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I got the idea for the novel that eventually became Northwoods Deep all the way back in 1995 when I was working in Yellowstone National Park. I wanted to write a straight-forward horror novel. Previous to that, I had written a couple novels that jumped around in time a lot, and one of those novels turned out quite horribly - I'd tried too hard to be artsy and/or fartsy, so I thought - time to just write something that's linear, with a minimum of flashback. (Plus, I'd come to the disappointing conclusion that I was no Thomas Pynchon) I wanted to try and write something that was actually frightening, since I hadn't been scared by anything in the horror genre that I'd read recently. (There were fun reads, to be sure, but just not frightening.)

So anyway, toward the end of the summer season, I was taking my daily walk around the geyser basin (depending on which trails/directions you took, this could be a good two, three, four miles or farther) and I started envisioning this old man who resembled Walt Whitman creeping up the steps from a cellar through a trap door into a dark cabin in the woods. I kept hearing in my mind the creaking of the trap door as he slowly opened it, as well as the way his shoes sounded on the floorboards as he crept (creep, creep, creep) toward these two women who had overestimated this man's hospitality.

I visualized the face of the cabin as - well, a face. Two window eyes, the door a mouth. And that made me think of the witch's house in Hansel & Gretel, so before the walk was over, I'd decided to make it sort of a very loose, modern telling of Hansel and Gretel. And when I say loose, I mean loose in the way that the movie Wild at Heart was a retelling of The Wizard of Oz.

So within about 6 days, I had typed up (on an actual typewriter, no less - remember those?) appx 120 pages between my shifts at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge. Those six days were a lot of fun. I really felt...writerly. There I was, in a cabin with my door open to the beautiful weather, squirrels skittering past the entryway, bison and elk occasionally visible nearby, a bottle of Jim Beam next to me (pre-marriage, pre-kids.)

After that initial flurry of activity, however, I became stuck. Plus, the season was winding down, and it was time to get ready for the move back to Minnesota. I don't think any of those first 120 pages made it into the final draft - maybe a description here or there. And I never had quite that same burst of energy as I did on those initial six days. But eventually, over a lot of false starts and stops, I felt I had a decent draft.

It would be wonderful if our times spent writing could all be flurries of creative activity. But the reality is that those times are incredibly rare, if they happen at all. The reality is that writing is a lot of hard work, and can in fact be quite a lot of drudgery. But - if you're a writer - you know that's how it works. You know that is a huge part of what makes you a writer - working through the drudgery, not giving up after that initial spark of excitement has left you. And - if you're a writer - you know that it's still worth the effort.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 5th, 2011 06:21 pm (UTC)
Writing as a drug
A lot of times, writing is sometimes compared to a drug. And I think you just described a 6-day bender. A day-long party can be a lot of fun. But if we're not used to it, 6 days can be more than we can handle and we end up with a lot of words, but not a lot of writing we can use. Been there, done that. Thanks for sharing so I know I'm not the only one who can go overboard sometimes.
Jan. 6th, 2011 03:17 pm (UTC)
Re: Writing as a drug
I think you hit the nail on the head, Matt.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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