Untitled, though it’s been called “Rock n’ Roll” “Work-in-Progress” “What-the-hell-am-I-doing” and a series of expletives which would look unprofessional in this very important document.
LAYLA SPINETTA is a seventeen-year-old Chicago high-school student who’s a little too smart, a little too cynical, and a little too worried about breaking the rules. Yes, people who have once met the author INES BELLINA, might agree that the protagonist sounds a lot like the creator and the writer would not necessarily disagree. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is that INES is a thirty-two year old, underemployed, graduate-school drop-out who is not as smart as she thinks she is, is way more cynical than she should be and is still a little too worried about breaking the rules. INES does live in Chicago, she has since 2011, and unlike her character LAYLA, she still can’t seem to call it home. It’s been a rough couple of years for INES in the Windy City, and about the only thing that has worked out for her, in a truly miraculous and giddy way, is the fact that she has in two computers, one hard drive and one Dropbox account a complete manuscript of said novel.
It’s not that the novel is perfect, no! Dear lord, INES is terribly aware that her work is a raw mash-up of inconsistencies and imagination, clichés and polished wordsmith, that needs to go under the old knife, like a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills getting ready for sweeps. But to INES, this novel is tangible proof that turning her back on the “prestige” (ha) of an Ivy League PhD and its questionable path to glory was the right choice. Because, you see, though INES spent a good five years pondering the effects of late stage capitalism on Latin American pop culture or the globalization of post-revolution masculinity in cultural production, none of that felt real. She can truly attest that she hid her voice behind words like “subaltern” and “post-colonial heternormativity” and therefore did nothing but hide truths through the illusion of vapid intelligentsia. This novel does contain the word “skank-arrific,” and yet that appears to the author to be a more powerful lexical choice than anything she did in her previous academic life.
It does pain INES that, despite all her progress, she is still trudging along in jobs, gigs, and assignments that are part of this Lets-Screw-Millenials-While-We-Wait-for-Retirement economy, but she realizes that what her day job(s) lack in fulfillment they more than make up for in freedom. Freedom to do what, you say? To write long scenes about the harrowing moment you realize a life-long friendship has ended, for example, or the excitement you get when you first hear a song that totally gets you. Being immersed in this fictional world does leave INES wondering sometimes if that’s why her social life in this new city consists of a handful of people, her bulldog, and outings with her mother-in-law. It’s been solitary, dear agent/editor/publisher, which is why she feels at times that all the people who have sprung out of her head-LAYLA, JACK, PEDRO, LARA, MANNY,-are actual living creatures, specters that follow her when she makes her way around Chicago. After all, she can recognize parts of herself in all of them and she has thought about them for more hours than she has thought about her childhood friends in the past decade.
If they are, as she suspects, friendly ghosts that accompany her many waking hours, then you can thank them for her love of this city. This novel takes place in Chicago, a place she came to kicking and screaming and which, therefore, has kicked and screamed back at her. But, they’ve learned to set aside their differences. With every page, she learned to forgive the city for its bruised history, she learned to love the city for its overlooked wonder, and she learned to live in a city that reveals its secret once it feels it can trust you. To INES this makes total sense, because she is kind of like that herself.
This is where she tells you the three twists that will keep the reader engaged in this story. Don’t worry, they’re there and they exist. But INES wants you to know that there was no real twist in writing her novel. She sat down, typed, went to sleep, and did the same thing the next day. Her research-inclined mind has reached the following conclusion: In theory, writing is about the most tedious process you can come up with. In practice, it’s nothing but an excruciating exercise in delayed gratification, horrific but rarely boring. What does she have to show for? A word document with too many words. Yes, she will edit it so it has some chance of selling. Yet, before she does, she wanted to take a moment to honor that twenty-nine chapter mess. Because for the past three years, it has been her closest companion, confidante, and friend.