Wednesday, January 10, 2018


So I survived another winter solstice, another Christmas, another New Year. The dark end of the annual journey around the sun is past, and things are returning to as normal as they get in my house. It is actually possible to think about writing fiction again.

During holiday periods, when schools and businesses are closed and the world is oppressively gloomy outside, I enjoy my lie-ins. They are strangely fertile moments creatively. In the early-morning dark, my brain finds itself entering dream states where my mind plays out various vignettes, while slipping in and out of wakefulness. Normally, these would be scenes from the next book but, against my will, my brain keeps wanting to skip ahead to the third book about Dallas Green. Interesting things lie in store for him.

Dallas has become a near-constant companion for me, which is kind of strange. He really has taken on a life of his own in my head. This must be what it is like to be possessed by a ghost.

The thing is, I never actually meant to write a book about someone like Dallas. The seeds for Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead go all the way back to the year I lived in Chile during the fourth year of the Pinochet dictatorship. Inspired by such writers as Colombia’s Gabriel García Márquez and Guatemala’s Miguel Ángel Asturias, I wanted to create a literary work around the rise and fall of an idealistic but flawed Latin American leader. It would be a thinly veiled allegory, mirroring the revolutionary rise and inevitable crucification of Jesus. Daunted by the risks of inauthenticity and cultural appropriation, I decided the saga would necessarily be related by a foreigner. He would be an idealistic young North American. As an outsider, he would be imbued with a fair amount of skepticism of this political movement in the name of the people. In other words, if my Salvador Allende figure was to be Christ, then my North American would be his most doubtful disciple, Thomas. Thus the point-of-view character’s name would morph from doubting Thomas to Tommy Dowd.

The epic percolated in my mind for many years, but one thing or another—like the better part of decade disappearing like a flash of light into the time-warping wormhole of the software industry—kept me from writing more than a few chapters. Finally, marriage and relocation to the Emerald Isle gave my mind space to return to the long-neglected story. By then, though, a funny thing had happened to the tale. The story I had mapped out was just not working for me. Somewhere along the way, I got an idea. What if I did not tell the story directly? What if the story was lurking in the background of someone else’s story? Inspired by my own childhood exploits with my often-feckless best friend, I conceived an early-1970s odyssey adventure à la Huckleberry Finn. Tommy Dowd would not actually appear in the story. He would be the McGuffin, the reason for the pair’s adventure. After his disappearance, they would head south to look for him. They would go outside of their own country, their own culture, their own language and their own comfort zone. They would be changed forever. And all the time—just outside of their peripheral vision—would be the story of Tommy and that idealistic leader who led himself and his followers to doom.

It was meant to a self-contained story, a one-off. It never occurred to me to go beyond the end of Dallas and Lonnie’s adventure in 1971. Other people, however, told me that I had to continue the story. Some made suggestions for what would happen next. It was a strange feeling. Dallas was no longer just an idea in my head. He was now out in the world. He no longer belonged to me alone. The more I thought about this, the more I realized that I too wanted to know what else happened to him.

Now that I have taken him nine years further through the twentieth century, I want to see his story through at least another few years.

Before I do that, however, I have another story that has been percolating for a very long time. One about ghosts and spirits and curses and demons and ancient evil and stormy weather. It wants its chance to see the light of day too. Fair’s fair. It has waited long enough. It is now at the head of the queue.