I very much identify with Faulkner saying that THE SOUND AND THE FURY began with an image of Caddy up a pear tree with muddy pants—THE GODS OF GOTHAM (an admittedly lesser work but one with a much higher body count, so I’ve got that going for me) began with a little girl running through the streets, covered in blood that wasn’t her own. Not even I knew what had happened to her, but the vision came out of nowhere and haunted the spit out of me. Everything that came after was based on that image of the child who would become Bird Daly.
Since I wanted to tell the story of day one, cop one of the NYPD, I began by researching the ever-loving daylights out of its origins. That is to say, the mythmaking came prior to the selection of time period—if the NYPD had been founded in 1870, that’s when GOTHAM would have been set. I knew nothing about its formation previously. So this necessitated my haunting the New York Historical Society and the microfilm department of the Bryant Park Research Library until I was research cross-eyed (the process of becoming research cross-eyed takes me about six months to accomplish).
Then I went home and sat down. Sitting down is the hardest part. There is nothing more terrifying than 1) a blank screen where you want a book to be eventually and 2) the prospect of sitting down for that long. But I have a very healthy hovering sensation of perpetual horror that I’ll never be able to write another book again, and that is a pretty killer motivator. You can’t beat existential dread for creating a sound work ethic.
My husband is a bartender and I’m a night owl, so my writing schedule resembles the hours of security guards, maintenance experts, and streetwalkers—from about seven or eight until three in the morning at times. I am physically capable of writing in daylight, but it alarms me. Sunshine and humans are distracting. So are coffee shops. I abhor them, in the working sense. They’re full of food and smells and people I find interesting and pleasant window views. I can’t have that.
We have a one-bedroom apartment, so here are the salient snapshots to do with my writing life:
—my kitchen table, and my laptop surrounded by history books
—my kneeling chair (it’s angled so your weight is on your knees; it’s awesome)
—wrist braces (I have carpal tunnel—I asked if they make me look like a ninja and was told no, they make me look like someone who has carpal tunnel)
—two cats (Grendel and Prufrock)
After I’ve written the first draft I have a good cry, freak out mightily, and then settle down and start fixing it. As a compulsive editor, that takes four or five drafts. And then, wonder of wonders, there is a book. And I am pleased.
Gods of Gotham is published by Headline