What I Did on My Summer Vacation by James Sallis, age 66

On Friday our novelist sat down, because that is what writers do, to write another book. It was going to be a fast-moving, straightforward, muscular, simple-natured novel, kind of like the paperbacks he grew up on, kind of like Drive.

On Saturday, by the third chapter, some kid had stuck his head above water. There he was, waking from a dream that our novelist assumed was going to be the main character’s, the killer’s. Well, maybe it was – but the kid was having it. Our novelist told the kid to go away. Now.

By Monday another damned character got to stomping around in our poor novelist’s book, leaving footprints everywhere. And not only was this guy a detective investigating something he didn’t understand at all (quite the wrong thing, as it turned out 200 pages later) but he dragged into the novel with him (1) a partner who just had to have his own chapter and (2) a wife who was dying.

Come on, guys!

At this point short stories were looking better and better.

Okay, so he had three major characters. The casting call was over, the doors locked down. How hard could this be? Our novelist would just get these three people rolling along, and downstream somewhere in the course of things they’d cross paths because that, after all, is what writers do, right?

But alas, infection had set in. Now the writer was getting as contrary and stubborn as those pushy characters. How much more interesting it might be, he thought, if the three never meet. Trying all the while not to admit to himself how much more difficult this would make the writing.

And what if central parts of the story, narratives of what is happening to the killer in present time, were to be told by way of the kid’s dreams?

Hmmm, our novelist thought.

Oh shit, our novelist thought.

What have you gotten yourself into? the little devil on his left shoulder whispered into an ear.

Well, it’s a challenge, isn’t it? the little angel on his right shoulder whispered into the other.

Our novelist tried everything. Showers, earplugs. Shaving hair off his shoulders to make it hard for the wee ones to find footholds. And with forty-odd years as a writer, if nothing else you get good at avoiding hard work, right?

But the book, and the characters, and those shoulder-squatters wouldn’t leave our novelist alone. There was only one way out. As Ambrose Bierce said of good advice, the only way to get rid of it is to pass it along to someone else, quickly.

So here you go, readers. The book’s yours now. We need to wrap it, or will you wear it?

The Killer is published in September in print version; the kindle version is available now from No Exit Press


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