Here I am again enjoying  my five-month writer’s colony, tenants covering the mortgage and the cat back home, 5000 miles away from all the other mundane cares.  One of the great paradoxes of our troubled times is that it’s cheaper for me to live in London than in the San Francisco Bay Area. This stripped-down life allows me to focus hard on my writing and enjoy the pleasures of a great city in my time off. My mental engine is madly racing. It’s exciting and exhausting at the same time. 

Besides my Goddard duties (being thankful yet again for our wonderful program that gives me the freedom to be anywhere in the world I want), here are the (far too many) projects I have on my plate:

(1) My challenging but irresistible ten-year scholarly project on allegory, inching along at its own rate.

(2) Its competitor, a small book about compulsively reading thrillers (the only thing that calms me down): notes and a few problematic chapters produced here and there as I keep reading the damn things.

(3) A collection of my selected literary essays that is only missing one essay on prodigies, which I’m now writing.

(4) A review of Lee Child’s latest thriller Past Tense for the Times Literary Supplement, a piece that can arguably be fitted somehow into the thriller book down the line.

(5) A review, impulsively undertaken, on the reissue of the great writer Vladimir Sorokin’s Day of the Oprichnik, a speculative novel that imagines Russia in the year 2028, ruled by a czar who’s a cross between Vladimir Putin and Ivan the Terrible. It’s even more relevant today than it was in 2006 when it was first published. (Note: I only write reviews of writers whose works I’m already familiar with because I don’t have to time to sit down and catch up with all the works of writers whom I haven’t read before.)

(6) The movie Rogue Male: still proceeding with the unbridled forward motion of an Antarctic glacier.

(7) A vignette or two for the memoir of my childhood on a schooner in Florida. Memory keeps regurgitating these bits and it only takes a minute to write them down. Hurricane Michael takes me back to age 5, moving off the boat into a Florida Panhandle hotel as a hurricane loomed.

That’s the list. Here are a few consecutive days of my writer’s stream of consciousness around these projects. You will note they date mostly from September. That’s because I’m one of those writers who doesn’t find deadlines motivating. On the contrary, they scare me to death. To avoid dreaded last-minute paralysis, I need to have everything done well in advance of the schedule.

September 27: Turns out the due date for my Lee Child review for the TLS is the same as for this blog and is coming right up. Better get cracking, especially since I’ve now committed to the Sorokin review and it’s also due around the same time. Since the Child proofs have not yet shown up, I surprise myself by drafting the introductory background  for Sorokin in one afternoon, though I’m also lacking this novel to reread. Need to haul myself over to Daunt’s Bookstore to pick up the 2011 edition, since the feckless Penguin publicity assistant has not sent me the pdf file. It’s not clear if Penguin is only reissuing the novel in the UK or not. If it’s only in the UK, then I will have to find a venue here rather than in the US, where the Wall Street Journal is interested.

September 28: Waiting for two more student packets to trickle in over the 8-hour time difference, I proof the essay collection manuscript (which now has the title The Secret Sharers) and pick away at the draft of the prodigy essay. I am a slow writer; it takes many, many drafts before anything I write is truly complete. I’d like to get this collection off in the next few weeks and am thinking of noting on the manuscript that the prodigy essay is still “in process.”

In the afternoon, prepping for my Sorokin review, I read Gary Lachman’s excellent Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump, which provides fascinating background on the esoteric philosophies swirling around Putin’s camp as well as Trump’s. I met Gary in the writer’s group here that meets monthly in an old pub called the Yorkshire Grey. As it happens, Gary listed The Secret Life of Puppets and On Writer’s Block as primary influences on him when he segued from his rock music life as Blondie’s drummer to a serious writing career. He’s the first person I’ve met who’s read both those books, having written in so many genres that I’ve gotten used to having a very compartmentalized fan base. 

Gary is also one of those rare specimens who derives his sole income from his writings. If you are not Stephen King, this means you have to work very, very hard all the time and live very, very frugally. I live very frugally already, but even in my current manic phase I would not be able to produce, day in and day out, such a concentrated, continuous stream of writing. Gary has written 18 books and is well into the 19th. He lives at the British Library.

September 29: Packets.

September 30: Packets.

October 1: Packets.

As with all my writing, I cannot send off a first draft packet response. The work needs to percolate in my mind. Sometimes I change my mind about one element or another, and I always think of new, important things to say. Process, process. Note to my students: A few more drafts wouldn’t hurt you, either! : )

October 2: I spend the day rereading Sorokin’s novel, taking notes, finishing the relevant parts of Gary’s book. I am hastening to get through the rough draft of this review before the page proofs for the Child book arrive. Contrary to any impression this diary may give, I am no good at multitasking. I need to have one project down on the page (in preparation for the many revisions that follow) before proceeding to the next.

Later: Pub evening with the writers! Some bring their partners, but I’m the only female writer, the only Yank too. God, London pubs are noisy. You reach a certain point in your life where it gets really tough to hear conversation in these venues. I only pick up those persons to my immediate right and left.

Gary and I trade notes. He hasn’t read Sorokin’s Day of the Oprichnik and I will pass on my copy to him when I’m finished. I’m still absorbing Dark Star Rising. Would you believe that a Russian interviewer seriously asked Vladimir Putin if he felt there was a chance that Cthulhu, the many-tentacled monster dreamed up by the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, might rise from his lair deep in the Pacific Ocean and threaten the homeland? Putin answered, also seriously, that it was best to exercise caution and read the Bible for guidance.

You can’t make this stuff up. Read Gary’s book for a mindblowing peek at the surreal parallels between U.S. and Russian politics today.

Everyone leaves the pub early because we all have to get up the next morning and write. Walk home through the empty streets to my flat in St. George’s Fields. And so—as my distinguished  predecessor Samuel Pepys liked to wind up his London diary entries almost 400 years ago—to bed.

P.S. October 11: Reviews and blog finished, essay collection off. Whew. On to the next!

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Victoria Nelson

Victoria Nelson is a fiction writer and essayist, author of two books of stories, a memoir, and the award-winning critical books The Secret Life of Puppets and Gothicka. She is also cotranslator of Letters, Drawings and Essays of Bruno Schulz. Her screenplay adaptation of a classic English thriller will be produced as a feature film in the UK. You can see more of her work here: “Stephenie Meyer and the 21st century Vampire Romance” (YouTube at the Claremont Graduate School for Writers in Action); A BESTIARY OF MY HEART (podcast from City Lights Bookstore); “Haunted Reflections: Walter Benjamin in San Francisco” (podcast).
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