It's unfair to just assume that people and going to understand what the hell's going on from the very beginning. That's why they have book jackets, and that's why this site has a background section. This is you, the reader's, chance to be briefed on the world of a thousand ships and maybe, possibly, learn something about yourselves. Remember, you're an intelligent, attractive, likeable person. Now get out there and change the world! But, um, first...please sit down, shut up, and read this stuff I've taken time to write.
a thousand shipsis a story about Helen Bartness, high school outsider and deeply disturbed young woman, and her meticulously engineered relationship with Franklin Harrison, her not-altogether-much-older teacher.
Brought together by a tangled web of lies, insinuations, and deception, Helen soon builds the perfect relationship, making certain that she will never be alone, and that she will never be unhappy. She holds over the ill-fated Harrison the constant threat of her age in order to bring him to complete servitude and submission. Driven to a state of trauma and overactive paranoia, Harrison finds himself going to desperate lengths to make sure he and Helen are together forever...
I can almost certainly say that 'a thousand ships', as it exists today, in the form you see on this web page, happened on a Sunday night/Monday morning in October. Can't pinpoint the exact date, but it was early in October. I had a little black flip-top 'Scholar' brand notebook that I promptly began to fill with my pointless, obsessive, 'god-I-hope-no-one-decides-to-pick-this-up- and-start-reading' meanderings. I would sit in my car before my morning classes and write like a woman possessed.
But there is a background to this whole sordid mess.
And it begins with my junior year of high school (if you think this is shaping up to be a little like the story itself, don't worry, there's only meager evidence). I really started to toss the Older Man isue back and forth in my head like so much loose shrapnel. My heart had been recently broken by a fellow whose physical attributes bear a more-than-striking resemblance to those of Franklin Harrison the more and more I think about it. He also happened to be a wizened 29 to my fresh- but-cynical 16. The Older Man issue was a big one for me, as I had yet to be romantically impressed with anyone my age (this may also have something to do with the fact that I'm a bit of a social repellent, but I digress). I may just have been acting on psychotic jilt-poisoning when I scripted the literary primordial ooze that came to be known as 'The Movie,' or, in its full title, 'Apothecaries' Fluid Measure' (full story of how in the hell I came up with the title 'Apothecaries' Fluid Measure' does indeed exist and will be coming soon!). I have notes from this frenetic incubation of ideas that occurred on my vacation to Virginia that summer. Notes which include details that are insanely similar to those of 'a thousand ships'. Most noticeably the ill-fated relationship between the narrator, Jo, and her acting coach. The older man was always named Harrison, usually with no first name.
I interrupt myself to provide further explanation. I had trouble at first coming up with a name for my quintessential Older Man, who seemed to be like the Perfect Black Body of literary characters for me, absorbing all my observations of, desires for, and hatred of Older Men. He never seemed to give anything back, and I was afraid to name him anything that may have potentially shown a leaning toward an existing subject of study. But of course there's always my little hang-up about having my character names mean something. I could've named the guy 'Dexter' and it would've worked (...okay, maybe not). But I needed a meaningful name. The arguably 'main' street of my unfortunate hometown is named Harrison Avenue. A street I travel daily. It connected me with my high school. I have many memories of that street, and hence Harrison. Thus, Franklin Harrison. We now return to your regularly scheduled ramblings.
Harrison remained the lead male character in 'The Movie,' and he was actually a very likeable character...deep down he was probably the only likeable character in that whole tale of treachery. I wrote most of the screenplay for 'The Movie' and had about four scenes left when my computer suddenly crashed and burned, leaving me with nothing but a useless Windows 95 disk and a big 'I'm Sorry' from the computer guy. I have that conversation on tape. It goes something like this...
Me (groggy. It was only 11:30 am. I don't wake up until 1:00 pm): Hello?
Guy: Hi, this is ----- from Supertek. We've finished looking at your hard drive.
Me: Uh-huh? (Hopeful. Cheery. My life was still easy, breezy, and uncomplicated at this point)
Guy: I'm afraid we can't recover any of the data.
Me: Huh? (You know how in cartoons the character's mouth will just drop open and 'clang' against the floor?)
Guy: I'm sorry. The hard drive is bad.
Me: Huh? (I'm completely losing it) I lost an entire screenplay. (Is this my life?) Are you sure? (Can't you make it good again? Just for a few minutes?)
......the conversation went on like this but the answering machine tape cut off. I remember screaming something like "You'll hear from my agency! This is an outrage! God's mercy on you, swine!"and slamming down the receiver resolutely. They called back and begged forgiveness. I haggled with them and walked away with a brand new 6 GB hard drive complete with new video card and CD drive. Free of charge. Because they were the ones who had to tell me that screenplay was lost.
But would I give back the computer to have ten more minutes with that screenplay? HELL NO! I'd laugh wildly and say you must be kidding. Plus, the subplot of 'The Movie' too greatly resembles 'a thousand ships' in tone and character. I can't do that. Sucker.
The main difference between 'The Movie' Harrison and Franklin Harrison is not the characters themselves...though, admittedly, 'The Movie' Harrison was terribly underdeveloped. The difference is in the women in their lives.
In 'The Movie', Harrison's relationship with the protagonist, Jo, was in reality a very caring, open thing. Not at all the psycho-abusive deal going on with Helen. I developed the character of Helen as the most evil woman I could possibly create. I like to think on some plane of logic that Iíve succeeded, but there is still a little spark inside of her that seems to be warmth and love (a spark she struggles with throughout the story, until she finally supresses it with violence and abuse).
So then I read ĎLolitaí sometime in early October and I was writing until the sun came up wondering what the story would be like from the girlís point-of-view.
There is also The Bet. Oh, yeah, The Bet. You see, this is a race. I have to finish this novel before January 1, 2000. The race is with a time-consuming but amazingly engaging friend named Tom, who is also trying to write a novel (he doesnít have a website for his, though, I should point out, so that makes me just predestined for success). If I win, I get a jacket. Donít laugh, itís cold here in Florida and I have no idea when my best friend will suddenly show up and demand her Billabong corduroy jacket back. If he wins, I have to do a painting for the evil sot. Maybe on some artistic level I really want to do the painting, but indulge me when I say that Iíd really really like to win.