I almost talked myself out of writing this post, a piece describing the work that has led up to this moment, the release of my new novel River of Blood. It has taken so long to get here. Years. Aside meeting my wife and the birth of our two children—to whom I’ve dedicated the novel, it became the preeminent detail in my life from the moment the vague idea came to me in 2015. Like that black t-shirt that somehow always reappears in the closet for a decade, slowly changing from pristine pitch to vintage charcoal and fraying seams, the story tumbled through my thoughts and hounded my weekends as I scrambled to meet my self-imposed deadlines for serializing the damn thing on this site.
That’s right. After the first seventy-some-odd pages, I began serializing this story here before I even finished, before slaying the many plot monsters I had conjured. A harrowing journey for certain.
I remember the first few days of writing when I failed to recognize the possibility that this thing could escape the tenuous restraints I had imagined for it.
It will be a short examination of free will and determinism. A novella in the vein of Jim Harrison.
The beast outwitted me. A story I originally estimated could land at a hundred pages left a crater in my life over five hundred pages wide. How the hell did this happen? I had the basics of the story strung with perfection and exactitude. A crystal beginning, middle, and end, only the tiniest of details needed to bind them and release it into the either. How could I have known the reproductive possibilities of those details? The collective genitalia of these details whizzed like servos and the hutch of my virgin cuniculture burst.
It took me five years to gain control.
Themes like free will have a tempting simplicity to them. This is how it works, voila! Yet the prospects rise in endless strains once they fix to unwritten stories. My original idea—the violent tendencies and recurring circumstances of four generations of men in a single family—became a full blown maze of philosophical warfare. As the story took shape, I faced another dilemma in that my foundation for that original idea started with the thinnest reproduction of the men in my own family. Before I realized what had occurred and the possible consequences, the indistinct reflections of these real people that I love and respect became their antitheses in the repugnance of the fictional symbols they spawned. By the time I found myself neck deep in the work, I had become a bloody version of Dorothy waking in that farmhouse, all the characters from her journey to Oz standing around her in sepia tone reality. You were there and you were there too! But they weren’t there. Only withered details of their appearance or history made the leap and everything that followed retooled for the mechanisms of character and plot.
In this case, where no one comes out alive much less clean, I feel a prick of shame for distorting some of these features in people I know will recognize as gross exaggerations and downright distortions. It bothers me but in a case like River of Blood, these qualities and embellishments are so very distorted and exaggerated, maybe the point of the fiction comes across as obvious.
The structure and style(s) of the book evolved unexpected results as well. What became the first part of the story had been the ultimate and singular plan. No dialogue. No detailed descriptions of the characters. Story and only story. That worked. For a while. For about a 250 pages. And then it didn’t. Once I had completed the first two parts which I originally wanted to break into three parts, it became clear that I had miscalculated the importance of certain plot points. By this time, one hundred twenty-five serialized episodes sat in public view on this site, culminating in what amounted to a massive open ended conclusion.
I took a long break. When I returned, I made a strange decision based a fleeting notion that had come to me about a hundred pages in the past.
I could make this third part of the story a graphic novel!
No. No, you can’t, you confused idiot.
My future self could not deter me. I wrote an entire graphic novel manuscript for the third section and I loved it. I cherished it. Until I embarked on a quest for the most important aspect of a graphic novel… the graphics. Without boring you with the details, art is hard, art is expensive. It takes a skilled professional many months to produce a meager amount of acceptable product. My manuscript could take years. I looked into the possibility of photographing the panels then manipulating them with Photoshop to create the look of comic book art. It is possible but still far more time consuming than I was willing to endure.
My next decision has changed the way will forever think about writing shorter works of prose. I went in reverse from the traditional path of adaptation. People adapt novels, short stories, comic books, or graphic novels into movies (or prose/graphic novels, respectively) all the time. Quentin Tarantino often writes entire novels that he then adapts into his screenplays. I took a pure comic book script and wrote a section of prose from it. This worked beyond my highest expectation. I have a thin inkling that I may want to write a short novel series in the future and this technique seems the perfect match to my writing.
This was a huge surprise for me.
At last I confronted the novel’s biggest flaw up to that point. Pacing. In the serial state of the work, the original pacing worked well. Step by step, the story took shape and each episode worked as a single yarn in a larger, expanding structure that spanned over two years of postings. However, when the time arrived to compile the episodes into the full novel, the pacing of the first half dragged like a carcass. I made the decision to intermingle the story of Sean Tower’s childhood with the first few years of his law enforcement career. The oscillation has brought the first section back to life for me. I found serendipitous parallels and almost subconscious use of reciprocal vocabulary that complimented and married the two sections into a perfect pairing.
I cannot be happier with how this worked out.
With all that happened along the way, I must say this work has provided my most satisfying writing experience to date. I am in fact proud of every detail inside this book and I am prepared to defend it to the death as much as I could any member of my family. This book and I have been through so much together, our bond cannot be broken by any attack or misinterpretation. We are brothers in arms. Blood brothers, one might say.
River of Blood is now available in both ebook and paperback at the monolithic behemoth known as Amazon... you may have heard of it.
Chrysalis, a growing collection of very short fiction.
Unless noted, all pics credited to Skitz O'Fuel.