- Buy Lord Huron’s latest album. Listen closely to the words.
- Enjoy this podcast that C. put me in the path of. And then laugh with me when I tell you that, when I typed “The Black Tapes Podcast” into my search area, it suggested “Is The Black Tapes Podcast real?” I wish. Lord, I wish.
I had jury duty yesterday. I got seated on a jury, but didn’t make it through the selection process. And I get it. Looking at it from the lawyers’ perspective, my hobby is having opinions on the internet. I wouldn’t want me on a jury. But it still hurt my feelings. Which made the Butcher laugh at me. Which was well-deserved.
I drove out to Charlotte to see all their old buildings and I must say, I was kind of disappointed, though I wasn’t sure why. They have old buildings, but, if there was one from the early 1800s, I couldn’t find it, even though I’d been told there was one there.
Which is not to say that it’s not there, but just that I couldn’t find it.
- I mention the house was built by shipbuilders and how excited the narrator is to get into the bones of the house to see if she can tell. She never looks.
- I have multiple minor characters with names who appear in just one or two scenes. One of my main characters does not have a first name.
- I changed the Mississippi house’s name midway through the book.
- I forgot Thursday. I write about all the things that happen on Wednesday then I say “the next day” and it’s Friday. I like Thursdays!
- The ghost hunters record audio. The reader never gets to hear what was on it.
- In one place, I say a guy had three dead kids. Later, I appeared to give him nearly a million dead children. Which is remarkable, because his wife died during the third kid’s birth.
- The bad guy is so creepy that one of the main characters forbids her kids to go to his house. At the end of the book, without comment, the kid is in the house again.
- A guy has some siblings in Bowling Green. Later, the guy has no siblings.
- And this is the biggest one–Suddenly, everyone knows that the bad guy has a certain constraint. But I never explain how they come to know that.
- The narrator gets an important clue from the hymn “Softly and Tenderly” but both of the people who could have left the clue died before the hymn was written.
Also, much like Isaac Franklin, my bad guy was shipped back home for burial in a barrel of whiskey. In modern times, the main characters spend an evening drinking whiskey. I think I’ve created an accidental Chekov’s gun. I mentioned a barrel of whiskey in the past and now, here’s a shit-ton of whiskey–the bottle in the house and the bottles kept stored in the old stable. There is no other conclusion for the reader to draw than that this is the same whiskey. I didn’t intend it that way. But it’s so hilarious and disgusting that I’m totally leaving that as the obvious conclusion to be drawn. Keep chugging on down “Grandpa’s Preserve” folks. Keep chugging on down.
I have some stuff I need to add and, obviously, some plot holes to fix. I feel like it’s a mess of cliched ridiculousness and I hate it, but that’s this stage. I’ll feel better once I like the ending better. It’s not very long, just over 71,000 words, but I imagine it will end up a little longer. I think that’s okay, though. You start to get too long and questions creep in–like why didn’t your main character just go home?
But it has a shape, and that counts for a lot.
I have jury duty next week. I’m excited but nervous. Not nervous about the being on a jury part. Nervous about getting parked and finding my way to where I’m supposed to go and all that stuff. They try to make it simple and clear but I still expect I’ll be nervous peeing about twelve times in a row Monday morning.
So, the dog and I were walking home across the AT&T yard where George Straight was blaring out of one of the vans. A black guy comes out of the building and, in a joking manner, says “Turn that crap off.” His white co-worker says, “Yeah, the only one of these guys black people like is Dwight Yoakam. We’ll get you some Dwight Yoakam, buddy, and then you’ll like country music.”
I think this may be the strangest stereotype of black people I’ve ever heard a white person spout. Obviously, I don’t like racial stereotyping, but I love imagining Dwight Yoakam as some kind of secret weakness of every American, they just don’t know it yet.
But then, I thought, if this is true, what a strange place Charley Pride’s house would be. He could never listen to his own music with any kind of satisfaction, because the only country artist he would care for is Dwight Yoakam.
This is what I mean when I say that we can’t fix rape culture because we are utterly unprepared to deal with the ways we take control of young men’s bodies and make them prove their manhood through getting into positions where fewer people dominate them than they dominate. Literally the language of being a winner is the language of being a rapist and visa versa.
The Red-Headed kid accused me of making the tripping jaguar afghan so large that it will require a trailer to deliver it. It’s not that big. It is officially a little over half done.
I’m reading through Ashland and kind of doing a mix of fiddling with displeasing stuff and marking plot holes. Probably, it would just make sense to read through it and mark plot holes first, fix those, and then fiddle with displeasing stuff, but some displeasing stuff can’t wait. I killed off some children, for instance, and I’m about to de-fake-gay someone (a husband claims his wife is a lesbian, so why not have an affair with him? Stupid. Gone.). But some stuff–shouldn’t this be fuller? Why does she immediately jump to this conclusion?–are going to require some more writing and I want to mull it over some more.
I’m never afraid to cut shit. But I try to be conscientious about adding. The lesson I’m trying to take to heart from The Haunting of Hill House and The Red Tree is to trust in the strength of a simple plot. I hate to use the word “simple” here, because it sounds like a backhanded compliment. But I mean it just as a fact.
I was telling C. the other day that I’d come across this author talking about how much world-building you have to do and, basically, how there’s this tension between how close you are to your characters and how much world-building you need. If you’re sitting right alongside your characters, you’re willing to accept a lot in the world as just given. You’re willing to go along confused at the world, because you trust you understand the character (obviously authors play with this, but we’re making sweeping generalizations). The further removed you get from the particularities of your characters, the more world-building you need in order to keep your reader engaged. In other words, the reader needs something to count on–either the strength of the character POV or the authority of the narrator. One or the other. You don’t want to accidentally weaken that and you don’t need to invest too much in one if you have the other under control.
I think there’s a similar kind of tension in horror writing. Here’s a genre in which a lot of strange things happen, in which people behave in ways that make no sense to them, and which can terrify the reader because they make no sense or a perverse kind of sense to the reader herself. To ask people to keep moving forward into a story that is terrible means you have to have a solid something for them to hold onto. I think, to me, it’s that, at its core, the story is simple. That’s the firm thing your reader can grasp and, in holding on to it, move forward.
Which is not to say that either The Red Tree or Hill House are simple books. Right? That’s the genius of good horror writing.
But, for me, the simple story of Ashland is that it’s about a historian who, while learning a complicated family history, meets the remaining family members and gets to know them, which she comes to regret. That’s it. There doesn’t have to be anything fancier.
This morning, we were in the same groove. He came when I called him. When he took off after a rabbit, he came right back and we resumed our walk. He didn’t run into the neighbor’s yard or try to get into the field. We were just together, walking, and it was glorious.
1. Ursula LeGuin arguing that Harper Lee’s betrayal at the hands of the publishing industry started a while ago. A long, long while ago.
2. Ugh, this makes me kind of sick to my stomach. Although, my grandpa did have an uncle, Barlow Phillips, and I have long thought that Barlow Phillips is the most awesome name ever.
I dislike the ending. Not the broad strokes, but some of the finer points. But I had to restart it four times, so I’m not distressed by the thought that I’m going to majorly rework the ending here in a few days.
Then my plan is to read the whole thing and make some notes and then work to get it into a shape I feel I’m ready to share with readers. I have 71,500 words, roughly. I imagine this is quite a bit shorter than my show-the-world draft will end up being since, already, I think I might need a few earlier scenes and, like I said, the ending needs some work. But the shape of the thing is there.
One thing that constantly surprises me when I see my brothers’ girlfriends with their kids is just how much time kids now spend with their moms (and dads, too, I think). I love my mom and feel like she was really great as a mother when we were growing up. I don’t ever remember playing with her. Either we played games as a whole family or kids entertained themselves and my mom… I don’t know… did whatever she did when we weren’t around.
I don’t think this way is worse or anything, but I remember my grandma telling me when I was in college that she didn’t understand how the stay at home moms of the 90s did it because it seemed so boring and lonely. But I don’t think even in the 90s, moms were expected to spend so much time with kids doing the things kids want to do without seeing other adults.
And, obviously, this situation wouldn’t have arisen if being let loose in the yard all afternoon all summer long while our mothers did whatever worked for us. Clearly, we’re raising kids this way because something about the other way didn’t work for us.
But I’m not going to be surprised if the next generation of mothers lives closer to their siblings and/or friends and we see more pitching in by adults so that no one feels isolated and cut off from the adult world.
Lord. On Saturday, we made pork chops, green bean casserole, asparagus, greens, biscuits, and potato salad for everyone–the Butcher and his girl and her kids, our brother, his girl, all his kids, our parents. We got accused of doing more for this meal than we do at Thanksgiving. There was a pool. There was cornhole. People were jumping cracks in the sidewalk with a scooter. The dog ate Cheetos and is still not recovered from a weekend of no one allowing him to nap. The niece was less screamy this time and she did even pet him a couple times. But he still heard “No, no, no!” more than he normally does.
There was drama and hurt feelings and my heart hurt a little by the end. But, in general, I think it was a very nice visit.
I did something yesterday I have been trying to do for over a decade. I made a plan for how to do it, how to really do it, about four or five years ago, I think. And I stuck to it and I didn’t take vacations and I didn’t visit people and I didn’t go out as much as I wanted. And now it’s done. Fuck you, Citibank. I hope the hackers take you out first.
I don’t feel relieved though. Which I thought I would. Mostly, I feel kind of numb and sad. I did not grow up that poor. But I made more money at 28 than my dad did when I was 18. I’m making more money now than I think my parents ever did combined. I made a lot of financial decisions that, I’m sure, from the outside, looked dumb as rocks. I had no ability, no knowledge, no wisdom from mentors to make better decisions. They were literally the best decisions I could make with the knowledge I had. I don’t beat myself up over it.
This, though, makes me cry. I feel like it’s the second cry you have over a bad car accident. The first cry is all fear and gratitude. And the second cry is when you realize how precarious things were, when you see that it was just as likely that you didn’t make it.
Here we are at 66,000 words. I have come from one weird, ridiculous things and something happens that leads into a tragic, ridiculous thing. I have been struggling with the “something happens” part.
I woke up in the middle of the night with a pain in my toe. See, some idiot dog stepped on my toe and now my toenail is slowly breaking off. Like, way down to the quick. And I guess, as it’s separating, one part of it is poking into the side of my toe in an unpleasant manner. So, I wake up to this new, annoying pain. And I’m walking myself through the logic of how I came to wake up in the middle of the night.
And, like a lightbulb coming on, I am illuminated. The “something happens” has to not just be a brief stop on the train to someplace else. It needs to escalate the tension and the action and show us something about the characters. Which, duh, I know is obvious.
But there is something really helpful about stepping back, when you can’t figure out how to make something work, and just asking yourself, “What would make this worse?”
I watched this video last night and I felt, suddenly, that I knew why George Jones drank. Not all the reasons why. Obviously, a lot of that stuff is genetic and a lot of it is private. But, if you don’t care for country music, just mute it and watch him. I feel like I’m watching a man surfing a wave too large for him or a man on a tightrope over the Grand Canyon. You can learn something about want, about bone-deep want, that men will never tell you about by watching his face–how he wants her, how he’s got such a charge out of wanting her, how it threatens to overwhelm him. This woman makes him feel… what… something, something so private and powerful that it feels like we’re witnessing something we shouldn’t be privy to just by watching them sing.
It can’t be easy to be that open to those kinds of deep emotions. It must feel like a kind of madness. A wonderful kind of madness when you have someone like Tammy, like they were at their best, to be in it with. But when you don’t? When it’s just you and that conduit inside you and the big empty sky?
I haven’t said much about the afghan, but it’s coming along. I’m doing it seven squares across, nine squares down. I have four sets of seven done. This weekend, when I finished up my third set, I said to myself, wow, the afghan is 1/3 done. And last night, when I finished up the fourth set, I thought, in three-and-a-half squares, I’ll be halfway done. So, it feels like it’s going quickly. Kind of, anyway.
You’ll be proud to know that I’m tucking my ends as I go, so there won’t be the usual moaning about all the ends I have to tuck at the end of all these squares. I can’t wait to see how it comes together. But the corners are so weird that I’m kind of wondering if I should block the squares before putting them together. And that makes me kind of want to gouge out my eyes. But it is a wool blend. It would take to blocking very well. Still, man, you know I’d rather wait until the end, when I have the seams to help pull everything into the right shape and size.
It was surprisingly good. You can’t think about it too much or the thought of turning everyone into “gentlemen” when the gentlemen are behaving so atrociously is disturbing and a group of white guys (and girls) taking down the black dude and the woman with prosthetic legs is a troubling dynamic.
But I had to laugh, because, within my lifetime, butt sex has gone from something you did not talk about and, if that’s the kind of porn you watched, you were considered some kind of hardcore pervert, to something that’s cheeky fun for spies.
The other day, M. was talking about how many of my stories have difficult families at their core. This is true. And maybe more autobiographical than I care to be.
But working on Ashland has me thinking of just how often I send my characters off to have sex with terrible people. The sex is fine. The people are wicked and immoral and, you know, often The Devil. I feel like my real life sex life is the regular mashings of two (or more) awkward but nice people’s bodies together in ways that make gross noises you don’t really notice at the time. I did once or twice fail to seduce a hot libertarian, which is almost like bedding a wicked person (KIDDING, COBLE, KIDDING!), and I don’t normally have fantasies of, like, reanimating Stalin or anything.
But I guess that I think very evil people make room for the people in their sphere of influence to be just a little more evil than they normally would be and sex creates opportunities for people to let their guards down and for them to let want overwhelm good sense. It provides opportunity for otherwise good characters to do terrible shit and make really gross mistakes.
My nephews were here this weekend and my youngest nephew must be a good foot taller than than he was the last time I saw him. It was so nice. They are funny and fun to hang out with and my god, my oldest nephew has become a beautiful guitarist.
But it made me laugh that the one song my dad, my brother, and my nephew can all play is “Light My Fire,” which they play as some kind of cross between the original and Jose Feliciano’s version. And my nephew knows a ton of old Metallica, which also pleased me.
And the Butcher was pleased because my nephew knew a guitar tuning app which meant that the guitar that his girlfriend’s boy had set the pegs all flat on got put right. And my dad was pleased because he tuned it by ear while my nephew was futzing with the phone and my dad was only slightly off on one string. “My A is always true,” he explained.
Today is the day when I write something that I think “Yep, no. This is too much.” But I’m trying to be brave and leave it in, at least during this draft.
On this manuscript, I’ve been writing about 1,500 words at a sitting, which I was having about three days a week. Yesterday, I got 4,000 words down and today I got another 2,000.
Are they any good? Who knows?
Did anyone fuck a ghost? No.
Do I have mixed feelings about that? Yes.
It’s harder, though not at all impossible, to find houses the same age as Ashland would be, if Ashland were a real place, but the new Brentwood park has one. The house isn’t open to the public, but I creeped around outside.