No Romance has been a project of mine since Fall of 2011. I started taking notes down about the story as a cashier at Home Depot, hiding folded up pieces of paper in my apron. Illegally, I might add—if I had been caught doing something other than standing with a pleasant expression on my face, I could easily have been fired. Instead, I now have a novel that’s 99.5% of the way complete (having gone through three entire drafts), and I haven’t cashiered since February of 2012. In other words, I have no regrets.
The point is, after hundreds of thousands of words’ worth of rewrites, I’m ready to share it with the world.
To explain the plot in the simplest possible way, imagine Indiana Jones in The Truman Show. Our action hero knows he’s in a series of stupid pulp fiction adventure stories and decides to rebel against the author gods whom he suspects write his life. That includes a very strict policy of rejecting romance even when it sits in his lap.
As my writing group can attest, the story gets ridiculous, absurd, zany, then philosophical, theological, and overall pretty downright bizarre. Welcome to my brain.
Anywho, here’s the plot synopsis as written up in my most recent query letter:
Jack McDowell has rescued thirty-one damsels in distress. He has defused bombs with less than ten seconds to detonation a total of eight times. He has gone back in time only once, but that was to stop Hitler from pushing a secret button in that bunker that would have set off a hidden supply of Nazi nukes. The world doesn’t know it, but they owe him thanks many times over.
And he just wants to be left alone—not by people, but by them. The beings, whatever they are, who put him in these situations. They who play him like a puppet. They who write his life so unoriginally. He’s never met them, so he can only suspect, but whatever invisible prison they have him in, he wants out. He wants reality, not cliche. He wants choice, not another plot sweeping him along.
Now he’s on a flight to Rainswept Isle, trying to get away from that life of action and adventure and meet the father he never knew. But the plane is hijacked, and a certain dying passenger wants to pass along a mysterious black leather jacket to Jack: the mantle of the hero, and, to Jack, a symbol of re-entering his “prison.” He takes it nonetheless because the dying man was once a figure like him, and Jack believes by accepting this role and this world for a time, he can subvert the tropes and find a way to keep them out of his life forever.
Here’s the prologue. It takes place shortly before the events of the book.
If there was one thing our hero was terrible at, it was dying.
But now lay before him an epic expanse of a sun-painted canyon that was sure to spell certain doom. Here in the forgotten deserts of the American southwest, he was alone, truly alone, and about to drive his motorcycle over a canyon cliff.
It was to be his sixth suicide attempt.
He had acquired the motorcycle specially from a custom dealer a few states over, a place called Mercy Motors. Sure, some might say it would be more convenient to just put a bullet in your head. But with his track record, the gun, like any gun aimed at him, would probably miss.
The sun at last began its dip below the horizon: the moment was here. The hero drank in the dry canyon land a final time, his feet planted on the ground on either side of the bike. Then he rolled forward ever so slightly, feet paddling back and forth, the front tire inching towards and finally over the edge, spilling a few grains of gravel. His eyes followed the rocks in their fall down the smooth wall a thousand feet below. He’d join them soon enough.
He revved the engine. His boots went up. He twisted the gears. The motorcycle lunged forward, rumbling then roaring.
Sixth time’s the charm, he thought.
Up at the apex of his leap he felt that familiar thrill that comes when gravity is temporarily neutralized, when the force of going up cancels out the force pushing down. That feeling of freedom from all pressure…
Then he began to plummet. The canyon floor drew ever closer as wind ripped past him, blowing his hair and deafening his ears. Adrenaline replaced every other sensation in his body. Flashes of other falls he had made in his adventuring exploits filled his mind’s eye: from the top of a greyhound to the windshield of the fake cab driver in London. Leaping from one jet to another to catch the fleeing alleged assassin of the ex-president’s daughter. Pushing off from the twelfth girl he couldn’t save as he fell into the sea.
This would be the last. No gunshots driving him here. No sudden epiphany as to how to survive the fall. No threats made to friends and family to coerce him into a suicidal leap. No, this would be his choice. Entirely his.
That was when he felt it. A massive gust of wind—what else could it have been?—so large, so billowing, that he felt like he was being carried through the sky. Still falling, still heading toward that flat stop, but somehow his speed was slowing. He could feel an invisible resistance against his body, as if some unseen hand was cushioning his fall, each of its fingers threaded between his arms and legs.
“Are you kidding me?” he shouted into the ether.
Now he wasn’t even facing his doom head on. His body had spun to face the blue sky. His own hand, slick with sweat, was slipping from the motorcycle’s handlebar. The motorcycle itself was drifting away, further and further out of his sight until—
He landed. Then, crunch.
“Aughhh!” cried the hero, and it was the kind of cry he’d never uttered before. It wasn’t a grunt or a wince or a grimace. Those he’d made when a bullet grazed his arm, or when he took a punch to the gut, or when he’d suffered a superficial knife wound. No, this was the cry of serious pain.
I’m alive. Pain, pain, pain.
No other word appeared in his brain. No other word to describe all the agony he was feeling. Not even a curse, muttered gruffly, could do it credit, and he had done that a lot in his time.
Where was it coming from? What torture device was wracking his body up and down? He could feel the signals singing fire up the nerve lines, so vividly his whole body might as well have been one massive pain receptor. The throbbing screamed at him and didn’t relent. He knew nothing else. Even the shock that he was alive registered only in the background. But he was finally able to trace the pain back to its source.
It was his leg. Still attached, but broken. Probably. He had never broken a bone before, but that was definitely the bone sticking out…
And that was definitely the motorcycle on top of him. Pinning his leg against a rock the size of a football. Around him he saw no other such rocks. It was just lying alone on the canyon floor, and he had happened to land on it. The motorcycle, not a part broken or bent or out of alignment, had in turn landed on top of him, and forced the shin to break the skin.
Some people might pass out in such a moment. But our hero did not. Drowning in pain, his perception heightened. He started sensing other things just as vividly. The blue sky bearing down on him like he was watching an ocean about to crash. The parched colors of the canyon burning with such heat he could feel his own skin begin to flake, and his lips with them. The dark lines of every crack and crevice in the cliffs and crags stood out to him in high definition, like he had just put on a new pair of spectacles.
Night fell in the desert, and his sharpened eyes started counting every star he saw up there among the pink and violet swathes of interstellar dust. As he arrived at a number he would later forget, his eyes fell back down to the canyon, which, even with only the light of the glorious night sky, was perfectly visible, and settled on the only written words for miles and miles around, the brand emblazoned on the bike’s handlebars.
“Mercy,” he coughed out. “Mercy.”
And his pain began to fade away…
Everything from then on was a blur of colors and shapes and sounds, from the shadow of the helicopter in the clear dawn sky to its whirring rotors, finally to the white-lighted room he awoke to, with women in green attending to him. With his hope of freedom dashed and the pain in his leg reduced to a dull throb, even his fall in the canyon felt like just another story he had experienced.
As he looked around the room, every machine, bed, desk, instrument…all felt bound together like they were a part of some painting, all made of the same material. The whole world was like that now. He supposed it had been before the incident, as well. The pain of his broken leg was almost forgotten, and…he missed it. But he didn’t know why.
His vision finally coalesced into one person, whom he could vaguely recall as being his mother. He looked up at her like an anguished child. She in her fifties, still beautiful and mysterious with black hair that curled around her face like obsidian, and turquoise eyes that glowed like a subterranean lake.
Out of his mouth spilled the words of existential crisis that had often driven good men and women into an early grave. But he had survived, and was finally sharing his thoughts and feelings and the bizarre fact of his very survival with the person he thought would care, and hoped would understand.
At the end of his speech he found tears trailing down his unshaven cheeks. Little did he know how much she really did understand.
Then his mother opened her mouth to speak, and her voice was as gentle as if she were about to teach him the birds and the bees.
“Son…it’s time you learned where you really came from.”