The Beast Rises (well, not really).
Dare we call this a triumph against evil?
Until next week….
My Brain Is Full, my first completed novel, concerned the creative frustrations of a pretentious twenty-two-year old college junior—no big shock, as its author was also a pretentious twenty-two-year old college junior. I printed up a bunch of copies of this masterpiece, shared it with (generally receptive) friends, and otherwise basked in the glow of what was my first literary success; although the New York editor I sent it to passed, saying the book “showed promise” and encouraged me to keep writing.
For my sophomore effort, I decided to undertake a more ambitious project. Babylon Is Fallen was conceived as a Gothic novel, a work of horror that would draw heavily on Biblical allusion and End Times prophesy. I dreamed up most of the plot during a summer working at McDonald’s: a college student would knowingly spread the AIDS virus around the small campus (which had actually happened a few years earlier at a college in my home town). His motive? He believed he was one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, whose job it was to bring the plague.
Which, when spelled out that way, isn’t that terrible of an idea. The problem was, I’d never read the Bible, was ignorant of End Days prophesy, and wouldn’t know St. John’s Revelation from St. John’s Wort. So I spent all summer pouring over the Bible, especially the Old Testament prophets and the aforementioned Revelation of St. John, trying to come up with a compelling reason why the world might be ending now—or, if not now, a few years from now, after my book came out to glowing reviews and robust sales.
This was depressing work, and not something I was eager to discuss with my fellow burger-flippers at Mickey D’s. But I did come up with something: WWW, the then-novel prefix to all URLs looked, at first glance, like it could be the Number of the Beast. Indeed, three double-u’s made six u’s all together, right? Also, on a computer keyboard, W is right between the 2 and the 3 keys. Divide two by three and what do you get? Mirabile dictu: .666!
Sometime during this morbid summer, I had a dream in which Jesus Christ—looking more like Zeus with his white beard and robes, but whatever—appeared in my closet and told me to knock off the Nostradamus stuff. “Some mysteries you are not authorized to know,” He told me.
Did a dream-visit from the Lamb of God Himself dissuade me from the task at hand? No way, Jose. The book was going to be finished, no matter what Jesus would do. I banged out the first 60,000 or so pages during that summer and the rest of my senior year, and worked on it on and off for two years after graduation.
But there was always something missing, a key ingredient the narrative lacked. After a “breakthrough” the morning after a week-long bender, I figured out what the missing aspect was: deviant sex! So I quit my job and worked for three months solid until I produced a manuscript of (no joke) 666 pages and well over 100,000 words.
I let four trusted friends read it. And I guess I succeeded in eliciting the horror I’d envisioned, because that’s what those friends regarded me with after reading as much as they could stomach of the manuscript. “Greg,” one of them said, “did you really spend four years at Georgetown ruminating about the Apocalypse?”
And he was right. The book was dreadful. So, like the angry Jehovah, I smote the manuscript. Destroyed it, like the Gomorrah I’d referenced so many times in its 666 pages. Like the Babylon of its title, it has fallen, and it will never rise again.
Greg Olear is The Nervous Breakdown’s senior editor and the author of the novels Totally Killer and Fathermucker.
Last week: #AuthorFail 13: Debra Di Blasi
Next week: #AuthorFail 14: Jeff Bursey
4 thoughts on “#AuthorFail 14: Greg Olear”
As an aspiring writer, it’s always good to read how successful authors once felt like monstrous writing failures. I feel like this on a daily basis but yet am inspired when I read such things. However, I do think Greg should resurrect (pun intended) BABYLON IS FALLEN and publish it in the Bible Belt. I can see it now: Special Liberty University seminar to be held in conjunction with Bob Jones University. A discussion of Greg Olear’s apocalyptic thriller, presented by Chick-fil-A. Topic: “7 Great Reasons the Unmarried Should Abstain from Sex. Lesson 1: AIDS.”