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Friday, December 14, 2018

Darkness Over Puget Sound

There was a time when I not only hoped but expected to have another book out in 2018. After all, I had impressed myself by managing to get Lautaro’s Spear out in 2017 after publishing The Three Towers of Afranor in 2016. I flattered myself that a new book each calendar year might be my new default schedule.

That obviously has not happened, and I will not bore you with the reasons or excuses. On the positive side, I am now about halfway through the first draft of my fourth novel. This was meant to be the fun, easy, throwaway book that was meant mainly to amuse myself. As such, it was not supposed to require huge amounts of time or mental, intellectual or emotional expenditure. It was to be an amuse-bouche or palate cleanser before getting back to the hearty literature of my nearly-accidental Dallas Green trilogy.

I should have learned my lesson with The Three Towers. That was also meant to be an “easy” write which, set in a pure fantasy world, would not even need any research because it was all being made up out of whole cloth. Yet that one did not actually see the light of day until about two years exactly after the previous book. That probably had more to do with what was going on my life than the book’s subject matter, but it may have also been related to a sense of decompression—if not mental exhausation—after finishing Maximilian and Carlotta. Something similar may have been going on in the wake of Lautaro’s Spear.

For an unbearably long time I was mired in the first couple of chapters, trying to get the characters and the tone as right as I could. The writing and rewriting was probably necessary in the long run, but the eventual breakthrough only came by taking to heart the wise words of novelist Richard Bausch, whom I quoted here in April: “When you’re stuck, lower your standards and keep going.” I overcame my tendency to not move on from a chapter until it was “perfect” and just started plowing through. That was much better for my output and a lot more gratifying. The worry, of course, is that I will end up going back, perusing it, and finding that it is all unreadable rubbish.

The old rule of thumb for writing novels is that the first fifty pages are the hardest, and that is once again proved true. Since getting past that amazingly important milestone, it has been clear sailing. It is a bit of an exaggeration to say that the book is now writing itself, but that is what it feels like. Plot turns and twists seem to occur organically, as if I am channeling someone else’s story. The characters take on their own inner lives. I am looking ahead and seeing plot threads magically weaving around each other and coming together nicely. The other day the final paragraphs of the book came to me, as if delivered on a silver platter, so I know definitely what I am writing toward. Critically, in between writing sessions, I can scarcely wait to get back to it. That is a feeling I have to bear now for a few weeks since the holidays will necessarily leave little time for daily writing. Fortunately, the timing is not too bad because I have paused at a natural breaking place, and I need to be working out further plot details in my head anyway.

Even though this book is another fantasy, I have had to engage in a surprising amount of research. Unlike The Three Towers, this one takes place in the “real” world—specifically the region around Seattle, which I happily know well. There are flashbacks, though, that have sent me scurrying to be knowledgeable not only about Pacific Northwest history but also that of 17th century England and Ireland. Somehow I have even managed to bring in the area where I currently live and in a way that I feel works quite well for the story.

As I have said before, this is my homage to the Gothic and supernatural stories that delighted me in my misspent youth. Specifically, it shamelessly but lovingly reworks many of the elements of my beloved adolescent object of fascination, the TV series Dark Shadows, while aiming to be something original. It also veers self-consciously in the most opposite direction possible to the adolescent-male-infused world of Maximilian and Carlotta. (By the way, did anyone actually catch the deliberate Dark Shadows reference I incongruously placed in my first novel?)

There is something wonderful in being at this point in the creative process. Most of the hard work is either behind or ahead of me. It is now thoughts of my current story that flood my brain in idle moments—instead of images for the third Dallas book, as was the case until a couple of months ago. Most delightfully, during this relatively short—and no doubt temporary—span of time, this feels as though it is going to be the best book I have ever written.

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