Archive for October, 2010

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

The Thief and the Soloist: A Very Brief Taxonomy of Writers

This started out as a bullet point from yesterday’s post about how the new book was coming. But then I got too interested in it, and it broke free and took on a hideous life of its own.

As far as I can tell there are two kinds of fiction writers: those who read no fiction while they write, and those who constantly read fiction while they write. Let’s have cute names for them. We’ll call them Soloists and Thieves.

I’m the second kind. I can’t function as a writer unless I’m reading somebody else — somebody better than me — and stripping off parts and reverse-engineering special effects and so on as I go. Maybe I need somebody to compete with, or just somebody to remind me that things that seem impossible are in fact possible (for other people).

Maybe it’s an Oedipal thing a la Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence — I need that primal conflict with a father-in-art in order to be productive.

A more charitable friend — and fellow Thief — calls those other books “sponsor texts.” I just think of them as companions-in-arms. They fight beside you, loyally, and then when things get tough you wait till they fall asleep and then you mug them and roll them for whatever they’ve got.

I don’t understand how the Soloists do it. (more…)

Monday, October 18th, 2010

The Magician King: Interim Progress Report

In the interests of authorial transparency, a quick update on the work in progress.

Weeks on leave from Time: We’re now entering week four. I could get used to this. I could post the amount of salary I’ve lost as a result of this leave, but that would just be depressing.

Confidence: High. If it were low I’d be too freaked out to post. Of course historically, for me, feelings of euphoria during the creative process have often preceded really awful moments where I realized I’d made a critical miscalculation about something I was writing, that required months of brutal work to fix. If I fall off the grid in the next week or so, that’s probably why.

Soundtrack: Still the same. Beta Band, Robyn Hitchcock, Metric. Plus some Mountain Goats. When I’m done I will never want to listen to any of these bands again.

Word count: 113,321. Which actually isn’t that much higher than when I posted about this a week and a half ago (it was 105,850 then). But these words are of significantly higher quality than those old words. Those old words were crap! We will not speak of htem.

Basically what I’ve been doing is, I’ve written about four-fifths of the plot, and I’ve been trying to get ready to write that critical last fifth. But I can’t do it till the first four-fifths are really working — all the characters make sense as people, all the scenes connect up in a coherent arc, I have some idea how the little details I’ve planted throughout are going to pay off, and so on. So I’ve been going over and over those first sections, getting them ready.

The feeling is approximately the same as when you were a kid, and you had one of those toy cars with a friction motor inside, where you had to repeatedly vroom it over the same section of floor until the engine was good and revved up, and then you would let it go and watch it take off and scare your cat or scuff the wainscoting or disappear under a couch or whatever.

That’s what I’m doing, except it’s with this novel. I’m must about finished vrooming it. I’m about to let it go.

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Why I Went to Yale; or, The Year of Living Dangerously

Or, Lives of the Novelists Part XXIII. Or, a Requiem for Drazen Petrovic.

A while ago I decided to write something explaining why I went to Harvard and then Yale. Because people ask me about that a lot, and the answer is funny, sort of.

I explained about the Harvard part here. Now I’m doing the Yale part.

This involves telling the story of one of the strangest and most miserable years of my life — a whole year of my life that I almost never talk about or think about. And yet it happened, apparently. It’s been on my mind lately because I’m fictionalizing a version of it in The Magician King.

[These images are more comprehensible, slightly, if you mouse over them and read the alt text … ]

The story picks up at the end of yet another autobiographical piece, one that ended with my fleeing the state of Maine with my vestigial tail tucked between my legs. (If only it had been a prehensile tail. Then I would have shown that state what for.)

That was in February of 1992, less than a year after I graduated college. I fled to New York City, where I served a brief and inglorious term as an intern at a non-profit publishing company, which due to its alert staff and intellectually rich back catalog was able to survive my disastrous stint there. Suffice to say that I did not find my calling in book publishing.

Though I will say that I became a top-notch Xeroxer there. No kidding. To this day I make quality copies.

But I was lousy at the rest of it, and plus New York freaked me out. I lived on 10th Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen, which was a much more extreme location back then. Giuliani time was still a long way off. The neighborhood did have its charms: there was an arcade within walking distance that had Magic Sword, which is my all-time favorite arcade game, and was open 24 hours a day. Such were the joys of the old pre-Disney Times Square. (I don’t think it had a name, but it was the one with the red police-light spinning over the doorway, you too haunted Times Square back in the day.)

But the little kritch-kritch sounds I heard as I walked to work in the morning were the sounds of crack vials popping under my shoes. That felt like bad news. And my room-mate turned out to be a prostitute. I answered his phone a lot. He’s not here? Would you like to get together instead? Your voice sounds nice.

That felt wrong to me too. I’ve heard my voice, and it’s not particularly nice.

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

I.O.U. One Post

It’s coming. It’s long and bone-chillingly confessional. It’s almost here. But not yet.

The reason it’s not here yet is that I’m working frantically on The Magician King. Some fun facts about this as-yet-unfinished book:

— It was due at the publisher six (6) days ago

— It is currently 105,850 words long. I would guess I’ve got somewhere between 35 and 40,000 words to go.

— I expect I’ll have a decent draft by the end of October.

— I have suspended any attempts to control my caffeine intake during the month of October

— These days it is mostly getting written in this armchair:

— On a good day work goes from about 10 in the morning to about 8 at night. That’s a good day. What happens on a bad day? There are no bad days! Who are you? Get out of my office!

— Bands I’m listening to while I work on it include Metric, The Beta Band and Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians

— There is a small creature who lives in my house who actively sabotages work on my book. She looks like this:

Scary, right?