Gabriel Squailia is a professional DJ from Rochester, New York. An alumnus of the Friends World Program, he studied storytelling and literature in India, Europe, and the Middle East before settling in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife and daughter. Dead Boys is his first novel.
As a young writer, I had all of the ideas and none of the time.
That’s how it felt, anyway. It sounds ridiculous now. What the hell did I have to do besides get to work and go to sleep? With a three-year-old and two jobs, I have a fraction of the hours I used to, and I still get my writing in.
Experience is like cheating that way: I can do in two hours now what used to take me eight.
But I never saw creative growth as a possibility back then. I didn’t have much patience. I was in my early twenties and my fiction wasn’t working the way I wanted it to.
It became obvious that time was working against me.
How else could you explain all those stops and starts? What should have been my first novel had over a dozen beginnings, none of which took root. That manuscript was a Wonder Boys-sized monument to frustrated ambition, and I blamed time. Namely, the time I spent not writing.
I spent that time working, which seemed like something a serious writer shouldn’t have to do. Working overtime at a restaurant in the Berkshires, then struggling to find my brain after three consecutive doubles. Working in Manhattan in a suit and freaking tie, coming home after an hour-plus commute, emptier still.
Time was my enemy.
And time wasn’t working alone. By the end of two years in New York, time had debt on its side.
It felt like anti-time. Those bills were dark masses sucking the moments out of my future.
Eating my books before they’d been written.
I needed uninterrupted months to get those theoretical novels out of my head, maybe even years. I pictured myself in the woods somewhere, living on canned legumes, writing until I deserved to. Until something clicked, and I became the writer I’d always wanted to be.
It was a nice fantasy. So I swallowed my pride and threw myself toward it. I moved in with my grandmother, became a three-night-a-week bar-and-club DJ, and worked until the debt was gone.
It was weird work. It didn’t take that many hours, and the money was decent, but I watched the sun come up every day before I went to sleep. Life was inverted.
But I was writing. I guess I always had been.
I didn’t call it writing, though. I called it failure.
That’s because the thing still hadn’t happened. My stories hadn’t clicked. I hadn’t found my voice. Whatever it was that would enable me to get from a story’s beginning to its final page hadn’t happened.
I could see thirty on the horizon. That’s when I got scared.
What if I never got where I was going? What if I never found my voice? What if I was one of those crackpot writers who can see these intricate worlds, but never express them in anything but a lunatic scrawl?
As the months trickled by, I imagined myself as an immortal.
With infinite time at my disposal, would anything be different? Would I ever write these books?
I wasn’t grumpy about it any more. I was freaked right out. I looked around at my friends and saw the same horror everywhere. All these lofty goals, lodged in our throats.
We knew what we wanted, but what were we doing?
Drinking. Talking smack. Watching each other play video games.
I could see us in our sixties, still living this way.
I could see us in the underworld, desiccated and mumbling, still talking about the things we were going to do.
Time wasn’t our enemy after all. Time was a sick joke.
All I had to do was laugh, and my first novel clicked. I’d been kicking around the idea since I was twenty: an underworld that split the difference between the Elysian Fields and a George Romero gore-fest. It was populated by young corpses falling apart for all eternity, struggling, all the while, to find some sense of purpose.
The characters were drunks, gossip fiends, misfits.
They were us.
And if I could figure out a way to get them off their rotting asses and into a grand adventure, then I wouldn’t be a punchline any more.
So I simplified my life. I kept the gigs I needed to get by, and I got to work.
It felt like a kind of sorcery: somehow, time was working with me now. Dead Boys, my first novel, became the joke we told together.