Greetings from Maine, where I am currently sequestered in an effort to get some writing done. The word‘sequestered’ is carefully chosen, as I’ve largely cut myself off from human contact: I don’t have an answering machine switched on, and I’m generally ignoring e-mails that don’t come from my editors or my agent with exclamation marks appended to them, and warnings that my contract/home/ life may be in danger if I don’t answer.
I’m working on THE WHISPERERS, the next Parker novel, and trying to make up for the time that I spent writing THE GATES. In a sense, THE GATES was an indulgence: it wasn’t part of a contract, and there was no guarantee that my editors would like it, but it was a book that I desperately wanted to write. Now I’m paying for the time I spent writing it, to some degree. I’ve holed myself up in Maine, and set a target of 10,000 words over the next ten days to add to what is already done, even allowing for the fact that THE LOVERS is due to be published on day seven, with the three days after that devoted to signings.
The curious thing is that, less than three days into my stay here, I have 7000 words written, mainly because I have no routine beyond that which I set myself, and no immediate obligations to other people. It’s selfishness, admittedly, bordering on rudeness, but necessary selfishness, and it brings with it a certain amount of annoyance to other people, particularly friends who might have anticipated some degree of contact. On the other hand, it does mean that when the mood strikes me to write beyond the day’s immediate target, I can do so without a trace of guilt. Ultimately, I need to get some writing done.
Take today, for example. Up in Brunswick, which is about a 30 mile drive from Portland, the Frontier Movie Theater was showing, for one day only, Alfred Hitchcock’s TORN CURTAIN. Now, TORN CURTAIN isn’t a great Hitchcock movie. To be absolutely fair, it’s a bit of a misfire, although it does have one brilliant, excruciating murder scene. No Hitchcock movie is entirely bad and, anyway, how often does one get the chance to see one of his films on the big screen? I was sitting in the parking lot out at the mall, having stocked up on supplies, when I began to think about THE WHISPERERS. I’d written about 1500 words that morning, but I knew where I was going with the plot, and there was a coffee shop across the street that offered bottomless cups of coffee. So, instead of heading out to Brunswick, I sat down in the coffee shop, took out my laptop, and began writing. Admittedly, the coffee shop didn’t make much money from my presence there, but 1500 words eventually became just over 3000, and I didn’t feel guilty as I ate a quiet dinner over a book in a restaurant that night.
A digression: I seem to be having a vintage movie week. In New York last weekend, Robert Vaughn, the last surviving member of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, was introducing a screening at Lincoln Center as part of a festival of Steve McQueen movies, and I went along. I sat two rows behind Vaughn, who was gracious and funny in his introduction, and found myself watching his responses to a movie that he claimed not to have seen in many decades. As I did so, I wondered at how it must feel to be watching the ghosts of these men that he had known flicker upon the screen. There was McQueen, stealing the movie by constantly performing bits of business whenever the camera was on him, even at the risk of upstaging and antagonizing its nominal star, Yul Brynner. Rarely can a movie have provided so many stars of the future–McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Vaughn–with such iconic roles. Even Brad Dexter, the forgotten member (ask any pub quiz team to name the original Seven, and Dexter is the one with whom its members will generally struggle), shines, and I felt a particular pang at the sight of Horst Buchholz, brimful of energy and bravado. I thought, too, that I saw Vaughn respond to the sight of the young actor, now, like all the others, gone from this life, yet still with this enduring memorial to him in his prime. The audience applauded when Vaughn’s character, a gunman tormented by the fear of death, eventually overcomes his dread and kicks in the doorway of a makeshift prison cell, gun blazing, to rescue the farmers imprisoned within. There is a unique joy to be gained from the communal experience of watching a classic movie in a theater, surrounded by people who feel nothing but love for the movie and its stars. I imagine that the experience was very moving for Vaughn; he was there not only in his own capacity, but as a representative of those who had gone before him.
Afterwards, I stayed on to watch another McQueen western, NEVADA SMITH, which I had never seen before. While by no means a bad movie, it seemed relatively minor after THE MAGINFICENT SEVEN, grim, and overlong, and one-paced. THE MAGINFICENT SEVEN is brilliant, NEVADA SMITH merely competent.
Such matters have been on my mind recently, for THE NEW DAUGHTER, the first movies to be made from my work, is nearing completion. Last week, John Travis, the movie’s very talented screenwriter, saw it for the first time in a small screening room, or at least saw 98 per cent of it, as the last fine-tuning is still being done.
John, who is a harsh judge of his own work, emerged hugely enthused. I’m sure that he won’t mind some of his comments being reproduced here:
It's an adult, very well acted and directed, beautifully shot movie with a real sense of dread the whole way through ...smart, well. In fact, it's almost a little Spanish.
maybe it’s like David Cronenberg directed it. It's kind of like A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, but with monsters instead mobsters...
I’m relieved, to be honest. I wanted it to be good, not only for my sake but for the sake of the people I met on the set of the film, all of whom were kind and talented and deeply committed to the work in hand. Furthermore, the film seems to be a throwback to an earlier era of movie-making, as it has been made without recourse to CGI. Instead it relies on make-up, and actors, and the use of light and shade. I’m looking forward to seeing it.
In the meantime, there’s THE WHISPERERS. Next Tuesday, June 2nd, THE LOVERS is published in the US. I have one TV interview to record this week, and then I leave Portland on a research trip. With luck, I will have the bones of THE WHISPERERS in place when I get back to the city.
Mind you, it still would have been nice to have seen TORN CURTAIN on a big screen...
This week John read
The Secret Speech by Tom Robb Smith
Men of Men by Wilbur Smith
Hundred Dollar Baby by Robert B. Parker
and listened to
Vecatimest by Grizzly Bear
Manners by Passion Pit
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix
Just a reminder that I'll be signing copies of THE LOVERS at The Great Lost Bear, Forest Avenue, Portland, Maine, from 7pm on Tuesday, June 2nd, the day of publication. Every book bought on the night will receive a special limited edition t-shirt, and will be specially stamped. Advance orders will also receive a t-shirt, as long as stocks last, and a stamp on the book. Further details are available from Books Etc at email@example.com, or 1-207-781-3784. And check out more tour dates here.