Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Adventures of Heracles Mendoza - Sneak peak!

After months of revising and rewriting and polishing, I finally have a chunk of the novel ready to read that stands a decent chance of not embarrassing me. Just to be clear, I said a decent chance. I have written a prologue, which I am currently undecided about using, mostly because the tone and style of it is so very different from the book itself. Still, I'm posting it here because it does introduce the character in what I hope is a charming manner, plus it serves the additional purpose of raising the question as to who exactly the narrator of this story really is, and that, it seems to me, is a very fair question.

After the prologue, there are links to a PDF version of Chapters 1-4 as well as a link to a Word document that readers can complete and return to me if they wish to send me feedback. Or feel free to comment directly on the blog. Thanks for reading!


Where to begin?

Many writers like to start their stories with a bang, jumping right into the middle of some hot mess, trying to hook the reader with a shocking dose of tense, dizzying commotion. Others take the slow, methodical approach, carefully setting the scene, and then zooming in slowly like a camera until the main character is front and center.
But, really, a story can start any old way. I suspect that deciding just where to begin a story is a problem that drives writers crazy. Or maybe it’s just me. I wish I knew for sure. I don’t know too many writers.
Take this story, for example. This one begins on a sunny morning in the city of El Cajon, a suburb of San Diego, which is a large metropolis in the state of California, in the country of The United States, in the Year of Our Lord 2009. It begins with a fourteen-year-old (almost fifteen) boy by the name of Les Mendoza, as he plays basketball with a couple of friends on Monday, June 10th, the first real day of summer break (because everyone knows that weekends don’t count…).

But is that the best place for the story to start?

I suppose some writers, if this were their story to tell, might have chosen to begin almost a full year before, at the end of the previous summer, when Les returned home from spending two months at his tia’s house in Mexico to discover that his father had met a woman. Julia. This was a great shock to Les, as was the horrifyingly rapid escalation of their relationship. The thing was, the more he got to know Julia, the more he hated her, and every time he had dealings with her, the more certain he became that she hated him with equal, if not greater, fervor. Now, if this was your standard story about some adolescent boy who meets his future stepmom, and who, through a series of painful lessons about life, is finally able to overcome his initial hatred for her and learn to accept her and perhaps even to love her, it might make sense to start here, but it isn’t.
Other, and perhaps better, writers might have started the story a few years before that, in the fall of 2005, when Les’s mother was killed in a car accident, because that’s when things really started going wrong for Les. Of course, it didn’t help that when the accident occurred, his mother happened to be coming to pick him up from basketball practice. Or that Les, who usually walked himself home, had felt particularly lazy that day and so called home and pestered his mom until she agreed to come get him. Now, that’s a tough thing for any boy to deal with, let alone one who is already prone to blaming himself when bad things happen. Les was sad and quiet for a long time after that, and nearly lost all of the real friends he had, except Omar, his best and closest friend since sixth grade. But he had his dad, and together they endured the nightmares and the misery of being alone. That whole time was tragic and depressing, and it was hard enough to witness, let alone write about, and I just couldn’t bring myself to start the story there.
On the other hand, one could plausibly argue that a compete telling of this story can begin at one, and only one, place:  his birth. But, if I might be perfectly frank, there really was nothing truly remarkable about the birth of Les Mendoza. Don’t get me wrong; every birth is a miracle, and every child marks the creation of a new, mysterious universe. My point is simply that he wasn’t anymore a miracle, or anymore a new mysterious universe, than any other kid born on that day, or any other. The facts are simple:  born July 21st, 1995, to Hector and Annette Mendoza at the Naval Hospital at Camp Pendleton. He weighed 6 pounds, 2 ounces, and was 15-and-a-half inches long. Actually, these last facts may or may not be completely accurate. They are really my best guesses pulled from vague recollections of the times. How much a baby weighs, or how long it was when it was born, seem absurdly unimportant pieces of information to me, but I have included my best estimates out of respect for those who place significance in such numbers, as many people appear to, particularly women, I have noticed. If you’re one of those people who just has to know, you might be able to contact the hospital’s records department yourself, although I’m not sure that’s the sort of information they’ll just hand out to anybody who calls.
Les, it might be noted, was born with a full head of bushy black hair and a pair of thickly-lashed dark brown eyes, but in all other respects was unremarkable in appearance. At least the other babies in the incubation room and their parents took no special notice of him.
As he grew up, Les was always small for his size, and tended to be a friendly, well-intentioned child. He was never the center of attention, but most everyone seemed to like him well enough, although sometimes you would have to prompt his classmates and teachers before they remembered whom you were talking about. He didn’t collect friends the way some people collect, oh, let’s say stickers, but he always had a small group of close friends who ‘got’ him and to whom he was devoted. In most ways he was like most kids, and his early childhood was marked by nothing more sinister than basketball, bicycles, and birthday parties. Sometimes his ball went flat, sometimes his tire got a nail in it, and sometimes he didn’t get what he wanted, and these constituted almost all the terrible tragedies in his early life. Obviously, there’s little point in starting here, as nothing is quite so boring as a story about a kid with a happy childhood.
Going even further back, some people, especially writers of a certain genre, might suggest that it would be best to begin Les’ story with the story of his parents, perhaps on the night they met, because that’s always a very romantic scene, even if it’s only romantic in retrospect. Besides, these writers hasten to assure us, readers love romance. But others, equally ardent, would quickly counter that romance has no place in this story, and that it would be far better to begin with a closer look at his father, and the Mendoza family, which has a rich history that traces back from California to Mexico to Spain, and, before that, far into the dim and unrecorded annals of time. Some knowledge of the Mendoza family history, these people would contend, is essential to understanding the events that befall Les in his own time. To this I say that too much information is as often a curse as it is a blessing, and besides, I really don’t want this story to begin like the Old Testament books of Numbers and Deuteronomy.
And if we were to go back that far, then a single large step further might make a better starting point, because no account of Les’ travails can truly be considered given without mentioning that keystone moment in history, some three thousand years ago, when the so-called Trojan War (but known by others as the First Olympian War) and subsequent events fundamentally changed the direction and course of the mortal world forever.
And yet, to truly understand that momentous time requires knowledge of what came before, and that would lead us in a very winding path all the way to the very beginning of beginnings, the birth of the universe, and the earth, and the gods themselves. Those events have been covered, however, and are readily available for anyone to read, even now. If they are not always accurate, and if the accounts sometimes seem to disagree (if not blatantly contradict each other), at least they are, in a general sense, close enough to the truth to suffice. If you are interested in that portion of the story, you can glean the essentials from any respectable book on Greek mythology. Many such books exist, and while I will not get caught up in side-choosing, I will simply say that each one reflects the truth in some ways, and fails in others, and the difference between them is small enough to be overlooked, except by the most serious and committed of truth-seekers.

At any rate, I believe I’ve made my point; actually, probably more than made it: Starting a story is not always as easy as it seems. If this digression has already bored you, I apologize. Perhaps I should have clarified earlier: I am not a natural writer. So please take that into account as you decide if you want to read further or not. If you do, consider yourself warned.

All of which brings us back to that late morning in early summer in 2009, which started, to all appearances, with a few friends playing basketball at a neighborhood park. Perhaps it is not the best choice for a beginning, but it’s probably not the worst either. And, no matter what any critics of this selection might argue, there is one thing that cannot be denied:  it was the day that everything changed for Les Mendoza.

Link to Chapters 1-4 of The Adventures of Heracles Mendoza:

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