Apparently, I’m using the Teaser Park, so far, as a place to dissertate upon beginnings. In that vein, this week and next week we’ll be looking at two different versions of THE ALTERNATES.
I started this version of THE ALTERNATES when I was in the second semester of my MFA program. I took one fiction class while I was at the University of Florida – they discouraged people from dabbling in other genres, at least in terms of sharing workshops – and had a mediocre experience. This was mostly due to a number of the people in the class being hostile to writing that wasn’t part of the “literary” genre: my stories tended to either magic realism or straight out science-fiction (though not the hard stuff). One of my workshopmates responded to a story by saying that “as I’m not familiar with genre work, I don’t think I can comment on what you’ve written at all.”
And he didn’t.
I won’t go into here how stupid I think that viewpoint is. Writing is writing, and fiction should be judged by the same (or at least strongly similar) standards regardless of what the subject née genre is.
Anyway, THE ALTERNATES was my first attempt at a novel. I got twenty pages in before I gave up the ghost, mostly because I realized that my plot was a clone of Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffmann (which, I might add, is an awesome book), the major turning points being lifted wholesale.
Or so I thought at the time. Now, I realize that – similarities notwithstanding – even if I tried to copy Carter, my novel would end up indelibly my own. Reading this beginning again, I’m tempted to try finishing it.
So, without further ado or adornment, THE ALTERNATES (take 1):
In which we find ourselves, like replicas,
Dazzled by glittering dawns, upon a stage.
Anthony Hecht, “Dichtung und Wahrheit”
Hugo sat across the table from Hugo. Hugo sat at the end of the table on a seat that extended into the diner’s walkway, his lanky legs annoying the waitresses. They were all waiting for Hugo.
Hugo, the first who had arrived, sipped his coffee and pulled a pen from his pocket. He drew a tic-tac-toe board on a napkin. “Play?” he asked the Hugo across from him.
The Hugo across from him shrugged and picked up the pen. After a moment he marked an X in the center square.
“That’s where I was going to go,” the first Hugo said. He marked an O in a corner.
“And that’s where I would’ve gone,” the second said. He crumpled up the napkin and tossed it to the side. The first sipped some more coffee while considering the third. “Why don’t you say something? After hello, all you’ve done is sit there.”
The third leaned back in his chair, putting himself in the way of a young waitress who glared and skirted round him. He looked out the window, at his hands, at the dirty looking Formica table, and then at the other two Hugos. “There’s no reason to get excited.” The second stared at him. “Besides the obvious,” the third continued. “There’s supposed to be a fourth here and, since that’s the case, we might as well wait.”
“We can always overreact later.”
The second Hugo looked indignant. “How about overreacting now? I’m sitting here with two of-”
The first Hugo interrupted. “Perhaps we better keep it on the down low.”
“Don’t you think they suspect something?”
“I told them we were triplets.”
“And you’re going to explain the fourth how?”
“I miscounted?” The first went back to his coffee. It was watery black and scalding and tasted bad. Outside the diner window snow fell. He could see the other two of him in the reflection, like a fun house mirror. They looked exactly alike and they’d never met each other before. Hugo convinced himself, as he drank some coffee, that there were small differences. There had to be.
He wiped hair out of his eyes and tucked it behind an ear. He saw the third Hugo mimic him in a lazy fashion, and then the second followed suit. In the reflection their dark hair didn’t show, deferring to what was outside—buildings lit by efficient streetlights and a string of cars curbing the sidewalks. Snow had drifted down for two days in big fluffy flakes, but the fall had been so sparse and light that only now was it becoming a chore to walk or drive.
D. C. was not a bad weather town, although it got its share, and Hugo suspected the city would soon shut down. At least the commuter part, which was most of it; the locals would straggle from home to diner to all-night CVS and enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasted. Locals like himself. Himselves.