This part of the story is best told in emails. But I’ll do it out of order the way L Extreme the novel plays with sequence.
April 22, 2020
From: Benji Hughes
To: JL Civi
Subject: Re: Never Like I Read In Books & Magazines…I’m still checking this out.It’s really good.
November 1, 2019 2:29pm
From: JL Civi
To: Benji Hughes
Subject: Never Like I Read In Books & Magazines…
Hi Benji (and Mary, if you still monitor this inbox…),
Not sure if you remember, but you did a custom song for my wife’s birthday a couple of years ago. The file was called “Face Like a Diamond” but you said you wouldn’t title it that. We’ve taken to calling it “Beat Of My Heart” and still enjoy it very much. So thank you again!
I have a sort of crazy & wild proposal for you, so I’ll get right to it.
I wrote a novel based on / inspired by A Love Extreme. I say “based on / inspired by” since it’s not totally clear which is the right term. Or put another way, I don’t know where it stops and I start…
The closest comparable I can think of is the Yellow Submarine movie and novelization. Those were billed as “an original story by Lee Minoff, based upon the song by John Lennon & Paul McCartney.”
But even that isn’t exactly right. It’s more Yellow Submarine via Being John Malkovich crossed with one of those nonfiction 33 1/3 books about the history of an album. It has a weird vibe.
The book is on the third draft and still needs some work. But I’m at a crossroads where it’s time to decide whether to scrape off the serial numbers to eliminate any reference to you and your songs OR to go all in on the fictionalized Benji Extremeness of it all. (There’s an argument that the former is an easier path to a better book, but I think the latter option would be a heck of a lot more fun to run with. But that decision is largely up to you.)
I understand that this is a little bit bonkers. I have also read in some interviews that you don’t like discussing the origins of songs and prefer for them to stay more mysterious and open to interpretation. This isn’t an attempt to reveal the secrets of your universe, and I’m pretty sure nobody will mistake this story for your actual intent. (Heck, even the parts I researched I probably got wrong in places.) It’s intended as a tribute by a big fan. You were the muse providing an outline/ideas/situations that I channeled into a wacky yet semi-coherent storyline that I had a ball working on the last couple years.
I tried to stay true to the cross-genre, goofy yet sincere spirit of your catalog. The book is part love story, part buddy comedy, part surreal magical fairytale, part origin story, and even a sort of prequel/sequel to LILILIL. It’s totally wild, and I’m sort of amazed that (I think) it mostly holds together as well as it does all things considered. Again, what direction this ultimately takes is in your hands and I’ll respect your wishes if you don’t want to be associated with a project like this.
Happy to provide more backstory around how this came to be if you’d like, but I want to be respectful of your time and I’ve rambled on enough. Hopefully it will all make more sense if/when you start reading it.
I’m attaching a PDF version of the manuscript to this email. If you’d prefer an eBook or a paperback copy that can be arranged; those things are relatively easy to produce these days. (I realize that asking you to read an 83K word novel that you inspired might be a touch unreasonable and presumptuous, so I’m also attaching a 4-page song-by-song / chapter-by-chapter synopsis so you can get a feel for the story and how it weaves things together. Obviously the synopsis has spoilers, but it is shorter…)
Sorry for the totally long space message. Good or bad, at the very least I suspect this will be the best piece of Benji Hughes fanfiction you’ve ever read. I hope you dig it. 🙂
I sent the above pitch, and now the future of the book was in the hands of god or fate or time or whatever. I didn’t want to be a pest, but I did send a short follow-up in late December and late February plus a Facebook message in March—but I’ll spare you the full recap.
Hey, at least I tried was my main thought after not hearing anything. I was busy with a new job without a lot of writing time, but figured at some point I’d reread it and decide how to de-Benjify the whole thing if I still liked it
Enter the coronavirus. The world had shut down for about a month when that reply from Benji arrived and blew my mind.
Nothing more came of this until September 2020. That’s where I’ll pick up the story next time in Part IV.