Sunday, March 11, 2007

Surprises, and Stuff

I'm writing this in Portland, Maine, where it's warm and slightly slushy. I had hoped to get some work done on The Reapers here, but instead I'm pursuing every possible displacement activity I can find: movies (Zodiac, which is very long. Very. Long.); reading; drinking coffee; attending the Portland Garden Show (I kid you not.); oh, and writing this piece, which I can possibly claim to be work, of a kind.

Actually, being here does help, although not necessarily with The Reapers. After all, no part of that novel is likely to be set in Maine. Instead, I spent some time in New York last week wandering around Queens trying to establish the precise location of Willie Brew's garage. I can't claim that was work either. After all, how can wandering around a interesting, colorful neighborhood trying to place an imaginary auto shop owned by two imaginary characters really be considered work? Still, it was useful to get a sense of the streets they might walk, the stores they might visit, the sights they might see. It's a step towards understanding them, and from there I can give them form, and then the line between the real and the imaginary becomes blurred so that a reader can encounter them in the pages of a book and, with luck, care about them and forget, for a time, that they don't really exist. Except, of course, that as soon as someone begins to care about them they do become real, in a way.

Which brings me back to Portland, because once I begin walking its streets it's as if a kind of phantom of Parker walks them too. No, that's not quite right, but it's rather difficult to explain without sounding like a pseud, or a nutcase. Perhaps the closest I can get to it is a sense that something of him has passed this way, that because the streets, the bars, the restaurants, the parking lots have all found their way into the books, and they are real, Parker too has been given a kind of reality by placing him alongside them. It's a little like visiting a place and learning that someone you know, or of whom you're heard, has been there shortly before you. That sense of him, in turn, acts as a stimulus to my imagination. This short visit hasn't resulted in much writing being done, but the seeds of a new book have been sown nevertheless.

Anyway, this week I encountered a quote from Robert Frost that I liked: "No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader." I like it because I'm not a planner of books, as some of you will know. I tend to start with the germ of an idea - an image, an individual, a situation - and begin writing, trusting in the process to reveal the book to me as I write. It's not always easy, and I spend more time sweating words out than watching them flow like honey from my fingers, but I am constantly surprised by what emerges, and I hope that some of that surprise communicates itself to the reader. Nuff said. I have coffee to drink, and there's a free showing of The Lady from Shanghai starting in the Art Museum in twenty minutes.

Man, I love this little city.

This week John finished

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (result!)

and read

Astroturf Blonde by Alyson Rudd
All The Pretty Girls (manuscript) by J.T. Ellison

and listened to

Neon Bible by The Arcade Fire
Pocket Symphony by Air


Daniel Hatadi said...

John, I recently finished EVERY DEAD THING and I'm hooked. I'll be working my way happily through the rest.

And if you need yet another way to procrastinate, go check out Crimespace. You may be pleasantly surprised.

hrhg said...

So you're back on my home turf? Hope you enjoyed the gorgeous weather yesterday. As much as I love winter, full sunshine and not needing a coat was rather nice as well.

And there is always the writing in your head procrastination excuse as well. You know, that your brain is doing all the work without you knowing it... ;)

Steve Allan said...

I miss living in Portland. I was down last weekend and it felt like going home. I was a little sad that I had to head back up to Bangor.

Steve Malley said...

I remember visiting Bahia Mar Marina in Fort Lauderdale, Florida once.

Even before they put in the brass plaque, it was impossible to be there and not feel something of the presence of Travis McGee...

Anonymous said...

How can you possibly justify that little tease in there about the "next book"? That was just mean! ;)
I hope you enjoy your time, and maybe get a little work done. But, whatever you're doing, I would say it's working out quite nicely.

Tom Hyland said...

Portland is indeed a great city to hang out in; and especially Old Port. I find a certain energy contained in the phrase "sweating words". That is indeed what it feels like. But seeing that energy transformed by a writer with a special talent and into the written word. Now that's special.