Newtown Literary contributor: Matt Waters
Writer Matt Waters’s work was featured in issue #11 of Newtown Literary. Below, he shows us neighborhood spots that feature in his story. For more of Matt’s work, check out his website, or follow him on Twitter @MattWaters28.
The handball court always felt unique to Chris, compared to the rest of the park. It was the way the sun would get trapped and sealed against the sand colored wall. The way the cement was submerged under the rest of the park, the way their silhouettes across these surfaces would look like giants, as if their shadows were real and their bodies the trick of light. (pg. 43)
I had an interesting thought while I pulled away from the park after taking these first couple of pictures. The thought was that I’ve been writing a novel about a teenager for much of the past six years as one of my primary creative outlets. And I’ve never felt fatigued by writing through the eyes of the teenager. I guess that must mean there’s a lot of 17-year-old in me. But everyone must have a pensive teenager locked inside their psyche, pacing anxiously in their skull… perhaps I’ve been able to communicate with mine more consistently than others, that’s all.
I’ve always thought of it as trying to inject an energy into the reader; earlier today, I was considering how confining this court is: the wall seems to take on a religious connotation. Like a totem maybe. People pounding a specific idea about themselves into themselves, like the handball smacking off and back into their palm, until their personal conceptions are as immovable as the wall… that’s the type of thing I’m trying to put across. Because I’m a dramatist by instinct, these realities are pushed to the furthest extreme that the story will allow.
They looked like shirtless astronauts in the basketball court. Chris caught the glare reflecting off their white wind pants while he walked up the ramp leading into the park. This was the new dress code. So people would know them wherever they rolled.
A true fact about most New York City teenagers and most New York City neighborhoods: the basketball court at the park is like one of those courtyards on Game of Thrones where all the gossip happens… well, at least when I was a teenager. That was the place we frittered the hot summer afternoon away, waiting for our plots to develop in a tangible way – but here’s where my fiction is nothing like reality. In my scene, the plot actually does progress, and Chris’s character develops. That was nothing like our day-to-day reality, where usually absolutely nothing of any significance happened – aside from someone winning or losing a game – despite our endless waiting. Also, I’ve recently become a bit mortified that I don’t have any stickball in the novel. We played stickball in the basketball court. And if you hit left-handed, you basically had to hit the ball the opposite way to put it in fair territory, because of a thick branch overhang, and a basic lack of room on the left-hand side of the court. This was why I was a great opposite field hitter in Little League, racking up hits against the unsuspecting defense to the opposite side of the field. This strategy was working great for me until I turned 13 and stayed the same height – while the best players got way taller and stronger, and grew intimidating mustaches that they seemingly did not know how to shave. It was at that point the idea of being a writer really started appealing to me.
Miles was a year behind Chris at Cross and worked with Aida in the pharmacy. He usually held court over blunts in the loading area…. Just last week they had quoted their favorite comedies while smoking a blunt next to the dumpster and watching the workers load a truck. It all seemed so stupid to them, the securing of the cargo and closing of the shutters, the truck rumbling away while excreting its dark mist. It was all so stupid and they would not be a part of this old order of the world. Somehow they would not be.
A funny thing about writing about the neighborhood you happen to be living in: Fiction can definitely inspire thoughts about your reality – both the past and present. Editing something until it's maybe possibly just right has triggered unconscious insights for me, like I’m better able to relate to my own experiences due to them being fictionalized; having a purely personalized perspective almost doesn’t allow for the possibility of zooming out the angle on yourself. But fiction – not even writing, just merely thinking about your book – can also provoke the reverse reaction. Mundane reality can flicker an insight about your fiction. For instance: this alleyway, which is in the back of a neighborhood shopping center, was something I only really noticed while I was walking my dog at 26 or 27… it was nowhere I was hanging out in my younger days… and I couldn’t help noticing: that is one
impressive alleyway. I mean, look at that damn thing: it stretches from one block to the other, like a passageway, a concrete courtesy aisle. When I needed to pull a past interaction for Miles and Chris clarifying their acquaintanceship, lighting up in the back-alley felt perfect. In fact, Chris’s relationship with Miles – pot infused, centered on a mutual awareness of pop-culture – is actually a precursor to his evolution later in the novel.
So, years ago, the thought of someone coming up to me and challenging me to write 50 pages about my protagonist simply as a person, as opposed to someone in a story, would have probably been disconcerting. But it’s what we end up inevitably doing anyway, except at the time we think we’re throwing away pages that didn’t work. I think those thrown-away pages lead to writing those details that feel real down the line.