Well, dear readers, I do believe I finished a book, number 17 to be exact. I finished right around three o’clock yesterday afternoon. I didn’t even finish futzing and finessing until just after noon o’clock, but then I began the new pages and did not stop until all thirteen of them were finished. Of course, that included revising constantly, moving things around, and adding, and I’m sure when I look at it this morning to begin futzing and finessing that I will find more things to add, remove, smooth, and whatever else needs doing. In fact, between the morning futzing and finessing and the eleven-thirty futzing and finessing I spent over ninety minutes because I really added and smoothed out many, many things from the previous day’s writing.
Writing those final thirteen pages was hugely emotional as it always seems to be. What always happens is that I fall in love with my characters and get deeply involved in their lives and dreams and hopes. There were a few times when I simply had to stop for a couple of minutes, but that’s always, to me, a good sign I’m doing something that works. It helped that I’d made a ton of notes and ideas for the dialogue, especially before going to sleep last night. In fact, I kept getting out of bed as I got new ideas. The actual ending came to me a little over a week ago, which was helpful.
This book was a fascinating one for me. I don’t say that because it’s so brilliant or even good (I leave that to others), I say that because the initial idea of the book didn’t come to me until mid-December, which is the first time that’s ever happened. The fact is I’d planned to write the seventh Adriana Hofstetter book – had the title, the setting, and a lot of notes, and I’d even written a rough first two paragraphs. But the setting required that I take a field trip to take some photos and do a bit of research and talking to people. And I kept not doing it. And I kept not doing it. And as December approached I finally asked myself why and the answer was simple: Something is telling you that maybe this isn’t what you should write. Once that notion planted itself I began to get very nervous. How was I supposed to just come up with a new idea, and not only come up with a new idea but come up with a new idea that would excite me, inspire me, and make me impatient for January 1 to arrive. Tall order.
And then, right in the middle of the month, a week after my birthday, I remembered a title I’d come up with probably almost twenty years ago. I knew back then it was a great title and a title that I was surprised, then and now, hadn’t been used. At least I don’t think it’s been used since then, although I could certainly be wrong – certainly it hasn’t been used for a film, which is what I thought of it for. Back then, David Wechter and I had just sold The Faculty and we could get in anywhere to pitch. So, we came up with a story based around my title. It was okay, and there was definitely interest, but ultimately no deals. And because we were trying to be current as to what was in vogue (always a stupid idea and something I try NEVER to do) it became dated almost immediately.
So, armed with my title I began to think, what kind of story could I concoct for such a title. The initial instinct was to be very literal about it, but to be literal about it would have been to come up with a story that I probably wouldn’t be that interested in writing. So I began to think of other ways to interpret the title, to give it a slightly different take. And then, one night, lying in bed and going through that period where I was going to bed every night at three in the morning, something came to me – not an idea, per se, but just something I’ve been obsessed with since I was a young fellow. I had no idea what to do with that notion, but I kept thinking that there was something there and it would give me a chance to write about something that’s always fascinated me. And that was a good thing. But, of course, what would the story actually be, how would I tie it into the title, who would my characters be, why would they be obsessed with what I was obsessed with? I hadn’t any idea, frankly.
So, I began to think about what my lead character might do for a living and whether he would know someone who could help him achieve what he wanted, but that seemed not that interesting – why not just have my lead character achieve what he wanted? Once I had that, I kept wracking my brain as to what he might do. I knew right from the beginning what I DIDN’T want do in this book, but I couldn’t quite figure out anything from that position – until one night it just came to me, the basic structure of what could work. From there I figured out quickly what this character could do for a living, and from there, from that single decision the heavens opened and everything began to take shape and make sense.
I began making notes of whatever came into my head, but they were very general and January 1 was approaching quickly. But I had enough to begin and I prayed that everything would just present itself to me. The other thing I did was call Muse Margaret and tell her the idea and she was really positive and encouraging about it and just talking to her opened up things in my mind. I know I’m being obtuse about all this, but I want everyone to come to this book completely fresh and as to the title – too many prying eyes around here so I won’t reveal that until the book is designed and off to the publisher.
As you all know, I began writing on January 1, doing ten pages that first day. I’d decided to write in the first person, which Muse Margaret also thought was a good idea. Then, after three pages I began to worry that would be too limiting and restrictive and I completely rewrote those pages in the third person and told Muse Margaret, who was surprised I’d changed my mind but still offered encouragement. I wrote the next day’s ten pages and knew I’d made a terrible decision and for the second time completely rewrote everything in the first person and that was just the absolute right thing to do and Muse Margaret agreed that my original instinct was right. That was really the worst of the hiccups. I did eleven pages a day, then towards the end a bit more than that. I like to keep my books short and to the point with no fat. So, I figured the length of this would probably be the length of most of my novels, somewhere between 190 and 200 pages. I don’t really know exactly how it will come in in real book pages until Grant formats the book.
At ever turn, I got wonderful gifts from heaven – things just fell into place. A new character was born early on – I had no idea at all about this character until it popped in my head as I was writing a chapter and realized I needed a certain plot device. And I fell head over heels in love with that character, as did Muse Margaret – that is a gift from heaven. I got most of my best ideas while showering – just something about the hot water washing over me unleashing things. I would always have to run to the computer to jot down that stuff and/or just write more pages.
Then I gave myself two options for how many manuscript pages I wanted it to be, both based on what are probably silly superstitions of mine. But it came in exactly at the slightly shorter number, but that was only a seven page difference and the fact is if I add anything when I’m futzing and finessing and I go over the page count I’m currently at, then I will have to add seven complete pages. I’m sure that wouldn’t be too crazy to do, so we’ll have to see what happens this morning.
After I finished, as always I felt like I’d been hit by a truck and I was really spent, emotionally. We arranged a celebration dinner as I’ve done for the past two years, with Sami and her mom, and one of Sami’s friends came along, too. We went to the Smoke House. I had the fish and chips and a small Caesar. It was just what I needed, and we all had fun and gabbed, and I told them what the book was about (generally) and they thought it sounded like it would be fun to read.
And so, book seventeen is basically finished, save for whatever futzing and finessing I do this morning, and then the inevitable endless proofing. I’ll put it away for a few days, then read through it and fix anything I need to – I usually don’t do much besides fix typos and language things, but if I see something that needs perhaps more detail I will write and add it. I’m also hoping Muse Margaret will read it from start to finish to make sure she’s happy with it all. And of course I’m hoping she likes the latest batch of pages. I do think maybe this was the quickest I’ve ever written a book – twenty days to be exact, but the fact is I had to do this pace because ideas were coming at me every single minute and I was petrified I would lose the pace of doing it. I was simply in the mode and moment and just wrote and wrote.
Other than that, I had an early light breakfast, and then after the celebratory dinner I finally sat on my couch and actually watched a motion picture on Blu and Ray entitled Bad Day at Black Rock, starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, Anne Francis, Lee Marvin, Dean Jagger, and Walter Brennan. THAT is what we call a cast. For me, there is not ONE actor working today who is anywhere near any of these people. I’ve always liked the film very much – it’s lean and brief (eighty-two minutes), and John Sturges’s direction is taut and terrific, as is Andre Previn’s score. The scope transfer really shines and this is highly recommended by the likes of me.
Today, I’ll be up by ten. I’ll futz and finesse, then I’ll go get the pages Xeroxed. Muse Margaret won’t be home until around four-thirty, so I’ll just eat and relax until it’s time to bring her the pages. And today, I am so back on my diet – I do nothing but eat while I’m doing concentrated writing like this. I always have to have food around. I probably gained back ten damn pounds, but that’s less than usual, so my intention is to lose them as quickly as possible and then lose the additional fifteen pounds I want to lose.
Tomorrow I have a lunch, Tuesday I have a dinner, and Thursday we have our first Kritzerland rehearsal. Otherwise, I’ll finally write my commentary, which really shouldn’t take all that long, and I have to finish casting the March Kritzerland show, which is going to be something very special and the first time we’ve ever had a small band. Otherwise it’s the usual meetings and meals, plus I have to get Richard Sherman and Larry Cohen my notes about their show, so we can get them addressed and then plan stage one – a private reading with a few actors at my house. Then about six weeks after that we’ll have a fully staged reading.
Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, futz and finesse, Xerox pages, deliver pages, eat, and relax. Today’s topic of discussion: It’s free-for-all day, the day in which you dear readers get to make with the topics. So, let’s have loads of lovely topics and loads of lovely postings, whilst I hit the road to dreamland, so happy that for the seventeenth time I have finished a book.