You are a student in a prominent low-residency MFA program and an aspiring writer. Your work has been published or is forthcoming in 4 a.m. Fiction, Millennia, and Intersections, and you have served as an editor and book reviewer. You are also the co-host of the literary podcast You Are Not Alone. You live in New York City. The winning story in this year’s fiction prize is an excerpt from your novel, What Happens to You When You Go.
The novel is written in the second person. Not just the main character, but each character is represented in the second person. For example, after you speaks, you respond. It can be a bit confusing at first, but after you read most of Bright Lights, Big City and a PDF of a Dennis Lehane story in The Atlantic, you figured why not take it a step further. It’s more than a trope. You are everyone, if you will. Or you is everyone, or everyyou. It’s inclusive, indiscriminatory. It’s a whole way of being you.
Your agent advised you to stick with 500-word snippets like the one published herein, a larger composition of vignettes. She told you people don’t want to read more than that at once, or you told you that you don’t want to read that much, arguing the shorter, the better. But you would like to maintain the integrity of your work. You still want to be judged by general writing standards, even if you have championed a certain style and approach. 100 snippets of 500 words will give you 50,000 words. Add white space and a generous font and you’ll have your book, you said.
What about you? You, is who I’m asking about. I mean, you mean, not you but you. Shit. Right now you’re talking about you, the Reader, compared to you, the Writer. Are you a writer, too? Let me guess: You also got the subscription with your $15 contest entry. Sorry you didn’t win but you can assure you this is not as much about you as it is about you. And you? This time you mean you, the writer. You’re the one who has won the fiction prize, so it’s only right. You are, as you mentioned, an aspiring writer. You like to use the word aspiring because you still have bigger ambitions. Sure, you are no longer attending the low-residency program due to outstanding payment, and since the time of your submission you have moved from New York City back home to Pennsylvania with your parents. But you see this as success, not failure, eliminating distractions and taking time away to live and write in your parents’ basement. Of course, your art is worth it.
Which brings you here. Actually you’ve been here all along. You always liked writing, going back to grade school, more than you ever liked reading. You didn’t necessarily read everything you were assigned in college, but you didn’t want to pollute your vision either. And it worked. You published in the college literary magazine, Esprit, and won the $100 award determined by student editors, one of whom you happened to be sleeping with, but the reason she slept with you, or you slept with you, at least according to you, is because of your writing. You said it spoke to you.
Now you write every night after midnight. It takes some time, these snippets. You work on and off for a couple of hours before you get hung up on Snapchat or Instagram, then sleep until noon. Sleep is very important to you, often a neglected part of a writer’s routine. You’re not stupid. You know you can’t do this forever. Your agent/you says you want to see a draft in three months and you’ve told you, no problem.
But there’s a problem. Despite the statement in the first paragraph, the fiction prize winner appearing in these pages isn’t part of a larger work. You haven’t even started the larger work. Every time you think of the larger work your forehead feels hot and your palms sweat and all that can bring you back is Fortnite. Also the excerpt published here is the same award-winner from your college literary magazine. You always knew it had more potential than the friggin’ Esprit and you were right. But it is technically a breach of copyright. You thought of asking this year’s editor to release the rights to the piece or maybe returning the $100 award but you spent that money almost immediately on Dexies and Addies and even hooked up with you that night, even though you don’t remember it. You called you recently but haven’t heard back.
What you need now is a brand, not just snippets and a novel-length work but a whole persona on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, especially Tumblr, all in second person. You thought of starting your own literary magazine, called You Too or The Second Person or something like that. Maybe even the author bios can be in the second person! Of course this is more than just a brand. It’s a literary vision, a philosophy of being. And in this vision and philosophy, it’s all about you.
John Nardone is a graduate of the creative writing MFA program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He teaches English at a community college near Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he lives with his family.