Avoiding the False Start!
by Vincent Zandri
An interviewer once asked the major American author Jim Harrison if he ever wrote himself into a corner. That is to say, had he ever uncovered a plot or story that was just too tough to write, and no matter how hard he tried, just could not move the story along?
While I’m not a big believer in writer’s block, I do however believe that there are certain stories that no matter how one goes about writing them, just cannot get out of their own way. In a word, they simply do not want to be written, no matter how much we concentrate on them, no matter how many story-line options we consider, no matter how many different angles, POVs, tense changes, or style options. Like Harrison will tell you, what’s happening here is not writing one’s self into a corner, so much as what we’re looking at is a false start.
If you’re like me, you often think about how rich you would be if you had a dollar for every false start you’ve ever attempted—every story begun and abandoned long before completion of even a rough draft. Picture the scene: you spend a sleepless night rolling around in bed with a brilliant idea in your head. In the pre-dawn you peel yourself off your mattress and sit before the typewriter bleary eyed, only to find that the story just didn’t want to be written. What’s the problem? More than likely, the problem is that your brilliant story is not yet ready to be written.
Somehow, when this happens to me, it’s always comforting to head back to past successes and to once more get a grip on how I was able to do it before. It only stands to reason that if I wrote and published novels before, I can therefore do it again, and again, and again.
But what if I want to write a novel that’s different from all the others? What if I want to go out on a limb, as it were, and embrace that old negative capability? All the more reason to allow the story to ferment in my mind prior to actually writing it.
I had a different idea about The Remains. As opposed to my other published noir novels, I wanted to write something that had a longer breath. I wanted to write something that, unlike my first four novels, was more invented than based on real events. Something with a little more depth of character. Something that, while still a dark, pulse pounding thriller, was far away from my usual gun-toting protagonists. Something that would challenge me as an author, yet still satisfy my fans. To make things even more difficult, I wanted to write the novel in the first person from a woman’s POV.
Influenced by Jim Harrison’s Dalva, one of the best female protagonist novels ever written by a man, I set about working on a story of a frustrated painter and art teacher by the name of Rebecca Underhill. Where did I get the story from? It just sort of happened in my mind one night while waiting to fall asleep. Knowing that if I bounded right out of bed and jumped onto my computer, I would risk a false start and ruining the story forever, I allowed this one to ferment in my brain for many months before penning even a single word.
I allowed the story to form in my subconscious quite naturally. Without having to think too much about it, I somehow knew that Rebecca was born an identical twin to a sister named Molly. And I knew that Molly will have died an early death to cancer by the time the story begins. What’s more, I also wanted Rebecca and Molly to be as thick as thieves, even with one of them gone, and I wanted them to share a life-long secret.
That secret took the form of a dark event that happened almost 30 years ago to the day. Back when the girls were just 12 years old, a man by the name of Joseph William Whalen abducted them one afternoon while they were exploring the “forbidden” woods behind their farmhouse. He attacked them, and kept them inside the basement of an abandoned farmhouse located in the same second growth woods. After their escape, the girls vowed never to tell a soul, for fear that Whalen would come after them again. Or worse, he would come after their mother and father, and kill them both.
When Whalen was arrested in connection with another violent crime and sent away for 30 years to life, the girls assumed they were done with their attacker for good. They gave him up for dead, but still, they kept their secret unrevealed. Now, ten years after Molly’s death, and thirty years almost to the day of the attacks, Rebecca begins receiving some strange text messages. Not knowing who they are coming from, she can’t help but think that they could be heaven-sent messages from Molly. What she doesn’t realize however until it’s too late, is that her past, in the form of the now free Whelan, has come back not to haunt her, but to kill her.
Hemingway used to say that the best stories are the made up ones. Not the ones you pluck from real life. The Remains is my most made up story. I wrote it because it wouldn’t allow me to let it go ignored. I hope that Rebecca’s tale is one that you consider one of my best stories. If not, I will be making up another one very soon.
Thank you, Vincent, for stopping by today. I, for one, am intrigued by The Remains, and look forward to reading it! The e-book is already available, and the physical book will be released ___. Preorder here. Ask away...Zandri will be answering questions today.