Hallucinations, a blog about writing, trains, and Wire to Wire
Viewing Entries From: September 2011
When life gets a little too lifelike for Michael Slater in Wire to Wire, he opens a drawer in his video editing suite and takes another Smiling O – an amphetamine that keeps him going through the night.
As far as I know, there is no drug called a Smiling O in the real world; it’s a name I made up. I’m actually a little surprised that no one’s ever asked me what the O stands for, though that’s probably for the best. (No, it’s not orgasm. Or Oreo.)
I almost didn't use the name. At the end of the editing process – with the manuscript due to be released for galleys – an issue concerning punctuation arose. I’d always written the plural as “Smiling O’s,” but that’s incorrect. It should be rendered “Smiling Os” without the apostrophe. Correct or not, that looked wrong to me. The O was clearly a problem. Maybe it needed to be replaced.
With the deadline looming, I spent an evening trying out every gerund/letter combination that seemed remotely plausable. My son, Zane, nixed everything I came up with, and he was right. Somehow, they all sounded like bluegrass groups. The Spinning Gs. Finally, I ended up back where I started, with Smiling O. I just rewrote a bunch of lines so the usage was singular.
That’s what writing a novel does for you. It lets you be a control freak. While the manuscript’s on your desk, you're in charge. You can obsess over every little thing, and in most cases, you get to call the shots.
But there comes a time to let go. So this week, I’m releasing four free copies of Wire to Wire into the wild. I won't be obsessing over their welfare from now on. They’ll have to fend for themselves.
The free copies are marked on the front and there’s a note inside asking the finder to read the book and pass it on. My email address is there too. The four copies are starting out in Portland, OR, but I hope they make it to Michigan and beyond. There’s a lot of great country out there to see.
I’m dropping the four books this Thursday in places related to the story: a bar, a coffeeshop, a strip club, and a freight yard or train station. I’m open to ideas as to exactly where to release the books, so if you have a suggestion, let me know.
All I ask is this: If you see a copy running around loose, give it a home for a while. Say hi for me. And don’t let it take too many Smiling Os.
"Rolling fast down I-45, bending time, feeling fine." The Black Angels, "Entrance Song."
I was still in school when I first heard “Soul Kitchen,” the sex-infused track off The Doors’ first album. In the decades that have passed, the song has been overshadowed by others on that album – “Light My Fire,” “Break on Through,” and “The End.” But in the second verse of “Soul Kitchen,” The Doors gave us a line that got deep into my brain and has stayed there ever since: “Learn to forget.”
I was young and the whole world was new the first time I played that song. Like all kids that age, I was desperate to take it all in, remember everything. The idea that forgetting might be good – or even liberating – and that you had to learn how to do it, was intriguing all by itself. Delivered in Morrison’s voice, it was absolutely intoxicating.
Yet as time has passed, it’s clear I haven’t taken his advice. In fact, to be a little too clever about it, I’ve always remembered Morrison’s admonition to forget.
In the past couple weeks, I’ve had two opportunities to remember the process of writing Wire to Wire. Jeff Baker, book editor for The Oregonian, sat with me here – in my treehouse – one afternoon as part of his “Where I Write” series. And writer Laura Stanfill invited me to be part of her Seven Questions interview series.
Talking about Wire to Wire gave me a chance to notice something I had missed before: Mainly, that being alone up here in the treehouse is different from being alone in a room. It’s further away, up here in the pine. Lonelier. I’ve always said that I built this place for my son, Zane, and that’s true – but seeing it through others’ eyes, it no longer seems like a particularly fun place for a kid. I’m beginning to wonder if what I really built is something more like Michael Slater’s editing suite – a place where the past is always close at hand.
That same idea runs through the music I associate with Wire to Wire. The night plays tricks on Dylan; he tries to be so quiet, but the ghosts of electricity haunt him with Visions of Johanna. Thunder wakes up Seger in the night; he starts humming a song from 1962, and – in another song – wishes he didn’t know now what he didn’t know then. Joni Mitchell remembers a long-ago high school dance when “with just a touch of our fingertips, we could make our circuitry explode.”
All this got me wondering recently if I’ve been answering one of the most-asked questions about Wire to Wire the wrong way. In every interview, people eventually ask, “How much of it is true?” And I always start talking about freights I’ve hopped and places I’ve been in Northern Michigan.
But last week – after Zane went off to college, after I sat up here replaying the things we used to do, things we won’t do again – a different answer struck me. The truest thing about Wire to Wire? Maybe it’s all about being in the grip of the past. About having trouble letting go.
Maybe the most autobiographical sentence is this one: “At midnight, the past, present, and future circled round like a train on a circular track, and you could end up anywhere.”
Without a doubt, it’s been a great summer. Wire to Wire came out in June, and I’ve had a chance to read from it and talk about it in bookstores and bars across Michigan, Oregon, and Washington. You can’t beat something like that.
But now it’s Labor Day – time to go back to work on book number two. The main character is a guy named Ray, and as you might expect, he’s got some problems with the past.
As summer turns to fall, the two of us are gonna be up in this tree a lot, working things out. Maybe even learning to forget.
Speak in secret alphabets: Good advice from a dead guy. The Doors' “Soul Kitchen.”
For more music that inspired Wire to Wire, check this post on the terrific Largehearted Boy site.
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