Tagged: Blake Bailey

2012 (or “Screw the Mayans, Where Are They Now?”)

Abject apologies for being such an inconstant correspondent.  It’s the holiday season, after all, and between celebrating Christmas, visiting relatives, supping and socializing with friends, there’s been rather a lot on my plate.

My preparations for the new year took up two entire days—I have this annual ritual, y’see, cleaning my office from top to bottom, rearranging things, paring it down, etc. etc.  I also take time to outline my anticipated schedule for the coming year and draw up a list of resolutions.

With regards to the former, well, schedules are made to be broken.  I thought I had 2011 figured out…until a western novel called The Last Hunt announced itself in February and proceeded to hijack the entire year.  To be clear:  as I wrote out my preview for 2011 on or around December 31, 2010, I had no idea that in the very near future I’d be taking a crack at a western.  My Muse can be quite perverse. Don’t get me wrong, I love westerns but I’ve never envisioned writing one.  Never even fantasized about it.  “Wouldn’t it be cool…”  Nope.

As for my resolutions, I generally do try.  Most of them I’ll keep to myself but one thing I’d dearly love to work on is enjoying myself more, having more fun with the entire process of writing.  Does it always have to be so freakin’ stressful and fraught?  Is there a way of easing up without damaging the power and integrity of my work?

Last year I made the pledge to read more, took on the “100 Book Challenge” and managed to make it (105 was my final tally, thank you very much).  In 2012, I want to keep up that momentum but this year I was to concentrate on BIG books, fat, smart books crammed with great writing and daunting ideas and notions.  I’ve already put a few aside:  William Vollmann’s Europe Central, Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones, Blake Bailey’s biography of John Cheever, The History of Christianity by Diarmaid MacCullough and Edith Grossman’s translation of Don Quixote.  Also want to re-read some of my fave Thomas Pynchon books: it’s been a long time and they’re bound to have fresh revelations for me.

Listening to a lot of music in early 2012, tunes by the likes of Brian Jonestown Massacre and A Place to Bury Strangers.  Not much in terms of movies so far, though I’m thrilled to announce we’ve already bought our tickets for this year’s “Silence is Golden” event. The 1924 version of “Thief of Baghdad”, projected onto a big screen, accompanied by a live orchestra.  The cinephile within is swooning

Sherron, bless her heart, bought me another book case on December 30th so for the next two or three days I moved books around, expanding my Film and History/War shelves, organizing and pondering.  It was fantastic.  I know, it’s ludicrous, isn’t it?  I am such a nerd. But in the Information Era, where computers and gadgets entice us with their tricks and shiny buttons, it’s nice to reconnect with my library.  I’ve spent my entire adult life assembling a pretty decent collection of tomes and I love having them available, on display, rather than stored in our ancient stone basement, vulnerable to all of the environmental hazards to which paper is prone.

Software comes and goes but my books remain—faithful, accessible, relics of other, less hectic, times.  I have all the novels and short stories Philip K. Dick published during his lifetime.  I possess every golden word the great James Crumley committed to paper.  The covers a bit tattered, the spines showing wear and tear.  A substantial proportion of my books are used, remaindered; cast-offs and rejects.  But they occupy places of honor on my shelves.  Most of the authors dead, many of them all but forgotten.  Preserved in my odd collection, my assorted odds and ends and incunabula. All of it reflecting the weird, far-ranging tastes and interests in its curator.  Eclectic, if you’re being kind, though a true adept might discern much, much more…

In the stretch run…

Murderous.

The intensity, the focus on detail.  Grinding away, page after page, trying to maintain a consistent tone and voice.  Staying honest to the traditions and tropes of the western genre without resorting to formula. Making characters from another era speak to readers across a chasm of time, inspiring their concern and empathy.  One of the problems is that my protagonist, Frank Seaver, is such a taciturn man, not prone to confessional type statements or emotional outbursts.  A tough guy who reacts out of instinct; normally passive, but deadly when provoked.

All my research on the Old West, the resources I’ve assembled over the past ten months, has stood me in good stead.  I’m able to more fully inhabit my fictional world, get some sense of what it would be like, should I step off a passenger car in Livingston, Montana in 1884 or happen to be riding horseback through a copse of lodgepole pine trees in Yellowstone Park, part of a group hunting a legendary beast…

Only a small portion of that research will be in evidence when The Last Hunt is published in March, 2012. To weigh a narrative down with reams of detail kills suspense, slows pacing to a crawl…and I’ve always been a minimalist when it comes to description. No, the research was for me—to help pry this spoiled and pampered brat out of 21st Century and force me to take on the persona of one of the last of the great gunfighters, a man rendered obsolete by modernity, on the run and seeking one more chance at a new life.

I’ve read as many books and articles as I could get my hands on, wrote and spoke to historians and curators, visited museums and viewed private collections, made a special trip down to Yellowstone this past summer with my father-in-law—all part of imagineering a credible, authentic depiction of that time/place and the people who might have lived there.

Now I’m getting down to the nitty gritty.  This past few weeks of revisions have added twenty-seven (27) pages to the manuscript, providing a much more nuanced and layered backdrop for the settings and players. Very happy with how matters are progressing.  I’m planning on being done this run-through by Christmas Eve.  Relax with my family over the holidays, read a few books (that Blake Bailey biography of John Cheever is particularly enticing).  Then back to it, delivering my final draft by the end of February.

Pop back for further updates as the publication date for The Last Hunt approaches.

And get ready for a fun, fast, exciting read.