere of the story is adequately built up; without atmosphere and mood, the reader won’t be drawn in as close as he or she needs to be in order to start feeling what the characters are feeling. What kills this is the expanded timeframe of the haunting. A haunting is scary, though I’ve never experienced one, which may add to my skepticism as sad as that is, but when an event occurs one day, then nothing for weeks or months before something else, the tension is lost. Granted, if this is a true story than modifying the dates and times would make it fiction, but there are still ways to write true to time, yet show just how uncomfortable the lapses between hauntings are. The suspense disappears fi an event happens, then you forget about what’s happened because of the length of time before another event. This is just another reason why I just couldn’t get into it.

The characters, though, are a different matter. I thought they sounded real, and I could sympathize with them at times. I didn’t really feel like a particular character couldn’t exist, so this did help.

I may be speaking about nothing but what I found wrong with this book, but it’s not a horrible story, just not one that I truly enjoyed. Perhaps a more succinct story with more atmosphere and tension would make for a better story.