"Welcome to Parkview" turns 7 ... and how Billy Joel helped create my town.
My second novel, "Welcome to Parkview," was published 7 years ago this month. But what a long road it was to get this book in print and released for mass consumption. 19 years, to be exact.
I started "Welcome to Parkview" in 1991. The entire outline for the book was spawned in one night, while I was laying in my bed at 14 years old. I was on a Billy Joel kick and had been overdosing on all his cassettes that month, and there was something about the lyrics and musical overtones of his song "Piano Man" that resonated with me. The fact this 4-minute song could have so many believable characters (and within a single line of lyric, he gave the impression that each of these characters in the bar had an extensive backstory) was so intriguing to me as an aspiring author. I had started writing fiction in 1988 (3 years earlier) and had written around 30 short stories at this point. The thought to even attempt a novel had never crossed my mind ... until I started really thinking about "Piano Man."
Back to the night I was laying in bed: I rolled the lyrics around in my head, singing certain lines which contain specific descriptions of these characters, and my stepfather came home late from work. I heard my mother greet him at the front door, and from my bedroom, I was able to overhear him talk about driving past a local bar in my city that had, according to my stepfather, "something big going on outside because it took forever to drive by the bar." The bar he was talking about? A bar called Sneakers.
It was like the floodgates opened in my head. I heard him say the name of the bar, coupled with the lyrics of "Piano Man" so fresh in my ears, and I just knew there was a novel in there somewhere. I was going to congregate all these random people in a bar and just see what happens. Basically wanting the bar itself to be the main character of the book, and the people all secondary. I started working on my first novel that very next day, at 14 years old.
In the beginning, the novel was titled "A Bar Called Sneakers." It didn't change names until around 2004 (13 years after I started writing it.) But from 1991 - 1997, I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. Hours and hours. Weekends in high school and college, spent usually hanging out with friends, were traded in so I could stay home and write, write, write. I started writing in 1991 with a notebook and pen. Then my mother bought me a manual typewriter. I switched to the typewriter in 1992. Then, for Christmas in 1993, my mother bought me a Brother Word Processor, where I could save my writing on floppy discs. Around 1997, I didn't quite know where I was going with the novel anymore. I hadn't written a single short story since 1991 -- I spent 6 years focusing every ounce of writing on the novel. I became discouraged with a stack of over 1,000 printed pages and no clear end in sight. So I shelved it.
In 2002 (5 years after boxing up the novel) I revisited what I had written up to that point and realized that I forgot how much I loved the characters and fictional town. I missed all those people and places. I forged onward, and between 2002 and 2008, I finished the novel. It was during this stretch where I changed the name of the novel to what it is now. Taking 5 years off really cleared my head, and I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel that I couldn't see when I was so far deep into the writing during those first 6 years.
Throughout the 19 years it took to create and destroy the town of Parkview, I had many more songs than just "Piano Man" helping to shape the characters and the ambiance of the town. Here is a small list of some of those songs, which without these songs, Parkview would not have become the town it did, nor would some of the characters have the personalities that they did: Neil Diamond – “I Am… I Said,” Edie Brickell & New Bohemians – “S’twisted,” Jesus Jones – “I’m Burning,” Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – “Cut Up,” REM – “World Leader Pretend,” Pigface – “Satellite,” Tool – “Bottom,” Pink Floyd – “Paranoid Eyes,” Nine Inch Nails – “The Becoming,” Faith No More – “Ricochet,” The The – “Bluer Than Midnight,” Front 242 – “Sacrifice,” The Mars Volta – “Televators,” Genesis – “Lilywhite Lilith,” Thirty Seconds to Mars – “Escape,” Blue October – “The End,” & Taco – “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
I finished the novel in 2008 at 246,000 words (give or take a few words.) I hired 3 separate editors, and between 2008 and 2010, I worked with these 3 editors vigorously. Keep in mind, by this point, I was already a published author, with my first book "Dreams Are Unfinished Thoughts" being released in 2007 (I wrote that between 2006 - 2007). After "Welcome to Parkview" went through its 3 full edits, we whittled the 246,000 words to a more manageable 88,000 words. My first editor made me go back and not just edit or revise a lot of what I had written between 1991 - 1997, but physically rewrite a lot of scenes. Heck, they were originally written by a teenager, and if I wanted this to sound like it was written by a professional author, a lot of verbiage and dialogue and narrative needed to be rewritten in an adult's voice. So that took a few more months. Just to give you an example of how much was cut from the first 246,000 word draft, the first chapter in the published version of the book is around 10,000 words. In the original draft, the first chapter is around 70,000 words.
I will forever call "Welcome to Parkview" a labor of love. 19 years of my life and 246,000 words later, I was able to present a 88,000 word novel that I am very proud of, and 7 years after publication, seems to still be making an impression on readers.