Jan Pace, a twelve-year-old girl at the Akard Drearstone commune north of Austin, Texas, watches Akard Drearstone and his fellow musicians setting up for what they think will be a small concert on their dirt parking lot. Jan, who knows she’s in love with the twenty-seven-year-old bass guitarist Jim Piston, tries to comfort him while he freaks on marijuana. Meanwhile, to everyone’s shock, thousands of Akard Drearstone Group fans have invaded the parking lot and the vast fields beyond.
During a break, the musicians discover that Dallas businessmen have bought Freeway Accident Records along with the Drearstone Group’s manager, Harray Andreall, onetime member of the commune. Commune member Bill Dunn is invited to play guitar on “Overturned Runway,” but narcs raid the concert and kidnap him.
At the Overturned Runway Bar, named in honor of their song, the musicians begin to realize how famous they’re becoming. Michelle Morgan, journalist and fiancée of Harray Andreall, explains the principles of her new philosophy, Exponentialism. Declaring bassist Piston to be the core genius of the group, Michelle interviews him for Worthless Weekend Sunday Magazine and seduces him during the interview.
Harray and Michelle fight about Buddhism on their wedding night. En route to the reception at the commune, Harray plunges into metaphysical horror. To soothe him, Jan takes him to see her horse at the barn–but there they discover Bill Dunn’s body packed in ice.
A few weeks later, his marriage already over, Harray visits the Drearstone commune, hoping to prod the group back to work on their album. He crows about having produced the swinish Emory Bowl’s first album, but discovers to his horror that the fake axe killing of a high school girl on the cover of Masturbation in Denmark is the real thing.
As Jan’s parents ignore her self-destructive stones, the Drearstone Group listlessly records songs at her father’s motorcycle repair shop. A dull take of “Overturned Runway” culminates in Jim pulling a gun on Akard–supposedly as a joke. But Jan realizes Jim is a killer, and can’t understand why she’s still in love with him.
My first two novels, Nova Scotia and The Fifty-First State of Consciousness, were practice novels. Akard Drearstone was my real first novel and my attachment to it has been deep. Akard was created in several different eras:
- Draft One, February 1976 to March 1978. I’d planned to express everything I could even consider expressing, and was astonished at what flowed out: dozens of characters, bizarre unfolding plots and subplots. Looking back on Draft One years later, I realized its 1,587 pages contained one good novel, one bad novel, and three mediocre novels.
- Draft Two, May 1978 to October 1980, was an era of endless revisions and a growing awareness of the novel’s obesity and other shortcomings. In addition, I learned numerous techniques for correcting these faults. Also cropping up were problems with attachment to the Holy Words of Draft One, writer’s ego trip, ambition, publishing paranoia, etc. The happy astonishment of Draft One gave way to a determined, ongoing worry about Draft Two.
- I typed 300 pages of ms. to September 1981, then realized this novel no longer expressed my current concerns, and that the physical typing was taking too much of my writing time. I had two other novels going by then and so could afford to realize that Akard Drearstone wasn’t everything.
- New Akard 1979. In 1984, realizing I had no backup copy of the 300 ms. pages and the remaining chapters, I made a photocopy of twenty of the chapters (out of the original thirty-one) and called these 760 pages the finished novel, now titled New Akard 1979. (In 1976 I had set the plot in the “far future” of 1979 …) I was satisfied with this version, which because of the cut chapters had a more mature tone than Draft Two, and I was proud that I’d lopped off 50% of the original novel and strengthened the rest considerably.
- The 1992-1994 revision. Years later, after several other novels, I realized there was some unfinished business with Akard. After a disastrous play called Linstar in 1992, I needed to do something fun. Looking at New Akard 1979 afresh, I rewrote it with a recent paradigm of trying to put myself inside the mind of a twelve-year-old girl as the main character–as a test of “Shakespearean fairness” to all characters. The finished 1994 Akard Drearstone was a good synthesis of all the personal Akard myths over two decades.
- The 2004-2005 revision. But the end of Chapter 1 bothered me for years, and I always felt that if I could just go in and revise that one thing, the novel would be perfect. In the 1994 version, the main character, twelve year-old Jan, witnesses Akard and his girlfriend having sex. The point was, of course, to drag the innocent girl through the irresponsible, drug-addled lives of the main characters, but a) it should build up more gradually–and tastefully–and b) it should show her struggling to free herself from the insanity to later become a musician in her own right. So I modified Chapter 1 to have drummer Pete Sponge lead Jan away from Akard and girlfriend before much happens. But opening up that chapter to revision got me looking at the rest of the novel, and I saw a lot of unnecessary verbiage as well as a few bathetic scenes. Before I knew what I was doing I’d committed to a through revision. In eight weeks I completed a forced march through the fifteen long chapters, cutting a 722 page MS. down to 574 pages. Overall I kept the 1994 synthesis, leaving the plot the same but making some notable changes as well as editing some sloppy prose.
- The 2010 tune-up. The 2010 version strengthened the work and shortened it to 137,000 words. The largest cut came when I realized that Jim Piston’s secret novel (115 pages at full length in the 1994 manuscript, 62 pages as “novel fragments” in the 2005 version), really wasn’t necessary.
- The 2011 Revision. In addition to cutting any lingering references to Jim’s novel, I finally weaned myself from a longstanding attachment to my 1970’s Dickensian character names (e.g., Ted Placemat, Harray Andreality, and a dozen others), though Pete Sponge was recognized as a stage name along with Harley Krishna. I split the fifteen long chapters into sixty-six for faster reading, and trimmed the novel by about 4,000 words. As mentioned above, if the Ur-Akard was one good novel, one bad one, and three mediocre ones, what was left at this point was the one good novel. Almost literally so. Its 132,758 words were 19.86% of the scanned rough draft’s 668,331.
- The 2012 Revision. Another snip of some 8,800 words, consolidating some chapters and writing a new one. Overall improvement at 123,941 words.
- The 2017 Revision. I’m experimenting with one more version which will be the last. There are numerous plot and stylistic aspects I want to fix. And either this will be a publishable novel or I will simply consider this an exercise and put the novel to bed.
The central vision for Akard was my secret desire after graduating from Rice to live in an artistic commune. Since I couldn’t do that, and probably would’ve hated it anyway, the next best thing was to write about it. Akard emerged full-scale in one day in August 1975 as I constructed a satire record album cover out of scraps of pink paper. Two single-spaced pages of notes I typed a few days later charted the course of the first draft. From August 1975 to February 1976 I heavily inventoried dreams, recent ideas, our move to Dallas, and my bleak employment in an insurance company, to throw everything into a what I knew would be a massive work unlike anything I’d done before. It may be that the stretching involved in Akard, the disbelief that so much expression could flow out, is the reason I’ve been so attached to it. And of course it was Akard’s tone and methods that began the evolution towards the rest of my novels.
Though I probably won’t ever do this, I’ve had the idea of someday creating an Additional and Alternate Akard. There are so many subplots, chapters, characters, and alternate versions of each that I could have an additional 700 pages of Akard-related material. Normally I forget second drafts and mid-drafts, but there’s energy in these alternate versions despite all the contradictions involved.
In 2011 I realized a long-standing desire to scan in the 1976-1978 rough draft of Akard Drearstone, and I finally finished proofing it in July 2012. The 7/19/11 blog entry covers this in much more detail. Again, it seems I needed to do this in order to come back to the final novel version.
1. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
2. The Akard Drearstone Group Presents: A Commune Concert
3. Down by the Litter Box
4. Katy Regan Journa
5. Jim’s Room
6. Regarding the Cinder Block Incident
7. The Beer King
8. The Anti-Forest
9. Barbarians Without Consequence
10. Rumors of Gathering Insanity
11. The Unsullied Mind
12. A Herd of Blunt Animals
13. Aftermath on the Parking Lot
14. Overturned Runway
15. Isn’t She Great?
16. Possibly Underground Tunnel in the Air?
17. Jimmy Blackmere
18. The Psychobeauty
20. The Group Discusses His Death
21. Genius and Metaphysical Horror
22. His Advice on Dope and Women
23. Flowing in All Directions, or, Which is My True Self?
24. The Two Percent
25. Out the Window
26. Dostoyevsky Commune
27. The Wizard Dyson Annersnex
28. Welcome to the Commune
29. Masturbation in Denmark
30. Bleemblo Motorcycle Repair
31. The Waterfall of Creation
32. First Scene of the Videotape
33. Blood Tunnels
35. Jim Screws Up a Take
36. Can’t You Take a Joke?
37. The Buried Dream
38. That Other Infinite Spaceships May Exist That Are Evil
39. The Exponential Imperative
40. The Bishops
41. A Map of this Entire Sector of the Universe
42. I Never Realized Weeds Were So Beautiful
44. The Anti-Jim Piston Conspiracy
45. A Full Description of the Insanity of the Underground Tunnel in the Air Concert on Saturday, August 30, 1975
46. Demented BS at Lunch
47. I Find a Bowl
48. I Pay Homage to the Concept of Pete Sponge
49. The Musicians Crap Around
50. A, B, C, D, E
51. My Astral Projection
52. The Air Conditioner
53. The Failure of Akard Drearstone
54. Day One: Harris County Courthouse
55. Interlude: Investigations Later That Night
56. Day Two: A, B, C, D, E
57. Day Three: Jim Piston’s Day Before the Lord
58. Akard Drearstone
59. Death of a Motorcycle
61. How We Lost Track of Our Friend
62. Across the Commune
63. At the Fence
64. Drearstone Corporation
All words and images copyright by Michael D. Smith