Saturday, December 29, 2001
Today I wrote not a word on Low Red Moon. Other writerly business got in the way. That happens a lot, actually. In the old days, back when I was writing Silk in anonymity, editors didn't call or e-mail with urgent requests, nothing needed a third revision yesterday, I didn't have to worry about getting photographs and cover art off to magazines, or about finishing interviews. I just wrote.
Of course, I was also always broke. Which makes this better, even on the horribly frustrating days when I can't get to the novel for all the white noise.
Far better to fret over which author's photo to use this time than to be out shoplifting cans of tuna fish (I don't even like tuna fish).
I begin to fear, though, that this journal is starting to spiral into the Black Pit of Triviality. I'll do my best to see that it doesn't. Perhaps tomorrow night I will be struck by profound thoughts and amusing witticisms. WHAP! they'll come, just like a hickory branch to the forehead, and I'll redeem myself for the lapse of late December and the thin entries that are coming in its wake.
And cute little frogs will sing Frank Sinatra while dollar bills fly out of my butt.
Stay tuned, kiddies.
Friday, December 28, 2001
Over a thousand words on Chapter One today, which makes this a pretty good writing day.
And having had a pretty good writing day, I find myself not much in the mood to write here about having written all day long, or about much of anything else, for that matter.
But, because my generosity knows no bounds, here's an interesting tidbit from the footnotes of Sir Richard Francis Burton's 1885 translation of A Thousand Nights and a Night:
"The Ghulah (Fem. of Ghul) is the Heb. Lilith or Lilis: the classical Lamia; the Hindu Yogni and Dakini; the Chaldean Utug and Gigim (desert-demons) as opposed to the Mas (Hill-demon) and Telal (who steal into towns); the Ogress of our tales and the Bala yaga (Granny-witch) of Russian folk-lore. Etymologicaly "Ghul" is a calamity, a panic, fear; and the monster is evidently the embodied horror of the grave and the graveyard." i. p55
So don't dare say you went away empty-handed.
Thursday, December 27, 2001
In geology, we speak of unconformities and disconformities in the stratigraphic record. The former, an unconformity, is an erosional surface that separates younger strata from older rocks. The latter, a disconformity, is something similar, but different, and I don't feel like explaining the particulars just now, as it's so late it's getting early. But, my point is this - sometimes there are lapses.
And though I very much appreciate the concern, the recent lapse in journal entries (the last being from 18 December) does not mean that I've already developed a case of the dread "wb" this early in the novel, and it doesn't mean that I've given up on the journal, and no, it also doesn't mean that I'm dead. But December is a lousy month for regularity. And I've spent at least nine hours watching Peter Jackson's beautiful adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, plus the DVD of Moulin Rouge was finally released.
So stop sending the e-mails of confusion and concern.
We must prioritize, people.
As for Christmas, while I've nothing against it where other people are concerned, the less said the better.
Mostly, I continue to be amazed at the way the world shuts down for the holidays. This whole "paid vacation" thing. Someone pays someone else not to work. Wow. I stand in awe. This is not something writers, at least not novelists, comic book scripters, and short story authors, are familiar with. No one has ever paid me specifically to sit on my butt and not work. But I'd dearly love the opportunity. Writers do not get holidays. Not in my experience. We get many days when we are too frustrated or lazy or furious to write anything, but those days are filled with guilt and dread and self-loathing. Every second I spend not typing is a second I don't get paid. Wouldn't it be lovely, though, if one of my publishers gave me an annual Christmas "bonus" sort of thing and for a whole week I got 8¢ an hour not to write? I think I would weep with joy. But no. Writers write. We don't get "paid vacations," and so, I'm not quite sure I believe in them. Doubt is often a balm for envy.
Meanwhile, Chapter One, which is titled "The Big Dry," is coming along nicely.
Tuesday, December 18, 2001
This morning, I started off with the aforementioned Ritual of Procrastination (see my entry for 11 December) and by noon I was beginning to worry that this might not be the day that I get the novel going after all. But sometime around one o'clock I forced myself sit down, shut the door to my office, put on the headphones, and start typing.
It rained all afternoon and I listened to The Doors, mostly "The End," "Riders on the Storm," and "Touch Me" - I often wind up with a song on repeat, not realizing that I've been letting just that one song play over and over and over again for an hour. That would drive a sane person mad, right? But, anyhow, rain and four hours' worth of The Doors and in the end I had the prologue of Low Red Moon, which, at least for now, is called "Providence." The prologues of Silk and Threshold were also both written in single sittings, so hopefully it's a sign that I'm off to a good start.
But it was a suprisingly unsavory beginning, even for my stuff, taking me a little off guard, and I was left feeling disoriented and jumpy and in need of a long, hot shower. That doesn't happen very often, fortunately. That I write something which actually upsets me while I'm writing it (or afterwards, for that matter). It's happened with a few of the short stories - "San Andreas," "Two Worlds, and In Between," "Rats Live on No Evil Star" - and with the climax of Silk, the scene where we finally see what happened to Spyder Baxter when she was a child, locked up in the basement with her crazy father. I started writing that scene on Christmas Eve 1995, alone in Athens, Georgia, and finally had to make myself stop working about 9 p.m. and go out to a movie, just to be around other people for a little while. I went to two movies, actually, one right after the other, trying to stay away from the empty house and the things I'd just written there.
I've often argued that authors have a moral obligation, not only to their readers and to themselves, but to their characters (which are, in fact, only facets of themselves). So it seems to me that there's something terrible about taking yourself, and a character that you've created, into such dark places and situations. It's one reason that I maintain that certain sorts of stories should never be viewed merely as entertainment. If nothing else, it's a damned peculiar way to make a living, digging up these thoughts and putting them on display for everyone to see. And I'm starting to ramble . . .
But I've felt distinctly ramblesome most of the evening. Which is also a good sign, a sign that, for the moment, some part of me is lost in the story. I watched some of the Marx Brothers' Monkey Business and that helped a little, and it has stopped raining, and I don't think I'm going to listen to The Doors for a little while.
Monday, December 17, 2001
I wrote the last six pages of Bast: Eternity Game, Part 2, today, and finished the script. But there's a catch. I was only supposed to write five pages to finish, but somehow I got so caught up in the story that I wound up with an extra page and didn't even realize what I'd done until I was reading back through the script. Almost all Vertigo comics are 22 pp. long (which actually translates to 35-45 ms. pages in my scripts). They were 24 when I started writing for Vertigo in 1996, but were cut back to 22 early in '97 (I think that's when it happened), when comic book sales continued to decline. That means I have a 23 pp. script, and I only need a 22 pg. script. So, either the editorial powers that be grant me a minor miracle and we get an extra page in Part 2, or, more likely, I rewrite the script and remove the extra page. But I'm submitting it with 23 and keeping my fingers crossed.
Anyway, at least I can actually begin the novel tomorrow.
I began a novel tentatively titled Anger of Angels about this time last year, which was originally intended to be a sequel to Silk, and to follow Threshold in publication. I wrote about a hundred pages, producing a prologue and the first two chapters and part of a third and then suddenly, about February, I locked up. Not another word of the thing would come. It was the beginning of my first genuine bout with writer's block and it lasted until May, when, after months of being unable to write anything, I took a trip to Manhattan, to try and grease the gears and get things moving again. Peter and Susan Straub granted me sanctuary in their guest room for a few days and I did a reading in the Village and spent a lot of time at the American Museum of Natural History. Peter and I talked about writer's block. He was reading the galleys of Black House at the time and I was amazed that he could have written so many novels, and terrified that I must have so many of my own left to write and that this blockage seemed to have no end in sight. I met with my agent and my editor at Penguin and someone from Marvel Comics and, generally, just tried to act as though it was bsuiness as usual, just another trip to Manhattan, hot dogs and taxis and nothing at all out of the ordinary.
I came home and put Anger of Angels into a box that has not been opened since. I wrote a short story called "The Road of Pins," and another called "Onion" (for the CRK/PZB collaborative volume, Wrong Things), and then a novella called "Le Fleurs Empoisonnées" for Trilobite: The Writing of Threshold and, by July, I'd convinced myself that the dry spell had passed. I looked at the box containing the cursed manuscript (as I like to call it, respectfully) and felt, honestly, nothing but dread. I didn't open the box. I didn't go back to work on the book. Maybe I will someday. Or maybe Silk was never meant to have a sequel.
And I suppose this is all my longwindedy way of saying that's it's much better to find yourself, at the end of the day, with one page too many, than with none at all. Whether it gets cut, whether or not I get paid for it, it's better.
Tomorrow I start this thing again, that first nervous step on the Long Road to The End. And unlike my last two novels, I have no idea at all how this one's supposed to end. I know more of the beginning and the middle than I usually do at the outset, but the end's a bit of a mystery to me. Someone, Shirley Jackson I think, said that a novelist should never write towards a preconceived ending. So I'll take this as a good sign. Actually, I thought I knew how Threshold would end. I was quite certain of it. Then, halfway through the last chapter, an entirely different ending came to me and that's the one that made it into the novel. It almost went another way. I'd say more but I might spoil something for someone who hasn't read the book yet. Maybe later.
Sunday, December 16, 2001
This is going to be short, because it's late and I'm bleary, and bleary and journals don't mix well. Sort of like tequila and root beer. Just a bad idea all round.
Tonight I stopped by a local Barnes & Noble on my way to see Vanilla Sky and, as I always do when I go in any bookstore, checked to see if copies of my books were on the shelves. Anyway, one of the clerks noticed and asked if I was looking for my books, that if I was, Threshold was up towards the front. Now, to begin with, I'm unaccustomed to being recognized by strangers in bookstores. Yes, it is very cool, but it's also somewhat unnerving and, in this case I felt as though I'd been caught doing something that was somehow . . . unsavory. Slightly embarrassed (at least I hope I didn't blush), I grinned sheepishly, admitted I'd been caught, and ducked around to the next aisle where I pretended to read a Ray Bradbury book. I bought a birthday present for a friend, a copy of Storm Constantine's Wraethu trilogy, and snuck out before anyone else spotted me ego-surfing. Anyway, it was just weird and seemed like something I should note.
Five more pages on Bast: Eternity Game today, and I'll finish Part Two tomorrow. Which means that I can begin Low Red Moon on Monday, as planned. I know now that this novel, like Silk and Threshold before it, will be set primarily in Birmingham (with a bit of Atlanta thrown in), but I believe the prologue will be set in Rhode Island. It's going to be very difficult to keep an online journal during the writing of a novel, without giving away more than I should about the novel.
Friday, December 14, 2001
Not much tonight. I spent most of the afternoon catching up on my other journal, the one I keep on paper, and there's not a lot left I feel like saying just now. I'll finish Bast: Eternity Game Part 2 this weekend and begin the novel on Monday. Today I received page proofs for "Stratigraphic Distribution and Habitat Segregation of Mosasaurs in the Upper Cretaceous of Western and Central Alabama, with an Historical Review of Alabama Mosasaur Discoveries," which will be published in the March 2002 issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and have spent the evening proofreading.
But I did have a thought that I wanted to put down somewhere. I have come to believe that the point at which writing ceases to be art (whether it be good art or bad) is that point at which the writer ceases to be God - the god or gods of his or her fictional universe. If another voice is allowed to significantly interfere, to change the course or interject, then a certain necessary purity is given up, and whatever remains is another sort of enterprise, non-artistic, perhaps validly commercial or political, but non-artistic. And all authors who wish to make a living from their work (all artists, for that matter), run the risk of losing the essential artistic integrity of their endeavors to the doubtful best intentions of an industry (first), and the book-buying public (second).
Tuesday, December 11, 2001
Today was my last museum day for a little while and tomorrow it's back to Bast Part 2. And getting ready to start Low Red Moon (no, really). By the way, I hereby promise I will have the next novel finished by May. Now watch me make a liar of myself.
I spent the better part of the day in a museum attic. The mosasaur I'd come to see was in an immense wooden crate, where it's been for many years, since being taken off exhibit. A fully-mounted skeleton, about twenty feet of sea lizard, so a pretty impressive crate. I'd only come to study the head end, so one of the maintainence guys had taken the front of the crate apart and left the rest intact, so that the beastie seemed to be lunging out of its crate at me, jaws agape. Museum attics are weird and wonderful places. This one was accessed by an enormous freight elevator (think Aliens, where Ripley's trying to rescue Newt and escape the Queen), up into dust and darkness. There was a Model T Ford parked next to the mosasaur crate. How's that for surreal? Dozens of huge, unopened field jackets. And they left me there with my cameras and calipers and iBook and the mosasaur for most of the day. It was very, very peaceful.
Beats the usual sort of things I do to avoid writing. All writers have things they do to avoid writing. Some have more, some less, but we all have them. Any writer who says otherwise is either a) a liar or b) very deeply deluded. Me, I wake up, have my first cup of coffee (lots and lots of milk and sugar) and read something (Rolling Stone, Wired, The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, National Geographic, a book on cryptozoology, whatever's lying beside the bed), then have my second cup of coffee while I read e-mail, reply to e-mail, see how my books are doing on Amazon.com, ego surf for a bit, check out the Horrornet forum, check my e-mail again, check the weather (a curious practice, as I so rarely go outside), and update my AOL calendar. Then it's time to brush my teeth, floss, deal with my hair, get dressed, etc. Then I check my e-mail again, because you never know when Speilberg might drop you a line. Then I check for phone messages, since I've spent most of the morning online. Then I return phone calls. Or at least think about returning phone calls, or the fact that I should return phone calls, but after all, it's never Speilberg and I hate phones and everyone knows that and wisely e-mails me if they want a response. By this time, of course, it's almost noon and I'm beginning to have to face the ugly reality that morning routine is morphing into afternoon procrastination. So I check the mail, which means taking the elevator down to the lobby of my building. That's always good for five or ten minutes. And if I'm not feeling particularly inspired after that, it's a good idea to listen to music for half an hour or so, very loudly (everyone else in the building's at work, after all). This is one reason I find it necessary to stay up until 3 a.m. to keep up with all the damned work.
If novelists had a real union, we'd get paid to procrastinate. There would be strikes for longer procrastination hours. We'd be just like garbage men and screenwriters.
Another thing they don't tell you about this writing thing - the way all the days begin to blur together, sooner or later. That's one reason I started keeping a journal (not this journal, but the kind you write with a pen and ink and paper), some desperate attempt at maintaining the integrity of the calendar, and all of this is just a roundabout way of saying I have a lot of trouble remembering which day of the week it is on any given day. But this is Monday, and I didn't write. I went, instead, to the Alabama State Museum and the Alabama State Geological Survey in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and worked on one of the never-ending mosasaur papers. It's a lot easier to remember that it's going to be Monday when the Monday in question means sitting at a desk with mammoth tusks and dinosaur bones instead of sitting at the desk where I spend most of my time either trying to convince myself that I'm not one of the worst writers putting fingertip to keyboard alive today, or trying to figure out What Happens Next, or trying to remember what day of the week it is today.
I hope it isn't disappointing anyone that I spend almost as much time talking about my paleo' work as my writing. It isn't meant to. I didn't expect to when I started this Blogger thing. It's just sort of been working out that way.
I recently learned that the mass-market paperback edition of The Sandman: Book of Dreams will be out soon, a somewhat belated five or six years after the hardback ('96). That, I suppose, was my big break, that anthology, and that short story, "Escape Artist" (original title "Exit from a Slow Sort of Country"). It's even been translated into Czech. It's extremely odd, and mildly disconcerting, trying to make sense of something that you've written after it's been translated into a language that you can't even begin to read. And I can't read Czech. I wrote "Escape Artist" in July of 1994, shortly after I moved to Athens, Georgia, the summer I became addicted to coffee and Altoids.
Good god, I'm even boring myself.
Come back tomorrow night. Maybe I'll have something interesting to say. I'm going to go to bed early and read A. A. Milne. You should do the same.
Sunday, December 09, 2001
Today, I wrote the first four pages of Part Two of Bast: Eternity Game. In this particular case, four pages of comic book equals eight pages of script. I've met a lot of people who are astounded to learn that someone writes comics, the assumption being that the "artist" does it all. Of course, at Vertigo, and most other places, the artist actually means the writer (who determines what is to be drawn), the penciler (who draws the basic images), the inker (who inks the pencils and has far more impact on the final product than you might think - the inker can make or break the book), the colorist/s (all done on computers these days, of course), and the letterer. So, the "artist," sensu lato, can easily refer to 5 people. It can be more (sometimes there's more than a single penciler) or less (the penciler may ink his or her own pencils), but 5 is a good ballpark number. Wait. What the hell was I talking about? Oh, yes, Bast. Four pages today, which means eight pages.
So, I spent most of the day with a nameless ghost kitten that asks too many questions and gets too few answers.
And I made some notes on Low Red Moon.
And speaking of cats . . .
A definite disadvantage of staying up till all hours working when one ought to be asleep is discovering at 3 a.m. that your elderly, incontinent cat has urinated on the bed. And being far, far too sleepy to go through the whole hour or so long routine of changing sheets and the comforter and spraying the mattress down with the stinky stuff that gets rid of the cat pee smell. Letting that dry and then having to roll what is actually an uncommonly heavy mattress. Last night, it took me ten minutes just to open a plastic garbage bag (which was needed to contain the sheets until they could be washed today). Makes you yearn for goldfish. And different sleeping patterns, because I'm certain that this sort of thing must be much less annoying at 10 p.m. than 3 a.m. Of course, it was really our fault that she peed on the bed. She never does that, unless you forget and give her tap water instead of bottled water. The chlorine in the tap water irritates her bladder and makes her incontinent.
Writers lead lives of unparalleled glamour.
Ditto insomniac writers; we just get to live more of it. Someday I will be wealthy enough that I'll have someone who gets paid to do nothing more or less than clean up cat pee at 3 a.m. Just as soon as Mr. Speilberg calls . . .
Saturday, December 08, 2001
As much as anything else, the books we read as children make us who we are. This is doubly true of writers. As much as the difficulties and adventures and genuine horrors of childhood, the books that see us through all that give us our visions and voices. This has been in my head all day long (along with stray lines from Jackson Browne's "The Pretender" which just showed up and refuses to leave), thinking about how I lived so much of my first eighteen years in books and how I can see them, every now and then, showing through the veneer of my own work.
It often seems that the books I read in high school, especially, are the books that led me here. To these words, these stories. It was a mismatched lot of authors. First an obsession with Tolkien and Richard Adams' Watership Down (I actually read the latter eight times in eighth grade alone), but also C. S. Lewis, Madelaine L'Engle, Ray Bradbury, Peter S. Beagle, Alfred Hitchcock anthologies, Poe, and lots of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Later, the stuff I read got darker, as my life got darker, as school (which had always been an unpleasant place for me) turned nastier. I moved along to John Steinbeck and Harlan's Ellison's Deathbird Stories, Stephen King and Peter Straub, Stephen R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books, Lovecraft and Kurt Vonnegut. I've never again read so voraciously as when I was in high school, which is a shame. Books were magic for me back then, and I needed magic, desperately. Books are something else to me now that I am grown, but I can still remember that they were once not merely stories on paper. Once they were doorways.
My high school (well, my second high school, because we moved from one town to another when I was sixteen) was an old building that I think must have been built around the turn of the century. I'd discovered a way up into the attic and I'd skip class and sit up there with stacks of chairs and dust and spiders and read The Grapes of Wrath or Dagon and Other Macabre Tales when I was supposed to be in English learning to diagram sentences or in algebra learning . . . well, whatever it is you learn in algebra. On cold winter days it was always warm up there, the sun coming in through high windows and all the heat from the radiators rising up from below through the floorboards. No one ever caught me hiding up there.
I think this is all in my head because I liked the Harry Potter film a great deal and Peter Jackson's film adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring is only a little more than a week away. I have great hopes for it, despite rumors of what's been left out and what's been changed. And despite the fact that I'm hot and cold on Jackson's work, at best. I loathe his early films and didn't care for Dead Alive or The Frighteners. But Heavenly Creatures showed promise and the stills and clips I've seen of his work on LOTR is impressive. I am hopeful.
Tonight I watched Ralph Bakshi's peculiar 1978 The Lord of the Rings for the first time since it's original release. I was a freshman in high school then and I so wanted Bakshi's film to capture the heart and soul and wonder of Tolkien, and was so disappointed at what I saw instead. Watching it again, so many years and so much life later, it didn't seem quite as bad as I remembered, but it isn't very good, either. Overall, it has the feel of those odd, quasi-psychedelic Roger Corman horror films from the '60s, The Fall of the House of Usher or The Dunwich Horror. The rotoscoping was an interesting experiment, but a failed one. Legolas, Galadriel, and Celeborn look like members of ABBA. The Rankin-Bass versions of The Hobbit and The Return of the King were much better.
Anyway, I'd half intended to write tonight about how impatient I can become with editors, but it's better I did this instead. As for my own writing, I finished the revision of the first Bast: Eternity Game script this afternoon and made more notes on Low Red Moon, which is really starting to excite me. I've seen the Publisher's Weekly interview and I'm pleased with it. I'm finishing up work on Gauntlet Press' Trilobite:The Writing of Threshold. You can sleep when you're dead, right?
Thursday, December 06, 2001
With "From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6" behind me, it's back to my notes for Low Red Moon (well, that and the revisions for Bast: Eternity Game Part 1 and my latest mosasaur paper and one on a dromaeosaurid dinosaur from Alabama . . .). I've never made so many notes for a novel, either before I began it or afterwards. It's interesting. Not an outline, per se, but an awful lot of information, the sort of stuff that I usually don't discover until I reach a point in the novel were it becomes relevant. It might make things go faster, and perhaps it won't be three-plus years between novels this time. That would certainly be nice.
Another experiment. I'm trying to find a distinctly different sound for this book and I've started out with The Doors while I work on these early notes. I'll probably try writing the prologue and first few chapters to The Doors. I don't think any goth or darkwave band has ever managed to achieve the utter creepiness of Jim Morrison's gorgeous voice and I've often labled Morrison the urgoth. Anyway, I'd be hard pressed to find songs more disturbing than "The End" and "Riders on the Storm." But I'd never listened to The Doors on my headphones before today and the effect is rather unnerving, having that music in my head. Hopefully something curious will come of it.
I have a short interview in the December 3rd issue of Publisher's Weekly. I haven't seen it yet, but Stefan Dziemianowicz, who conducted the interview, e-mailed to apologize for the editors having misspelled my surname as "Kieran." It's not the first time, though I found this instance particularly annoying since Publisher's Weekly recently reviewed both Threshold and Wrong Things and managed to spell my name correctly in each case. Somewhere, I have a long list of the many odd ways that people have misspelled my name since about 1990. My all-time fave is "Gateland Kermit," for which I have no explanation whatsoever. It's easier to explain fish falling from a clear, blue sky. Anyway, if you can find a copy of the magazine, check out the interview. I talked about the pros and cons of writing for shared-world and themed anthologies, my work on The Dreaming, Threshold as weird fiction, and a bunch of other stuff. I don't know what actually made it into print.
Bill Schafer at Subterranean Press says that From Weird and Distant Shores is at the printer now, so it'll be along very, very soon. I think everyone's going to love Richard Kirk's work on the book's illustrations. Also, Richard's doing an illustration for the aforementioned dromaeosaurid dinosaur paper, by the way.
Tomorrow is a road day, but I'm quickly learning to write on the iBook in the back seat of the van while Jennifer drives. So, I'll be revising Bast at 70 miles per hour.
I suppose it's inevitable that some of these entries will just sort of peter out, like this one's about to do, instead of having eloquent conclusions. Ah, well.
Monday, December 03, 2001
"From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6" wound up getting an additional eight hours of work out of me today, quite unexpectedly. It began as a little innocent polishing, which led to a couple of continuty fixes, and culminated in a new 300+ word scene. Tomorrow morning it goes in the mail before it pulls anything else of this sort. Oh, and a cool link that turned up turning my research on the story:
I assume that Blogger won't render that somehow useless. We shall see.
Publishers should print a note somewhere inside all novels, prominently placed so that there's no possiblity that readers could ever possibly miss the damned thing. I'd say the indicia page, but I might be the only person on earth that reads those. Maybe it could be printed on the title page, or before the first sentence, or after the last, just before THE END. It would go something like this:
The author appreciates your having taken the time to read this book. That's why it was written. However, we ask that you do not send him or her your detailed thoughts on any flaws you may have perceived herein and/or notes on how you could have done it better. In fact, we strongly caution you against doing so, as this will only piss her or him off, dash fragile egos, and we still need to squeeze a few more novels out of the poor saps. We thank you for your cooperation and hope it will have enriched your reading experience.
Yep. That ought to do it just fine. I think I'll fax it off to Penguin-Putnam in the morning.
Which is to say, please do not send me that sort of letter or e-mail. I'd rather just keep reading all the good stuff that Publisher's Weekly and Booklist has been writing about me. You see, every so often, writers get together at obscure, secret enclaves (anyplace that serves alcohol until very late will do) and we ask one another these sorts of questions. All the Did-It-Suck-As-Much-As-I-Think-It-Sucked questions. And as the night bleeds away towards dawn and brutal honesty begins replacing our ordinarily kindly dispositions, we say mean things to one another. We pick nits and dig at one another's plots and syntactical peculiarities until there's not a dry eye or stiff upper lip in the place. And, just in case that's not enough, we also have our editors, copyeditors, and anonymous Amazon.com "reviewers" to be sure we get the point.
(What's even more amazing are the dolts who corner you at readings or conventions to shake your hand, tell you how nice it is to finally meet you, and then proceed, to your face, to explain why you couldn't write your way out of a hole in the ground.)
So, please, keep all that helpful, well-meaning, constructive criticism to yourself. The real world of writers and books bears no resemblance whatsoever to college creative writing classes or workshops. We do this for a living, without stunt doubles and day jobs, and understand our flaws better than you will ever possibly know.
Of course, this prohibition does not apply to slavering praise and nubile, young sycophants. I'd give a hundred astute critics for one appropriately obsequious sycophant any day. Just try me.
Sunday, December 02, 2001
Today I found the end. It never ceases to amaze me and leave me at a loss for words and it has yet to make me feel good. But there is such a release in the dim and blazing realization of that moment, the simple typing of THE END beneath the final sentence, that there is at least relief. And relief is sometimes all you need. Sometimes I see it coming, and sometimes it takes me entirely by surprise. Like today. I finished a scene, which was to have been the next-to-last scene, and discovered that I'd already written the last scene, and that it was waiting for me at the beginning of the story. So I cut and pasted it onto the end, where I promptly discovered that it didn't work. So I moved it back to the beginning and looked at the next-to-last scene as the last scene, and it looked like it would work. I called Jennifer in to read it, because this is the stage where I have to begin to doubt my own instincts. I've been writing on this damn thing, on and off, since September, and couldn't even pretend objectivity. She thought it worked, so I read through the entire thing, 37 pages, aloud, and, unbelievably (it's always somewhat unbelievable) it was done.
So. I today (well, yesterday if you're here on the eastern coast of North America or points east, until points east become points west) I finished my 50th short story since July 1993. At a little over 11,000 words, it's my second longest work of short fiction today, surpassed only by "Le Fleurs Empoisnnées" (which is just over 12,000 words, I think). It's not quite what you might expect me to do, my first genuine "mythos" story, not merely going for the atmospheres and thematic elements of Lovecraft, but hauling out some of his localities (Innsmouth, Arkham) and beasties (well, you'll see). I've played with Lovecraftian elements before, many times, and openly in stories like "Valentia," "Tears Seven Times Salt," "A Redress for Andromeda," and Threshold, but (and someone please correct me if I'm wrong) this was my first use of Lovecraft's fictional locales and beings by name. Which, I'm told, divides fiction which is merely Lovecraftian from that which constitutes "mythos" tales. When I started it, I'd hoped it would be fun. It wasn't. It was maddening. But it did become a sort of obsession that dragged me kicking and screaming to the finish line. I hope HPL wouldn't be too put off by the somewhat nonlinear, double-tiered narrative, or the profanity. It was written with the utmost respect.
My office is still a wreck of unshelved books and journals. I put them back on the shelves every morning and there's always another pile in the floor by midnight. My room of books. My library, I suppose, made so much larger by the web (which I continue to love and loathe, in equal parts). But maybe this is interesting. Maybe this is the sort of insight into the process that someone reading a writer's journal might be looking to find. The books that I consulted today, dictionaries and such aside, in the space of six hours and about 1,000 words. Here they are:
Rand McNally Road Atlas (greatly augmented by mapquest.com and terraserver)
"The Monsters and the Critics" by J. R. R. Tolkien
Beowulf (translated by Seamus Heaney)
On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim
The Dunwich Horror and Others by H. P. Lovecraft
The Flight of Dragons by Peter Dickinson
Lo! by Charles Fort
The Damned Universe of Charles Fort by Louis Kaplan
The Enigma of Loch Ness by Henry H. Bauer
On the Track of Unknown Animals by Bernard Heuvelmans
Atlantis: The Antediluvian World by Ignatius Donnelly
Early Vertebrates by Phillipe Janvier
All waiting to be set back in their proper places on the shelves, after I get some sleep.
Tomorrow I will do a small bit of polishing, but I polish as I write, edit as I film, so there's never very much of that sort of thing to be done. Looking at that list of books I see one reason I have so much trouble writing away from home (trouble, hell; I just can't do it). This year at Dragon*Con I was on a writing panel with Kevin Anderson and he described dictating into a mini tape recorder as he climbed mountains and hiked across lava flows and I thought, thought I, damn that's cool. That's how I want to write. On my feet, not sitting on my ass. But it hasn't happened yet and I fear that it never will. The tyranny of my fingertips. They make the words and jealously guard the key. They let my tongue do as it pleases, as long as nothing's going down on paper. That's why all but two interviews I've done have been via e-mail. My hands know better than to let my tongue speak for the record.
And I also got in a couple of hours of paleo', a new manuscript describing a new species of mosasaur from Alabama that I need to have finished by the end of the month.
Without coffee I would be but a lowly, sluggish mollusc. But I was good and only had four cups today. At least I don't smoke. And I remembered to take my multi-vitamin, but forgot to leave the apartment today.
Now I'm going to stare at the television for a while until I get sleepy. You folks can wander about the rest of the website for a bit. Jennifer posted happy new pictures of me today (hah, hah, hah).
Saturday, December 01, 2001
I spent much of the day being sad, in a detached, distant sort of way, that George Harrison is dead. How very, very strange. When I was very young, my mother had a few records - not many, because we didn't have much money for such things, but she had a few Beatles albums and so they were some of the first albums I ever listened to. I remember being extremely fond of "Hey Jude" and "Norwegian Wood." CNN and MSNBC actually shut up about the war in Afganastan long enough to talk about George Harrison's death today, which seems a little ironic. Or maybe it seems appropriate, and it's just that a sense of irony pervades anything appropriate these days.
But I wrote, much more and with somewhat less difficulty than yesterday. Maybe a thousand words, which made this a good writing day, about as good as it gets. Visible progress towards that elsuive ending. I will probably finish the story tomorrow, just in time to only be a little late getting it off to London. And I'll probably get hate mail from acolytes of the Order of Dagon for daring to place Innsmouth at the mouth of the Castle Neck River. But at least it will be done and I can move along to other things.
Like the novel.
I spoke with Barry Hoffman at Gauntlet today and it looks as if it'll be mid-January before Trilobite: The Writing of Threshold is released. Which is fine. I rather like that all these books have ended up being spaced out over three months, instead of piling up around the first of November, as it seemed, for a time, they would.
There's a nice review of Threshold in the new Hellnotes, written by Brian Hodge. I was so absolutely certain that reviewers would hate this book and summarily dispatch it with sharp and unkind words, and so far there's been nothing but praise. Sometimes it's very nice to be mistaken. And at least, perhaps, I won't have to contend with the "sophomore jitters" the next time around.