Let’s say an editor approaches you and wants to see your work. This editor has a cup of coffee that he reveres about as much as he reveres himself. He fiddles with the cardboard ring as you pull out a story that’s bound to publication should you resolve that last muddle of characterization. No, not this one, the editor says, leafing through the pages. I want your worst one. You consider the steam pouring from the cup and wonder if he’s serious, but you pull out the external hard drive and open up a MISC or SCRAPS folder. He watches as you do this, and when you reluctantly double-click one of your forgotten stories, he says, That one. That’s what I want. We’re going to put it in a book.
This is essentially what Ben Van Loon and I concocted over a few pints on an otherwise anonymous Thursday last May. We would take these unpublishables, and, through some collective voodoo that we’ve come to call “rescription,” we would turn them into something other, a thing with several voices and histories and influences. This then, Ben purported, would be published under the Anobium flagship. For better or worse, this project didn’t die with the beers. This project, The Rescription Project, is, of this writing, halfway done. And it has been much more than a case study in collective voice.
It began in June, when thirteen writers converged in the living room of Ben’s apartment. I volunteered “The Movers” as my entry into the fray. In it, a family is preparing for a cross-country relocation. Faced with an as then still-to-be explained rift and sense of loss with respect to said move, Dwayne—bona fide breadwinner and American corpocrat—decides the movers will pack up the whole house, down to the bricks. And so it goes: the floorboards follow the power cords; the stove the dishtowels. The entire frame hinged on a conceit, and behind it, as the novelty wore off, nothing much was left. For such reasons, I nominated “The Movers” as my story. And stubborn, self-indulgent writer that I am, I petitioned for the conceit to stay. Looking back, I realize I was pleading. Please, I said, give it life, give it story, but don’t meddle with my idea. That after all, is the most important thing. At least I thought it was then.
The dozen other writers presented their respective stories similarly. Some stood as skeletons of grander ideas; others carried cumbersome narratives for twenty-plus pages. Each was in its own way flawed in the eyes of the original writer. At the end of the night, after all had presented, thirteen stories swapped hands. Then some pronouncements—things are going to get fucked—before we one by one packed our bags, leaving in our wake something intensely personal in that living room, taking in turn something entirely new.
What has emerged over the following two sessions and story swaps amounts to more than a discussion of ownership. An important discussion has emerged around ideas of style vs. content, writing vs. editing, conservative vs. radical—all of which have been distilled from binaries into what seems to be a question of responsibility. How much is owed the original author, to the narrative completeness of a piece, to the individual story in your hands at one step in the process? How much do you, as a rescriptor, owe to the group, to the worth of the final publication? Is a quality piece all that matters? Or is the process, the community, and the discussion that has emerged on The Rescription Project’s Google Group the true crux of the endeavor. The answer, in full, won’t be known until December or January, when the product is released. But early intimations have it pointing to all this and more.
Dwayne is no longer in “The Movers.” Nor is Carrie, his wife. Or the burly moving crew in their white uniforms. Or the opening line. Or the last. The conceit remains, but it’s no longer a shackle. In fact, the story has been rewritten in its entirety, turned from a modest two thousand words into a substantial three-and-a-half, and become something wholly unlike it was ever imagined. And this one writer, watching his creation round the bend with a few more swaps to go, is finally coming to grips with that.
[By Sean Connor]