Commentary 14: Fourteen Rivers Fourteen Floods

As was hinted at previously, sometimes my muse gives me unlikely inspiration during the writing process. The ability of the narrator’s father to see him wasn’t in the original plan, but for some reason I kept adding little scenes mentioning this. I didn’t really know why at the time, but since it was just a rough draft a ran with it. Suddenly it made sense that if his Dad could see him it meant he could travel outside of his own lifetime, and thus after failing at stopping the death, the marriage, and the first meeting he could go all the way back and try to stop Nelson’s birth.

Other tidbits:

  • In my initial outline, the revelation that he had been the one to facilitate his sister getting together with Nelson was supposed to be the “big reveal” at the end of the story. Seemed good on paper at the time, but it would be extremely anticlimactic if our whole tale just stopped here.
  • The tan van is the same tan van that was seen driving away from the bowling alley shortly after the encounter with the old man. Keep in mind that the bowling alley is on the west coast (and in the year 2002), while the wedding is on the east coast (and in the year 2000).
  • “Hidden messages in good time travel stories” was originally a blatant bit of foreshadowing to the old, deleted ending to the book. I left it in after the ending changed, making it now a cross between a subtle hint and a throwaway line.
  • The mom quotes a lyric. It must be genetic…
  • If Paul outlives Ringo, my credibility will be shot and the entire story will have to be classified as fiction.
  • When I was first learning to drive, the second time I ever got behind the wheel my Dad asked me to drive to my grandparents’ house. I had no idea how to get there. He couldn’t believe it since I had been there so many times, so he made me drive around aimlessly for an hour before finally letting me off the hook and giving me directions.
  • Using the cousin as a red herring was a late addition after I decided the narrator identified his younger father a little too easily.
  • In one of the more subtle musical allusions, the gaggle of ladies doing the drive-by is inspired by “Take It Easy” (written by Jackson Browne, but popularized by the Eagles). Specifically, “It’s a girl my lord in a flat-bed Ford slowing down to take a look at me.”
  • The “Double my Dating” line is a nod to the company my friend BoRyan works for.
  • The young version of the father is the only character in the book who was intentionally modeled after a real person. He’s based on a guy named Ben Wood I went to college in Syracuse with, who often stated that his life’s philosophy was “never lose your stride.” I kept that phrase in mind whenever the younger Dad spoke.
  • Another inspiration for the father/son interactions is Back To The Future. There’s a little bit of a Marty & George dynamic going on, although Local Boy is a little more suave than George was.
  • October 19 is my parents’ anniversary in real life, hence the little joke about not knowing anything important happening on that date.
  • You can tell I still had work on the brain with the out of context “free nights and weekends” line. But it flows well and still jumps out at you a bit, which is why I like it.
  • AWAB is actually something my friend Danielle in college used to always say. So if you take issue with that line, keep in mind that it was taught to me by a girl.
  • There are 43 known musical references in this chapter.

Read Chapter Fourteen Online

Chillin’ Like A Covervillain

Last night’s episode of the podcast Coverville included a Timely Persuasion themed musical trivia segment that I submitted. Check it out at the link below:

Coverville 465: My cover requests are like a button – I can’t stop pushing it.

My portion starts at the 41:04 mark (or go to the last bookmark if you download the AAC version). Special thanks to host Brian Ibbott for including both my segment as well as a link to the book on his site. Coverville has been my favorite podcast for a few years now, so hearing the book mentioned there was an extra special treat.

On a related note, I figured now was an appropriate time to tell this tale:

I’ve already talked about my out of the blue late night inspiration to name the chapters after songs with numbers in their titles. Less than a week after having this brainstorm, I heard a quiz with the exact same theme on the Music I-Quiz, a podcast by regular Coverville contributor Anna that I also enjoy. (Though she sadly stopped doing her show about a month ago…we miss you!)

Thought the fact that we were on the same wavelength and seemed to have the same idea at the exact same time was one of those funny, “great minds think alike” types of coincidences that was worth mentioning. Or maybe my future self heard her podcast and then passed it on to me in the past…

Music I-Quiz #49 – Counting the Beat

Commentary 13: No, For The 13th Time

If the deleted scene at the 1946 World Series is the “lost chapter,” then the Hearts tournament would be the “found chapter.” Why? Because I forgot to write it the first time through. It was in my original notes and outline, but for some reason I skipped over it when doing the first draft in Luxembourg. I don’t completely remember why, but my best guess is that I suddenly saw Local Boy at the end of the tunnel (something that wasn’t in my original plans) and got so excited I ran with it.

Funny to accidentally skip over what is arguably one of the more important chapters due to the revelation towards the end. As a result, I think the way it bridges in and out of the narrative feels really forced and wedged in. I rewrote the intro and outro multiple times to make it more seamless. But when a few early readers I quizzed on it didn’t seem to notice or have a problem with it I left well enough alone.

Other tidbits:

  • “We share a wall” is a nod to a common point of contention between my old college roommates Nate Pepper and Chorski.
  • Dual memory syndrome exists here to further the theme, hint that something will “change” in this scene, and as an excuse to squeeze in my favorite Violent Femmes lyric. His ineptitude with this girl can also be considered a link to the chapter title.
  • The “typical party fashion” paragraph on late arrivals and overstayed welcomes describes every choir party at the CarriageHaüs.
  • I toyed with having Bowlingus be the friend who introduced Nelson to the fold, but thought it was too far fetched to have him also be an East Coast transplant and a coworker at the music ‘zine.
  • We really did hold a Hearts tournament similar to this once, and I really don’t know what we were thinking in regards to the rules and format.
  • Hearts play by play used to be more detailed, but I figured readers would be bored by it and trimmed it back. Here’s a trivia question though: based on the score described after the first hand of the qualifier (third place, two behind second and five off the lead), there is only one mathematical possibility as to what the actual scores were. Can you figure it out? (Answer in the comments.)
  • Nelson’s attempt at cheating was a very late addition to the plot, and one my wife strongly disagrees with. Compromise was pairing it with a comparison to the narrator in a later chapter.
  • More on cheating: on the surface hiding the queen is a fairly lame way to cheat. He’d obviously get caught if the queen just “vanished,” so in reality he counted it in his score and palmed it for the next hand. With that in mind, it’s actually somewhat clever.
  • There are 33 known musical references in this chapter.

Read Chapter Thirteen Online

Commentary 12: Rainy Day Women #12 & 35

Stopping the wedding was one of the first ideas I had for the book and ended up being among the first scenes envisioned and outlined. The movie cliché is to have someone who is secretly in love with the bride or groom object, but I thought having a blood relative with an equally impassioned statement was an interesting twist.

Other tidbits:

  • Originally the wedding scene was written to take place outdoors and in March (with the breakup of Soul Coughing being the blinkback memory for the narrator), but a few drafts in I realized I couldn’t have an outdoor wedding in New England then. I changed the memory to the Metallica/Napster lawsuit to move it up to April, but the historic weather still had it too cold. Not wanting to rewrite it yet again I mentally built a lodge, referenced the weather, and the wedding was suddenly inside.
  • In hindsight I should have made it rainy as well to connect to the chapter title, but it would have been tough to explain why the narrator doesn’t get wet. Still, the wedding can be seen as a metaphoric rainy day in the lives of the sister and her family.
  • There were several times when I contemplated changing the first line of the Prologue to “Is she really going out with him?” in order to start the book with a lyric, but it never felt right so I held off. Eventually I realized that quote fit perfectly here, ending my inner debate once and for all.
  • It really does boggle my mind that nobody ever steps forward in real life to say “Hey, the person you’re dating sucks.”
  • Personally I love it when a novel suddenly pulls a random “big font” stunt like this so long as it isn’t overused and works well with the plot.  I couldn’t resist.
  • Dad’s tensed shoulders are another hint that he can see and hear his temporally displaced son.
  • The actual objection speech itself if loosely based on a real objection I wrote but never read.
  • The Edmund Burke quote is widely regarded as one of the most famous “misquotes” in history. Burke never said it, but everyone attributes it to him. The fact that a narrator with a reporter’s background would still fall for it should tell you something about him.
  • In the constant mind time travel world of the book, one can make the connection that the Dad’s charm here pre-influences Mrs. Nelson to fancy him in the past, as she subconsciously remembers this interaction.
  • There are 23 known musical references in this chapter.

Read Chapter Twelve Online

Commentary 11: Won One

The idea to name the chapters after song titles came to me out of nowhere at 2 o’clock in the morning, and I immediately got out of bed to start brainstorming. It ended up being an easier exercise than I anticipated, though number 11 was the one I had the most trouble with.

Eleven” by Primus was an obvious choice, but I didn’t want to do another single number chapter now that the precedent was set. Other options were “11th Commandment” by Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama or “The Eleven” by the Grateful Dead, but they weren’t really resonating with me.

My wife suggested using Won One as the title of the first chapter. I thought that was too early for it, but immediately knew I had the answer to my chapter 11 problem. Fitting that the legendary “LBDG” letters show up for the first time in this chapter, as paired with the title it’s a nice foreshadowing of things to come.

Other Tidbits:

  • My sense of direction is just as bad as my narrator’s, if not worse. As my friend Trevor often says “Directions are your kryptonite.”
  • Everyone asks who the cute little redheaded girl is. I like to say she’s no one and everyone all at once. The name was inspired by the Peanuts character who was the object of Charlie Brown’s affection. It was primarily chosen to go with the “no name” gimmick, but the fact that people try to associate her with a real person is just a fun little bonus.
  • The dive bar was originally in a basement until I remembered that stairs and the narrator didn’t play well together. It’s loosely based on the old Hungry Charlie’s (aka “Chuck’s) bar in Syracuse, though most of the interior is fictionalized.
  • Glancing at a character by a jukebox that only you can see and hear is a nod to the very first episode of Quantum Leap.
  • More dual memory syndrome, though this one works in a slightly different way. The memory is changing in real-time as the narrator’s older self is actually in control of his younger body during this date, leaving our hero to look on in confused panic.
  • Thought about actually having a scene where he follows the redheaded girl home and observes her in her natural habitat, but decided it was better to let her stay a little more mysterious.
  • He’s half right in his theory on “picking up thoughts,” but he has it backwards since it’s happening inside his younger head, not his own. This foreshadows the “in head” time travel we learn about later. A lot of readers are confused about this the first time through, but say that it makes a lot of sense on the second read.
  • The short section with all of the “thunks” is one of my favorite bits of wordplay in the book for some reason.
  • “They found me. I don’t know how, but they found me!” is a Doc Brown quote from Back to the Future, serving as a subtle hint that the old man is doing the talking here.
  • There are 19 known musical references in this chapter.

Read Chapter Eleven Online

Commentary 10: 10 A.M. Automatic

Our hero pays a visit to his sister for a progress report, and ends up in a place that was as surprising to the author as it was to the character. Read on…

  • Observational blinks alternate between being up high, down low, or (almost) just right to keep things interesting. I tried to fit in a lyrical reference to the Pavement song Elevate Me Later when talking about his proximity to the high ceilings, but couldn’t find a way without forcing it.
  • Intent of the timer/oven is to hint at a suicide method, while the ensuing argument with Nelson points more towards a murder. Both are red herrings, but the manner of death is intentionally danced around in the early chapters based on Nate Pepper’s astute suggestion to play it like a mystery.
  • The first scene at the hospital happened completely by accident. It wasn’t a part of my outline or notes at all, but while I was writing the story took on a life of its own and that’s where the narrator ended up. The scene was way too good to cut, so I found a way to pull him out of it quickly and get back on track. Subconsciously I probably knew we’d return to the hospital at some point.
  • We finally learn the sister’s manner of death from the narrator’s committed counterpart right around the 1/3 point of the book.
  • I love how well the Pearl Jam lyric flows with the story and is nearly undetectable unless you really look for it.
  • I just found a minor typo in this chapter, which will be fixed in the online edition momentarily… 🙁
  • The unread objection was the real end to the narrator’s writing career, not the old “lost the passion” excuse he gave previously. He feels that his inability to object was the final cause of what eventually played out, and his guilt rendered his pen impotent.
  • April 12th has a dual significance: It’s the real date of the Metallica/Napster lawsuit, but also the birthday of 311 singer Nick Hexum. My high school friends and I used to have an unhealthy 311 obsession and would follow them around the greater New England area during the early Grassroots tours. Whack!
  • There are 40 known musical references in this chapter.

Read Chapter Ten Online

The Universal

Just got back from a weeklong trip to Boston for Jon Mack’s wedding.  Chapter commentary posts will resume tomorrow, but due to popular demand I’m posting my best man speech below:

Can I have everyone’s attention?

I’d like to take a moment to thank all of you for coming together today to celebrate the marriage of Jon and Kati.  We were a little worried when National Train Day was scheduled for the same date, but it’s great to see everyone here decided to skip that celebration in favor of this one.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Jacob.  Jon and I have been friends for about 17 years or so, and today I’m his best man.

I’m going to start off by reading what Jon wrote in my yearbook when we graduated high school.  He said:

“Someday when you are a famous sitcom writer you can give a call to your old, poor, homeless, lonely friend Jon that lives as a hermit and you can philosophize about life and love with him again.”

I guess that goes to show that it’s hard to predict the future after you leave high school and move on to college and eventually the real world.  We are getting older, but I’m neither famous nor a sitcom writer, and from what I can tell Jon is neither poor nor homeless.  And now that Kati is in his life he’s certainly not  lonely.  The hermit piece — that’s still debatable.  But Jon was right about something.   As the best man I suppose I am being asked to philosophize about life and love with him again, this time in a more public setting.

With 17 years of material to draw from, I thought this would be a pretty easy speech to write.  But then Jon gave me this list of topics I’m NOT allowed to talk about today.  It was a pretty long list.

There were two rules:  Don’t reference anything on “the list,” and make sure the speech is about both he and Kati and not just him.

That was a pretty tall order, especially considering the fact that the first time I ever met Kati in person was just a few days ago.  But then I remembered that that wasn’t the first time we had spoken.  So today I’m going to tell the story of the first conversation I ever had with Kati.

I was sitting at home one night in LA when the phone rang.  The caller ID said it was Jon, so I answered expecting to slip into a random debate about a band or a concert or the Red Sox.  But instead Jon immediately said “Kati wants to ask you something” and handed the phone over.  I don’t remember the exact time frame of this, but it was fairly early in their relationship, probably in the first few months.  I knew of her existence, but like I said this was the very first time we had a firsthand interaction.

So we chatted for a few minutes, and then she brought up the reason for the call.

“Jacob, I have an important question for you.”


“When was the last time Jon washed his hair?”

(Laughs?) Based on the reaction I’m hearing, I bet a lot of you know where this is heading.  But if you don’t, I’ll just say that the secret to Jon’s good looks is his dedication to quote “letting the natural oils do their thing.”

(Jon:  Did you wash your hair today?  Mrs. Mack: Did you ask him to?)

Ok, back to the Kati’s question.  At that moment I knew that the future fate of this relationship could be riding on my answer.  What was I supposed to say?

I thought about if for a few seconds, then decided that Jon would have to earn this one.  So I told the truth.

“Kati, I cannot tell a lie.  It’s been years.  Not since his sister Lauren’s wedding, and that was only because his mom made him.”

And here we are today.  She still married him despite his questionable hygiene.  So we know it must be love.

In closing, a love of music has always been one of the strong connections between Jon and I in our friendship, so I’d be remiss in ending this without giving him credit for the excellent choice of “The Universal” by Blur for the traditional “first dance” as a married couple.  As the last line of the second verse goes:  “Well, here’s your lucky day.”

Here’s to Jon & Kati on their lucky day.  Congratulations!

Cheers!  Gezuar!

Thank you

Commentary 9: Drivin’ On 9

Everything before this was setup and foreshadowing. In this chapter we finally kick off the mission that will be the focus of the main story.

Other tidbits:

  • I really liked the idea of placing the sister’s death on 9/11 by pure coincidence, as I’m sure there were other real life passings overshadowed by the gravity of the day. Not to take anything away from what will always be one of the darkest tragedies of American history, but the less obvious stories beneath the surface are sometimes more interesting.
  • The part about a guy demanding to be put on a plane even though all air traffic was grounded was loosely based on an actual incident that happened to a friend of mine, and the pogo stick retort was something that unfortunately went unsaid in real life.
  • “Call me Edgar Allan, ’cause I’m so Po'” was a common joke during college. As most of those jokes go, it’s both hilarious and not funny at all…
  • The Waiting for Godot reference proves that high school English can have a lasting effect. But unlike Trinity, I’ve always loved this one.
  • The name of the bar on the answering machine message changed with almost every draft as a funny little inside joke to someone, but in the final edit “no names” kicked in. So in the end it was just “the bowling alley,” which really makes the most sense in the scheme of things.
  • Another quick foreshadow of the cute little redheaded girl. If he saw her in the present, would she have the same hair color?
  • The first meeting between the narrator’s younger selves was tough to write until I decided to put one of them under the influence, thus raising the plausibility factor.
  • I liked the moral dilemma of having to ponder one life over many, but was a little worried about coming across as insensitive to the bigger event. At the time that’s why this particular conundrum wasn’t explored more, but in hindsight I wished I had dug in a little deeper.
  • There are 30 known musical references in this chapter.

Read Chapter Nine Online

Commentary 8: Eight Days A Week

For some reason I’m drawing a complete blank in trying to write an introduction to the commentary for this chapter, so I guess I’ll just jump right in with the tidbits.

  • I’ve always been partial to the brilliant simplicity of “and/or” when I write. Surprisingly it only shows up three times in the final draft, though I’m sure it used to be more.
  • Important to note that the narrator takes a (very) slight pause here to ponder if it’s possible to save his sister while keeping Nelson in her life. Deep down he knows his hatred for Nelson is irrational, but at this point he still doesn’t really know why.
  • The narrator’s backyard originally resembled my own childhood backyard only as a placeholder. I had every intention of fully fictionalizing it later on. But the thought of my parents reading the book and then going outside to check the back left corner of the “real” doghouse was too hilarious not to leave in there. (They never did check since there was snow on the ground at the time, but my Mom did admit she thought about it…)
  • How does dual memory syndrome work? Basically the narrator “lived” the version where he did kiss the girl. His older self later changed that on a time travel trip we learn about later, making it true that he did not. Memories powered by mental time travel transcend both real time and “altered” time, so he has this psychic memory link with past versions of himself who both did and did not kiss the girl, hence the confusion. (We’ll get into this more later…)
  • The reader probably expects him to go back to try to watch himself make out with the girl, so I intentionally didn’t do that to avoid predictability.
  • “Yellow matter custard” was a lot harder to fit in than I thought it would be.
  • The dog had a name in an early draft, but it was dropped under the “no names means no names” rule.
  • Some music references happen by accident. The “invisible bridge” line was supposed to be a nod to an album by the Silver Jews, but I was actually misremembering their album “The Natural Bridge.” (or maybe I had dual memory syndrome…) However, it turns out there are actually two different albums with “Invisible Bridge” as a title.
  • The card game was originally Cassino, but so many people either didn’t know the game or thought I was spelling it wrong I changed it.
  • “…her name is not of your concern.” At this point I’m really starting to have fun with “almost” naming characters.
  • Like most mothers, my mother is fond of saying “the name of the game is fun” and “because I’m the mother.” She has never uttered the phrase “the past is still the past” prior to the release of this book though, which should be evidence enough that she is not the Mom character in the book.
  • “You better run, motherf@#$er” is a reference to something a bartender yelled at one of my college roommates when he was caught removing a chair from a bar via the back door. Here it’s used to foreshadow the temper of the father character (who, incidentally, is not based on my real father).
  • Nate Pepper strongly dislikes the phrase “fingered the neck bruise,” which is odd coming from the guy who coined the phrase “all seven digits” referenced earlier.
  • There are 18 known musical references in this chapter, tied for fourth lowest.

Read Chapter Eight Online