MJR: A large part of the preliminary work was a bunch of false starts. I kept thinking my narrator should be sixteen years old, so I wrote about two and half novels about a sixteen-year-old with the same pathology and hang-ups as my narrator. There were a lot of the same themes, such as excessive guilt without cause, the connection between male desire and violence, and social awkwardness. Then, in 1998, sometime around my last week of graduate school in Philadelphia, a classmate. . . pretty much slapped me in the face. He seemed a bit exasperated by me and acted like it was his last chance to set me straight. The slap was this comment: “Even Faulkner raped his characters with corncobs.” That was a pivotal point. It meant a lot of things, one of which was that I needed to bury my sixteen-year-old and make a new narrator who was, say, forty or fifty. The problem with the first draft of Cartilage and Skin was that I kept trying to bring the sixteen-year-old back in. I didn’t let him go. The cathartic moment was finally cutting out all the flashbacks to his youth, roughly 180 pages. I only queried the revised version.
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