Sunday, October 14, 2007

Guns, Guitars, Groceries . . .

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Middlebury, Vermont as I write this. There are, I must admit, worse places to be. Actually, I think I might have been in some of them yesterday: a succession of gloomy towns in upstate New York, doused by freezing rain, each one blending into the next through the windshield.

This is the last research trip for The Reapers. The book is due to be delivered in a month’s time, and I have the draft on my laptop, with a backup on a little portable hard drive. In some ways, it’s been a frustrating week. Someone who was due to act as a guide for a location in one section of the book couldn’t make it, so I went over the ground again on my own. I’ll get a friend to check the details later, just to make sure I haven’t got something hopelessly wrong. The weather has been pretty foul, so I’ve been trudging around with my hood up, trying to discern details through the murk. My little hardback notebook is filling with scribbles, some written while said notebook has been balanced precariously on the steering wheel. (I know, I know: I should use one of those portable recording devices, but I’d feel like an idiot, and a bit of a knob, talking to myself in the car.) I had hoped to set myself up in a rented condo in Portland for ten days, but the condo is only available for three days at the end of my trip, so I’m going to be moving three times in a week, shuffling from hotel to inn to apartment, which isn’t ideal. I’ve also had to cancel my appearance at the Guildford festival in the UK next week. I need to stay here and finish what I’m doing. If I leave early, the book will suffer. It’s the first time I’ve ever backed out of a commitment like that, the only time in almost a decade as a writer, and I feel bad about it, but I don’t seem to have a choice.

In the meantime, I’ve been rewriting as I go: in motel rooms, restaurants, coffee shops, trying to make the adjustments while what I’ve seen is still fresh in my mind: roads, buildings, the colors of the trees, the landscape that will be transplanted into the book. I’m reading a history of the Adirondacks, with Robert Harris’s The Ghost acting as my light relief. At a rough calculation, I’ve driven 700 miles in 48 hours. I’m seeing a lot of the country, albeit mainly through glass.

None of this, I hasten to add, is like working for a living. It’s constantly interesting, and by retracing the route that will be taken by Angel and Louis, and others, in the book, I’ve been able to improve what has already been written, I hope. It also gave me the pleasure of visiting Dick’s Country Store and Music Oasis at Churubusco, New York, which may be the most unusual store I’ve encountered in a very long time. Dick’s, for those of you unfamiliar with it, boasts that it has “500 Guitars and 1000 Guns”. I didn’t count them all, but that seems like a pretty good guess: Dick’s sells groceries, guns, and guitars, all under the same roof. It’s a one-stop shop for a particular type of shopper, I suppose. Louis and Angel visit it in the book, and even they’re a bit nonplussed. I bought a T-shirt. In fact, I bought a couple. I may even give one away in a competition for the nice members of my website a little closer to publication.

Now I’m off to find a place to sleep for the night. Time to move on . . .

This week John read

The Ghost by Robert Harris
20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

and listened to

What is Free to a Good Home? by Emily Haines and the Soft Skeletons


ACTON said...

Nice!! A perk of being a bestselling author: being able to get your hands on the new Joe Hill book prior to publication! I find his stuff hard to find in the shops, and even online sometimes. I've always imagined the likes of Stephen King receiving giant tayto boxes packed with pre-releases of the latest books by yourself, Block, Straub, Barker, Connelly, etc, all free of charge. I have probably exaggerated it in my mind, and am fairly sure you would never find a tayto box in the states, but I can dream. Thanks, ACTON

Basma Sharaf said...

Of the above described, I say "Wow, I envy you!" This is exactly how I imagined a writer's life would be...and I wish I could live mine like that, travelling and learning and inventing stories while always trying new coffee in different towns.

And of the things that were found in the Book of Lost Things I say:
I read the Book of Lost Things and it was the first time that a writer (and I have read for many) had prompted me to thank him. I think I’ve been waiting to read that book for some (long) time, and the purity with which you portrayed a child's endeavors to save his mom were so touching.

I remembered an OCD routine I did in my childhood which I had long forgotten before the book, and its roots; like David's my routine was so diligently followed and was created to combat my mom's mortality which was such a fearful notion. I would blink repeatedly at her whenever she came into my view as though to preserve her, and like David I favored even numbers.

Don't remember how and when exactly I grew out of that routine, but it was good to find again that tender part of each of us where we can do the most absurd and childish of things with the intent of saving loved ones.

Childhood is a tricky phase and maybe the hardest to pass through, and when it’s over we soon forget (or lose) how we crossed over. But there must have been "tricky" crossroads where the choice of path would forever mark an individual. As that crossroad becomes clear to David at the end of the story, you had already woven the stark concepts of good in all its forms vs. evil in all its forms into the beautiful world of magic we all grew up with and which you re-created so passionately. And with some long forgotten clarity, I was able to reminisce about some of my own crossroads and how fairy tales and books in general were such a big hand in finding the right paths then.........

Thank you John for writing so genuinely, and for all the lost things that were found in that book.


Josh said...

Does the store sell gift certificates, by any chance? I know some folks who'd want some for a Christmas gift. It'd make their year.

John said...

I know: it sometimes seems like I'm complaining about what I do in these columns, but I'm really not. I'm very fortunate to be doing what I do for a living, and even as I'm being rained upon in obscure parts of the US while figuring out how fictitious characters set about killing a reclusive criminal, I occasionally think: "Wow, what a great way to pass the time . . ."

John said...

Oh, and as for getting advance copies of books by other writers, that is an occasional perk. In fact, I was just laughing about that with J.D. Salinger last night as I sent him some notes on Catcher In The Rye 2: Holden In Love. Boy, there's a book that's changed over the years. Why, every time I read a revised draft it's like reading an entirely new J.D. Salinger book. It's getting kind of dull, actually. And don't get me started on Harper Lee and the Mockingbird sequel (To Kill A Mockingbird 2: Mockingbirds In Love). Just publish it, Harper, I tell her, but oh no, she has to go back and change the ending again and again. The novelty has kind of worn off by this point.
As for Thomas Pynchon, I don't even answer the phone to him anymore. He needs to get out more.
It's a burden, I tell you. You wouldn't want to share it . . .

Debi said...

^^^Hahahahaha!! Very dry Mr C. It works for me!

As for your post, well I believe you have your priorities sorted. Personal appearance vs the creative imperative? (Especially when there's an imminent deadline.) No contest really!

May all find its place as surely as you would wish it to.


Deb. x

Fran said...

Goodness the new book sounds great!I have been desperate to learn more about what makes Louis tick,why did he follow his particular path-not just the stuff we got in Black Angel.Finally some answers perhaps?I love the way your characters develop with other characters adding to our perspective of them.Only thing is from the synopsis I'm worried you may be going to kill them off, and I couldn't bear that as I feel they have more to offer as characters in their on right and as Bird's friends and helpers.

Fran said...

weird thing happened Thursday night.I was half watching the new Bones series on TV when I saw a silver and bone skeleton appear.Very beautiful and very like "Black Angel"Have the series writers been to Sedlac too?,copied John? or is John doing their scripts?