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May 30th, 2010

The Next to Last Day of May

Sunny today, only a few clouds, and the highs are going to be somewhere in the mid eighties. Which means the House will become uncomfortable. But I have too much work to do to go any place cooler. I could take the laptop with me and hide out at the Peace Dale Library, for example, but I know, from experience, I'd not get any work done. There would be too many distractions. I can only write at the desk in my office. Spooky's going to wheel Muñoz in a little later, to keep the office cool. Of course, we do that at the expense of the rest of the House. But, hey, the words must roll.

Though, they didn't roll very far yesterday. And it wasn't because of the heat. Friday night, it was time to increase my Lamictal dose again, and yesterday the side effects (mostly fatigue and nausea) hit me hard. But I sat here, anyway. I spent an hour tweaking and revising what I wrote on "The Maltese Unicorn" on Thursday and Friday— the opening scene in an interrogation cell at the Drancy Transit Camp in the Paris suburbs, October 1941. This is so much about achieving authenticity— of period and place and culture —every word counts even more than usual. Then I spent two hours beginning the first section of the story proper, which is the narrator recalling events that unfolded six years earlier, in the Manhattan of 1935. But I was ill, as I have mentioned, and as I likely shall be again today, and in two hours I managed only 312 words. I'm fairly certain they are 312 good words, but still. This will be an 8,500-10,000-word story, and I don't have time to write it in 300-word increments.

This story is far more concerned with plot than my stories usually are. Usually, plot is something I allow to accrete while I'm tending to things like characterization and mood and theme. Usually, I go into a story with a vague idea of what "will happen," and allow those events to unfold organically. But this isn't that sort of a story. Occasionally, a story is not the sort of story that is amenable to my usual process, and so I must adapt and work out the plot in great detail beforehand and also as I write. Which, though it seems extremely artificial to me, is necessary with a story like "The Maltese Unicorn." And so, this story feels very much plottier than most of my stories.

And, over breakfast this morning, a thought occurred to me. When a reader complains to a writer that a story did not "satisfy" them, or that it "didn't make sense," or they found the characters "too unsympathetic," this is in no particular way different from telling a painter that his or her painting is not pretty, or that you cannot tell what "it's supposed to be," or that you really prefer the color blue to the color red and why can't they use blue more often. It's the same thing, pretty much.

Anyway, yesterday while I worked, Spooky went out into the world to get me a new walking stick. Two, actually. The one I used for the last two years blew out on me a few weeks back. It had this shock-absorption feature, and that's what blew out. Damn fancy-ass stick. This time, we've opted for a lower tech walking stick, and one with a five-year guarantee, at that.

If you've not yet ordered your copy of The Ammonite Violin & Others, there's no time like the present.

Yesterday, Dennis Hopper died.

Last night, we watched Howard Hawks' The Big Sleep (1946). I love this film, which I've seen times beyond counting, even though it has one of the most torturously convoluted plots I've ever encountered in film. I adore the snappy dialogue. As Roger Ebert said of the screenplay, "It's unusual to find yourself laughing in a movie not because something is funny but because it's so wickedly clever." There's a moment, in Marlowe's office, when Vivian Rutledge has called the police, and the whole thing devolves into Bogart and Bacall passing the phone back and forth, bedeviling the cop at the other end of the line, a scene that would be at home in Marx Bros. film. I love that Faulkner worked on the screenplay (though he probably loathed the job). I love that we never find out who killed Owen Taylor, the Sternwood chauffeur, and that neither the screenwriters nor Raymond Chandler knew whodunit. And sure, the Hays Office made it necessary to muck about with Chalder's story, so we don't know the nature of "the racket" Geiger is running, that he's using the antique bookshop as a front for a shop that sells pornography, or that Lundgren and Geiger are lovers (the Hays Office wouldn't go for homosexuality), or that those photos of Carmen are pornographic. Etc. and etc. It's still a fine film.

I mentioned Pontypool, right?

Mrs. French's cat is missing. The signs are posted all over town. "Have you seen Honey?" We've all seen the posters, but nobody has seen Honey the cat. Nobody. Until last Thursday morning, when Miss Colette Piscine swerved her car to miss Honey the cat as she drove across a bridge. Well this bridge, now slightly damaged, is a bit of a local treasure and even has its own fancy name; Pont de Flaque. Now Collette, that sounds like "culotte." That's "panty" in French. And "piscine" means "pool." Panty pool. "Flaque" also means pool in French, so Colete Piscine— in French, Panty Pool —drives over the Pont de Flaque, the Pont de Pool if you will, to avoid hitting Mrs. French's cat that has been missing in Pontypool. Pontypool. Pontypool. Panty pool. Pont de Flaque. What does it mean? Well, Norman Mailer, he had an interesting theory that he used to explain the strange coincidences in the aftermath of the JFK assasination. In the wake of huge events, after them and before them, physical details they spasm for a moment; they sort of unlock and when they come back into focus they suddenly coincide in a weird way. Street names and birth dates and middle names, all kind of superfluous things appear related to each other. It's a ripple effect. So, what does it mean? Well...it means something's going to happen. Something big. But then, something's always about to happen.