Mapping the Interior of Mapping the Interior
For the book that became The Long Trial of Nolan Dugatti, I kept a kind of running diary of the writing of it, The Camopede Files. Was fun. It made me kind of look at my process in a new way, a helpful way. So, when I started Mapping the Interior, I figured I’d try the same thing. Here is that thing.
18 August 2016
starting this journalthing now, but I need to wrap up the week before, right quick:
➔ I had a story to write over the weekend. I wrote 2 or 3K words on it Saturday, decided those words were worthless, so wrote a completely new and different story on Sunday after seeing the Bourne movie. Both the movie and story were about three-quarters good.
➔ Monday was when I told myself I was starting this novella. Except I couldn’t leave that story a quarter bad. So I read the first half of a novel I’d said I’d blurb, and then I worked on the story for an hour or two, and got it maybe almost done. Also I found out last-minute about this Origins Workshop-Conference thing happening on campus, and I moth’d right there, dropping everything else. First day of talks was so cool. All about planetary formations and microscopic life.
➔ Tuesday, then, for the novella. Which didn’t happen. Ended up busy the whole day—Origins Conference again. Still so, so cool. Worked on the not-done-yet story for maybe thirty minutes. Oh: I watched two movies that day. Westerns. 3:10 to Yuma (the old one) and McCabe & Ms. Miller. 3:10 is so, so amazing. Then I read half of a different book I’d said I’d blurb.
➔ I remembered I had to do two large-size super-important outside-reviewer letters for other prof’s tenure and promotion cases. I’d already done the reading, so it was just a matter of shifting into academic gear, grinding those words out. Which is a lot harder than it maybe sounds. Started to compromise with myself: next week is just the first week of school, right? I could write the novella then, right? The Origins talk this day was super-excellent, too. Earth Diver stories as migration map. I’d never even considered considering that.
➔ Later that night, I remembered that compromised process makes for compromised product, so I slammed down 1K or so of the novella
➔ Thursday, today: I reread what I’d wrote, decided it worse than sucked—I was doing my usual thing of waiting too long for the horror or whatever to start (remember Tom Petty: get to the chorus, ie, that good stuff, as absolutely fast as possible)—so I moved it to a scratch file, was reset to 0 words in the novella. But now I made myself open with something ‘wrong.’ Turned out to be “I was twelve the first time I saw my dead father cross from the kitchen doorway to the hall that led back to the utility.” What I like about that is the dead father and that “first.” I’m hoping the reader picks up that there will now have to be a “next,” at least, if not a series. Anyway, after that line, the story just started murmuring itself onto the page, pretty much. I’m getting to know this kid—kid, yes. He’s about the same age as the narrator for Mongrels. I did really like being 12, and 14, and 16. Maybe when I can’t think of stuff, that’s just my default setting? Or the one that keeps me from disguising too hard? Not sure. Talking disguise, though, since I was already in the headspace for this novella, the story I had on deadline for last weekend, it kept trying to be this novella. Finally what I had to do was change the basics of it in order to not look like I was telling the same story twice in a row. Not that they’ll come out close to each other. But still, I’d know, and I don’t want to know. I verymuch like the weekend story—second story I’ve written set here in Boulder—but it may end up not exactly meeting the specs of the anthology. Which is sometimes how it goes. I’m in the novella now, just tapping on 3K’s door, already worried this might try to go long. Need to start already looking for every efficiency. Also need to be sure that the stakes are mapped out proper. That’s something I sometimes forget, such that it then looks like a patch-job later, when I have to fix it. Build it into the foundation, though, dude. Build it into the building of the thing. Back to it.
➔ and . . . oops: 4123 words, now. I could probably ring that 20K bell—I’m really only aiming for 17.5K—deep this morning. But that would require too much rewriting. Better to do it slow, so it’ll stick. Trying to maybe stop now, especially since I’m wearing stupid boots that are hurting my feet / standing desk. But they’re the same stupid boots I just played too many games of ping-pong in, and stood around at a BBQ in. I don’t know. I need some better boots. Here’s hoping I’m done with this for the night. We’ll see. I want to go watch Chinatown now. Last night it was Butch Cassidy & the Sundance kid again, and then at lunch, after the She Wolf comic book and the end of Brian Evenson’s The Warren and the first third of Save the Cat for the fifth or sixth time, it was the Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid documentary. Which was kind of neat, though I don’t know why that director cussed so much. Maybe I don’t understand directing. Anyway, stopped at a point where I honestly have zero idea what in the world is happening in the next line. Just, the mom, she stepped out, did something I completely have no plan for, but now guess I have to make work. Also, the little brother’s name is turning out half-fun. I only had it as a placeholder—it feels Flintstones to me—but now it’s just his name. Which is a lot better than “Tang,” what he was in the killed-off yesterday-draft, when everything was totally different. With a kid named that, I’d be talking astronauts some stupid amount. And we can’t have that. This is horror, not science fiction. So, now: off with these stupid hateful boots that I don’t even know why I still have them or why I always put them on to go places when all they ever do is hurt my feet.
19 August 2016
➔ And . . . 5613 words, it looks like. 8:15am, time to truck a kid to school, then lunch with the editor who acquired Mongrels, and then hopefully a movie, that Hell and High Water, I think it’s called, then the gym, and by then it’ll be dinner and man when I going to find time in this day for slamming down a couple thousand more words. We’ll see.
➔ 7353 words now. 10:30am, about to be late to this lunch. Also, watched Chinatown last night. Man do I love that movie. Were I better person, I’d skip today’s afternoon movie to come back, knock most of this novella out. But you can’t always be a good person.
➔ One SOB burger from Mountain Sun later—it’s 1:51 now (the editor and me had to go to Boulder Bookstore for a good long while), I’m back. Not saying I’m remotely a good person and a made a good responsible decision, just that the movie started at the wrong time. And also my Jeep overheated. Anyway, have maybe an hour here, before the big kid pickup after Day 1 of school, which I simply cannot be late for, hot Jeep or not. Let’s see what I can do in a few minutes, here.
➔ 2:36 / 9201 words / got to run find good water + antifreeze and somehow make it to school on time on time on time
➔ 3:42: back, man, wow. first day of school pick-up is a madhouse, especially with a hot jeep and another kid calling with a broke-down truck / stuck at an intersection. got twenty, thirty minutes here now, though. let’s see what can get done. was hard to walk away an hour ago. nice to sneak back in. I seem to have moved past uppercase letters somehow. would rather write horror than fix capitalization.
➔ 4:41 / 11323 words. it’s all going well, but need to start looking for the end, for whatever’s going to happen. don’t think what I planned is how it’s going to fall out. as it shouldn’t. anyway, need to go to the gym, think it out some. hopefully not write anymore tonight. always easy to rush the front part. the back half is where you prove yourself, though. or don’t.
20 August 2016
➔ 12:21pm: Man, finally: it only took two trips to the gym, one Miss Congeniality, the first two eps of the third season of Bitten, both Paul Tremblay’s recent This is Horror podcasts, one rec letter I’d nearly forgotten to write, too many tabs over to social media, the last two-thirds of Save the Cat, and what probably counts as an overdose of Zzzquil, since my watching-Tracy-McGrady-highlights-at-2am usual thing was getting way out of hand, but I finally cracked this novella. I mean, I figured how all the X I’d set up worked as a dramatic line, that then solves itself—with great sacrifice—and I stumbled into the ‘what comes after’ part that horror always needs. Not at all sure I have the actual nerve to commit that to the page, though. I don’t even like to look at it in my head. but how else to get it out of my head. so, might snab an hour or two for writing later, or might just write syllabi for screenwriting and fiction workshops that start Tuesday. not concerned nor pushing anymore, though. About ten weeks ahead of schedule, the novella’s more than half on the page, and I now know how it plays out, more or less. However, since I’m about to maybe be hit with another deadline for a much bigger project, I maybe should put off Miss Congeniality 2 for tonight and get to writing. Who knows. Right now: some STNG and a turkey sandwich with, get this: NO CHEETOS. Because I ate them all yesterday. What’s even the use of eating, really, if you can’t have cheetos? How do you know you’ve eaten at all if your fingers aren’t orange? Anyway, we’ll see what what happens.
➔ feel like I should say here, too: Clay in the third season of Bitten looks so much better with some actual length to his hair
➔ somewhat related: I seem to have started putting a bandanna on my head each time for writing this novella. it started because my fan in here’s so strong that my hair goes everywhere. but now it’s cool, I don’t need the fan, but still have the bandana. Just snapped a pic, to prove it:
➔ 2:00pm / 12,444 words. Didn’t at all mean to do this. Going out on the bike, now. It’s too hot not to be playing outside. Just went past what I think is the exact middle of the story. Which won’t be the fifty-percent point—the backslope’s always shorter, faster. Also, have to be careful, here. Have done a few novellas, but never watched myself do them like I’m doing here, or thought about “the novella.” I’m seeing now that, like Pynchon says, they can be a short story with a glandular problem. Specifically, all the little offshoots you don’t have space to run down in a story, you can run them down with or in a novella. Just, be careful. If you get too much going at once, then you’re suddenly writing a novel. Don’t want that here. Going to really-really try to cap this off as quick as I can. The end’s already happening. The end’s always happening, if you’re writing right.
➔ oh, should say: the playlist I’m writing this to, it’s Rio Youers’ “Lucky Touch,” on Spotify. I think that’s finally why this story went rural: I was listening to Springsteen. Who grew up in the city, in New Jersey, I know. But this playlist . . . it’s not quite Nebraska, but it’s got something Tom Joad to it all the same. There’s open spaces, dry spaces, derelict cars out in the tall grass. Really? When I don’t have a real idea, that’s where I always write, just because it’s what’s inside me.
➔ just trying to walk out the door and got apprehended by the last few lines of this whole thing. so, came in , jammed them down. 12,516 words now. but I really don’t want to be writing more of this today
➔ 6:01pm: oh, man: was sitting there watching Bitten, minding my own business, not writing anything, when the second Mongrels started talking in my head. probably because of this book—because this is verymuch Mongrels, just with no werewolves. anyway, wrote it down. except: I’m not a two-at-once writer. who knows what’s going to happen now. or, I do, I hope: jam this one down fastlike over the next day or two. and maybe write a syllabus or two in there somewhere
➔ 10:06. watched some Gravity Falls, some STNG, and, for the first time, Watership Down—audio’d the novel last month. Time to write. Time to see what’s there. What I’ve got for fuel’s blood-donation cranberry juice and some old coconut strips from May that are really hard to chew and not really worth the effort.
➔ 11:28: 15,302 words. Managed to make what I’d planned to happen in 5k words happen in more like 2 or 3K. lucky. listening to Sawyer Brown and too many sad songs right now. think I’ll go watch some Scream. Scream always brings me back.
21 August 2016
➔ 8:57am. It’s been gym and gym and rereading Karen Runge’s collection so far this morning. good news is I woke with a solution to what was feeling like a maybe story problem on the horizon. just a mechanical thing I knew I could solve in five pages, but wanted to do in one. same way it used to be with coding: stumbling into an elegant recursion that erases pages of spaghetti code, it feels so, so good. anyway, that’s the good news. bad news is that I might be putting side mirrors on my truck today. cannot understand why whoever had it before me A) took the sport mirrors off in the first place B) put mirrors this ugly on a truck so pretty, and C) mounted them in such an ugly place on the door. it feels malicious, really. I have much resentment for whoever did that. so, who knows. more reading, for now. might finish this afternoon. hoping to watch a Gravity Falls for lunch. but I’m also really wanting to go to Jason’s Deli, and they don’t play Gravity Falls there. also, been thinking about it ever since two nights ago—this is always something I’m thinking about—and if Kobe’s not my favorite ball player of ever, then it’s Tracy McGrady.
➔ 12:35pm. you always hear that scalps are crazy bleeders. well, toes are pretty good bleeders too. my birkenstock is all filled with blood. anyway, had the great idea that I could go to Lafayette in my Jeep and that my Jeep would have magically healed overnight. wrong. overheated. but I did find a werewolf movie at the thrift store—having to go far out for thrift stores, since the Goodwill here yesterday was ridiculous-packed. because: college students are back in town. anyway, had to carry a pad of paper everywhere I went, because this novella won’t quit spitting out lines. let’s see how many I can get written down. and hopefully in a few right places. cue up Rio’s “Lucky Touch” . . . now. what I’ve got for fuel’s the last of a three-pound bag of pecans I bought on the way out of Texas last month. and some good tea.
➔ 4:21pm. Done. 21,251 words. Then a thousand in the scratch file, nearly three grand in here. Some amount of pages, I guess, I don’t know. Not a comfortable end to this one, either. Maybe one that gets me in some trouble, too. It’s not horror if it’s safe, though. You don’t feel good at the end of horror. If you do, you haven’t pushed in the right places. Anyway, off to the backyard, and a book, or maybe my bike, or a side mirror expedition/adventure. The whole afternoon’s waiting.
➔ Back in, reading through, fixing, patching, erasing, all that. Three hours so far. About halfway through. It’s fun, re-doing stuff, since now I know what’s coming. First time through I’m just throwing stuff against the wall, to see what sticks. Second time, I can shape it all better.
➔ 5pm: been listening to my Mongrels playlist for this redo. To the end of it almost, now. Third time through the playlist, I think. Man, I love The Eels. Just remembered where this story comes from, too. It’s a basketball game I want to write, an Indian ball game. Except, when this one kid’s there doing his homework, nobody makes any free throws. because he’s stealing everybody’s math. their geometry. That’s the core of this. also, that third act in The Lego Movie. I knew when I saw it that I had to try that out.
➔ 6pm: DONE. been out of music for like twenty minutes. starving. gone. sending the novella across so I won’t keep messing with it all night. want to watch some STNG. almost to the end of season six again. 22,060 words for now. feels about right.
4 November 2016
➔ Ellen and me are done done done with it — acknowledgments, dedication, her calling me out on all my stupid stuff I can’t seem to remember to do better — are passing it on to Tor.com copyediting and wherever. 23,500 words or so. Still think that end’s going to get me in trouble.
1 December 2016
➔ got a peek at the beautiful amazing cover art by Greg Ruth. Could not be cooler:
. . . at which point I kind of stop keeping a record of things. But, Publisher’s Weekly dug it, lot of other people and places seem to, Kelly (the editor who acquired Mongrels) found out it was dedicated to her, and all’s well and good and great. My only regrets: cutting my toe (I don’t even remember the how of that, or what toe it was); that stupid side-mirror situation which STILL isn’t solved; not seeing Hell or High Water earlier, and over and over; and losing what I guess must have been a Mongrels playlist, of which I now have zero-point-zero memory. So many things go away. But, at least in little books like Mapping the Interior, some of them come back, too.
—Stephen Graham Jones