Two years is a solid amount of time. Days come and go in silent flocks, barely brushing against your face as weeks and months cast shadows in the sunset of a year. Past time blends and smears into a whirlpool that, for the present you, makes it almost impossible to decipher how you ended up at this viewing platform, scratching your crotch in a state of proper dumbfoundment while trying to see your own reflection in the maelstrom. This is especially true when crafting a book. Years down the line you end up with a draft, probably in a digital form, and say “How the fuck did this happen?” The experience of writing a novel is easier to reflect upon, I think, when you have artifacts from the past to inspect. Little fossils of ink on scrap paper or notebooks you excavate from files and manila folders, maybe a forgotten back pack or underneath your car seat.
The image above is about half of the material I had physically edited or scrawled ideas and blips of dialogue upon for At Eternity’s Gate. Stacks of notes and doodles and around 90 pages of pen edited manuscript will remain forever lost to dimensions unknown. But here, for my own amusement, is a brief dive into the relics that remain. Imprints of a strange past consciousness influenced by worlds both imaginary, and real.
This is perhaps the strangest of my notes. It is a doodle of almost every location in the book from start to finish. I got the idea from these singular images which depict every location in the original Star Wars trilogy. It was kind of fun, but more importantly, it let me visualize the flow of the book and see if I did any unnecessary backtracking, which is something that really pisses me off in video games.
The most impressive item in my collection is an actual copy of the book itself, or more accurately, a previous version of it. I’ve become a huge fan of physically editing text, especially in book form. My wonderful girlfriend stole a file from my computer and printed it through Blurb for about $16 (although she formatted the whole thing without any paragraph breaks). It wasn’t quite a first or second draft, but some parts were more complete than others, and at that time the whole manuscript was being considered by a publisher. Seeing the words on an actual page really made a difference in my reading of it. I could sit there and say, “Do these words feel as though they have earned their place on this sacred printed page?” If it didn’t feel right, I changed it or deleted it. And even better, two words (Great machines) out of the whole 100,000 of them sparked a chain of thoughts that led me to re write almost the entire second half of the book, finally getting the main plot in proper shape during the book’s final arcs.
This is a coffee stained computer print out of the first three chapters early on in my writing of the book. I had another version of about 90 printed pages that was also edited, and brutally so at that, but there whereabouts remain a mystery. My girlfriend read through these and marked them up accordingly, and let’s just say I walked away from the pages with some emotional bruises. Necessary wounds that helped me feel out characters and give them the attention they deserved.
This is a notebook that served as my wallet for a time. Occasionally I would write out whole conversations I imagined the characters having while I was at work. More often than not I wrote down small, subtle details that gave situations or actions more depth and meaning. I also wrote down plot alterations that suddenly happened upon me like a flaming meteor flung from Jupiter’s orbit. Those were great moments. My random day to day actions, which resulted from the sum total of every event since the birth of the universe, coalesced and culminated in the perfect word or event to push the story forward.
The lion notebook was a little reference to the first chapter, but it ended up spawning all kinds of ideas that helped me resonate particular events throughout the entire book in a more clear and concise way. It’s amazing what a year can do to an idea. Some of them were like square pegs I had to smash into a cheerio, but with time it would occur to me how everything fit together, and I was able to turn the cheerio remnants into a fruit loop, arguably the tastiest of all breakfast cereals. There were also times when I realized something I wrote was really fucking stupid. When that happened I would grab a scrap of paper and write down reminders to fix the issue and never do it again, or else I’d throw myself into an active volcano or feed myself to a carnivorous pelican.
As you may have inferred by the highlights, the journey is far from over. I’ve read through, re written, deleted, added, and smashed my head into my keyboard countless times to get At Eternity’s Gate into its current shape. Even so, two years from starting this endeavor, I still have miles to travel and mountains to climb. And it’s okay. This fucker needs to be as good as I can possibly make it, even if it takes me another goddamn year or two in order to get there. Everyone writes differently, but I have discovered I belong to the camp where it takes years in order to make something worth reading. I can’t churn out quality fiction in six months, no matter how hard I work on it. In the self publishing world, one I very well may fall into, it’s important to have your shit in perfect, mind blowing shape, which is hard to do when every forum or blogger says you need to write 17,000 books a year in order to build a proper audience. Let me clear my throat for this next part.
Fuck that noise. I am interested in making something that breaches the fabric of other worlds. It’s a sacred ritual, one in which whole realities are synthesized and converted to symbols and ink, furthering the strange occult practices in which language itself was birthed from, seeking the infinite mystery lurking just beyond the black stamp of a letter…or the pause between words. It’s something ancient and blood stained. Even if another soul never observes a single page of my work, I’ll know I’ve given these existences the attention they deserve, and these scattered bones will stand as a testament to my struggle.