A dream, a frame story, and a flashback walk into a novel based on lyrics from a double album by Benji Hughes who also stars as the protagonist.
Kidding aside, the thrill of working on L Extreme was the kitchen-sink zaniness of the structure. As I began to identify the throughline of the plot, songs naturally identified as dreams, skits, or flashbacks. “You Stood Me Up” was squarely in the latter category as a lyrical play by play:
“You had a date with me on April 17. I showed up at the Dairy Queen where we were supposed to meet…”
Setting and setup took care of themselves. I tackled it as a Waiting for Godot type situation, exploring what a character would do waiting for a date who never shows up and running through all the emotions that go with it. Nervous excitement slowly evolving into a feeling between annoyance and genuine concern.
For the second half, the idea was a riff on the concept of a friend who overanalyzes any story you tell them, and the other friend who has a tendency to tell shaggy dog stories where not every detail is as important as they think. What does this Dairy Queen story have to do with how Benji met L?
“I might never have met the girl if you would’ve shown up that night.”
- After the play by play of “Tight Tee Shirt,” I intentionally danced around some of the more obvious lyrics here—both for fun and to show that the book was going to be more than a one trick pony. Benji can’t remember the calendar date that’s ultra specific in the song. The initially referenced time is different before steering back to the expected 4:53. And C can’t comprehend how these “important” details are missed.
- My early notes pondered doing the dream sequences in second person, the skits in third, and the flashbacks in first. Feels like too much—especially with how jarring a second person opening chapter would be—so my past self was likely right to not act on that impulse.
- Red Lobster is a reference to a different Benji Hughes song.
- I know Dairy Queen doesn’t have table service, but needed someone for Benji to interact with to not have a completely introspective chapter and also a MacGuffin for C to fall for. A few early readers called me out for bending reality, so I added the “new concept” bit as acknowledgment. (It’s sort of true if you consider Grill & Chill.)
- Tangentially related: I’ve had an idea for a story about a political campaign text message that causes a car accident for awhile. This song probably indirectly inspired it.
- “Robotic communication device” is a nod to my other favorite Benji Hughes album, LILILIL.
- I almost cut the phone call with Mark completely to move things along, but decided to keep it in a Chekov’s gun sort of way.
- My wrists can’t bend enough to make the evil opera mask either, to the constant amusement of my siblings.
- A lot of Benji Hughes songs feel like two-parters to me, inspiring a natural scene break mid-chapter between the retelling of the date and the “that’s one you taught me” follow-up discussion.
- “There’s this girl, let’s call her Tommi, she’s got a heart of gold…”
- Years after the first draft I wondered if anyone else had a theory on why “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” only cites five ways. I didn’t find an answer, but I found this awesome thing by Vinnie Favale—which in turn inspired fictional Benji’s lyrical riffing towards the end of the chapter.
- Real Benji astutely posits that “make a new plan” and “no need to be coy” aren’t really “ways” to leave your lover. I wholeheartedly concur.
- Using the jambox to trigger the chapter break was one of the first “I think I can actually make this work!” moments of inspiration that got me excited to keep working on this book.
- Bonus: I recently found this great review/essay on the song. Check it out.