Daniel Quinn's Blog

September 4, 2015

My latest novel is in the hands of my agent, but before getting to work on my next, I started a large art project—large in that it has absorbed my attention for almost two months. It is two constructions put together from found materials (some of which have been sitting around awaiting use for decades).

Here is the first to be completed, titled "The Cinderella Room."



The other, which will be finished in a week or two, will be "The George S. Patton Room."

You can see details of The Cinderella Room on my Facebook page http://on.fb.me/1MXVCu4. If you click on "Photos," you'll see two copies of the room. Ignore the first (the Timeline photo) and click on the second. This will give you snapshots of the different sections of the room. Clicking on those will bring up much bigger images you can view as a slide show. (This may be more explanation than you need, but I include it for any readers who may be as uneducated as I am in the ways of FB and photo operations.)
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Published on September 04, 2015 10:29 • 444 views

July 17, 2015

A couple months ago I finished a new novel and sent it off to my agent. A couple months LATER, she got back to me with suggested revisions (which I made and sent along last week). More about this when there's actually something to report.

In the meantime I've started another novel, which, for the moment, carries the label "Corpse." A month and a half ago I began writing a blog about it, which read as follows: "For a week now I've had a clear fix on the story for a new novel, but I haven't been tapping away at my keyboard. In fact, I realized yesterday that I felt a definite aversion toward tapping away at my keyboard. I asked myself 'Why, why, why?' I finally pinned it down."

Bur in fact I HADN'T pinned it down, never finished writing the blog, and went on feeling a definite aversion to the whole thing. BUT, finally, today, I really DID pin it down.

It's automatic for me to start novels in media res—in the middle of the thing. For example, The novel Ishmael's story is not the gorilla's story, it's the narrator's, and HIS story begins with his enchantment with the children's revolt of the sixties. But the story of the NOVEL doesn't begin there. It begins in media res, with his reading of that famous want ad: "Teacher seeks pupil." If you examine my other novels, you'll see that each really begins in the middle of the thing (whatever the thing may be).

Why begin in the middle of the thing? Think about the beginning of a walk you might take. It begins when you lean forward, lift a foot, and swing it forward. That middle-of-a-step puts you in motion. Without it, you just stand there flat-footed and motionless.

I took it for granted that I was doing the usual with this new novel, "Corpse"—starting in the middle. But if this was so, why was I getting NOWHERE? Why was I even reluctant to work on it?

At last I realized that it was because I was NOT starting in media res. Absolutely NOTHING happens before the events I had begun with, so how could these events be in the MIDDLE of the story? For this reason, the character had no history, no experience, no voice, so why would I want to write about him? I finally realized that the MIDDLE of the story "corpse" is set YEARS after the events I'd been trying to write about.

So I started again, this time with a character LIVING in the middle of the thing, talking about these events from the perspective of a much older character who had a history, who had had many important experiences, who had a distinctive voice. I was now leaning forward, lifting my foot, and swinging it forward. I was no longer standing still, I was MOVING!

It was strange to discover that, after a quarter-century as a novelist, I STILL have things to learn!

But every novel is a succession of problems-to-be-solved. I've solved only the FIRST of them in this book. The novel presently dubbed "Corpse" will be someday finished ONLY if I manage to solve ALL of the problems it presents. (And it's entirely possible that one of these problems may prove to be unsolvable—as has happened more than once.)
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Published on July 17, 2015 15:51 • 502 views

May 11, 2015

This morning as usual I dropped five pills into a tray, and I saw something I'd never seen in about six years of dropping the same five pills into the same tray: three of them had landed and stayed standing on edge. I'd see one pill landing that way many times and sometimes, very rarely, two standing that way. But three—never before.



All the pills are lying and standing just the way they fell from my hand. Pills A, C, and D are standing on edge (it's hard to see this in the case of pill D, but it definitely IS standing on edge). Pills B and E are lying on their sides.

As shown by the photo and the diagram below it, A's edge side is relatively wide, about three sixteenth of an inch, so it lands on its edge fairly often, about once every seven days. The edge sides of B and E are only one sixteenth inch wide, but their bodies are very large, so they almost never stand on edge when they fall, perhaps one time in fifty days. The edge sides of C and D are just as narrow, but their bodies are relatively small, so they land on edge pretty often, about one time in thirteen.

According to these rates of fall, the mathematics predict that pillls A, C, and D will all land standing on edge at the same time once in 1183 trials (7 x 13 x 13 = 1183). The event in the picture above took place after about 1095 trials (trials made every other day for about six years), so the mathematical prediction was pretty good.

Using these same figures, I can expect to see ALL FIVE PILLS land on edge one of these days. The mathematics say it's bound to happen at least once...in about 16,430 years.

That'll be something to write home about.
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Published on May 11, 2015 15:12 • 245 views

April 13, 2015

Here is how I finished the new novel I mentioned in my last blog: I wrote the first sentence of it on 11/6/14 and the last sentence on 2/14/15, averaging 750 words a day, seven days a week. Writing the last sentence didn't mean the end of work, however. I printed out review copies for my wife, Rennie, and a handful of reader/friends. Then I let it sit unread for about two months while those early readers did their reading (and one of them actually spent six weeks reading it). Then I set about rereading, editing, and rewriting the thing. In the end it came to 67,000 words (four thousand longer than Ishmael).

One of my advance readers wrote: "Coming out of my bedroom I'm holding my breath and clutching the manuscript to my chest. Unable to utter a word, tears streaming down my face, I walk to the sofa and stand in front of my daughter. She looks up at me and says "you finished the book?, was it that touching?" I nod yes, several times, simply unable to utter a sound. I come into the kitchen, sit down and here I am typing to you. What can I say, you're gonna be the death of me!!!!! My heart can hardly take this. I read every page, I read every word, saw every punctuation mark."

What author wouldn't treasure a response like that!

Just before beginning work on this blog, sent it off to my agent. Twenty years ago a manuscript from me would have been sold immediately with a substantial advance, but the name Daniel Quinn is not now worth as much as it was then. In fact, because the books that came after Ishmael did not make nearly as much money, I became what is known in the trade as a midlist author. To put it in horse-racing terms, my track record was not very good. I'd had one great winner in my early career, but my later books were now running well back in the pack. This explains why no one wanted to publish After Dachau. That book and The Holy were published by the start-up press Context Books and later republished by Steerforth Press when Context failed.

Publishers in general (meaning ordinary rather than scholarly publishers) must make money to stay in business. Thus they definitely do not subscribe to the motto ars gratia artis ("art for art's sake"). What this means is that publishers are actually more open to publishing unknown authors with no track record at all than midlist authors with a poor or middling track record. It's for this reason that my new novel will go out to publishers authored not by midlist author Daniel Quinn but by an author with a name they've never seen before; it will thus be reviewed by unbiased readers.

I consider it the best of all my novels (not counting those of the Ishmael trilogy, which belong to an entirely different category). We'll see.

Meanwhile, now that this blog is done, I'll feel free to begin work on my next. Ten years ago I was convinced I had nothing more to write.
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Published on April 13, 2015 16:09 • 488 views

October 15, 2014

When I wrote my first blog here a couple months ago, I was a leisured man and imagined I'd be adding a blog every week or so. I'd forgotten that "the days grow short when you reach September." Did they ever! The twelve-hour days didn't end until just two days ago, when suddenly all but the last half of one percent of the work was finished -- and nothing could be done about that remaining half of one percent until I received one last URL from my webmaster. I took a whole day off to do nothing at all.

THE TEACHINGS looks like a simple book. After all, 90% of it is made up of selections from already-published books, books that don't need writing or editing. But it was a difficult book, and what made it difficult were conflicting objectives.

To see what I'm talking about, let's say there are thirty passages that make The Story of B a terrific book. Obviously I couldn't include all thirty of those passages in this book. If I did, people who were enticed to read The Story of B itself would be rightfully outraged to see that they'd already read the best parts here in The Teachings. But I also couldn't include none of them here -- or what would entice them to read The Story of B in the first place? So I include just a third of them here. But I can't include the ten most enticing of the thirty (for the same reason I couldn't include all thirty), and I can't include the ten least enticing (for the same reason I couldn't include none of the thirty). So picking those ten made for some hard sorting to find an assortment representing all degrees of enticement.

Now I hold my breath. Among my books (aside from Ishmael, of course), none is more relevant at this time than this one. I very much doubt that I'll ever produce another that matches it in importance, so its success matters a lot to me. Here it is: http://amzn.to/1qwFsda.

Give it a look!
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Published on October 15, 2014 21:17 • 443 views

The Teachings IN PRINT

When I wrote my first blog here a couple months ago, I was a leisured man and imagined I'd be adding a blog every week or so. I'd forgotten that "the days grow short when you reach September." Did they ever! The twelve-hour days didn't end until just two days ago, when suddenly all but the last half of one percent of the work was finished -- and nothing could be done about that remaining half of one percent until I received one last URL from my webmaster. I took a whole day off to do nothing at all.



THE TEACHINGS looks like a simple book. After all, 90% of it is made up of selections from already-published books, books that don't need writing or editing. But it was a difficult book, and what made it difficult were conflicting objectives.

To see what I'm talking about, let's say there are thirty passages that make The Story of B a terrific book. Obviously I couldn't include ALL THIRTY of those passages in THIS book. If I did, people who were enticed to read The Story of B itself would be rightfully outraged to see that they'd already read the best parts here in The Teachings. But I also couldn't include NONE of them here -- or what would entice them to read The Story of B in the first place? So I include just a third of them here. But I can't include the ten MOST enticing of the thirty (for the same reason I couldn't include ALL THIRTY), and I can't include the ten LEAST enticing (for the same reason I couldn't include NONE of the thirty). So picking those ten made for some hard sorting to find an assortment representing all degrees of enticement.

Now I hold my breath. I can't imagine doing anything that would be more useful than what I've done here, assembling the quintessential elements of all these books in a single volume. I'll never produce anything more gratifying to me or more valuable to my readers. No book in my future will ever be as important as this one. Here it is: http://amzn.to/1qwFsda.

Give it a look!
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Published on October 15, 2014 16:55 • 61 views

September 18, 2014

I am definitely a new kid on the blog, this being my very first ever. I'm having to grit my teeth and tell myself very firmly: You DO have time to do this! You DO have time to do this!

It's hard to believe that I do have time for it. The last couple of months have been made up of twelve-hour workdays seven days a week to finish a book promised for "this fall."



It came about this way. This year it finally dawned on me that the millions who have read Ishmael tend to read that book and STOP. Only about ten percent of them go on to read any of the books that followed -- Providence, The Story of B, My Ishmael, Beyond Civilization -- each unique but all endowed with the same virtues that made Ishmael a book that has changed many lives. You would think that someone as reasonably smart as I am wouldn't have had to wait fifteen years to notice this, but there it is.

I'm not alone in this. Other writers have had the same experience with their "first" novels. For example, very few of the millions who read Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, and Forrest Gump ever read the later novels of William Golding, J.D. Salinger, or Winston Groom. I think that, in a sense, all these first books were literally TOO SPECIAL. People who read them felt like they didn't NEED another.

But I'm pretty sure that if my own "first" had been The Story of B instead of Ishmael, THAT book would have been the special one, and the others would have gone largely unread. (Believe it or not, those who have read it often insist that it's the more valuable of the two.)
In fact, Ishmael was not, strictly speaking, my "first." The Book of Nahash, a sort of novelization of the Genesis story of the Fall, was written about eight years before Ishmael; the tales of Adam, which appeared in that book, were published in 2005. One of my personal favorites, The Book of the Damned, was written and published just a decade before Ishmael was published; in that book I accomplished some things I was never able to match in any of my later books.
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Published on September 18, 2014 10:41 • 423 views