What I will say is this; you surprised the hell out of me. I knew you’d be tough. I knew you’d be cool. I didn’t realise you would be so… you. My first clear image of you, the first glimpse I had in my head, was of a young woman in a car, covered in blood, fire behind her, screaming as she tore away from unseen attackers. I thought, then, that the scream was one of fear and relief at having escaped. I didn’t realise that it was the clearest encapsulation of who you were, a roar of animalistic rage, defiance and maybe something else, something more dangerous and terrifying than either. It took a while for the true meaning of that scream to become clear and by the time it did the fact that I was going to be strapped down in that car with you for the foreseeable future had become all too clear.
But it wasn’t supposed to be that way, was it? You were a supporting character, in place to help make the story happen, not to become the story. To be fair, I didn’t realise then that you were going to do and be exactly what you wanted and there was precious little I could enact to change that. And true to your very distinctive form, that realisation came slowly. That awful anecdote you always hear about a frog sitting in slowly heating water, not realising he’s being boiled alive until it’s too late – that was, basically, me when it came to you. I remember the moment I did finally understand. I was walking to catch up with friends at the pub, thinking about the short story I was working on, but those thoughts soon honed in on you and then I started grinning. I’m ashamed to admit it, but at the time I was listening to Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl. Like it or not, that song always reminds me of you. As does the one that followed it that night, one that’s only a little more fitting; Rod Stewart’s Maggie May.
Except neither song is as incongruous as people might assume. Both are about being swept up against your intentions by a mysterious woman. One celebrates it, one laments it.
I doubt I’ll ever lament you coming into my life, but there are times you’ve given me pause. Time when you’ve done things that left me needing to get away from you for a bit. Times when it became evident that you don’t really have limits, that you will do what others might balk at and do it without hesitation or questioning. Maybe I sound like I’m being overdramatic, but you can be scary. Your presence isn’t always a comfortable one.
I think what fascinates and terrifies me about you is ultimately the same thing. It’s that, if I’m being totally honest, I don’t fully understand you yet. There’s so much about who you are and what you’ve been through that remains shrouded and secret. It makes me feel like I’m flying blind, like I’m irresponsible to put your story out in the world without fully comprehending the depths of it. But I want to know more, I want to understand you and the only way that will happen is if I stay in that car, holding on for dear life, smelling the blood and smoke and wondering how the hell I ended up here.
We’ve already been on a few trips together. Every time, a little more of you becomes clear. I think I know where we’re going. But I also know that my best laid plans don’t mean very much to you, just like I know that getting in that car with you changed my life forever. That’s not hyperbole. Whatever happens next, nothing will ever be the same as it was. That’s thanks to you. So in the end, I guess I’m obliged to trust you even if I’m not totally sure I should.
I suspect, although I could be wrong, that for all you are dangerous you are ultimately good. You are damaged and angry and ruthless, but you always come through. You know what it is to be abandoned and unloved, and that’s something that I think you want to protect people from. I don’t think you’re any kind of sentimental hero. I don’t think you concern yourself with the things that aren’t directly ahead of you. But where you can, you help. You save people. And while I’ve never said this before, out loud or in text, that’s what you did for me. At a time when I felt lost and defeated, you stepped on the accelerator and took me far away from that place.
We’re not always going to travel together. But what I know for sure is that every time you pull up in that car, I’ll get in. I owe you that much, and apart from anything else, I just want to see where you take me next.
Other people have already met you, but from tomorrow anyone who wants to will be able to get into the car with us. Some of them are going to jump out. That’s fair enough. To those who stay, I can’t promise anything. But I reckon it’ll be worth the ride. It sure as hell has been for me.
The final season of Scrubs – the real final season, season eight – aired during my last year of high school. It’s impossible to divorce my feelings about that final run of episodes from the time in which I viewed them, although that’s basically the case with all of Scrubs. A few years ago I tweeted a list of my favourite TV shows, including Scrubs, and a couple of friends reacted with incredulity. But any kind of media attains personal significance based less on its own merits and more on what it means to you, and Scrubs meant a huge amount to me growing up. It was the first TV show I fell truly in love with. I started watching it in 2006 and Scrubs, in a lot of ways, ran parallel to my coming-of-age. Saying goodbye to the show in 2009, then, became inextricably linked with saying goodbye to the last chapter of my pre-adult life. When I’ve looked back on Scrubs in the years since, it has always remained shrouded in a golden glow of nostalgia, forever tied to my adolescence.
I’ve mentioned in other blogs how much I’ve been enjoying the Fake Doctors, Real Friends podcast hosted by Zach Braff and Donald Faison; it’s the reason I’m thinking about Scrubs at all at the moment, as I’m re-watching the show along with every new podcast episode. But if I’m really honest I’ve found that in the years since the aforementioned tweet Scrubs has slipped in estimation for me. That doesn’t for a second mean I love it less or anything, just that I’ve come to understand that stubbornly insisting it is one of my top five favourite ever TV shows becomes a harder stance to maintain when my tastes have changed so much since I first discovered it. On reflection, the glib goofiness of the show is something I would struggle to get past nowadays, an element that on re-watch I find myself cringing at if anyone apart from myself is in the room.
For years, my Top Five movies and TV shows remained the same. I would proudly reel them off in any film-centric conversation, tweet them in response to prompts to name favourites. But to rigidly maintain the notion that your personal creative canon should always be these few things is to try and deny your own development as a human being.
Some properties have retained their place of significance for me. Jaws and Psycho remain at the top of my lists because those films have withstood shifting perspectives. Nostalgia is a key part of why I love them, but my relationship with them has grown over the years. I find new reasons to love them with every revisit. Scrubs? I’m not so sure anymore. I still think that Scrubs taught me early on that humour and heartbreak aren’t mutually exclusive in storytelling, that they’re both essential parts of the human experience and that a good story can include both and far more besides. The ambition of Scrubs to be gutsy and real even as it got increasingly silly remains, I believe, laudable. But twenty-eight-year-old me has found that as far as TV comedies go it’s shows like Community, shows that go deeper and darker and weirder, that hold more inspiration and emotional impact. Shows that, by the way, I think Scrubs partly paved the way for. Just like it paved the way for so much of my own creative sensibility.
It’s okay to know that you’ve moved beyond something but still love it for what it once meant for you. Ultimately, I think it underlines what I’ve suspected for a while; that set in stone ‘all time favourites’ are stupid. They don’t account for the different ways you can love something. Circa 2020 I love Community more than Scrubs, but the former wasn’t there when I was growing up and rightly or not that makes a big difference. Inglourious Basterds, for a long time loudly touted as my favourite ever movie, probably wouldn’t crack the top five anymore but that doesn’t change the fact that it remains one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had in a cinema. I never got to see Jaws or Psycho on the big screen until I’d already watched them countless times alone at home, and even seeing them at the movies felt in the end more like a novelty. The thrill of discovery, unlike Inglourious Basterds, was never really a factor there. That’s not nothing.
I suspect that re-watching Scrubs has basically plunged a stake through the heart of my categorising favourites into lists. You can love something without having to explain where it ranks and why. You can also change your mind about something (I did in the case of Community). As human beings we’re not fixed in who we are. Our relationships with the media that helped shape us shouldn’t be either.
The Broken Record
Note: if you’re just looking to read the novella, it’s at the bottom of the page, but please do bear with me while I provide a bit of context to exactly what this is and how it should be read.
If you’ve followed any of my blog posts about the writing and publishing process of the Boone Shepard Trilogy then you’ll know what this is. Written in 2013, The Broken Record is a 28,000-word novella that was originally designed as the first instalment in a theoretical five book Boone Shepard series. It was a reworking of a bizarre draft I wrote in high school, intended as a fun little mystery that would serve to both introduce Boone as a character and establish the bigger questions that would drive the remainder of the series.
Obviously that did not happen. I was, at the time, proud of The Broken Record but it was met with a collective shrug from publishers and agents. When the series was eventually picked up by Bell Frog Books the mutual decision was made to skip The Broken Record and redevelop part two, then called Darkening Ventures, into the first instalment, retitled Boone Shepard.
Reading over The Broken Record again underlined for me that this was the right decision. There’s an inessential quality to it that, weirdly, was at least partly by design. Read in isolation you wouldn’t even know the series was supposed to be about time travel until the last page – intended as a mind-blowing twist, in execution more of a ‘Huh? What?’ moment that theoretical readers might not even have gotten to given that The Broken Record as book one in a series isn’t an especially compelling beginning. The mystery is easy to work out, the humour could and should be funnier, and Boone as a character comes off as pretty flat. Even my beloved Promethia Peters, who meets Boone for the first time in a brief subplot, here reads more as an unpleasant annoyance than the equal sparring partner she would be in the later books. I was lucky to get a book two after the first published Boone Shepard; had that been The Broken Record, even the best of luck wouldn’t have been enough.
This all probably makes it sound like I don’t like The Broken Record, which isn’t the case. On a personal level it’s a nostalgic read, taking me back to a time in my life when writing was what I did in stolen minutes between uni and working long hours at Dracula’s. The frenetic pace of the thing reflects how it was written; in a flurry of clacking keys at a time when I was so, so excited about the prospect of telling this story. My excitement, in this case, probably exceeded my ability, but I’m okay with that. It’s almost like I had to get this out of the way to write the better books that would become the published trilogy.
And it’s not like The Broken Record has nothing to recommend it, at least in my opinion. It’s a fleet, fast read, never lingering too long in any one place. There are lines and moments that make me smile, and a couple of clever little reversals that I’m prouder of than I thought I would be. In its best moments it reflects what I always saw the Boone Shepard series as; a story of fundamental optimism about finding the joy and the funny side in the darkest of circumstances.
Tonally it’s closest to Boone Shepard’s American Adventure; light, frothy with beats of melancholy among the absurdity. In fact, if you know the series reasonably well you’ll see how American Adventure in many ways works as a sequel to The Broken Record, as several major plot points in that book tie in fairly closely to the central mystery of this novella.
Which brings me to how I’d advise you look at the manuscript. It is by no means a polished product; apart from a couple of cosmetic tweaks, this is basically the same text I wrote in 2013, and as such it’s very much the work of a developing writer. I’d ask you to bear that in mind if you plan on reading it. Had The Broken Record been officially published and gone through rigorous editing it would likely look very different to this version. As such, while I doubt anyone would, I don’t recommend reading it if you’re not already interested in or a fan of the Boone Shepard books. Ultimately there’s a good reason it was not the story I chose to start Boone’s adventures with, despite it being the first written.
But for all intents and purposes this remains a key part of Boone’s journey, a missing piece of the series that I am glad to be able to share with the world now, even if only as a curiosity. It is both canon and prototype; the Boone Shepard of the trilogy absolutely went through the events of The Broken Record before readers first met him hanging off the side of a speeding train, but maybe think of this as Boone at a time in his life where he wasn’t quite sure of who he was, a time post-Marbier and pre-Promethia where he was struggling a bit to find his voice and regain his passion. The Broken Record, then, is the story of how both Boone and his author found what they needed to go on to the bigger, better adventures soon to come.
Despite my criticisms I do think it’s pretty readable and even enjoyable at parts, and hope that if you like the Boone books you’ll get something out of this. Just, you know, don’t judge it too harshly. We’ve all gotta start somewhere, and the Boone Shepard I grew to know and love started here.
Writing words about writing words.