«by RYAN GRAHAM HASKINS B.A. University of Central Florida, 2010 A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of ...»
one featured in The Never-Knowns, I wrote a story about a sheltered, upper-class young woman in late 19th century Florida who occasionally snuck out of her house at night to kill horses. It was flawed, intentionally bizarre, and didn’t bother to explain much about itself. It sat, unrevised, for two or three years until it made an appearance in an undergraduate creative writing workshop.
Half of my peers in this workshop completely hated it, and the other half loved it unconditionally. The discussion, well, argument, was animated. Being undergraduates, my peers weren’t able to exactly pinpoint or articulate their individual opinions and ideas regarding the work, there was just something about it that they loved or hated. I felt I had done something right.
At that same dining room table, around the same time I wrote the story about the girl who killed horses, I stumbled upon the idea to try to write a short story, an internal dialogue really, trapped in the perspective of someone with profound developmental disabilities. I decided this character would be mute and deaf, and would have little to no language skills. How would I go about giving language to someone who didn’t have it, maybe couldn’t even comprehend that language, verbal, written, or otherwise, was even a thing? For a few moments I considered just translating sensory experiences into language, maybe just a chronological, dissected list of experiences with nothing to compare, contrast, or link them to. I realized this may be technically accurate, but the point here, is to communicate something, something a reader could experience and decode and maybe even relate to. Here is where Terry was born.
After writing this, I realized the inherent difference between what I had written and what I had been exposed to as a reader so far. I considered how grand and peculiar it would be to write
including a group home, possibly including something I knew very much about, but felt most people had never even heard of, considered, or understood. Here is where The Never-Knowns was born.
In 2001, I was majoring in theatre studies at a local community college when I saw a posting calling for poetry submissions for the school’s literary magazine. A few of my theatre studies peers were interested and began writing poetry. A few of them asked me to read their poems and give them some feedback. I read a few, but couldn’t really come up with anything to say. After a terribly dull question and answer session from an eighteen year old about his poetry, imagery, and all that, I broke down, and foolishly and confidently told him that poetry was silly, and if he wanted to get something published, write a poem that didn’t make much sense, but seemed really smart.
The night before the submission deadline, I wrote four poems. They were terrible and vapid, I thought. I submitted them to the literary journal the next morning. A few weeks later, I found out that three of the four poems I submitted had been accepted and would be published.
This served only to reinforce my misconceptions regarding poetry.
Two semesters later, still a theatre studies major, I convinced the theatre faculty to hold a playwriting competition, and to have two one-act plays selected and staged by the college. The proceeds would go to the theatre department scholarship fund. About a half a dozen students submitted plays for the competition. I wrote a one-act play, about 50 pages, the night before the submission deadline. I went broad and formulaic. A few weeks later I found out that the play I had submitted had been accepted and would be produced on the department’s main stage.
Fast forward to 2008 and I’m a social work major at the University of Central Florida. I am miserable, and empty, and doing poorly in my studies, and I don’t know why. After a series of nervous breakdowns, I withdraw from all my social work courses. I go with my girlfriend to her parents’ house in Tampa for a visit.
It’s midnight, we’re in her parents’ pool, and I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.
I’m floating, face up in the pool, staring at the starless sky. I begin an internal diagnostic battery.
The outcome seems to rely on the question, ―What would you really like to do with your time?‖ I thought of the story I had recently written about Terry, and about the horse killing debutante, and I realized I liked them. Liked creating them, thinking about them. The next year I switched my major to English, with a focus in creative writing.
My writing life has been turmoil. There have been peaks and troughs. For many months straight I would wake up every day and write twenty or so pages, and be immersed, and fulfilled, and feel accomplished and worthwhile. Sometimes, I would go two to three months without writing a single word. Sometimes, I could hammer out forty to fifty pages in a single evening.
Sometimes, I would labor for weeks over a few words at the end of a story. If being in graduate school taught me anything about my process, my routine, it would be that I don’t have a process, or a routine, but that I can and should embrace this fact. Because lows or highs, hell or high water, I really enjoy the art, the science, the process of creative writing.
While in the MFA program, I took an independent research course in preparation for my thesis. Representations of Developmental Disabilities in Contemporary Literature. The intention was to try to come to an understanding of how literary characters with developmental disabilities
offered many revelations, but ultimately reinforced my initial opinion going into the course. For the most part, characters with developmental disabilities in literature are devices, secondary mechanisms to effect change in the protagonist, with no true individual space or purpose to call their own.
So, this is what I would seek to do, to represent characters with developmental disabilities honestly, each with their own real space and purpose.
Going into my second year of graduate school, I had written approximately forty-five pages of my thesis. I almost entirely abandoned all writing except on my thesis. I struggled initially with the scope of the thesis. Five clients in the house, two principle staff members, and a few tertiary characters. When I would outline the characters and the narrative, it seemed to me that the thesis would be clocking in at around 300 + pages. I referenced my previous trends and abilities to write twenty or so pages a day and thought I would surely be able to accomplish twenty pages a week, and would be well on my way to the 300 or so pages I felt the thesis needed to be complete.
In my second year of graduate school, I probably wrote only sixty to seventy more pages.
Between my coursework, employment, planning a wedding and getting married, my productivity suffered. Although I was only getting a page or two written per week, something remarkable happened. My writing process changed. With so much on my plate, I had very little time to write, but plenty of time to think about writing. I would spend weeks thinking about and considering a chapter, writing it in my head, revising it in my head, structuring its place and
opportunity to sit down and write, it would pour out, the first draft being a wonderful vision of what I had intended.
My new writing process remained, and in my third year of graduate school, while living in Boston, working sixty hours a week, I would get an opportunity every once in a while, on a Sunday morning or a late Friday evening, to sit down again, to write again. I wrote about seventy-five pages between August 2012 and April 2013. My process of thinking and overthinking and repetitively considering sections and chapters and stories in my mind for weeks and weeks prior to actually writing them seemed to circumvent much of the revision process.
What about the obvious errors and inconsistencies and vagaries presented in The NeverKnowns?
In a way, The Never-Knowns is a mystery novel, with the reader serving as the detectiveprotagonist. In this novel we have shady, suspicious characters, unfortunate victims, unusual settings, gaps in time, conflicting stories and memories, and of course, a terrible crime. The Never-Knowns is a puzzle, as is the world of the characters that exist in it, and, although it may be laborious to decipher, to solve and understand, the clues linger, imbedded, for those curious and motivated enough to do so.
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