Joyland

a hub for short fiction

Guest Blogger Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood is a winner of the Danuta Gleed Award and the author of The Cloaca, a new collection now available from  Invisible Publishing. Read a story on Joyland here. For the next month, Andrew will be sharing insights into creative writing.

Books I Have Abandoned

The Skeleton Street Series (circa. 1992)

I was a carrier of The Guelph Mercury (the only daily paper in the world devoted to reporting on Guelph, Ontario) from about the age of six, when I slowly began to adopt the route from my brother, until what might have been as old as fourteen or fifteen. There was an embarrassment of old ladies on the block and I was a chubby, cute, redhead, and, as good as a grandson, the tips were lucrative. For a time, while I walked the route after school, I would dream up stories for a Fear Street-esque series of Y.A. horror books called Skeleton Street. These stories were replete with the marauding ghosts of dead quarterbacks, possessed prom queens, science geek lycanthropes, and any number of ancient curses that terrorized the sexy teens of Skeleton St. My route being rote at that point, I’d be checked-out, mumbling plots to myself while I lifted the lids of mailboxes, stopping only to peek in the window of the guy who watched pornography with his curtains undrawn at 3:45 in the afternoon. When I got home and set down to the composing of these books, I would never get further than drawing the front covers. Even those I abandoned for whatever might have been on TV.  

I still kind of believe that contemporary fiction, across the board, is just an excuse for drawing boss covers.

Adventures in Absurdity (circa. 2001)

Composition of this novel occurred late Friday and Saturday nights after returning home from my shift at Harvey’s, while I half-watched soft soft-core on City TV’s Baby Blue Movie. (There was never as much nudity as there could have been, I always thought.) I managed upwards of 500 pages of this book, but can now remember very little about it. I had just kicked Kerouac and discovered Vonnegut, so there was definitely a wry sci-fi-ness to it. The plot had something to do with people disappearing and reappearing with swapped heads, and maybe being replaced by robots. Writing, I knew there would never be a resolution or anything close to a teleological logic: this book was just there to write and write, and I wrote and wrote.

The coworkers (sorry, Teammates) that I would show bits of the book to really thought I was going places. They were all saving up for cars.

The Freelance Fence-Painter (circa. 2004)

I spent the three years of my creative writing undergrad crazy for Calvino and bonkers for Borges, and failed so miserably trying to write like them. This book—what was supposed to be my First Book—was all Marcovaldo and Palomar. The story was of a widower who ditched Big City Life for a more insouciant, contemplative existence in the Muskokas—though for a time the plan was to set the stories in the fictional Floridian town that the Encyclopaedia Brown books took place in, for whatever reason. This man, known only as the freelance fence-painter (lowercase!), eked out an honest living as the local freelance fence-painter. I can recall making a note in my workbook at the time: “He maintains the fences! What could that mean? What implications?”

I had planned 100 stories with titles like “…in which the freelance fence-painter watches children play,” “…in which the freelance fence-painter buys a bike,” “…in which the freelance fence-painter eyes a backside.” (I should say that the idea of a man who paints fences freelance was taken from the Smog song “Song,” the line going, roughly, “I’m just like the freelance fence-painter who drinks ice-tea you brought him, and then eyes your backside as you leave for some other cause.”) Nearly all the stories were to end with the freelance fence-painter tearing up while seeing the universe wink at him from banal things and situations.

The summer I was to write this book, I went to Hunstville for a weekend, to get a feel for the place. I wrote nothing that weekend. I watched TV in the Travelodge and drank wine. On the way home, feeling a failure, I saw a sign for Bobcaygeon, the place from that Tragically Hip song. I got to town at 10:45am on a Sunday and the one pub in town was full of the post-church breakfast crowd. I ordered a hamburger and a beer and the old lady waitress came back with my beer saying, “Sorry, but we’re not serving lunch until 11:30.”

I broke into tears.

No I didn’t. I gulped my beer gone and left without paying.

And that’s the story of the one and only time I dined and dashed.

Accidental Travellers (circa. 2008)

This was to be the Great Canadian Novel-In-Stories I was supposed to write after Pardon Our Monsters. It would have followed a Scottish lineage from the time of Scotland’s disastrous attempted to establish a colony on the already-colonized Isthmus of Panama (a blunder that lost the nation half its wealth and pretty much forced them to sign the Act of Union a few years later) up until the moon landing. One character was going to be the very real first Poet Laureate of Canada, James Gay, who suffered from “brain fever” and toured a two-headed colt throughout Upper Canada. The book was going to be an elegant, passionate screed against nationalism and the inherent wrongness of conquest. It would have been chock-a-block with diving horses, Mennonites, and a balloon salesman father who gets lifted up by his stock on the day the First World War was announced and stays afloat for the duration. Holy shit guys: this book was going to be so good.

Instead of getting snagged on the front cover, this book never made it past the back cover. I spent a long time worried about meaning and implication, and very little on writing. Failing to write this book—failing to even begin to accomplish this thing that I was starting to make promises to people about—supplied the grist of dread and self-loathing that made up the stories which turned out to be my second book, The Cloaca. There’s that at least.