Saturday, November 24, 2001
A very long time ago, when I was a child, I thought how it would be a Very Fine Thing to spend my life writing books (whenever I wasn't thinking how it would be a Very Fine Thing to spend my life digging up dinosaur bones). I imagined how the covers would look, how my name would look on the covers, what it would feel like to walk into the library or the drugstore or the Five and Dime (there were no bookstores in the town where I grew up) and see my book waiting to be read by someone. I would write lots and lots and lots of books, I imagined. Like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, I would be a veritable fountain of words to be bound neatly between very professionally designed dustjackets.
As much as I wanted to visit Loch Ness or find a Diplodocus skeleton, I wanted to make books. I found an old Writer's Market at a yard sale somewhere and used to pour over its pages as though there were some magical secret and if I just looked long enough, I'd know how it was done, this business of writing books. I typed out fairly awful fantasy and horror stories on an antique Royal typewriter that my mother had picked up somewhere. I experimented with carbon paper. PCs were still a decade or more away. Correction tape seemed pretty high tech at the time.
And since I was growing up where I was, when I was, writing novels was frowned upon as a career choice and virtually every relative, except my mother, discouraged me at one point or another. They told me that only people from New York wrote novels (people from New York were generally frowned upon). They told me I should be practical. They told me to stop spending so much time reading or I'd go blind (which has almost happened).
Anyway, what they never told me, because they couldn't have known, was that if I ever got my wish, I'd discover that writing books was not fun or exciting or romantic or any of the other things I imagined it to be. It's simply hard. Mindnumbingly hard. That people who write books spend most of their lives alone in small rooms staring at blank pages or, as it would turn out, computer screens, for hour upon hour upon hour, occassionally getting lucky and finding a sentence to fill some of that damned white space with. They couldn't have told me about the stress or carpal tunnel syndrome or writer's block. How you start to forget that there's a difference between day and night because you rarely go outside. How you ultimately reach a point where that one thing that drove you to ruin your life and your eyes and your nerves, the simple joy of reading, would itself become annoying because, after all, it's really work.
I sat down a few minutes ago to write something straightforward like, "Hi. I'm Caitlin Kiernan and this is the journal that I'm going to keep while I write my next novel, which might end up being called Low Red Moon," so that people wandering in would know whether to click the "Back" button on their web browers. And then all this came tumbling out.
And I can't figure out how to place an acute accent on an "i" in this program and, if I did, that would just be another annoying thing, so never mind.
I think what I'm getting at is how wonderful it would be to have been Harper Lee. Write one book that everyone will love forever, see it made into a movie with Gregory Peck, and then never have to do again. Ever.
But that's not the way it works.
And the hardest part is the beginning (though the middle seems much harder, but only when that's where you happen to be), and starting full in the knowledge that this isn't the last time you have to start The Next New Book. If you're lucky, there is no fixed number and you will be doing this for a very, very long time. After Silk was released in '98, my agent called and asked how the next novel was coming along and I asked "You mean I have to do that again?" That's exactly how I feel about writing most of the time.
But here I am, anyway, and I got to be a paleontologist as well, so at least there's that. Here I am and, as usual, I'm months and months past the time when I should have begun a new book. I've put it off until there's no more time left to put it off and in another couple of weeks I'll sit down and write the first word that will hopefully lead, many months later, to the last word, and my agent and my editor and my landlord and all the credit card companies will stay happy. A novel that might be called Low Red Moon , and yes, that was a Belly song, which I happen to be very fond of, by the way.
Before I can start the novel, I have to finish a short story for a British horror anthology (a story I've been trying to finish since October) and write a script for Vertigo - then I can start the novel.
I'm not sure how this is going to turn out. The journal, I mean, not the book (though I have no idea how that's going to turn out, either). I've always kept the process of writing to myself, for the most part. Occassionally, I'll call some other wretched soul who, as a child, didn't listen to her or his disparaging relatives and he or she will listen to me bitch and moan and try to be patient or tell me to get back to work. But I've never much talked about the nuts and bolts with readers. I'm not going to be saying much about what's going on in the book, since that would pretty much defeat the purpose of anyone reading the thing. I'm sure there will be clues along the way. Maybe.
Meanwhile, please buy Threshold, the book that almost killed me (I'm not joking, but I'll save the explanation for another time). Every time you buy a copy, a mosquito gets its wings.