Olio items: tape recorder, family photos, a facsimile cocktail napkin from the early  60s, and postcards from the Lars Johnson Archives.


The character of Lou Keats started with a short story. There was a very particular memory that triggered a vignette about the realities of a small rural Alaskan town juxtaposed against the perceptions of two city dwellers coming off a bender.

During the writing of that short story, Truman and Lou, I found myself laughing aloud. As soon as Lou trotted out of the forest onto the dusty dirt road grandly called Main Street it was love at first sight. Other work kept me from delving deeper into that story, but I continued collecting artifacts and jotting down ideas. I usually have four or five such notebooks – olio binders with deep pockets and notebook paper. The kinds of information that gets added to such collections include: newspaper articles, weather data, historical time-lines, specific research notes and interviews, images from magazines, movie posters, album covers and old photographs.

In a way these notebooks allow me to keep track of ideas that can only be glimpsed from the side as I work on a current story. It’s as if I’m mailing postcards to my future self.


Now that WHERE THE RIVER IS A ROAD (a working title borrowed from yet another short story) exists in time and space as a 238-page object, so much remains to be done.

Stories are not immutable; they shift and change – chimeras of the tongue.

Every telling and re-telling of a tale alters the lore: deepens it, expands upon it, discovers something unexpected within it.

It is that unexpected within that rouses me at four in the morning, demanding a strong pot of coffee and a lot of pacing. I find, as I pace, that some of the people who I think I’ve gotten to know fairly well are not at all who I thought they were: a truth that finds traction in fiction and fact.

At the center of these shifting perspectives is Lou, whose narration reflects that unsettling realization that clarifies as we grow up: our heroes and villains are not who they seem to be. You might be living in a remote cozy town. You might be living in The Village of the Damned. Perhaps both simultaneously.

To address the paradox of characters who say one thing and mean something entirely different, I find conversation to be the most useful tool. Some of these conversations are written, many are relegated to the olio bin. They are useful in that unknown facts and attitudes are revealed. Regardless of what my acerbic fifth grade teacher said about talking to oneself – such conversing is critical.

So in addition to the olio notebooks I’ve also mentioned in a previous post I use a small hand-held, old-school tape recorder to accompany restless crack of dawn pacing. Since the recorder is often at hand, sometimes tucked in a shirt pocket, the tapes have captured strings of explicative non-deleteds as well as long winded lists of errands that must be run. But embedded in the recordings are some very interesting moments when a character inserts some here-to-fore unknown piece of information or a chillingly non-characteristic attitude.

I find myself wondering: what is it that makes the rug being pulled out from under our feet so satisfying?

An early morning photo of a fleeting impression

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