Sunday, March 29, 2009

What I'm Writing About

Seven years ago, I was flying from St. Louis to San Francisco, and listened to one of the on-board music programs, about a Greek singer I’d never heard of but who had a spectacular tenor voice. The singer was Mario Frangoulis, and the music was from the CD entitled “Sometimes I Dream.” The CD contains a lot of good music, including a “Nights in White Satin” duet with Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues. One song, “Luna Rossa” or “Red Moon,” stuck in my head. When I heard it on the plane, it immediately evoked an image of – don’t ask me why – a priest dancing on a beach.

When I landed in San Francisco, I checked into my downtown hotel, and went looking for a music store. I didn’t find one, but I found Border’s Bookstore, took the escalator up to the top floor to the music department, and as I exited I immediately saw a display of the same Mario Frangoulis CD I had listened to on the plane. Kind of a Twilight Zone moment, right there in the bookstore.

The image of the priest dancing on the beach sat in my head for the next two years. I started playing with it, usually at night after lights out. So what was this priest doing dancing on a beach? I gave the priest a name, a family history and friends. I put him on a bicycle. I made him go to college. I had him fall in love. Along the way, I discarded the beach. But it was all in my head, and I had moments when I wondered if what I was doing was mentally healthy. It was definitely weird.

And then one day, about three years ago, I started typing what was in my head. It gushed, and it kept gushing. I finally got most of the story out of my head, and discovered I had vastly more than could ever be contained in one novel. What it became was two manuscripts, with at least another half a manuscript discarded.

In February 2007, police apprehended Michael Devlin, the guy who had kidnapped a little boy from a rural road near his Missouri home many years before, and then another boy a few days before Devlin was caught. Miraculously, both boys were found alive. And Michael Devlin was living right in my St. Louis suburb, about a mile from my house, and I biked right by his apartment nearly every day.

I had a terrible time dealing with the news about Michael Devlin. Yes, it was horrible, but for some reason it was affecting me far more profoundly than it should have. I didn’t know why. I still don’t. But I finally exorcised it by writing a 40,000-word novella, constructed within the manuscripts I had already produced. So now it looks more like three manuscripts.

As much as I’ve edited them, they still need major work. I know what I have to do with the first manuscript – a complete rewrite.

I know how I have to rewrite it.

I’m just trying to steel myself to do it.

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