Jenna B. Morgan
A Novel Scrapped for Parts
I. Make a Point of Stealing
- West Virginia has an official state tree, state bird, state butterfly, and state insect.
- Sugar maple (see also: New York, Vermont, Wisconsin)
- Northern cardinal (see also: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia)
- Monarch butterfly (see also: Alabama, Idaho, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin)
- Honey bee (see also: Arkansas, Kentucky, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont)
- West Virginia also has four official state songs, but you only know one of them.
- Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mama
Take me home, country roads
II. Or Give Credit Where Credit Is Due?
- John Denver. But you knew that too, didn’t you?
- Copyright law cripples the artist.
- Flip-Side: Real and Imaginary Conversations with Lana Del Rey by James Franco and David Shields was supposed to be a book in the style of Shields’s own Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. It ended up a scrapped collaboration (that never actually involved Lana Del Rey).
- In V Magazine, James Franco said: I’ve tried to make it clear that these are not her words, they are my idea of her words. But in addition to that all of the words that I put into her mouth (and my mouth) were then re-mixed by my former writing teacher, David Shields.
- In The Common, James Franco also said: If you are James Franco and you have an acting career and go to an MFA writing program, people will be pissed off because: A) You can afford the tuition. B) You are invading the sacred craft of writing.
- In 2007 (the same year James Franco applied to MFA programs), I wrote with shocking overconfidence: I must complete the next immediate step in my growth as a writer. I must hone my ability to enchant the reader; this next step can begin upon my acceptance into NYU’s MFA program.
- I crib Charlotte Brontë to tell you: Reader, I did not get in.
- And I think poet Kristy Bowen said it best in her chapbook I*HATE*YOU*JAMES*FRANCO: I blame you a little for that, James Franco. Fuck you.
III. Remember Who You Are
- A simple question — where are you from?
- The ridiculous litany of my answer — I was born in West Virginia but grew up in New Jersey then went to college in Virginia and lived there for eight years before I moved to Tennessee.
- Dear American Girl Magazine,
My name is Jenna Morgan and I am 9 years old. I was surprised to find I could trace back to my great-great-great-great grandmother! I hope I get to be a paper doll. I have worked on my stories in two different states! WV and NJ! Unlike my ancestors who lived in one house most of their lives, I have already moved three times. I hope you like my stories. When I grow up I want to be an author.
An American Girl,
Dear American Girl,
Thank you for taking the time to write and tell us about your family history. I’m sorry to tell you that we didn’t pick you to be an American Girl paper doll. I wish we could make every girl who writes to us into a paper doll, but literally hundreds of girls do and we can pick only six a year.
I loved having the chance to learn about your family. I hope you had fun discovering such interesting things about your heritage.
- All my life, I’ve been looking for narratives to cut up like paper dolls.
- The first short story I ever published was about an insomniac, a failed concert pianist, and an unemployed scholar of medieval literature. I spliced together all this stuff: psychological theory, information from medical journals, tips from the blogs of insomniacs, every crazy-making little factoid I learned in a medieval lit class, jargon from the piano player’s lexicon – forte, fermata. The narrative wasn’t the point, the stuff was.
- Dear Literary Agent:
I am seeking representation for my first novel. Complete at 58,000 words, ROAD UNDER CONSTRUCTION is a novel about transience and identity, about what it means to have — or not to have — a hometown. When the protagonist, David, goes to scatter his parents’ ashes in the old family graveyard, he finds questions instead of closure. There is a headstone bearing his full name, and without his parents to tell him the story, he despairs of ever solving the mystery of his namesake ancestor.
Jenna B. Morgan
There is so much that I love about your manuscript. Your description of David’s emotions are so perfect, sad and moving and memorable. Your writing is strong — sentence by sentence I was hooked — and I kept reading to the last page. About half way through the book, though I felt that David kept saying the same thing about his parents and his loss. And the characters that he met felt too hastily drawn. I’m a plot-driven reader and I wanted more story.
I’m not the right agent for ROAD UNDER CONSTRUCTION, but I do think you’re very talented. I’m looking forward to hearing from you again in the future.
With best wishes,
A Real Literary Agent
- David Shields says: As a form, the novel sacrifices too much on the altar of plot.
- And I agree with David: Plots are for dead people.
- And even so, I’m Emilio Estevez in Mighty Ducks, Keanu Reeves in The Replacements: not a has-been, a never-was.
IV. And Where You Come From?
- Corridor G is a highway in the U.S. states of Kentucky and West Virginia. It is part of the Appalachian Development Highway System, encompassing US 119 for its length. US 119 enters from Kentucky via Corridor G, a four-lane limited-access highway stretching from Williamson to Charleston. Formerly, US 119 was a typical two-lane mountain highway.
- I can almost believe place scholar Tim Cresswell when he asserts: Superhighways also play their part in the destruction of place. They start everywhere and lead nowhere.
- But place scholar Doreen Massey is convincing too: Superhighways aren’t killing place, they’re just changing the way we experience it.
- A decade ago, I drove his pickup and Granddaddy rode shotgun. We followed Route 119 to Logan, Route 44 past Mountain View, Route 52 through Iaeger and Beartown.
- From: JR Baker
Sent: Tuesday, March 10, 2009 7:05 PM
To: Cheryl Morgan
Subject: RE: Hey, neighbor...have a question
Tell your dad he can go right up Ridder Holler. I’m pretty sure they have fixed the roads since the floods. Tell him my mom and the house I was raised in is right up on the hill 1/8 mile before Whaley’s Tipple (since removed and replaced by gas wells). I’m sure this is going to be an interesting trip for you kids.
From: Cheryl Morgan
Sent: Tuesday, March 10, 2009 5:56 PM
To: JR Baker
Subject: Hey, neighbor... have a question
My 86 year old dad is accompanying my 2 college kids up Ridder Holler to see the family burial place. It’s a long story, but something about a fiction piece my daughter’s doing research for. My dad wanted me to email you and ask you this: can he drive up that little road to Ridder Holler or do they still need to go all the way to the Virginia line to catch the main road? He said last time he was there the road was washed out?
- The road up to Shortridge Cemetery is an unthinkably narrow, deeply rutted, and nearly vertical gravel track. On the left, there’s a steep drop off, no guardrail. On the right, a solid wall of rocky hillside.
- Granddaddy told me: I go up there to the family graveyard once in a while… I been there—about every two or three years, I don’t know why. You just need to go.
- The kinds of graveyards I know have manicured lawns, clean as swaths of golf course. They have nice neat rows of identical polished headstones laid flush in the ground.
This place is not like that.
Here, the winter-dead grass clings to the ground in patches. In front of each monument there is a slightly raised hillock of rocks and dry dirt, the hump of the casket just under the surface.
- Over a hundred plots, full of dead people. My people. All those memories, those histories, long-gone forgotten. They’re not even has-beens. Time has turned each and every one into a never-was.
- If I make up their histories, will anyone listen?