Gabriel Blackwell’s been busy. In the past two years he’s released three books, two from Civil Coping Mechanisms, and one from Noemi Press: a book of essays and stories called Critique of Pure Reason, a biography of Lewis Miles Archer called Shadow Man, and a new novel called The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting-Improvised-Men which, in its own weird way, weaves personal experience together with H.P. Lovecraft’s last letter. Recently, Gabriel was named co-Editor-in-Chief at the Collagist, where he’d been Reviews Editor for three years. He teaches at Willamette University. And he’s really nice and patient. So nice and patient he spent the better part of a year blowing open my three dimension concept of reality.
The first thing you notice reading Shadow Man is its being a kind or noir, a detective story. Before you know anything about any of the characters or the plot, you know the genre of the world containing them. At the same time, the book is more in the style of noir, than an actual noir per se. What about the genre attracted you?
Well, of course, Shadow Man's genre is Biography—the full title being: Shadow Man: A Biography of Lewis Miles Archer. So not exactly a noir; "in the style of," though, sure. I like noirs, at least those that I've read—I won't claim to know so many or to be any kind of expert, but I would call myself a fan. With Shadow Man, I appropriated a method for creating language, some actual bits of language, and lots of plots from the noirs I chose.
My thinking in choosing those noirs was: I want to write a novel. How does one write a novel, never having written one before? I had no idea. At the time I started writing it, I was finishing up my MFA thesis, and, for whatever reason, I was rereading Raymond Chandler. The Big Sleep was Chandler's first novel, and it was heavily influenced by The Maltese Falcon; Chandler chopped up some plots he had used before, plots that he had lifted from Hammett and others, and put them together to make a narrative of a certain length, a novel. He called it “cannibalizing.” That was how he taught himself to write his first novel; why couldn’t I repeat his process with Chandler himself? The Maltese Falcon wasn't Hammett's first book (it was his third), but the two that preceded it, while excellent, aren't what we think of when we think of Hammett (or even noir, really), so it was a first in a sense. And Ross Macdonald's first novel, The Moving Target, was very heavily influenced by The Big Sleep, all the way down to its cast of characters (though its main character—at least his name, Lew Archer—would come from Chandler's original source, Hammett). My first novel, then, would be heavily influenced by two first novels heavily influenced by a novel that was a first, as well as the novel that was a first. It's an imperfect design, I know—it would be less messy if The Maltese Falcon was simply Hammett's first novel—but nobody really likes things that are perfect. We’re always drawn first and most strongly to the flaw in the design.
All of that said, the tropes of the noir genre also fit the story I eventually found I was trying to tell. Noirs are not about redemption, and their mysteries either don't have solutions or else the solutions don't resolve much. Understanding what has happened doesn’t always make it more palatable; sometimes, it only makes things more mysterious. When, in The Maltese Falcon, we find out why Spade's partner was murdered, it does nothing to change the fact that he has been murdered. Because the falcon turns out to be fake, if anything, the "solution" to the mystery just makes his murder that much more senseless.
Another mystery, at least for me, is whether or not Lew Archer, the subject of this biography, is a real person—in the sense people mean when they make a distinction between real people and fictional characters. Richard Nixon, however fictional, was real; Oliver Twist, the opposite. Archer mixes with real people, giving this bio the feel of an honest, historical account—Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, for example—but I read the book as fiction anyway. Is this a novel in the style of a biography soaked in the noir-isms of its subject’s life? Does the fact of Archer’s having lived or not concern you at all? Is the question an important one?
I researched the Lewis Miles Archer in Shadow Man the same way I did the Raymond Chandler in Shadow Man. I read books about him and tried to fit together what I learned into a whole truth. Anyone can read those books. Anyone can repeat my research.
As far as “real” goes—the difference between, say, George Washington and Oliver Twist is that texts attesting to Washington’s personhood are widely dispersed, whereas Oliver Twist, the script to Oliver!, and perhaps a few other works I’m not yet familiar with are all we have to attest to poor Oliver Twist’s (critical texts don’t count, obviously, because they (typically) posit that he isn’t “real”). In Washington’s case, in addition to all the text in history books, we have, for instance, the text next to a set of dentures in the National Museum of Dentistry, or the texts that litter Mount Vernon. And yet, none of it is George Washington. None of it is any more empirically verifiable than a novel. Any day now, some expert could say, “These aren’t George Washington’s teeth! Look at the markings at the base—these are George Clifford’s teeth.” We would probably believe him or her, he or she would go on the Today show and then sink back into obscurity. Someone could invent a test that would show the bite patterns impressed into those teeth or the seeds found stuck therein indicate a diet reliant on fruits and nuts George Washington was (according to other texts) allergic to; I, at least, would be likely to take their word for it. I know very little about bite patterns. I know nothing about George Washington’s allergies. Or experts could decide that George Washington wasn’t George Washington, like some people have with Shakespeare. No one can know everything with absolute certainty—we have to take certain things (actually, quite a lot of things, the overwhelming balance of things) on faith.
The earliest novels were often subtitled “A History” partly because people then (as now) couldn’t be bothered to read something that wasn’t “real.” But, in matters of reading, “real” is always a question of faith; every book is hearsay at best. And questioning it seems beside the point—once a book has been purchased and read, its enjoyment and “use” has ceased to be a matter of the ontology of its characters anyway. Oprah can question the veracity of James Frey’s narrative, but she can’t question her reactions to that narrative, and she shouldn’t hope to fully verify every story she reads in the future. That would be madness. The book is real. Its reader is real. Is anything else really absolutely certain? Does it need to be?
This question of reality brings up a part B to the question:
Shadow Man isn’t the only place you mobilize “real” people in “fictional” settings. Leonardo DaVinci and William S. Burroughs are two characters in two of the stories in The Critique of Pure Reason. The Burroughs story retells one of the more infamous—and retold—moments of his biography, the William Tell routine where he kills his wife. The title of the collection, too, is an obvious appropriation from Kant. Is there something useful in re-using “real” people as characters, or re-deploying genres and titles that have so obviously been used? What attracts you to this sort of re-telling?
Critique of Pure Reason is a collection of essays and fictions. I don’t know if it’s proper to speak of re-tellings or appropriations in the context of an essay—an essay is usually said to simply be about those things which appear in it. But do I believe that appropriations can be useful to fiction? Yes, I hope so. I hope that people read “The Whisper of the Knife-Sharpener” (the piece you mention) and want to read Junkie and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I hope that people read Shadow Man and want to read The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, The Moving Target. I don’t want to write books to push other books off the shelves. I want to write books that create new shelves and fill those shelves with other books.
I’m finding it hard to let go of this question of reality. You say there are “essays and fictions” in Critique of Pure Reason, but I don’t always know where one ends and another begins. For example, “Untitled (Sid Vicious, New York City, 1978)” is told in essay form. It is essentially a comparison between a “famous” photograph of Sid Vicious idling in a car outside of the Chelsea Hotel—though I can’t be sure whether I’ve actually seen the photo, whether the description is of a “real” image, one with a physical origin, or not—to famous paintings by Goya, Michelangelo, Rubens, Heironymous Bosch, and others. Through each of the comparisons, Sid’s image multiplies and an emphasis on the object of his gaze becomes primary. What is it he sees just beyond the edge of the photo?
Your narrator says,
“In our three-dimensional world, where we can open the shutters to reveal the triptych or push aside the painting that sits in front of the window, we pick the photograph up and turn it over, looking for the object denied us and expecting against all odds a solution, but find instead only the white expanse of the contact paper.”
There seems to be a comparison here to what you’re doing with the story, drawing our attention to the narrator’s gazing at something we can’t see. The interesting thing in all this, more than a question of appropriation and essays, is the subtle way the real and the fictitious are combined. It’s never Abe Lincoln killing vampires, always close enough that you aren’t sure. One questions whether Lew Archer was a real person. One wonders whether such a photo of Sid Vicious really existed. There is a blurring that occurs. Rather than a single confusion—“gee, I really wonder whether this is true”—you instead get the feeling of two affirmatives: yes this is real; this is certainly fake, made-up, a fiction. Maybe this is the question I’m trying to ask: What is the difference between the essays and the fictions?
I could have divided Critique of Pure Reason’s table of contents into “fictions” and “essays,” grouping a certain number of entries below each, but to have done so would have been arbitrary; I guess my answer is, for want of a better term, everything in the book is both “fiction” and “essay.”
If someone writes an essay about Oliver Twist that is completely faithful to Charles Dickens’s creation, it would be strange to then call that essay a fiction. I mean that, even though it is easy to think that we assign genre based upon facticity—if the narrative is fact-based, it is an essay; if the narrative isn’t fact-based, it is a story—we don’t, not really, or not always, or not usefully. If we accept that an essay is, at its root, a narrative that doesn’t know where it is headed (an essay = a try, an attempt), then, to say that it is fundamentally different from a story at least implies that a story knows exactly where it is headed (& think about all of the times you’ve heard a writer say, “I let the story tell me where it wants to go” or something similar—how could a story tell one where it wants to go if it didn’t already know?). Our lives are messy, our stories are tidy. Much of the fiction I read feels too tidy, even formulaic to me, thus the various formulae in Critique of Pure Reason. (Though, before I get into trouble, I ought to point out that I don’t necessarily see “formulaic” as an insult, it’s just not an aspect of the genre I can wholeheartedly embrace. I like messiness. Anyway, messiness is all I seem capable of generating.)
I like that you find it difficult to let go of the question of a reality, Tom. I don’t mean that in an antagonistic way—I think it’s wonderful that you’re left wondering. In Renaissance Europe, rich people had their wunderkammern, collections of curiosities assembled without any apparent rhyme or reason: a portrait of an ancestor next to a whale tooth next to a gallstone next to a stuffed parrot. The only thing that bound the objects in these cabinets together was that, thus assembled, they produced a sense of wonder in the beholder. And that was precisely their object, wonder being, to the Renaissance mind, the most important step towards real knowledge. Lawrence Weschler defined this sense of wonder as a “suspension of the mind between ignorance and enlightenment that marks the end of unknowing and the beginning of knowing.” That seems right to me. My wonder is, if we’re not left wondering, are we left with anything at all that will stay with us? I forget stories all the time, sadly. I hope mine won’t be forgotten quite so easily.
Certainly the wonder serves your works, regardless of their genre. In fact, this complication of genre—how you use elements of one genre to develop another, etc—is one of the most rewarding things about these books. The combination of the real and the fictitious presents one of these dissonances. The way you combine tropes from different genres, likewise. In some other stories (“Solve for x, where x is an integer such that x>0”, “The Behavior of Pidgeons” among others) you use mathematical form: word problems, but with narrative complications. In “Solve for x”, there seems to be a story (plot points anyway: some cat-based accident in an automobile, a visit to see family in Tennessee, Lupus), but the details are arbitrary compared to the philosophizing about them:
This precondition presents the problem that both x and y may then be imaginary numbers, that the result of all of this figuration is itself immaterial, unquantifiable, superfluous, perhaps without meaning... Where is the equation from which all else can be determined? What is the meaning of the equation? Show your work.
I wonder, are you saying something about "meaning in art?" Is there something you can determine or know from fictions and/or essays?
“Solve for x” started as a caprice, a formula by which one might derive Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” (thus the title, x being “hard to find,” at least by reputation), a story I encountered often enough that it began to seem as though some writers were already taking it as a kind of formula; “Here is how one produces a certain kind of ‘literature’” not so different from “Here is how one solves for a variable.” Both processes sidestep the issue of “meaning,” but, as you’ve noted, meaning is one of my preoccupations. It was one of O’Connor’s, too, though my “meaning” is very different from hers.
Care to say the difference?
Ms. O’Connor was a Catholic. I am not.
But, to better address your question, “Can you determine anything from fictions and essays?”—with Critique of Pure Reason, I wanted to examine the relationship between what we know we know and what we only think we know. To me, at least, the question of that relationship arises naturally from considering meaning in art, which may in part be why so many of the fictions and essays in Critique have creators of art as their subjects.
It’s definitely a common theme in your work. It shows up again in the new one, Natural Dissolution of Fleeting Improvised Men. Here you have two creators. H.P. Lovecraft, whose last letter comprises the bulk of the middle section, and then you. You show up a lot in your books a lot.
Which recalls everything we just said about reality. Again, I want to call this a novel—and I don’t think I’m wrong to do so--but, at the same time I have to reprimand myself. The fictional becomes so interlaced with the real facts—which you present as facts, for their real-life factiness. I found myself wanting to ask questions you’d be scolded for asking in an English Literature class. Things like, “well did he—Gabriel Blackwell, the author—really go to Providence? Did Jessica really leave him? Where did she go?” I think there are a lot of these questions you more or less deliberately leave open, ones that don’t really matter for the story, except that they do, and they necessarily have to, because you wouldn’t have named your narrator after yourself otherwise. Why do you do it? Are you making up metaphors about yourself? Why do you use your own name?
I think it has to do with what I think writing is, and what it can be, and what it ought to be.
Reading fiction, especially what is called capital-R Realist fiction, is difficult for me. Like recently I read John Williams’s Stoner. It’s sort of the campus novel par excellence, a beautifully-written novel about a professor and his life and career as a professor. At the very beginning of that book there is an introductory note saying something like, “although there may be certain parallels with my life as a professor at the University of Missouri, my colleagues will know enough to know that most of this is fiction, most of it is made up.” And that’s probably true as far as that goes: It won’t be consonant with all the facts of John Williams’s life, but then again, that’s not really why John Williams would bother to write Stoner. He writes it because it has some personal meaning for him—that’s the consonance, and no note can absolve him or it from that. Those consonances are the reason that piece of writing exists. Because Stoner means something to John Williams. And that’s how I read every piece of writing. If it’s not blatantly autobiographical or somehow having to do with the author’s life, well, it really is, in some way, autobiographical, because otherwise it wouldn’t exist, otherwise there’s no impetus to write it. That person would have just lived their life, and wouldn’t have tried to create another one, or tried to create something on top of it, or whatever the case may be. There would be no need.
I can’t take people seriously who insist on characters as a special category of existence, like a character has its own, autonomous existence. It’s a silly thing to say. I think writers who insist on that kind of mimesis or that kind of I am building this thing that looks a lot like my world but isn’t, something that has its own special place in what we think of as life, equal to but separate from me, the author—I have a lot of trouble reading that without a very large grain of salt. What was written must have something to do with its author.
I played with this a lot in Critique of Pure Reason, which I began while I was doing my MFA. I was, then, looking at other writers, the circumstances of their lives and what they created, and seeing how they intersected, and those intersections were very interesting to me. When I wrote Shadow Man, I thought, “I have to include my own intersections.” It seemed like I would be acting in bad faith if I didn’t. I would have been writing something I myself wouldn’t have been able to believe in. I would read it thinking, “Come on. Gabriel Blackwell surely felt something about these cracks in the edifice of the Big Sleep, or Raymond Chandler’s life with Sissy.” I obviously had some connection to them, to this story, so it was just a matter of figuring out what that connection was—which ended up being the afterword to that book.
It was the same thing with The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting-Improvised-Men. I’m really interested in Lovecraft as a person. He’s not a very nice person, really, but I was interested in him, and I wanted to know why that was: What was interesting about Lovecraft to me, Gabriel Blackwell, in 2011, 2012. Why was I so interested in writing about him, reading his works, reading biographies about him, reading his letters? It seemed to me that that had to be in the book that I was writing. It had to be part of that book. And I liked the interplay: I like the kind of questions you were asking yourself above, the ones you say you would be scolded for in an English class. I think that, despite their seeming mundanity, those questions can produce an interesting effect on the reader, a way of reading a text that I like. It’s what I do when I read. When I read The Big Sleep, I’m wondering what happened to the chauffeur that died at the beginning? Who killed him? Why? It’s never explained. I’m interested in that, I want to know. You’re not supposed to ask those questions, because the book isn’t really “about” that, but I like those questions. I like the speculation and the effect of speculation.
There’s an insistence on the authorship of all of your work. Half of Fleeting Improvised Men, all of it even, questions its own authorship. The book is, or so we’re told, the last letter of H.P. Lovecraft, written to one Gabriel Blackwell, in the 1930s. This Gabriel Blackwell isn’t you, and it isn’t even the narrator of your story (who is also Gabriel Blackwell), just a common name the three of you share. Reading Lovecraft’s letter, I assume you, not Lovecraft or these other Gabriel Blackwells, wrote it, but there are enough of the real facts of your life in the footnotes of the story, that I wonder if you didn’t happen to also find in the sub-basement of a Providence hospital, where one of this story’s plots takes place.
Gabriel Blackwell who wrote the book is different from the Gabriel Blackwells in the book, right? The Gabriel Blackwell in Fleeting Improvised Men, or “Night at the Opera”, that’s not you, right?
Well, it is.
But the facts differ.
Well, yeah, the facts differ.
So that gets me into this question of what is a person, and that’s what I enjoy so much in your work. If you were to ask someone “who are you” in a really searching way, because you were legitimately confused, it would be totally corny. You wouldn’t ask that after 12 years old, but here you’re forced to, and that’s part of the joy. There’s a difference between you here in front of me, and the you in the book. I’m assuming, between your MFA and now you didn’t get a job in a basement shredding documents, you didn’t get evicted from any flophouses for your failure to bathe. Your name exists in the story almost as a tag. This is you, some of the facts are shared, but some are different. That difference doesn’t make a separate character?
I don’t think so. I think of something like John D’Agata’s About A Mountain. That book is (or has since come to be) very much about facticity or the line between what is true in a factual way and what is true to the experience, and which is more important to the reader. That book is a fiction, in the sense that it isn’t entirely fact-based, but it’s also, more importantly for the reader, a book of essays, and is presented as true. (I tend to gravitate towards essayists or essayistic writers as a reader. I think of what I’ve written as essays or essayistic in the same sense.) So the John D’Agata in the book could be considered a separate character, using your formula: he is not the “real” John D’Agata, not even to the extent of “really” representing what that D’Agata went through. But that seems very suspect, doesn’t it? For all of the factual problems brought up in Lifespan of a Fact, the companion volume to About a Mountain, still, we want to say that the John D’Agata telling us the story of the John D’Agata in About a Mountain is, in some way, John D’Agata. Not a John D’Agata, but the John D’Agata.
When you’re writing an essay, you’re not going to feel sheepish about saying “Here’s what I did.” I, I, I. Me, me, me. I hope I’m in my books for the same reasons. I‘m not creating a character named “Gabriel Blackwell,” or I don’t think that that’s what I’m doing. Instead, what I’m doing is saying, “Here I am. This is where I come in.” And the books, I hope, are fulfilling the same goal as an essay would—not the creation of a world, not an escapist fantasy, but simply what it means to be, and what my subject, Lovecraft or Hammett or whomever, has to do with that being.
Is it that there’s something different between the first person in fiction and the first person in an essay?
I think the difference is that the first person in fiction is another character. Narrating in first person is the process of creating a character. To write well in first person, or to write convincingly in first person, is to write the story as someone, to fully inhabit that character. That’s not something that I can ever truly believe in, especially in my own work. I don’t feel confident in the characters I create as characters, so I’d rather just borrow someone else’s, characters I can believe in. Appropriations have almost a tactile quality to them: they simply are, and if you don’t believe me, read what Raymond Chandler had to say about them, or what Flannery O’Connor or whoever said about them. I don’t need to spend all that time building them up and making them into something I can believe in, and anyway, I would never believe in them.
It’s like Gumby. You know Gumby? The little guy with the horse?
Yes, I know who he is.
It’s strange to bring up maybe, but I’ve been looking at a lot of Raymond Pettibon drawings. Gumby comes up a lot. Elvis comes up, baseball players, etc. Charles Manson. One thing Pettibon reminded me of, was how Gumby would jump into books and have adventures with characters that weren’t part of the Gumby narrative. They weren’t Pokey, but they were from the book he jumped into. Pettibon does the same sort of thing, mashing up his characters, appropriating others’ characters. It seems to me it’s one way to interact with the fiction. You can’t sit across from H.P. Lovecraft in a coffee shop, but maybe, in some fictive space, you can read a letter he wrote you.
I think a lot of my interest in appropriation has to do with the fact that I just really like narrative. I really like story. Shadow Man was a lot of fun to write because it was just, you know, “How many stories can I jam in here, and how compact can I make them, how convoluted?” I like to retell stories, but maybe I’m not very good at it. I don’t know where the beats are supposed to go. “How many things can I get into this tiny space?” is more enjoyable to me than perfect fidelity. Or it might just be that that’s the mode that I’ve chosen, or that that’s the way it comes out. Or it might be that I’m not very concise.
I don’t feel that Fleeting Improvised Men is a jamming together of a whole bunch of other stories. Is that how it was composed?
No, it was extremely difficult to write, and it took much, much longer than Shadow Man. Originally, I’d written something that was twice as long, but I took it apart. I thought, this is too much. It’s not really doing what I want it to do. It doesn’t really represent what this book is about. I hate to say, “This is what I was going through,” but that’s essentially what it was. Having all that window dressing, all of that excess narrative, was getting in the way of what the book was really supposed to be doing, which was, I guess, a little more painful. The book needed to be more concrete. It didn’t need to have that many openings, or that many holes. So I cut most of the novel and ended up with something very short and had to build it back up again in an almost sedimentary process. It started out looking something more like Shadow Man, or the essays in Critique, but I also didn’t like feeling like I was doing something I’d already done, that I had a “thing” that I did. That said, though, there are still a number of stories in The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting-Improvised-Men. I still managed to get a few stories in there. I’d like to think that the footnotes and the endnotes and the story itself are working in a similar way to having many different plots arranged consecutively, in traditional paragraph form.
The footnotes worked for me like chapters, toggling back and forth between Gabriel Blackwell’s tale of his submersion in Providence, and Lovecraft’s letter describing his ascension from our common four dimensions. There’s a parallel between those two stories that really does give the book a feeling of being a single thing, even as it’s composed of several other pieces. As I understand it, you’ve just finished a new, new book. Or at least, a first draft of it. What’s that one going to be about? Is it too soon to say?
The next one is about Vertigo, Hitchcock’s Vertigo. And, no, it’s not too soon to say. A couple of excerpts from it have already been published. For some reason, when I started to write it, I had this idea that I had been working in popular genres and that I ought to continue with them. So, I started with the noir in Shadow Man, then I wrote horror/sci-fi (The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting-Improvised-Men), and now, I thought, I should write a suspense novel. I looked for a suitable suspense writer/novel, but I couldn’t find any that I liked. Or, I couldn’t find any that I liked as much as I liked Hitchcock and Vertigo, so, in the end, that’s what I wrote about, but it kind of screws things up.
Because of the other two books being about books.
To complete a sort of trilogy?
Yeah, but I think that’s also a little too neat, maybe. Anyway, I’ve liked working on it, and having that different experience, not having to read quite so much stuff I don’t always want to read. This book also lets me talk about some of my other obsessions. There’s a lot of doubling in the movie, a lot of artificiality, mistaking the surface for substance. So, it’s been an enjoyable two years.
Is it important that your source materials be fictions? Would it be inappropriate to use a real person as a subject?
As a subject? I don’t know. I did that in Shadow Man. There’s a lot of Hammett, and a lot of Chandler in there. And even a lot of McDonald. They all have really awful life stories. They were just miserable men, for similar reasons. I think that’s partly why the fictions they created were similar. Those noirs were the stories that they needed to tell. It’s the same for Lovecraft too, for that matter. I use a lot of what he went through in The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting-Improvised-Men. With this new book though, I didn’t do that. Mostly because it’s just so common. Just about every critique of Vertigo you’ll ever read will say how close it is to Hitchcock’s life, or how important it was to Hitchcock because of his life, his personality, that he was a manipulator, that he did the same thing to his actresses as Scottie does to Judy in the movie. It seemed too obvious to play with Hitchcock that way. That didn’t interest me.
You have a certain amount of fidelity to your source material though, you’d never re-write Hitchcock and make him a good guy, would you.
No, because that would be creating a character. That’s never been appealing to me. Someday, maybe, I’ll have a conservative phase, and I’ll write a Great American Novel that will probably never sell, and will actually be very terrible.
Then you could always write a companion book to that forgotten classic.
That was actually an idea that I had for the newest book. I thought I’d write some thrillers, some actual suspense novels. I had been having so much trouble finding books that I liked, books that I wanted to steal from, that I thought I’d make up a psuedonym and then write and self-publish three books under that pseudonym, just so that I could just steal from them. I started it, started writing those books, but then I thought, “This is so incredibly stupid. Why don’t I just find something that I like and be done with it, write one book instead of four?” So maybe I’m just lazy. The thought of it is what put me off: writing three books (think of all the characters I would have to create!) so that I could write my book. And, even worse, the horror at the thought that one of those books might sell much better than the book I was trying to write.