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