Thursday, June 09, 2016

Rabbit Holes

Destiny's Pawn hits shelves this week, and I hit the road, signing and doing author talks. All this while I'm writing the fourth Peyton Cote book (2017), which is due to my publisher Sept. 1.

The new book deals with human trafficking, and to write it I did all the right things: I outlined it (took me a week), I created character sketches (so I could use multiple characters' third-person, limited points of view), and I researched, reading ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror (highly recommended) and various online articles, even e-mailing professors and experts on the Syrian situation.

The research took weeks. When I finally sat down to write, I finished 30 pages pretty quickly. As often happens, I hit a plot snag, so I slowed, researched more, and continued on, albeit at a slower pace. Around page 50, I needed to do additional research. I ended up on the phone for an hour with Kevin Stevens, former deputy chief of the US Border patrol. Then I plotted some more. The result was a 60-page Google doc that had my marginal notes ("comments") that ran the entire length of some of the draft's pages.

And I walked around the house like a zombie, the storyline, the characters, the information forming a kaleidoscope in my head.

When my wife asked what the book was about – and it took ten minutes to describe it to her – I knew I was in serious trouble.

"Isn't there a way to simplify it?" she said.

"Oh, there is," I said.

It's not the death penalty, but it's close: I stopped and started again, writing the story from only the third-person, limited point of view of Peyton Cote. It wasn't an easy decision, especially since Destiny's Pawn is told, successfully, from the point of view of several characters. However, the narrative structure of Destiny's Pawn – using multiple points of view – was dictated by the story itself: Simply put, Peyton cannot realistically have access to information the reader needs for the book to hold up. But book four is a different story, one that can be told from Peyton's perspective. So I've climbed out of the wrong rabbit hole, and the book is going well. (It's due, after all, Sept. 1, so it has to go well.)

Writers face many choices when we begin a book (or even get 50 pages in). Some choices are predictable. Others come at you sideways. But any choice a writer makes must benefit the work itself. As Hemingway said, novel writing "is architecture, not interior decoration."

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