I came across a story about an unfinished manuscript written by one of my favorite authors, Sameul Clemens. I was excited as a kid opening a present of fireworks at Christmas. The story detailed his bedtime story-telling for his daughters, and how they challenged him by making up new tales on the spot.
I know how difficult a task this is. While I would have trouble producing an oral story, just give me pencil, paper, and a time limit. Five hundred words, easy. The first time I had the challenge was in high school. A friend (who sat in front of me, but in the back rows) got to class late (5 minutes) and the teacher handed him a paper, then told him to write 250 words on why he was late. He was not a particularly creative writer, and was displaying much anxiety about the task. I tapped him on the side and whispered, ‘Be cool, I got this.’
The class was fifty minutes long, mostly remedial English for vocational students. I was there as a requirement, so paying attention was minimal. Taking note that my friend would need time to rewrite the paper, I cranked away.
(I feel the need to inject that I had gone through the primary indoctrination to Mr. Clemens’ literature, and was at present reading Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear & Loathing’. )
Twenty minutes into the class and the draft was finished, forwarded to my friend. He started to read it, stifling a laugh. I nudged him to get on with the copy, which he completed with moments to spare. We left the class separately.
The next day, on arrival, my friend was called to the teacher’s desk. I was cordially asked to join them. Knowing the jig was up, I put on my best innocent look.
Waving the sheet at us, she asked Johnny if he wrote the story. He stumbled a bit on answering, so I butted in saying ‘of course he did’. Drawing attention to me, she then read certain parts of the text: ‘zombie cheerleaders’, ‘nuns with chainsaws’, and ‘a noxious lava stream eminating from the cafeteria’.
Our teacher looked at me and asked, “Did you have anything to do with writing this paper?”
I kicked it into full ‘Beaver Cleaver’ mode. “No, Ms. XXX (maybe I’ll check the yearbook later), you told Johnny to do it. I didn’t have a hand in it.” I tried to take a look at the sheet (as if I hadn’t seen it before), but she snatched it away.
Giving up an evil eye, she said she didn’t believe either of us, and sent us to our desks. Nothing else ever came from it, but it was one of a long line of coming up with believable bullshit.
What’s that all have to do with Clemens? Well, I’m not about to rank myself in his league. I think it’s the thrill of stumbling upon an unused idea, and having the temerity to go forth and try to finish it, in the original author’s hand. That’s what the researchers did. I’m just excited for the forthcoming book. Even if it comes out like trash, it’s just one more insight of a writer who gazed upon his brethren gathering insights.