It was thirty years ago, and I was stuck for something to write. I’d already booked my first stay in an artists colony, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. I wasn’t sure what it would be like, and I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do when I got there. I’d published five books about Bernie Rhodenbarr, and a sixth would make sense, but I didn’t have one in mind. Another series, featuring Matthew Scudder, had apparently ended forever with When the Sacred Ginmill Closes.
I was in Florida—we lived there at the time, in Fort Myers Beach—and I was sitting and gazing off into the middle distance, of which we had a good supply. And I had this inner vision of a guy in Oregon walking away from his job and heading east on foot. And other people, total strangers, were joining him, and what the hell was that all about?
More bits kept feeding in. A middle-aged woman, in some sort of descent into blindness, responding to an inner call to join the procession. Story elements kept coming into my consciousness, and blinking them away wsn’t enough to get rid of them. I didn’t know where the book was going, if it even was a book, but I wanted to find out.
But I was due at VCCA in a week, and I wouldn’t be ready to start this thing for months. I decided maybe I could work on an outline. Clearly,I couldn’t work on anything else, because I couldn’t get this new book out of my head.
I took it easy, spent three days driving there, and sat down at the desk they gave me. I didn’t even try to write an outline. I went straight to work on the text, and I wrote twenty pages a day for three weeks and a day, and then I got back in my car and drove home. It was the most extraordinary writing experience I had ever had, and nothing since has ever come close to it. Each day I somehow knew what to write that day, and it was indeed like driving at night; you can see as far as the headlights reach, as someone (it may have been E. L. Doctorow) once said, but you can follow those beams all the way across the country.
However, it didn’t seem to insist upon being read.
Tor Books published it in 1988, put a lame science-fictiony cover on it, tagged it “a new novel for a New Age,” and sent it off to make its own way. Which it didn’t. Reviewers didn’t like it, sales reps barely got it into stores, and readers found it resistible. I lived through the experience, and some months later I was at work on the 7th Matthew Scudder novel, Out on the Cutting Edge.
Over the years, I’ve noticed something about Random Walk. Now and then someone will approach me at a signing and say something along these lines: “You know, I’ve read end enjoyed just about everything you’ve written, but there was one book of yours I couldn’t make head or tails out of, and I still can’t figure out why you wrote it in the first place, and—”
And then someone else will come up and say, “You know, I admire your work in general, but there was one book of yours I’ve read seventeen times, and I get something new out of it each and every time, and it’s changed my life, and—”
And it’s always the same book. Random Walk.
It’s been in and out of print over the years. Tor did a mass-market paperback with a cover that wasn’t much better than the hardcover. A few years later iUniverse offered me the opportunity to reprint it, and that made the book available again, and netted me a cool $20 a year, as I recall. Then Open Road broiught out an ebook, and when all rights reverted to me I put it on my list of Things to Do.
And now it’s done! My Goddess of Design and Production came up with a cover I genuinely like. (In fact I like it enough to show it to you a second time, to spare you the arduous task of scrolling up for another look at it.) We’ve published it in both ebook and trade paperback form, and you can pick it up on any Amazon platform, or from Apple, Nook, Kobo, or Thalia.
So there you have it—or you will, should you choose to click on one of the links and spend a couple of bucks. I don’t know that it’ll change your life; I’m by no means sure it changed mine. I followed it with a string of Matthew Scudder novels—Out on the Cutting Edge, A Ticket to the Boneyard, A Dance at the Slaughterhouse, A Walk Among the Tombstones, and The Devil Knows You’re Dead—and it wasn’t until 1994 that I finally wrote the sixth Bernie Rhodenbarr book, The Burglar who Traded Ted Williams. I wrote that last one in San Francisco, at the Gaylord Hotel in the Tenderloin. But that’s another story, and it’ll have to wait.
Meanwhile, we’re two days away from Thanksgiving. Eat some turkey, watch some football, and try to come up with something for which you’re actually grateful.
Easy for me. I’m grateful for all of y’all.