We were having dinner and I was trying to think up ideas for a Keep Going book trailer and I thought, “Why not just have Owen letter it?” (He’s six.) I asked him and he said sure and we shot it right there at the kitchen table and I edited it on my laptop in the bathroom while he took a tub. (I’m not sure if it’s going to be the book trailer, but it’s a book trailer!)
Just held the first print copy of Keep Going in my hands. I love how this book turned out and can’t wait to send it out into the world.
At the end of Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs (a terrific thriller), serial killer Hannibal Lector writes inspector Clarice Starling a letter to let her know he won’t come after her if she won’t come after him. “I have no plans to call on you, Clarice, the world being more interesting with you in it. Be sure to extend me the same courtesy.”
In the (perfect) movie adaptation, Hannibal calls Clarice on the phone, and he says it just a little differently: “The world’s more interesting with you in it.”
I think about this line all the time in our contemporary era. The world is so big and full of people and we’re receiving updates about it all constantly. Sometimes it’s a relief when people — particularly celebrities or artists — mess up and do something awful and we feel we can now just write them off completely. We can unfollow. We can cancel our subscriptions to them, so to speak. “Everyone is Canceled,” was the title of a recent NYTimes piece about the phenomenon, starting with the lede, “Almost everyone worth knowing has been canceled by someone.”
I cancel as much as anyone, I suppose, but I often find myself thinking of that Hannibal Lector line, with a little change to the pronoun. “The world’s more interesting with him in it.” (I used to apply it to Kanye, but never to the president.) Sometimes I modify it for use on music, movies, books, etc.: “This book wasn’t for me, but the world’s more interesting with this book in it.”
The line works in many contexts. You could, for example, flip it around and aim it at yourself: Don’t disappear on us. Don’t cancel your own subscription. Stick around. Keep going. The world is more interesting with you in it.
“The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
“What doesn’t transmit light creates its own darkness.”
Seeing a lot of “We’re fucked” tweets lately. These tweets are not necessarily wrong, but I don’t see their point.
“Doom is inevitable,” as Seth recently put it. “Gloom is optional.”
Life is bad enough. Twitter is already worse than bad. I’m not asking you to blow sunshine up my butt, but if you’re going to tweet, “We’re fucked,” at least follow it up with the “eat trash be free” raccoons:
But I’m here. And I have people who depend on me to be here. So I gotta keep going, somehow.
Edith Wharton said, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
You don’t have to have your own light. You can reflect someone else’s. That’s what I’m doing, here, and elsewhere: I’m trying to find the light and reflect it. I’m trying to be a reflector, not Human Vantablack.
We all want to scream into the void. We all feel the need to express the dread. But, it’s like Zadie Smith says, “Go and ring a bell in a yard if you want to express yourself.”
“It’s not dark yet,” sings Bob Dylan, “but it’s getting there.”
So either be the light or go find some and reflect it.
I’m proofing the third pass of Keep Going. I find it really difficult at this stage of a project to get the right perspective — “fresh eyes” — for the thing, which makes it really, really hard to make edits.
The production schedule for this book has been much more accelerated than any of my other books, so my usual device for estranging myself from the text — the plain ol’ passing of time — hasn’t been quite as helpful.
The device that has: reading aloud.
I find that reading my work aloud makes it weird enough that I can’t scan or gloss over anything.
Reading to an audience is best, because you start really judging the thing when you have to project it into a room full of people. Quentin Tarantino says he likes to read his scripts to his friends, not for their feedback, but their presence. “I don’t want input, I don’t want you to tell me if I’m doing anything wrong, heavens forbid,” he says, “But I write a scene, and I think I’ve heard it as much as I can, but then when I read it to you … I hear it through your ears, and it lets me know I’m on the right track.”
I don’t have the time (or the friends) to bother with such a table reading, and I don’t want to pester my wife any more than I already do, so an (admittedly expensive) solution I’ve found is to put on my headphones and fire up my podcasting microphone and pretend I’m recording the audiobook. I don’t know why exactly this works, but it does. (I think it’s being able to hear my voice through the headphones.)
I mistakenly triggered one of the accessibility settings on our family TV that I can’t figure out how to turn off, so when we’re watching PBS with the kids now, in addition to the dialogue, a calm voice explains everything happening onscreen. I borrowed that for proofing the illustrations: when I get to the visual sections of the book, I’ll narrate what’s going on in the illustration, and read any text that appears. That actually helps me look at the illustration and see if there’s anything that needs fixing…
How it usually works: The minute I finish a book, I find something that would’ve been perfect for it.
Yesterday I got a big overnighted envelope in the mail with the printout of the first pass of the next book. I dare say, it’s pretty damned good! Here are some teaser pics of some spreads:
I walked into the kitchen to tell the 5-year-old that it was tubtime, and this scene unfolded:
Unfortunately, we have to wait eight months for it to come out in April of next year, which is actually super quick in publishing time, but glacial on one’s nerves. Soon the book will enter what Jonathan Lethem calls “The Gulp”: “that interlude where the book has quit belonging to you, but doesn’t belong to anyone else yet.”