Monday, January 3, 2011

Memory Lane

So, I recently re-read my ebook, Crossroad Blues. I wanted to see how it played out on Kindle, correct any formatting errors, etc. I did find a few (corrected now), which was good.

Thing is, I also found something more.

I started out reading with my editor's hat on. But as the book progressed, I found myself actually sucked in to my own work. It was a strange experience: on the one hand, I wrote the damn thing. On the other, I couldn't wait to see what happened next.

Not to pat myself on the back, but Crossroad Blues hums. I love the pace of it, the action, the murderous intensity of Maeve, the overwhelming arrogance of Jack Terraboone and the sheer creepy monstrosity that is Harlan Winters.

I read that book, and I hated the novel I'm working on. Right now I'm lurching from scene to scene. I can see revelations coming, but I have to write my way through where I am before I can get there. If where I am even leads me there at all. My current novel is nothing like the streamlined mayhem of Crossroad Blues.

And then I remembered:

At one point, Jack Terrabonne had a wife. She was the real genius, stifled by her husband's success and terrified of his fixer, Harlan.

At one point, Kane was in a love triangle with Maeve and Beth. Sometimes he was with Maeve and attracted to Beth. Sometimes vice versa.

At one point, Harlan Winters was a dapper little gray man, sharp and slick and looking to capitalize on his employer's indiscretions.

By the end of the book, things changed...

Jack's wife left. There were some great scenes between her and Harlan, real scary stuff. But as Harlan developed, I realized there was no way in hell he'd keep his hands off something he wanted. She shows up off-stage as a soon-to-be-ex, with a younger boyfriend, a hit album and a scandalous photo spread in (I think it was) Vanity Fair. It was the least I could do for a woman who suffered so much only to be written out.

As Kane revealed himself, I realized I was writing a Western. He's the classic cool-eyed stranger in town, a gunslinger who doesn't pack a gun. He was honest and decent and upright, a solid moral point in a wicked, wicked world.

That guy couldn't be in a love triangle. I lost scenes where he met Maeve and traveled with her for a time. Where he found himself disgusted by her wickedness (back then she wanted to hook a rich man, which is how she fell afoul of Jack) and was increasingly attracted to local girl Beth. I lost something like 30,000 words of that plotline.

And Harlan. What to say about Harlan...

He started out dapper and smooth. In those days, Jack's sexual appetites led to the death of the French girl and Harlan stepped in. He covered up the crime and began to extort Jack for his own purposes. There were some mighty nice scenes where the balance of power in that house shifted.

And I cut them all.

The Harlan who stepped up about halfway through the book was half based on a ruthless predator in my family, and half based on a family friend who used to babysit me-- a man now wanted for questioning in the rape and murder of one of his neighbors.

What I'm getting at is, Crossroad Blues came to be streamlined. It grew into something fast-paced and coherent.

This memory, this process, helped me. My current novel is nowhere near such a mess as that one was- and look how that turned out!


Charles Gramlich said...

Soemtimes a book grows organically, like a shy awkward child turning into a lovely young woman, or in the case of CB, a taut and savage young wolf.

Steve Malley said...

Well put, Charles, well put. And thanks! :-D

Lana Gramlich said...

Isn't it nice to get sucked into your own work? Kudos, hon. :)

Barbara Martin said...

My writing is similar. It starts out one way and changes mid-stream. But it is certainly a thrill to read something you wrote that catches your attention again.

cs harris said...

I recently had this experience up at the lake, when I pulled one of the earlier Sebastian books off the shelf to look something up and found myself sucked into the story. I thought, "Oh, this is so much better than that wretched thing I'm writing now! My readers are going to be soooo disappointed."

But I've learned over the years that the books I wrote BEFORE are always so much better than whatever piece of sh*t I'm working on now (or just finished). As a writer deep in the creative process, we are all too conscious of where the book falls short of what we wanted it to be. After a few years, when we approach that book as a reader, we've forgotten most of that, so we're free to simply enjoy it.