A Guy Who Wants His Friends to Read the Book He Wrote: An Oral History

March 22, 2017 | 2 books mentioned 4 6 min read

Jeff: So, yeah, I wrote a novel called Tender Moments — or at least that’s its working title. I also might call it Eternal Remembrance or Hey, It’s Gary Time! But that can be sorted out later, by Random House or Knopf or whoever winds up publishing it.

Steve, friend: I knew that Jeff was working on something, and I knew he liked to write. Like, his Facebook posts are usually kind of funny, I guess. But I was surprised when he told me that he’d written an actual book. He never struck me as the creative type.

Jeff: It took me about seven years to write — you know, whenever I had the time, or whenever I couldn’t find a show to watch. I definitely took a break when Stranger Things started streaming. There was also a couple of weeks when I watched every episode of Chicago Hope. It was pretty weird. But, long story short, it’s finally done! It’s 171 pages long —  y’know, with the double-spacing and the margins and everything.

Amy, ex-girlfriend: He was working on it when we were going out, but I think he was sort of embarrassed by it. Every once in a while, he’d take the laptop into the bathroom, very quietly, that sort of thing.

Jeff: I think I read somewhere that Philip Roth did most of his writing in the bathroom, although I might’ve gotten some of the details wrong. Maybe it was John Updike?

Steve: When he first told me about it, I’d have to say I was…a little bit confused, based on his description of it. I just couldn’t understand what it was about. And I don’t think that he knew what it was about.

Amy: At one point he told me it was, like, a crime thriller? Like Elmore Leonard? But then at another point, it sounded like he was writing a comedy, but with sports in it. And then he said it was an “elegiac meditation on life,” but when he said it, I’m pretty sure he mispronounced “elegiac.”

Jeff: I had a little trouble keeping it focused, sure. But to me, that’s part of its charm. It’s “sprawling” — like David Foster Wallace or something.

Steve: When he was talking to me about it, it just sounded like a fucking mess. Like David Foster Wallace or something.

Jeff: When you get right down to it, the book is about my relationship with my dad. [Pauses, becoming emotional.] We’ve always had kind of a…a difficult relationship. [Gathering himself.] And it’s also about pee-wee football and the government’s abuse of power.

Kyle, co-worker: I didn’t know what to think when Jeff asked me to read his book. We don’t really talk that much, but I guess he’s seen me reading in the breakroom and whatnot. To be honest, I barely know the guy. But I figured, what the hell, you know? How bad could it be?

Amy: Jeff and I are on good terms, even though I broke up with him, so I was happy to read his book. Well, maybe “happy” isn’t the right word. “Willing?” Maybe that’s more accurate. “Begrudgingly willing?” That feels right. “Begrudgingly willing.”

Steve: When he told me he’d finished it, I was like, “Hey man, great, that’s awesome.” But the whole time, I was like, Fuck, please don’t ask me to read it.

Jeff: Everyone seemed pretty eager to get their hands on it, I think — y’know, to see what I’d been working on for so long. It was kind of validating.

Brent, Amy’s current boyfriend: I saw it on her nightstand and I was like, “Tender Moments? What the hell is that?” And she goes, “Oh, it’s a book Jeff wrote.” And when she said it, she seemed a little sad.

Amy: Jeff doesn’t have any formal training as a writer, and I know that’s not always a bad thing. But, you know. It’s not always a good thing, either.

Kyle: Actually, the first chapter started off okay. It was about this guy named Gary whose girlfriend had just broken up with him, and he was all upset. And so Gary goes to visit his parents, and then his dad tells him that he was adopted. I think that’s when it started to go off the rails — that was probably around page four.

Steve (reading from book): “‘Gary, you’re adopted,’ his domineering father said harshly, taking a hearty drink of the beer that he always had on hand, due to his alcoholism. ‘And also, this whole time, I haven’t been who you think I am. I’m a CIA agent, Gary. So there’s also that, as well.’”

Jeff: So the hook is that Gary learns that his dad is a secret agent in the CIA. I thought it was a cool metaphor for how, like, people aren’t really who you think they are.

Brent: I read the first 10 pages, just out of curiosity, and…holy shit. For one thing, why was Gary’s response to finding out that he’s adopted — and that his dad is a CIA agent — to start coaching a Pop Warner football team?

covercoverJeff: My elevator pitch when I was first writing the book was sort of, like, Friday Night Lights meets The Bourne Identity — but without all the amnesia stuff. But also, it deals with adoption. And then, obviously, there’s all the deep-sea fishing towards the end.

Steve (reading from book): “And as Gary looked out upon the grassy football field, a tear came to his eye and rolled down his cheek like a liquid raisin of sorrow. A great emotion swelled in his breast, and he thought, ‘What is grass? And why must it be so emerald?’”

Jeff: The grass is a metaphor for his birth parents. It’s kind of a thinker, but it works.

Amy: It’s the…I don’t want to say it’s the worst book I’ve ever read? But at the same time it’s…okay, it’s the worst book I’ve ever read.

Steve: I love Jeff, I really do. I’ve known him for years. But I’d rather undergo a back-alley colonoscopy than have to read that thing again. I’m fucking serious. Even a page of it.

Kyle: He gave it to me two weeks ago, and I’ve only been able to read maybe…I don’t know…30 pages? And the worst part is, I’ve had to avoid him at work. Instead of going to the breakroom, I’ve been eating lunch in my car. I put the sun visor over the windshield, just in case he walks past.

Amy: Tender Moments, or whatever he calls it…it just doesn’t make sense. And not in, like, a cool William S. Burroughs way. It doesn’t make sense in the way that a toddler doesn’t make sense. It just goes from one thing to the next.

Steve: I’ve been avoiding his texts and calls for the past couple of weeks. My doorbell rang the other day, and I had to Army-crawl around my living room because I thought it might be him. It wound up being the UPS guy, but I was still pretty freaked out.

Jeff: I’m really looking forward to hearing what everybody thinks about Tender Moments. I’m sure I’ll have to make a few changes here and there, which is fine — I’m not going to be precious about it. The important thing is that it’s almost done, and I can get it out into the world.

Kyle: I hate to say this, but he should delete the file, burn any printouts he’s made, and start over. Or maybe he could find something completely different to do. My dad used to have model trains in the basement. Maybe Jeff could do model trains. Or woodworking. Or anything besides writing.

Steve: I had a dream the other night where Jeff had both hands bitten off by a shark, and he wasn’t able to write anymore. It was sort of scary, but when I woke up, I was kind of disappointed that it hadn’t actually happened.

Jeff: Right now, I’m just a guy in a cubicle, y’know? But when my book comes out, all that’s gonna change. There’ll be a book tour…maybe a movie or a TV show. To be a published author is going to be amazing. I just need to tighten it up a little, get an agent, and find a publisher. I guess I’ll need an author photo, too. Maybe I’ll ask Amy to take one for me the next time I see her. Although it’s weird: she’s not responding to my texts.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

is a staff writer for The Millions and an associate editor at MAD magazine. Find links to more of his work and follow him @Jacob_Lambert.

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