Today is the release date of my novel, The Paradox of Vertical Flight, so I thought I’d write up a post about what the book means to me. Here we go.
Novel-writing is a supremely arrogant business.
Not everyone has the requisite degree of self-delusion to shun the world at large until they’ve managed to produce a several hundred page manuscript that they then expect the world at large to drop everything in order to read, and, it goes without saying, glowingly review. (How else will the book make it to the number six spot on the New York Times Bestseller list?)
Only a select few have what it takes.
Today I officially join their number.
My novel, The Paradox of Vertical Flight, is in stores. It’s on-sale. You can buy it for your nook, for your kindle—hell, you can buy a hardcopy and use it as kindling, if that’s your inclination.
My book is out, and I feel—well, I’m not sure what I feel. But I would like to try to tell you what Paradox means to me.
When people learn you’re a writer, they ask you where your ideas come from.
But you don’t get an idea for an entire novel. Not really.
What you get—what you start with, is usually just a flash, one moment in time. Like a half-second dream.
Paradox started like this: Jack, the main character, is thinking about suicide on his eighteenth birthday. He doesn’t really want to die—what he wants is to draw attention to himself. He wants to remind the world that he exists. A world that is, ironically, at that very moment, bombarding him with happy-birthday facebook messages.
Though connected, he feels isolated, alone.
Though supposedly an adult, he’s afraid of what it will mean to leave his childhood behind.
At the time that I began writing Paradox, I felt a lot like Jack. I went through a not-altogether brief phase during which, whenever I was inebriated, I would bombard friends with text messages of the “do you think we’ll still be friends in 10 years” variety. Writing, for me, was a way to channel into all the angst, all the fear I was feeling. The fear of a parting of ways, of leaving the people who are important to you behind.
But Jack is not a writer. He needs another way to deal with such fears. He needs a different escape.
This escape comes in the form of a phone-call from his ex-girlfriend.
She tells him she’s about to have his baby.
Will he come see the baby, before she gives it up for adoption?
This sets Jack off on a philosophic quest.
He steals his newborn son from the hospital, not because he wants to keep him, but because he wants to say goodbye. And in the process of saying goodbye, he wants to impart to his son some sense of why life is worth living—what the point of it all is.
There’s a reason why Jack steals a baby, why he has a baby at all.
It has, perhaps, less to do with him than it does with me.
I can’t tell you why I’ve always wanted to have kids, only that I’ve wanted them for as long I can remember.
Well, okay, that’s not really true.
I want kids, because I believe, perhaps naively, that no matter what happens, you’ll always be in their lives, and they’ll always be in yours.
Friends—like Jack’s best friend, like Jack’s ex-girlfriend—are different. Relationships that feel absolutely vital, absolutely essential, somehow find a way to end. As a college student, I had already experienced this gradual growing-apart with many of my former high school friends. One such friend was a girl named Kristina. She was the first person who ever asked me if I was gay, because I’d been dating her friend Hannah for a couple years, yet didn’t feel any particular inclination to kiss her.
I, of course, told Kristina, quite categorically, “No.”
I haven’t spoken to Kristina in years (though Facebook gives me brief spurts of insight into her now-married life), and as for being gay. . .
Part of the reason, I think, that it took me so long to see myself clearly was my desire to have kids. My desire to have someone in my life who would always be there, a constant.
It takes Jack a long time to realize this, but that’s what he wants most too. And if he cannot guarantee that his son, his ex-girlfriend, his best friend will be permanent features of his life, then, at the very least, he needs a way of saying goodbye to them.
Jack’s goodbye is my goodbye.
Goodbye to Pokemon cards and losing at Goldeneye, Medal of Honor and ceaseless Star Wars references, to intimate conversations within the hallowed yellow walls of a school bus, to summers spent with my grandparents in Saratoga Springs, New York. . .
Goodbye to poems about the relativity of truth, chessboards named Jake, sushi dinners and bento boxes, baking very bad chocolate pancakes, losing debate tournaments, discovering the meaning of life while riding a camel, smoking hookah after a long day shelving books at the Vassar Library, breakfast at 5 p.m., adventuring through snowy Prague nights, arguing about whether or not to steal a couch while severely intoxicated. . .
Goodbye to the mental image of that magic “honey, I’m pregnant” moment—instead, there will be visits to fertility clinics, interviews with surrogate mothers, adoption agencies to research, countries like Russia to strike off the list. . .
And, finally, it’s a goodbye to the belief—as horribly selfish as it sounds—that I will be the one and only person in this world that my kids will call Dad.
The Paradox of Vertical Flight is the best goodbye I can manage.
With about one month to go before PARADOX hits stores, the shameless self-promotion which this blog was created for must continue!
Sooo... Here we go. :P
The Paradox of Vertical Flight was named a Fall 2013 New Voices pick by the ABC children's group at ABA (the American Bookseller's Association). "The 2013 New Voices Committee spent the tail-end of the summer reading more than 50 titles for kids and teens by first-time authors. Committee members read, voted on, and selected 10 noteworthy and exciting debuts publishing between July 1 and December 31, 2013, in two categories: Ages 8 – 12 and Teen." LINK
Kyle Warren, of the Boulder Book Store--in, you guessed it, Boulder, Colorado--had the following kind words to say about Paradox:
"Brimming with honesty, absurdist adventure, and philosophical pondering, this book is a refreshing trip down the rabbit hole of potentiality, meaning, and existence itself. Jack's journey encapsulates the beautiful juxtaposition of
youth and maturity alongside an infinite yearning for understanding in this confusing world. One of the most true-to-heart novels to appear in the genre for some time." LINK
Also... Paradox has received it's first professional review! Here's what Kirkus had to say:"Alone and angst-ridden in his boarding school dorm on his 18th birthday, Jack is contemplating suicide by painkiller when he learns his ex-girlfriend is giving birth.
Though she listed the father as “unknown,” Jess, 20, invites Jack to meet his son before relinquishing him to adoptive parents. Overwhelmed, Jack scoops the baby up and runs, naming him Socrates. Vehicularly challenged, Jack
persuades his best friend to drive them. Stopping for Jess, they embark on an eccentric road trip from Bangor, Maine, to upstate New York. Along the way—when not shopping for formula, changing diapers, arguing over trivia with Tommy and bickering with Jess—Jack conducts a funny, heartfelt imaginary dialogue on the meaning of life with little Socrates. These amiable meanderings through ancient
Greek philosophy are the novel’s heart and soul. Channeled by a talented, millennial author, these age-old conundrums of good and evil, fate and free will feel fresh and urgent. Readers seeking to decode the generational genome will find plenty to ponder here. Bromance trumps romance; Jess is more scold than soul mate. Socrates is a remarkably obliging newborn. (Margaret Bechard’s Hanging on to Max, 2001, and Angela Johnson’s First Part Last,2003, present far more realistic views of teen fatherhood.) Inconsistent temporal markers (dates aren’t specified) are briefly distracting, but Jack's quest for meaning holds reader attention all the way. (Fiction. 14 & up)." LINK
The book comes out on September 24th!
So I'm flying to Kathmandu tomorrow.
“Why Kathmandu?” you might reasonably ask.
Well, I’ll tell you what I told my mom.
I’m going to ride an elephant through the Nepali jungle searching for Bengal tigers and the lost city of Shangri La. I will name the elephant Theodore. After Theodore and I do the whole finding-Shangri La thing, I will feed him a peanut, and sign up for snake-charming school. It’s okay, new students generally practice with cobras who’ve had their fangs removed, so although I’ll get bitten a lot, I probably won’t die.
In the event that I do die, let this be my final will and testament:
I leave Theodore, my elephant brother from another mother, all of my worldly possessions, including my entire collection of My Little Pony stick-on tattoos.
Also, this is appropriate:
Sooo...I hate self-promotion, but let's face it--that's sort of what this blog is for. :P
So let's get down to the self-promoting, haha.
Francisco X. Stork, author of MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD (which everyone should read!!) has kindly provided the following blurb for my novel:
"The Paradox of Vertical Flight has all the elements of a great read: funny, eloquent, deep, suspenseful. If you like books that are quirky and thoughtful, irreverent and touching, this book is for you."
So there ya go. Don't trust me. Trust Mr. Stork. THE PARADOX OF VERTICAL FLIGHT will published on September 24th in the US, and in October in Spain (not 100% sure about Germany yet). Mark those calendars (if you are inclined toward calendar-marking)!!
And speaking of Spain, my spanish publisher, Random House Mondadori, has revealed the cover art for the Spanish version of THE PARADOX OF VERTICAL FLIGHT. Check it out!
So this is a very short humor piece I wrote, strangely enough, four years ago to the day.
Don't know why I remembered it/decided to dig it up. But dig it up I have.
Most of my writing from that far back I would happily disown, but I still kind of like this piece. So I figure I'll post it up here, with a couple minor tweaks.
LAST WORDS TO MY BELOVED WIFE
If there’s one thing I know about life, it’s that it ends, thank god. So, my dear, since the end is indeed upon me, I’m going to save you the trouble of figuring out what to do with my soon-to-be rotting carcass, as I’m sure you will shortly be very much preoccupied with putting on the requisite show of grief. That said, you never were a good actress, so let me start off with a few friendly tips.
1. Stick a few freshly cut onions under your braw and sniff at regular intervals. Don’t get carried away though. Nature gave you what she did, and a few vegetables won’t change that.
2. Don’t put on any make-up. Trust me, it will contribute to your aura of trauma. By the by, you always did go overboard. If only you’d had a sense of humor, you could’ve passed yourself off as a clown.
3. Whenever you feel like smiling or laughing, remember that time when we were young and beautiful and in India on our honeymoon and the sun was at just the right angle, painting the entire sky in that brilliant purple and I pushed you off our elephant.
Now, as for my body. Do me a favor and cremate me. Because honey, I swore I’d deal with you till death doth us part, and I’m cashing in. No graves, no tombs, no pyramids, and NO VISITS. I don’t want you tormenting me simply for form’s sake. You did that enough while I was alive.
For my eulogy. I’ve taken the liberty of composing it myself. It’s on the attached sheet. Tell your mother it was my dying wish to have her deliver it. Consider that my parting gift, and let it not be said that I am completely heartless.
Finally, my dear, I just want you to know that I know you poisoned me during dinner. Yes, I know, and I knew, even as I raised that first spoonful to my lips. Best meal you ever made for me.
P.S. I’ve never been much of a believer, but it won’t hurt to cover our bases, just in case. Please, please please repent and take the lord Jesus into your heart, because Hell's not big enough for both of us.
P.P.S. Tell the pool-boy I'll miss him.
Let me begin by saying that unicorns are among the most under-represented groups in all of western literature. Now, I know what the skeptics are thinking. There’s a good reason for that, they would say. Literary protagonists need problems. And you know, they’re right. I don’t know about you, but a big part of why I read is so I can think to myself, “haha, my life is so much better than this sucker’s.” The question then becomes, what problems could a unicorn possibly have that would allow us to feel vastly superior to them? But the truth is, just by asking this question, we demonstrate our ignorance of the trials and tribulations and general suckage inherent in the average unicorn’s day-to-day life.
There’s more to being an imaginary mythical creature than chasing rainbows and dancing in the rain. The unicorns I know are constantly dealing, not just with issues we’re all intimately familiar with—erectile dysfunction, failing to find a job in these recessionary times, under-representation in government, and crack addiction, which they are particularly susceptible to—but also with the peculiar brand of existential angst that goes along with, well, being a fictional construct.
Just think about the meta-fictional possibilities here. You could have a unicorn, writing about a unicorn, writing about a unicorn, none of whom actually exist. Hell, send them to the stars in a particularly futile attempt to find meaning in a cosmos that insists they’re only real to children under five and adolescent boys trying shrooms for the first time while on vacation in Amsterdam. That was oddly specific, wasn’t it? Anyway. Science fictional possibilities. Watch as the advanced technologies that come hand-in-hand with interplanetary travel—technologies like genetic engineering—stratify the fabric of unicorn society, creating unbridgeable gaps between those with big horns and those with small, between those who fart rainbows and those who must content themselves with chasing after the rainbows farted out by others.
Throw in a love triangle. Does Brown Sugar, with her genetically engineered rainbow farting capabilities, choose to follow her heart and make crazy passionate one-night-stand love to Sweetness, despite his lower class upbringing and modest horn size, or does she abide by the social mores of her futuristic times and make crazy passionate one-night-stand love to Angel, whose horn is roughly the size of Battlestar Galactica? Switch point of view in mid-sentence to Sweetness, who, after he is inevitably rejected, snorts some coke in a back alley off the lithe metal body of a robotic-equine-hooker and then goes home, and in his drug-addled state, proceeds to live vicariously through a virtual avatar whose horn-size he can customize to his liking.
The possibilities here are endless. And that’s why I think young adult fiction with unicorn protagonists is an untapped literary coal mine. The only question is, what bold pioneer is going to strip mine the shit out of it?
So. First post and all that. I would introduce myself, but, given that it would take a dozen monkeys on laptops 50.2 years to stumble upon www.emilostrovski.com, I figure that either: a. you know me already. b.. you know about my debut novel, THE PARADOX OF VERTICAL FLIGHT, already or c.. you’re a dozen monkeys from the year 2063 To all those in category a. – you have my sincere condolences. I've been living with ME for twenty-two years,. Every day is still a struggle. Attending a support group really does help. Call 1-800-HELP-MEE for further details on how to manage ME. To all those in category b. – Yeah I know the title doesn’t make sense, okay? I know. But it will if you read the book. Besides. Plenty of titles don’t make sense. Here’s a short list:1. Bombproof Your Horse2. Living With Crazy Buttocks3. How To Avoid Huge Ships4. Castration: The Advantages and Disadvantages5. The Missionary Position: Mother Theresa, In Theory and Practice And my personal favorite6. How to Good-bye Depression: If You Constrict Anus 100 Times Everyday. Malarkey? or Effective Way? Basically, I’m trying to say that PARADOX is in excellent company. Oh, and to all those category c. cybermonkies, here’s a cyberbanana. But seriously.
It’s been a trek, this getting-published-business has.
Mostly, let’s be honest, a boring one.
Instead of bombarding all three of you with stories about how one dude told me my writing had “the literary merit of a discarded cereal box” and how some readers, upon reading my stories, assumed said stories could not have been the product of a sober mind, I will simply shut up and post an excerpt from early on in PARADOX.
It hits bookstores later in 2013. THE PITCH (courtesy of my awesome agent, Laura Langlie) High school senior Jack Polovsky kidnaps his infant son, names him Socrates, and goes on an odyssey with his best friend and ex-girlfriend to his grandmother's house to introduce the two of them before his grandmother passes away.
My phone rings, but I don't get up.
In my dream, the teacher hands out frogs, living frogs, and lectures: “Frogs produce smaller air bubbles than humans, who in turn produce smaller air bubbles than llamas. We find this out by drowning the species in question, of course. Please drown your frog and make sure to measure the diameter of its air bubbles, rounding to the nearest significant digit. Tomorrow we’ll measure the bubbles produced by our lab partners, and the day after that, the students that are left will move on to the llamas.” It makes no sense at all, but so it goes with my dreams. Some people dream of epic heroes’ quests, of saving the universe from a great evil, and I get dreams about the differentiation of air bubbles across species.
Around nine I roll myself into a sitting position, finger the gunk out of my eyes, examine it for a moment, then launch it across the room to where I don’t have to immediately deal with it. My roommate’s snores filter down from the top bunk.
My cell is on my desk. The blinking red light of a missed call flashes across the room. Damn.
I missed Bob. I try calling her back, but she doesn’t answer. She’s always losing her phone, misplacing it; broke it a few times from chucking it, because she couldn’t get the idiotskaya electronica
I call my grandma “Bob” because I’m too lazy to bother with the alternatives; namely, “Babushka,”“Baba,” and “starypur
,” the Russian version of old fart. Bob has Alzheimer’s, and it’s my birthday, so her call means today’s one of those days, or maybe just one of those moments, a flash, when she remembers me.
Partly to distract myself from the guilt, but mostly out of habit, I turn on my computer and wait for Windows to load. I don’t capitalize “god” but I always capitalize “Windows.” I spend much of my life in front of a screen, plugged into the matrix, looking through a Window into my virtual life. Still waiting on a black dude with a name that sounds like a drug to show up and teach me kung fu, though.
I log in to Facebook and I’m so depressed I want to laugh. Fifteen Facebook friends have wished me a happy birthday so far. I’ve never really cared about birthdays, honestly—I mean, it’s just another day—but to see all these people, most of whom I don’t know or in a few years won’t remember, wishing me a happy birthday makes me feel like I should care. Like it should be a special day, like it should mean something.
I think I hate Facebook.
I lean back in my chair and stare out the window. When I’m thirty years old, will I still get a bunch of people I don’t know wishing me a happy birthday? Will that number dwindle over the years? Will, year by year, some people who’ve forgotten me remember and some people who’ve remembered me forget? What’s the point of it all, for any of us, if that’s the way it goes—if the way it ends is with me logging into Facebook at ninety years old, bald and fat and wearing a diaper and not remembering how to get to the toilet, which is why I’m wearing a diaper in the first place, and seeing, what?
Fifteen people I don’t know wishing me a happy birthday?And each of my fifteen with fifteen of their own, on and on, a miserable network of Happy Birthday Facebook wishes connecting the entire world, the entire human race, until one day we nuke ourselves and it all goes black and there are no more happy birthdays for anyone.
Sometimes I get like this, depressed I mean, but I’m not one of those crazies, you know, a danger to themselves and others, nothing like that. Never even contemplated suicide, though in a few seconds I will be contemplating jumping out a window. It’s hot—eighty, maybe more; my T-shirt’s wet on my body, it feels more miserable than it has any right to for a May morning in our great moose-infested state of Maine. I wheel over to open the window, slide it all the way up.I have to stand so I can reach the screen, to slide it down into place. Instead I stick my hand out.
What if I jump? What if I jump, now
? I don’t want to die, but getting hurt would be kind of nice, you know? Like two years ago, when I got my appendix out. Everyone from class sent Get Well cards and Tommy skipped school to spend a day with me playing video games in the hospital. Yeah, that’s selfish, but remembering your friend because he almost kicked it is just as selfish.
I turn away from the window.The attention would last a couple weeks, max. Then everyone would go back to their own lives and everything would be the same. But
unlike when I got my appendix out, I might be crippled for life.
I walk on over to my desk, pull open a drawer, shuffle through video game boxes and CDs and pencils and pens and a worn pink eraser I never use but bring to school every quarter anyway. I grab the bottle of pills, sit back down on my chair, and stare at the bottle. Painkillers. From a few months back, when I got into a fight with a fence over the arbitrary authority by which it goes about the supremely arrogant task of delineating space. The fence won the tiff, but, fractured ankle aside, I like to think I’ll win the war. I set the painkillers on the desk, and check under my bed. That’s where I keep my water, but there isn’t any left, so I stuff the pills in my pocket.
“Hey,” comes my roommate Alan’s I’m-still-three-quarters-sleeping voice.
I spin round. “Hey,” I say, too loud.
He frowns at me, head about three inches off the pillow, and says, “Feel like I wanted to say something to you. But I forget. I’ll remember.”
“That’s all right.”
“Jack,” he says, suddenly concerned. “It is
a Saturday, right?”
“Yeah,” I say. “No worries.”
“Phew,” he says. His head drops back down. Almost every Saturday Alan groggily asks me if it’s really the weekend—like he can’t quite believe it himself. He’s a nice guy, Alan, as nice a roommate as you could hope for, but we don’t really do anything together aside from, well, sleeping together. .It’s just that
kind of a relationship.
I have my hand on our doorknob when--voices in the hall.
When they’re gone I nudge the door open and head for the bathroom. A guy’s in the shower, singing something about how we’re meant to be together in a voice that he really should keep a firm leash and a choke collar on if he insists on taking it out in public.
I set the bottle of pills on the shelf below the mirror. My reflection has a zit coming up on his forehead. It hurts to touch. He squeezes anyway, and bites at the inside of his lip.It explodes; a bit of yellow-white pus hits him in the eye and slides down, down, like a tear.
How many pills will kill me and how many will almost kill me? That is the question. It’s a fine line, probably. I open the bottle, look inside, frown. Pull the cotton ball out.
I turn on the faucet. and hold my hands under the warm water. Close my eyes. Breathe. Breathe. I’m about to down my first pill when my cell rings. Once, twice, three times. The guy in the shower stops singing.
My breath catches when I see the number.