This past weekend I went to Springfield, Missouri. It’s on the opposite corner of the state from my home in St. Louis, but Missouri is one of those medium size states in the middle of the country. It takes me about five hours to make the trip, but I like to stop and stretch my legs and get a bite to eat along the way.
I have an uncomfortably complex relationship with the town. I grew up there and left at a critical age–I was in the middle of high school and finished out (well, failed to finish, actually) at a completely different school in a very different place. For a long time I had transferred my feelings of pain and betrayal at being uprooted to the town itself, which was both unfair and understandable of me.
So I used to hate Springfield, MO. But then a very strange thing happened. My two eldest children, for different reasons, ended up settling there. And so I began to visit them, which has involved me revisiting my own past.
This has had some profound effects on my writing. I write in what is probably the exact wrong way. I tend to throw a bunch of words at the paper, taking ideas and images from whatever happens to strike my fancy, and then go back and try to figure out just what the Hell I’m talking about.
With The Book Of Lost Doors (and the more distance I have from that project the more I realize that it’s really one big novel told in four parts–which helps to explain why the ending of the first one, Catskinner’s Book, is so gawdawful) I didn’t really understand what I was saying until I was nearly finished with Gingerbread Wolves.
It was on a trip to Springfield that I put the whole thing together, driving slowly around my old neighborhood. That neighborhood is called “Village Green” and those of you who have read Gingerbread Wolves will recognize the name. The middle third or so of that book–from James’ first entry into Village Green to the final battle with Nyarlenthotep–was conceived and written in my head while cruising the streets I grew up on.
When I got back to St. Louis I just had to write it down.
On this last trip I had a similar revelation about Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts. I am still not quite sure what the book is about, but I suddenly understood who Sam Jackknife really is. In The Book Of Lost Doors the identity of Catskinner was one of the few things I was certain about when I started the project–from a personal standpoint, Catskinner was based on a part of myself that I called The Hanged Man, who was what psychologists who specialize in dissociation call a “protector altar”.
When I started Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts I just wanted a narrator who was different from James. I was looking to try out a different voice. I took the name “Sam” from Roger Zelazny’s Lord Of Light (and made it short for Samhain rather than Samuel to keep from echoing Samuel the Pale Surgeon) and “Jackknife” from the Alice Cooper song “Jackknife Johnny” on the album From The Inside.
The Jackknife part was a deliberate mismatch–Sam is the antithesis of the deeply wounded veteran of the Cooper song. Sometimes I do that–pick a name with associations that are completely wrong for the character. I’m not sure why, but it seems to work. Blame Michael Moorcock, who chose “Mr. Smiles” as the name of a depressed loser in The Final Programme.
In any event, it suddenly occurred to me that Samhain Jackknife, who is a wealthy idler, musician and dancer, clothes horse and style mavin, pretty rather than handsome and arch rather than clever, was based on another part of myself–my anima, the feminine part of myself who I had objectified as Valentine.
It’s the kind of understanding that changes everything that I thought I knew about the book, and is going to involve rereading everything I have so far written with a new eye. But then, I keep rewriting the damned thing as my cosmology evolves, so another time won’t hurt.