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"We need to make books cool again. If you go home with someone & they don't have books, don't fuck 'em."--John Waters

I'm the author of more than twenty novels including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, THE DEAD LETTERS, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. Look for my next one THE LAST KIND WORDS due out May '12 from Bantam Books. Contact: PicSelf1@aol.com

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Reaching: Finding a Direction

So I'm about 5k words into my new novel BLUE AUTUMN. I'm already jumping around, writing piecemeal–a section here, a bit of dialogue there, a paragraph to fit in someplace toward the end. It keeps the work flowing but it scatters me all over the place. I have to consciously dial myself down, try to get into the zone, kill off the distractions.

This one is something of a new direction for me, I suppose, although it's full of themes I've used before. But the atmosphere and attitude are a little different. More honest in some ways, more reflective in others. It's odd to take a different storytelling position after all these years. It's a reach but I'm not sure in what direction. Am I reaching farther? Or higher? Or just out that way instead of out the other way?

What's the damn thing about? Good question, glad you asked. I've been trying to come up with an answer, and I'm still not quite there.

The basic set-up: Eight years ago, 17-year-old Dash was waiting at a train crossing when a car whipped around him trying to beat out the train. It didn't make it. Everyone in the car–including Dash's sister, his girlfriend, and his best friend, died. Torn by the question of just what they were all doing together, and where they were rushing off to, and why his best buddy was stupid enough to cross the tracks, Dash starts coming apart. A Golden Gloves boxer, Dash kills a guy in a bar fight and winds up in prison. Five years later, he's released, returns to his hometown with his cell mate, a former hitman, and begins a search for the truth, if there's even one to find.

So, BLUE AUTUMN is a mystery, except it isn't really. It's a crime novel, except it isn't. It's got action, except where there's the lovey-dovey stuff. It's a treatise on first love, except when it's one on hate. It's about friendship and family, and the warmth they bring us, and the pain. In other words, it's about all the shit that most books in the world are about, except for me it's something of a new recipe for the stew.

It was easier to make something up than try and put truth into perspective. To really look at it, head-on and from the side and from the back, and figure out how I'd been affected, and what it meant to me in the short and long runs.

I've said before that horror was a young man's game, (so far as my own career seemed to be concerned). Horror was about fear skulking up ahead, around the next corner. It lays wait in the shadows, unknown, sometimes unknowable, often fantastical. Because the only thing that might scare a young man is the unknown.

But crime–and by extension dark mainstream fiction, if there is such a thing--is about fear coming up from behind you. You recognize it. You've seen it before. It's about your mistakes, and regrets, and disappointments, and failures. It's places you've been and hated, women you've loved and disregarded, friends you've lost, family members who've left and died. It's the known. It's the well-known, the completely known. It's what you can't get out of your head.

So that's where I'm at, starting a new page, still trying to figure out in which direction I'm moving, with or against the current of my own history. Can you believe I actually just paged through my high school yearbook? Holy fuckall. I feel myself growing more maudlin. I just hope to hell I can keep it out of the novel, or turn it to my best advantage. The reach is on, the reach is in, I'm extended, now to see what it is I pull back in with me.


Lamar said...

"Or just out that way instead of out the other way?"

As my favorite surrogate aunt is fond of saying, "Sometimes a change is good enough."


Tom Piccirilli said...

Maybe so, Dylan.

Rusty James said...

You don't outline?

Anyway, I think it's pretty cool you sharing these kind of thoughts.

If you believe that a writer is an artist and art imitates life, then a bit of fear can only be a natural thing.

Dash is a good engine (example) to keep the story going. Good luck.

I'm also working on a story about going home again and the old adage, 'we can't' fits well, even if we don't.

Again, best of luck. Thanks for sharing.

Tom Piccirilli said...

Nope, I don't outline. I need the freedom to discover the story as I go along.

I started my novel November Mourns with "You could always go home again. The trouble was getting back out." That seems to be the theme of most of my work, in one facet or another, for whatever reason.

Good luck with your own piece.

Rusty James said...

I always feel guilty about finding the story as I go - comes from trying to break into the screenwriting racket, I guess.

When writing fiction, I find I like to surround myself with similarly themed movies, books, music etc, and really good fucking writing.

FAT CITY by Leonard Gardner and Dash Hammett's RED HARVEST are the two books I've got hanging off me at the moment. THE PRONE GUNMAN by Manchette is around too.

That helps.