Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Same as last time

At some point we're going to discuss Fear of Success.

One clue: how long will it take me to post something about Fear of Success and does posting it mean willingness to confront the issue or an interest in not actually writing my work?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

22. Thereabouts.

I'm just starting to see the outlines of the whole piece's form. It's not so much that I've hiked up a mountaintop. More like I've heaped jigsaw puzzle pieces into different stacks and I've started to figure out that a certain percentage of this thing is going to look like seashore and a certain percentage an egret. Or turkey. No, no, egret.

I am feeling blindly, but every day I have a few lines that seem apt, and I write them down, and I just yesterday got to the place where one set of lines met another, two railway tracks heading in the same direction.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

18, more or less

Working outside of my comfort zone.

I have a basic structure in mind for this -- it's something relatively short and I think I know most of the actions that have to happen. But each individual scene doesn't have a shape yet. Generally I need an ending before I can get comfortable with the rhythm and the depth of detail and the places to deviate. If I know the end it's easier to know when I'm driving toward it and when I'm faking left.

Accepting now that I don't know any of that now, today I just started writing what I do know. In the middle of maybe six scenes. It's a little like doing a jigsaw puzzle and taking the pieces that are definitely people and definitely faces, and leaving the blue sky for later.

Monday, November 30, 2009


That count is estimated, as I'm working in a weird format.

Anyway: I actually did have a guy with a gun come in, and everything changed. I'm currently wrestling with whether combining two ideas is going to generate one deeper storyline. The alternative is that it's going to be two separate horses jogging along together until they don't. One of the pieces I'm toying with is significantly older than the other, which might work well.

The key to this current piece is staying true to character, which feels now like trying to stay on a balance beam during a hurricane. The hurricane is the dark force of comedy. Every moment is a chance to toss away character in pursuit of a laugh, and the discipline is all about not going broad. Broad is bad.

I'm also learning that some ideas I knew I wanted to get to are no good anymore. I might have written them five years ago but not now. That story about Tolstoy? Alas.

The white noise has receded a bit and I think I'll threaten to keep at this until it's done.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I transcribed something old, and the words and characters changed as I typed. Also: the meaning of some dialogue was apparent to me now in a way it wasn't then. I was more naïve about how people thought, and what I'd written as coincidence now struck me as the beginnings of conniving behavior.

One character is too much a reactor and a deliverer of straight lines, with some quirks I know will come later. I was thinking of her being the moral compass of the piece, but that requires a vocabulatry I haven't given her yet.

I have sketched out some sedentary but funny interactions. But there's no clock on it. There's no increasing pressure. So I have to decide I care enough about this piece to go back and fix it. Or: does it need increasing pressure? "When all else fails, have a guy with a gun come in" seems arbitrary. I'm early enough and free enough to just play with it until something natural makes me want to keep the pages turning.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Day's Pleasure: an explanation

What you see above is a late (but not final) image of the wraparound cover of a book I wrote and helped design. It's called A Day's Pleasure, and it was issued in March 2009 by Knopf. There's a good description of how it came to be riiight here.

I don't think there's a full image of the cover anywhere else on the web, which I rather enjoy. To see what the book looks like, you more or less need to own a copy, which is cool. Likewise, there are no images of the Patrick McDonnell illustrations anywhere, and only one person has shown a scan of the JD King plate.

There seem to be almost no copies available, and to answer people's questions: there were 850 copies that I signed and numbered for Powell's (and which sold out in five days or so). JD and I also signed and numbered 100 limited edition copies. There's an ultra-limited edition: twenty six copies, signed, numbered and slipcased.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Significant Objects

This was fun to do. And it's my first published fiction since Sunnyside.

A New 0

Gave it a couple of weeks and realized I didn't want to write it. There's a school of thought that getting into any writing situation, no matter how ludicrous, will ultimately teach you something. Which is true. But I think I'd rather be taught something else by some other story.

This was going to be a short story, but the subject matter would have required a novel's-worth of preparation. I'd rather do something else.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I'm thinking about the Literature of Contempt. Also - related - the Literature of Insecurity.

Monday, July 20, 2009


I don't know the answer to this: when gathering threads for a story, it's necessary to shift focus repeatedly, to be distracted by the wind so you can be open. Why is it, then, that the internet is so disruptive to thought? I think it might be because it mimics the freedom of woolgathering while substituting, like a cuckoo's egg, its own images for the ones you might have made up.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

0. And Why It Took Eight Years

Sun was in eyes (3 months)
Confusion as to whether "Get Set! Go!" meant "Go!" or not (1 week)
Pen rolled under desk; inconsolable (2 weeks)
Sight of self in window looked both melancholy and hypnotic (1 week)
Practice not shaving for potential increase in hypnotic, melancholy reflection (5 weeks)
Took dog to beach (1 month)
Dark plotting against enemies (6 weeks)
Gloating, rubbing together of long, tapering fingers (6 weeks)
Admiration of large, swirling opal ring (4 weeks)
Attempt to teach parrot to sit on shoulder, gloat with me (1 day)
Emergency room visit (6 hours)
Reluctance to put aside 1500 page manuscript about sophomore year in high school (1 year, 8 months)
Chair too high (3 weeks)
Desk too low (2 weeks)
Selection of proper font (1 year, four months)
Dark plotting against friends (3 weeks)
No, chair really still too high; feet couldn't reach floor (3 weeks)
Weeping over lack of remaining friends (6 weeks)
Watching this video (2 months)
Cat sitting on manuscript (3 months)
Project Runway (3 months)
Proper stretching of psoas muscle (4 1/2 weeks)
Consideration and rejection of following main characters: Captain Hook, William Fuld, a talking pencil, a weeping gondolier, Lucifuge Rofocale, Sparky the Noble Failure, Man Thing, Duveen, a stamp-collecting ace reporter, the Minister of Fashion, Apollo, Apollo Creed, Baba Yaga's more reasonable sister, a race of hypersensitive kittycats. (2 years)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


A friend of mine who was teaching a group of young kids with horrific home lives told me this: one day she started telling them a nonsense story -- the sky is green, cows are driving cars -- and there was no response from them. She realized with a sickened feeling that for them, everything was equally likely. I think she started to wonder if that was hell.

I've been thinking about how events are essentially chaotic, which is different than everything being equally likely -- but it's that difference that I can't immediately explain.

Because it's there, because it's like a loose tooth (who first used that as a simile for making stuff up? it's pretty good), I am starting with this fistful of gum wrappers and pieces of string and mints: the woods, a trio, and their cross-ambitions. Et les flics.

Monday, July 13, 2009


If you scratch under apathy's surface -- in other words, if apathy blinks for a moment -- you find that its batteries are powered by fear. "Why bother?" is convenient.

So: there are a couple of models. One: wandering through a museum, you can see when an artist cracked it, found his mojo, got a following. It's because there are often seventy-eight variations on a theme, riffs on painting #1. That's utterly valid, because you never know -- you might not really get it right until #78.

The other: in an interview, one of the Modern Lovers talked about going on tour with Jonathan Richman, and how the group was excited about building on "Roadrunner," and all Jonathan wanted to do was write songs like "Hey There, Little Insect." In other words, stuff that would get them thrown off the stage. But stuff he wanted to do, maybe because so many people wanted more of "Roadrunner." More apt maybe is One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest followed up by Sometimes a Great Notion. "This may not be what I do best nor is it what you expect but it's what I need to do." Which might be exactly what the artist who paints the same goddamned thing 78 times is thinking.

And the third way? Hands? Maybe you just proceed with humility and without expectation and one day you're either finished with a shiny replica of what you've already accomplished or you've done something completely different. And I bet you won't know which it is, not really.

I've recently been butchering an Orson Welles quotation, which should actually read like this: "The enemy of art is the absence of limitations." I've been saying things like "absolute freedom is the absolute enemy of an artist," which is different, more of a punch in the head, and more weirdly personal. So I am starting this project with some limits in mind.

(These aren't limits - they're notes.)

1. How little can you say?
2. If you finished writing a book, you don't have to keep writing it.
3. Open.
4. The illusion of knowing everything, with compassion, stops being illusion as soon as someone is reading and nodding, yes, I see, got it.