A little more behind the scenes stuff this time….
The writing week began with detailed discussions between Barb and me over the plot of the next ANTIQUES novel, which she will be diving into soon. The story takes place outside of our usual setting of Serenity in a village that was founded by Brits and has patterned itself on their model of smalltown life.
Barb struggled some on the previous novel because we’d been a little too open-ended on our plotting, and this time she wanted to try working from a somewhat more detailed plot breakdown. Lots of back-and-forth ensued, I put my ideas down on paper, and finally she developed all of it into a several-page chapter-by-chapter breakdown. I went over this, discussed some possible changes and additions, and then we locked it. Since then Barb has written a second chapter (we had already written the first chapter, a requirement of our Kensington contract – we have to give them a brief synopsis and a first chapter for approval) and we seem to be on our way.
In the meantime, with my desk cleared of all other writing assignments, I dug in full-time on research for the next Heller novel, BETTER DEAD, which deals with the McCarthy era and specifically the Rosenberg case. Lots to read, and some of it fairly mind-numbing. I find at this age I tend to read a lot, nap a little, read, nap, etc. I was trying to get as much read as possible before the arrival of my longtime researcher (and friend) George Hagenauer. In recent years, every Heller novel has included a preliminary visit from George, who arrived Sunday afternoon around two p.m., lugging more reference books for me to read.
At this point George is more on top of the history than I am. Our sessions often involve fairly heated discussions reflecting our conflicting takes on the material. George tends to be more fixed on the historical accuracy issues (although he’s loosened up) while I am the guy reminding him that first and foremost a Heller novel is a private eye thriller. He is very good at the underlying political currents and at spotting material that can link us back (and in this case forward) to other Heller novels.
Three hours of discussion and brainstorming finally had the first (longer) section of the novel revealing its shape. The story I want to tell was fitting into, and flowing out of, the history. The timeline was behaving itself, too, so that little or no compression would be needed. But the final aspect that needed attention was (private eye thriller, remember): where will the sex and violence come from?
However much the Heller novels are historically accurate, and outpace other such novels, they still need to have the classic hardboiled PI elements – murder, lust, betrayal, action…the good stuff. So the conversation turned to: who’s trying to stop Heller in his investigation? We kicked around possibilities and came up with something fresh, largely thanks to George.
Over supper at Salvatore’s Restaurant (Barb stayed behind, as George had a cold she didn’t want to catch), we hashed out more issues. Tomorrow morning (I’m writing this on Sunday evening) we will get back to it, and talk about the final section of the book, which concerns CIA dosing its employees with LSD to see what would happen. You know, like teenagers at a party in 1968.
George will probably be on the road shortly after lunch (he came here straight from a Minnesota comic con – and ended Sunday with some comic art trading, which is how we met three-plus decades ago).
By the way, the most recent Heller, ASK NOT, has just been published in mass market paperback by Forge.
The moderator on my upcoming Bouchercon panel has taken to reading the QUARRY novels by way of prep. He’s even posted this very nice essay on the books.
And check out the Forge/Tor web site where they promote the ASK NOT paperback.