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The Road to Hull | 2009 | Left 2 Breed

12.28.09 10:17 a.m.

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.  

-Vladimir Nabokov


On Writing and Dissection

This is how I look most of the time I am writing

"I'm sorry, you said you've visited Austria? What time of year?" I ask the perfumed woman on the other end of the table, talking over Tom's head. Even as I ask, I struggle to remember her name, something with a K.

"August, why?"

"Ah, no good for me. I am doing research about the Krampus, for a story. He's one of Santa's helpers in Austria, the bad cop to Santa's good cop. Only, instead of coal in the stockings, the Krampus beats women with birch switches and drags naughty children to hell. I wanted to know the cultural logic for Santa teaming up with a murderous demon." Ideally, I was hoping that someone would mention the Austrian equivalent of a Rankin-Bass special that delves into this back story, ala Santa Claus is Coming to Town or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I am not above making up reasons - Suzie gave me a good rationalization about Santa, being a saint, having power over a demon - but would prefer to keep as much of my story canon as possible.

The woman doesn't know anything of this tradition, but my conviction and purpose is plainly such that she offers to get in touch with relatives in Austria and ask them, a conversation I wish I could overhear for its strangeness.

My writing process does not always put me in front of a keyboard. My short stories, which I am trying to get more into to build my writing resume, tend to need to germinate in my head for a few weeks as I passively-to-obsessively acquire facts and details, occasionally at brunches in crowded restaurants. Over the summer, I wrote most of a short story (Always Darkest, which may one day be another book in my series) while going on runs in a cemetery and narrating tiny bits of the story into my voice recorder. I joke that the citizens of the graveyard whisper ideas to me.

Melanie is aware I am working on this story, which I am tentatively calling Ghosts of Christmas Past, one that will be illustrated and featured by Cave Drawing Ink next December, and asks how it is going. This is a hard question to answer, since it is little more than two pages of typed notes with a few scenes that must be involved and roughly how it ends. Given that, I feel I am almost done. The easy part is in physically writing it, now, and giving flesh to some ideas that have been bumping around in my head (in one form or another) for the better part of five years.

I have a file with thirty other story ideas, some of which will cleave together and others, apart. I am never at a loss for something to write and always feel oddly fortunate that I can plunder from myself rather than others.

I have decided that my short stories will all loosely tie into my books, taking place in the same reality where fact is based on consensus belief. If nothing else, a dozen tangentially related stories will give a better foundation for my world than twenty pages of cumbersome exposition per book.

Months ago, I mentioned to a fellow writer that I have had to insert uninterrupted reading (which my main Christmas present, an eReader, helps immensely) into my writing schedule because reading gets me so angry. She thought this was because I see the sins of other writers in my genre who have made it and write to spite them. Instead, it is that I read things that are very good and grow frustrated that I cannot yet do what they do, so I must practice with what they have taught me, seeing whether I can stand to be more florid (I cannot) or if I can get away with abject cruelty to my characters (I can).

At Melanie's behest, I have read my way through Pullmans His Dark Materials series, which she tenders fondly. In almost every conversation we have, I complain about some digression, literary convention, or liberty he has taken because he had his readers and editors by the balls. Realizing how this must come off to her, I clarify that I am only being so nitpicky because I happen to like his books a great deal or I would stop reading them. It isnt easy for writers to read because we are so inclined to dissection that no story gets out of it alive.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, parties.

last watched: Howl's Movie Castle
reading: The Amber Spyglass
listening: Kate Rusby

The Road to Hull | 2009 | Left 2 Breed

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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