The Evidence Blog

Comments and observations, puzzles and conundrums, about the process of writing a novel and creating an animated movie: contrasting an ancient, analog procedure (writing with a pen in a paper notebook) with a modern digital process (creating animated and live images on a computer notebook)...both done at the same time, the same story, same creatures, same author--but with differences that confront and confuse, growl and grimace, enlighten and obfuscate....


Tuesday, July 20, 2010


What a feast that must have been! Imagine the Goliath of American Retailing gobbling up these pages, and then—what? Spitting them out? Suffering indigestion? What an indignity!

We had gone to the Goliath to pick up a few things for the week ahead. As usual, I let my wife and her daughter do this work while I went to the built-in McDonald’s to sit in a plastic chair with a cup of coffee and my manuscript and big black notebook. This is a strange thing for me to do: I despise the arrogantly commercial atmosphere of both Wal-Mart and McDonald’s. Years ago I would occasionally force myself to go to our local Wal-Mart to just sit and watch the people: a fascinating, and horrifying, experience. But this was America. Wal-Mart was the American Dream, personified. I had to see it, look at it, study it, in the same way one studies the artifacts in a museum. My wife points out that our weekly journey there is a practical matter: the huge Wal-Mart has everything from shoe laces to cinnamon rolls. One stop takes care of our major needs for the week. And this is true, of course. As a practical matter it makes sense to go to Wal-Mart. But I am not a practical man, so I sneak off to the McDonald’s, get a cup of their coffee—it’s only 75 cents with the senior discount—and sort of crouch down in a plastic chair, spread out my notebook, and do some work. The perversity of this arrangement actually intrigues me. My novels are truly un-American. They are built on an entirely different value system. They will never be sold in a Wal-Mart. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the people who shop at Wal-Mart would hate my novels. My way of life grinds against the Wal-Mart interface. In Wal-Mart/McDonald’s I hunker down, duck my head, sneak over to a table at a far corner, and using whatever poetics I can summon, make a subtle foray against the Wal-Mart way of life.

Last Saturday I joined my wife at the checkout counter. Her cart was filled with colorful, cheerful things. Each thing passed through the scanner with a little beep. She paid with a rectangle of plastic. We went outside, pushing the cart, to our car, a nice black ’97 Honda Accord with a V-tec engine. All the bright, cheerful things were put in the trunk. I drove us home, feeling rather cheerful myself—I had written a piece of dialog for the Evidence movie. When we unloaded the car, however, I couldn’t find my notebook. It wasn’t there, in the trunk, with our groceries. In horror I realized I had left it in the shopping cart, in the parking lot of Wal-Mart. I jumped into the Honda, fired up the V-tec engine, and raced back. The notebook wasn’t there. The carts scattered around the area were empty. I went inside to Customer Service, waiting anxiously in line as people returned packages they no longer wanted or which they had found, in some way, lacking. The packages were all cheerful looking, the people all drab and angry. No one had returned my notebook. I went home drab, angry, depressed, alarmed.

I am accustomed to look at events as though they were dreams. If this were a dream, I asked myself, what would it mean? I had lost my novel at Wal-Mart. My dreams had been devoured by the monster. I staggered into my house like a beaten soldier. (More later)

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I once lived in a tin shack in Kudat, a town on the northern tip of Borneo. In those days this part of Borneo was still a British colony: British North Borneo. I had been smuggled into the country by Moro pirates from the island of Sibutu in the southern Philippines. I found a job as operations manager for Borneo Mineral Developments, a grandiose name for a few stone crushers in the jungle, making gravel. Aside from my paltry salary, I was given an Austin motorcar for my own use, and—to park my body—a tin shack. This was place—which of course a novelist always needs. A place performs two vital functions: as a kind of anchor, where your story is fastened; and as a kind of inspiration. Things can arise there, in that tin shack and its environs, that cant naturally arise elsewhere. I visualize the shack, and immediately events begin to occur: not just memories, but things entirely new: the face of a Bajao woman, for instance, with her betel-red mouth. She slides beneath a white shroud of mosquito netting. This occurs effortlessly. This vision leads me to something more. I dangle myself over the scene and watch it unfold. With just minor shaping it becomes a part of the novel…

I could, of course, place this woman—in the book I call her “Nemesis”—anywhere I wish. I could place her in an American suburb, or a Mexican desert. I have a few times crossed the northern Mexican deserts on a motorcycle. I slept in a cave one night, another time in a dry stream bed, watching the moon float overhead. I can imagine myself there once more and something will, again effortlessly, arise, perhaps an old farmer with his gnarled hands. I could transport him to Borneo too, if I wished. But the point is—each place is redolent with different images. A good place is rich with imagery. Mexico was always wonderful in this way. It is a country filled with contradictory images. I found my novels there, littering the streets. But Borneo was rich too. I never wrote much about it—bits have appeared in some of my novels and a few stories, but only bits. In this new novel, however, in Evidence of a Lost City, my tin shack in Borneo seems to have acquired some importance. It has inspired a whole chapter. I am intrigued by this, because the inspiration of “art” has always seemed mysterious to me. Mostly I have been inspired by women. Something about a woman will set off a strange conflagration of imagery. A story grows out of a woman’s smile—or sneer. But here, my tin shack seems to be the source. For me there is a real richness to this shack, and the jungle around it. The shack of course—for this novel—has two appearances: the diurnal shack and the nocturnal one. The nocturnal version sprawls deeply into the jungle: this single-room shack

“...became a kind of ramshackle palace, with rooms stacked upon rooms, corridors meandering off into the forest, dipping into streams, doors that opened onto other passages or onto balconies which overlooked more rooms, all of them of rusted corrugated metal, against which loitered creatures, some humanoid, female, others animal, fierce dogs, slinking panthers, crocodiles glimpsed through screened windows—a labrynthine edifice in which he was alternately lost or imprisoned, seeking tickets, passports, guides, sometimes attacked, assaulted, etc., etc., his dreams as endless as the endless buildings….”

The woman Nemesis is here too; it is an appropriate place for her. I am very curious to see what she will do.