Not a ‘new’ book . . . yet. Just a book I’m writing right now. May never even finish it, who knows. As for when I started—tab, tab, tab—it looks like:
And, not really keeping this as journal of this book or anything. I have done that once, with “Where the Camopede Roam,” but that was just a seventy-two hour commitment. This has already taken longer than that.
Why I’m doing this, it’s . . . you know how when you teach fiction writing, you’re up there in front of the chalkboard saying this or that like it’s gospel, such that, when you come home to write, you kind of hear yourself saying ‘always do this,’ ‘never do that,’ and you feel kind of compelled to maybe consider following those rules, or at least giving them a test-drive? In the same way, in interviews I get asked a lot about how I write. Meaning, now, writing, I kind of find myself watching myself in a way I haven’t before. And, yeah, XJ Kennedy tells us that the goose that laid the golden egg died looking up its own arse (“if you would lay well, don’t watch”), but so far this isn’t slowing me down any. Got eighty of what feel like keeper pages so far. And, not like I have choice in the matter anyway. I can’t stop watching myself.
So, here’s what I’ve figured out so far:
RESEARCH: Which I don’t always do. But, for Mongrels, say (which’ll hopefully be on a shelf someday), I was prepping to teach a werewolf course so I went a full month inhaling every single thing I could, werewolf-wise. Books, films, articles, whatever. And then my head finally got full enough with it all that I wrote Mongrels in sixteen days or whatever (was in a crunch / had to finish before the semester started; I’m under no such crunch now, am on sabbatical). So, about a month ago, I got a suspicion that I wanted to write a cop-novel. Well, no: I’ve had this slasher in mind for a while, but it only works in a police station. So I started thinking about it more. And I realized I don’t know cop shops as well as I should. Or crime stuff. And there’s always more to learn about the thriller. So I reread The Ruins. I read Sharp Objects. I read Tell No One. I read Officer Down. I read whatever of Brian Azzarello I could lay my hands on. I watched The Departed and Narc and Dark Blue and Rush and every other of those-type movies I could rent, stream, or had (seriously, like, three or four day). And when they got to swirling around in my head enough, I just sat down, let it all start spilling back out. To me, that’s what research is. I didn’t write anything down. I don’t need a checklist.
PREWORK: I’ve never been even a halfway believer in outlining your novel before you write it. Publishers have made me, dangled checks in front of me to make me, but given the choice, I’ll figure it out as I go along. However. This summer I worked with a producer on a treatment for like eight thousand drafts, each hardly similar to the last at all. It was grueling, but, at the end of it, I was really pleased with the product. I mean, it showed me that this way of doing things, the way screenwriters do it, it can work. Treatments are a good diagnostic tool. So I did it halfway for this novel. Kind of a bulletpoint list of what was going to happen, where each bulletpoint is a paragraph with snatches of dialogue and the seeds of lines, all that stuff you can’t help doing. But, and this is maybe an important ‘but,’ I got about twenty bulletpoints in and got too excited, so just started in writing. I haven’t caught up with the bulletpoints yet, either. Maybe when I do, then I’ll beat out the rest of the story? It’s in my head, of course, but there’s something different and good about getting it down on paper, too. And no, not even once, so far, have I consulted this ‘treatment’ thing. I know it’s there, though, a tab away, and if I ever hit a wall I can go there, find the light again.
TITLE: I don’t know what the final title of this thing will finally be, but I do know I can’t write a novel with NO title. Also, stupidly, I can’t seem to write a novel without spending like thirty minutes playing with fonts and sizes and whatever Pages will let me manipulate. I mean, if the title isn’t fancy, isn’t this ridiculous umbrella over everything that comes next? Then why am I even writing. I don’t even let myself start messing with this until I’m twenty or so pages in, though; I need to be sure the novel’s going to stick before I take time to fake a pretty font. For this one, now, here’s what I see when I sit down every day (I always try to leave the file paged up to the front):
Also, yes, I did the obligatory, terrifying searches to make sure this one wasn’t already claimed. I feel confident it’s a line from a Springsteen song—okay, a corruption of a line the Boss did—but I’m going to have to stumble back onto that. Haven’t found it again yet. Also, talking frontmatter:
EPIGRAPH: I give these too much importance, I think. Still, whenever I’m writing a novel that DOESN’T have one yet, I find myself in this awkward ‘receptive’ state of being, where everything I hear has to get immediately vetted, to see if it both perfectly fits and preps the reader for my novel, and if it’s from some place or person I want associated with my novel. Something that sets the tone, like. So far I’ve got one (Theresa Schwegel’s Officer Down) that I’m liking, as it gets ‘officer down’ into the proceedings immediately:
We're all supposed to be on the same side. But we're not. Not really.
But of course, as with the title, we’ll see. I could luck onto something even more perfect. Right now I’m reading The House that Dripped Gore and one of the Surrogate volumes (comic book), I mean; every other line in those is beautiful and bulletproof and timeless.
MOVIES: Whenever I’m writing a novel—this is nothing I didn’t know before this book—I inhale movies. Right now, because it’s October, it’s all horror, and mostly slashers (of course). I watched two yesterday, I mean, plus the Tell No One adaptation. And wrote, I don’t know, ten, fifteen pages? Speaking of:
DAILY GRIND: I’d never realized this before, but the way I write a novel, it’s I get a chapter or two down then come back to it the next day and completely rewrite them. Then I move ahead, usually a chapter or two at a time. But the new chapter(s), they’re always these placeholders. They’re just the scaffolding. Just me getting down on the page what I know needs to happen in this scene. And I always leave feeling like a failure, as there’s no grace at the end, there’s no wit in the middle. But when I come back the next day, I see places where there could be grace, where the could be wit, and, fleshing that chapter out, deleting a good half of it and rebuilding it better, the chapter starts to work. So, any day I say I’ve written ten pages, that means I’ve deleted at least five.
MUSIC: For me, what fiction really is, it’s transmuting calories and playlists into words on a page. I prefer to write right after breakfast and right after lunch. And lately I eat these biker-gel energy pack things. The energy there (honey, caffeine) seems to be a bit more reliable than Sixlets and pecans. But I still go back to them some days as well. Anyway, with the music, I have the playlist for the novel, one I just made. In this case, it’s a playlist (starts with Pharrell, ends with Lita Ford, gets there via Don Williams) I made for this screenplay I wanted to write, Selfie, which I got all beat out and scened together. Except then, with it all figured out . . . I don’t know. I didn’t want to write it quite so badly. And, I mean, I wasn’t going to get paid for it either, and that makes a big, big difference. I don’t get paid for every novel I write either, of course. But, more often than not, I do. Novels are a more sure thing for me, anyway. That playlist I stole for this now novel, though, I find I only cue it up when writing new stuff. When burning through the previous day’s work, fixing it up, I have this fallback playlist just called “easy.” Like, elevator music kind of stuff; I built that playlist around Chuck Mangione’s “Feels So Good,” I mean, in the days after I heard it playing at a diner in Bandslam. It’s a ten hour, seventeen-minute playlist now, as I really dig that laid back mellow stuff. And it’s perfect for revising. But not for making new stuff. For making new stuff, I need volume and emotion and screaming. Kind of like a birth, I guess.
Only thing I skipped here that I can think of now is texting a friend about a novel of his that just came out, asking how many words it was (I read it digital, meaning I couldn’t like weigh it in my hands, and I never can guesstimate word-count through a device), just to gauge what this one I’m writing might be. My suspicion is it’ll take me about 80K to get it done right. Which, I mean, I’m a quarter there already, and I suspect I’m only to the third of my incomplete list of bullets. So I could be wrong, definitely. However, I have committed to go ahead and let this book breathe as it needs to. Most novels, I hit 40K and I start looking hard for the end, usually find it right around 55K (seriously, so many of my books are 55K exactly). But I’m also starting to wonder if I’ve been forcing that. If I’ve been looking too hard in the first draft for those dramatic throughlines you’re really only supposed to find in revision and tightening. So, this novel, it’ll be however big it is. Not worried. Not afraid of going over 100k, either. I’ve only done it a couple of times, but it’s no big deal.
Too, with this one, I completely planned to do what most of the mysteries and thrillers do: mulitple third-person stuff. Not quite Tolstoyian objectivity—God-vision is pretty thoroughly out-of-bounds for contemporary writers writing in somewhat realist mode—but ‘wide,’ you know? I wanted some slashercam, I mean, I wanted to look through the killer’s eyes. Except, much as I might dig Dan Brown, those slashercam chapters always feel like cheats. He’s saying everybody else’s name, why can’t he also say the name here, right? Right. I can’t allow myself to play that game anyway. Maybe just because I don’t play it well, I don’t know. So, so far? It’s all tight over the shoulder of my main detective, who’s kind of spooklily similar in make-up to my Nick Bruiseman for Not for Nothing. Could be I only know one type of dude, finally. At least in grown-up land.
And . . . it’s now twelve minutes before lunch. I only had thirty-five minutes before lunch when I started this, which wasn’t enough time to get involved with a chapter, quite. Not without missing food. And my box of Pineapple Chicken takes 4:22 to warm. My plan? Warm it, pour up some tea, watch the third act of Halloween 5 (first two acts were last night, way after midnight, which made Michael much more surprising, as he kept waking me), then sit back down here for about three hours, hammer down some words again. Then repeat for as many days or weeks or months as it takes. Hopefully at the end of it I’ll have something to show.