I was trying to figure out how to get people to buy My First Kafka from me directly instead of, say, Amazon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy when anyone buys my book from anywhere, but it’s a nice feeling when you actually sell the copy yourself. (Also, you make slightly more than the 43 cents per copy or whatever that you get from your publisher, but that’s a different story.)
So I wrote this tiny mini-book. It’s a short story, and it’s called “The Last Golem in Prague.” It was an eleventh-hour creation in every sense. The books had just arrived in the mail, people were actually buying them, which I couldn’t (and still mostly can’t) believe, and I had to send out something. For months I’d sat in front of my notebook, page blank, wondering what sort of story I should write for whatever people might buy my weird children’s book.
And then, at 11:59 or so, everything clicked together.
Here’s what I wasn’t thinking when I started writing:
a) I should write something that sounds like Kafka.
b) I should write a story for adults, since mostly it’ll be adults buying a copy for children and they deserve something of their OWN to read, too, dammit.
c) I should read something Kafka would want to read.
…and a bunch of other stuff, I wasn’t thinking, either. What I was thinking was how I used to live in Prague, in a student dorm that had a country & western dance club in the basement, and a convent surrounded by vast woods next door.
Now, I never went down to the basement club (unfortunately), and I never went to the convent (even more unfortunately), and just saying either of those things in a story is way too unreal-sounding to be true. You can’t actually write it because nobody will believe it.
So I kept the details to myself, and I wrote a story that starts when I hear the pounding noise of the club and go down to investigate. And I try to dance. I won’t tell you much more about the story, but it does feature my two favorite themes in the world (loneliness/isolation/existential peril and girls) and there is a golem involved.
I pulled back when I finished. I realized that maybe I hadn’t written the sort of story that Kafka would have written himself, but there was more than a little bit of him that got sucked in. In the end, the story wasn’t about the place at all, but the feelings and the thoughts and the experiences.
Matthue Roth’s newest book is My First Kafka: Rodents, Runaways, and Giant Bugs. He lives in Brookyn with his family and keeps a secret diary at www.matthue.com.