I stalled on my other two novels, so they are fermenting for a bit. I have a rule that I never should force myself to work. When I do, I end up having to delete everything I write. If I can't figure out the next line, I walk away. So I did. The Western and the Thriller are resting for now, hopefully improving with some age and distance (and hopefully in the meantime I can figure out how to get my heroine from the sub-basement of a casino up to the penthouse office on the seventh floor without her being seen by the Tenth Intelligence, who are swarming the building and have a contract on her head).
Now, after something like two years, I picked up a project I set aside with just the first two pages written. They were good and charming, but I didn't know where to go with them.
But I felt drawn to the pages, and to a plot I had assigned to the character but not to the pages. I slapped them together and wrote two chapters. Then I deleted them. I did this five or six times, and now I have a book I'm excited to be working on.
The progression of this book has been startling, though:
Step One: Took the plot of a 16th century irish arthurian legend, "Orlando agus Melora" that I was enamored with. Initial concept: retell the legend setting it in our world.
Step two: take the first two pages in which an eighth grader, Melora, is given the Maltese Falcon by a dying gumshoe in an alley.
Step three: Try to write Orlando agus Melora as a YA (Young Adult--11-13 year old readers) urban Fantasy, where the Maltese Falcon triggers an ancient curse and Melora sets out on a magical adventure to break the curse.
Step Three: Delete all but the first two pages.
Step Four: Try to write Orlando agus Melora as a YA coming-of-age novel.
Step Five: Try not to gag and realize I can't stand to read coming of age crap, so I wouldn't have fun writing it.
Step Six: Try to write Orlando agus Melora as an adult urban fantasy.
Step Seven: Delete the first four chapters. They're not detailed and flowing enough, and I can't get beyond meeting Mr. Babylon.
Step Eight: Realize the problems in the story and start over. Try to write Orlando agus Melora as a mystery, in which Orlando gets kidnapped with the Maltese Falcon and Melora sets out to rescue him. Ah-hah! It flows. It works. I'm excited about it. The outline pours into my mind and I have a delightedly busy day trying to get it all on paper, and a week after playing with the weak points. Then start writing again, and it all comes easily. This is the story I should have been telling.
So I'm writing a mystery that marries a 16th century Irish Arthurian Legend with the lives of both Cellini and Caravaggio, the Maltese Falcon legend (based on history but largely created by novelist Dashiell Hammett in the 1930s), the real theft of a movie prop from a San Francisco restaurant in February of this year, and the research on art forgery and detection that I did for an article for Randall Wilson.
I never thought I could write a mystery. But a good story is a good story. And, working through all of this, the story itself hasn't changed. Just the trappings have changed. Even the characters are mostly the same. Amazing how similar all the genres are, in the end.
So now I've tipped myself into a new world, and it's a lot of fun.