Books written, books to write

I’m gratified by the response so far to One for My Baby. It’s a radical departure for me in various ways - the first book of mine with no reference to childhood, and with no backstory at all, and certainly the most stripped-down book I’ve written. My ambition was to get as close to having a blank page as it’s possible to get while still having a story.

It’s the fourth book in what I call my Phoenix Noir sequence (the others are How Do You Like Your Blue-Eyed Boy?, The Wrong Thing and When It All Comes Down to Dust, and I think it’ll be the last book I set in Phoenix for a while, though I intend to write a sequel to When It All Comes Down to Dust at some point. I’ve written about Phoenix since shortly after arriving there in 1995, and I’ve now said as much as I have to say about life there for the time being. 

My next book, which I’ve already started, is a cyberpunk story with no specific setting. I also want to write a book of stories set in Scotland, a place I stopped writing about after The Book of Man, and only started writing about again with a story I wrote in 2012, "Big Davey Joins the Majority." Writing that story unearthed something long-buried (and, I had thought, dead), and I realized that I have more stories to tell set in that small, cold country whose accent I still speak with.

And I want to write a Western. And a Zen police procedural series.


A Note on Robert Bresson’s Notes

One of the books I’ve found most helpful to my work is Robert Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematographer. He refers to the actors in his films not as “actors,” but as “models,” because he sees the art of acting as something that gets in the way of the truth that is being shown. He writes: It would not be ridiculous to say to your models: “I am inventing you as you are.”

This reminds me of an interview I read with the actor Ray Winstone, in which he said that his friend Gary Oldman had been helpful to him. As they rehearsed together, Oldman would sometimes tell him, “I can see you acting, Raymond.”

Bresson sees film-making, and every other art, as being separate and unique. I disagree with him on this, and as evidence that he’s wrong I offer that I find his book helpful in all of my writing. When I read books I’ve written and cringe, it’s not because the writing is bad (though it may be) - it’s because I can see the writing, see myself writing, see my own artifice.

Current writing

I seem to be closing in on the the end of the novel I’ve been working on, about a musician in Phoenix who moonlights as an armed robber. I always want to get as close as I can to having a blank page while still having a story, and I think this book might be the closest I’ve gotten so far.

There’s something unique about this one for me: Usually, when I start writing a book, I know what the final scene is going to be, though I don’t know what it means, and I don’t know much that’s going to happen before the end. With this book, though, the ending is radically different than I thought it was going to be. 

I’ll write the ending soon, but first I have to crank out a ghost story set in Japan for an anthology…

This article reminds me of why the following poem by Wendell Berry is something I wish I could add as a footnote to everything I publish:

Do not think me gentle
because I speak in praise
of gentleness, or elegant
because I honor the grace
that keeps this world. I am
a man crude as any,
gross of speech, intolerant,
stubborn, angry, full
of fits and furies. That I
may have spoken well
at times, is not natural.
A wonder is what it is.


St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. Wall of room in Ward Retreat 1. Reproductions made by a patient, a disturbed case of dementia praecox; pin or fingernail used to scratch paint from wall, top coat of paint buff color, superimposed upon a brick red coat of paint. Pictures symbolize events in patient’s past life and represent a mild state of mental regression. Undated, but likely early 20th century.

(Source: romanticinismo)

I think I write out of similar motivations. Maybe we all do, whether it’s writing, drawing, music, sculpture or shouting in the street.

Art or Yourself: A Choice

I’ve written before about how ego is as toxic to art as it is to life.

I remembered this recently when a person struggling with fear told me, “Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to be a writer.” Not wanted to write, but wanted to be a writer. I think perhaps wanting to be something and wanting to do something are antithetical, and we must choose one or the other. I’m certain no peace can be found in the former.