Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Genesis of Her Poison Voice

Ever wonder how long it takes to write a 72-hour novel? Longer than you think.

1991 - first time listening to a radio play: The Shadow - two episodes on an LP. Love at first sound! The back of the album cover tells a brief story of how the audience truly believed the Shadow was real. Gets me thinking: if you were famous enough, if people really believed in you as a crime fighter, could you fight crime with nothing but the sound of your own voice?

1993 - Grade Eleven Creative Writing class: first appearance of Ruby Hawkeshaw, hypnotist, in eponymous one-act radio play. First dramatic reading of the story in class spawns gales of laughter. Not what was I aiming for.

1996 - Final year of high school. First attempt at writing Hawkeshaw as a novel, set in modern times. Several weak attempts at revision ensue. First appearance of a cop as a sidekick. No idea what was in the plot.

1998 - Second attempt at novelization, set in modern times. First appearance of Tom Tooler, and of "Silas" - the bad guy. Many attempts at revision ensue.

1998-2001 - Re-appearance of Hawkeshaw in radio plays. Revisions? What revisions?

2003? - Interview with Richard Cole, hypnotist, for research. Great guy - real hoot - very clean act! Great inspiration for Ruby as stage performer. First time I ever watched a hypnosis act. (And I can still recall every details! I still giggle at the word "Arugula".) I was in the back, taking notes, when Richard hypnotized his subjects into believing they were famous people. He set his subjects loose on the audience to mingle; one girl came over to me, and seeing me with pen and paper, her eyes lit up. "Do you want my autograph?" she asked. I said sure! She signed it Alicia Silverstone. I still have that notebook.

2003-2004 - Third attempt at a full length novel. First appearance of an actual plot. Silas as bad guy, Ruby as actual stage performer, Tom as a sound tech. First attempt at threading actual science, technology and actual hypnosis techniques into the story. First appearance of miniaturized subliminal post-hypnotic suggestion broadcast technology. Revisions ensue. Revisions fizzle and stop.

2007 - Fourth attempt at a full length novel. First appearance of the real "twist" in the plot, which makes the story viable. Still not working for me, though - too contrived, maybe. More research, more disappointment. (Word to the wise: an EMP generator doesn't do what you think it does, despite what The Matrix may have led you to believe.) First appearance of the post-hypnotic suggestion "Negate." Feeble attempts at revision.

2010 - Fifth attempt at a full length novel, this time at the Muskoka Novel Marathon. 72-hours to write the first 2/3rds of the book's word count; three months to finish it. First time all the key elements from previous versions merge together, and first time it's set in 1930s. Ironically, it's also the first time she's not actively fighting crime - though she is mighty involved in it. Retitled: Her Poison Voice. Oh - and special thanks to Christoph Fornwalt, one of my Facebook friends, who "won" an impromptu "Name the Bad Guy" contest on my profile! Out of the 20-some suggestions, his was the best, and will now go down in infamy. Thanks, Christoph!

And that's how it takes 72-hours, 3 months and 19 years to write a book. And yes...revisions have ensued.

Ever wonder where the name "Hawkeshaw" came from? For me, it came from a snippet of conversation between Margo Lane and Lamont Cranston in an episode of the Shadow; Margo used it as a sarcastic synonym for "gumshoe" or "private eye."

The term was probably derived from a character created by Gus Mager:
Hawkshaw the Detective, a comic strip character first seen in 1913. The first appearance of the character was in 1910, going by the name of Sherlocko. Apparently some guy named Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took exception to the reference, and Sherlocko was renamed Hawkshaw (but he kept the deer stalker cap and the sidekick Watso, thank you very much).

And Mager himself actually borrowed the name from playwright Tom Taylor; in his 1866 stage production Ticket-of-Leave Man, Taylor featured a detective named Hawkshaw. What a great pedigree!

In a final tidbit of trivia: the Hawkshaw family motto is "My lure is true".

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Swoop and Strike - the Inspiration is Back!

I woke up, and four months had gone by. I barely recall writing my last blog post in August! In fact, it wasn't until I saw my name in this most recent edition of Crime Time, a CWC publication, that I remembered I had a blog at all!

I haven't been away from the writer's arena (though I haven't actually been as close as I would like to have been). I've been to a couple of writer's events, I've been emailing and chatting with other authors, I've been reading (kinda), and November's Fusion Fiction event has never been far from my mind.

But last week, it occurred to me: I used to be a writer. Somewhere in the haze of the last four months, I forgot how much I actually like writing. Not the waiting, the sighing and the wondering about that Big Break, of course - but the actual process of writing.

Think of it. Creative chemicals burble and mingle in the back of your mind, synthesizing and reacting just below the surface of consciousness. The process could take months. It could take mere seconds (as in the case of the Mummer series). It could take seventeen years - as in the case of my latest, Her Poison Voice - which I first wrote as a two-act radio play in 1993. But the process never shuts off. It's palpable, it's frustrating, and it's invigorating.

Suddenly, two ideas fuse together in the atom smasher of the writer's mind - sometimes with a click, sometimes with a crackle, sometimes with a billowing shockwave and a lot of dust.

Then comes the artistic urge. Sometimes it swoops and strikes, assailing its unsuspecting victim with a flurry of scenes and snippets of dialogue and mischievous plot twists. Sometimes, dog-like, it walks alongside, or dashes on ahead at the end of its leash, leaving the writer to run and stumble behind - and often comes to an abrupt and inexplicable stop to sniff some other interest. And sometimes, like a sulking cat, it hides on the top of a bookshelf, out of reach and glaring, aloof and untouchable. But it's always there, watching, teasing, whispering.

And then there are those golden moments when all synapses are alight at once, and the writer's expanding mind encapsulates a complete and animated world. Vivid characters interact with objects tangible only in the imagination; sights, sounds, smells, textures, physical actions and reactions - all become fact in the writer's mind, yet remain just malleable enough to bend to the plotting will.

But imagination is one thing. The true thrill of writing is the ability to take what is in my mind and accurately replicate it in yours, with no other resource at my disposal but the words I chose.

To see the quirk of a smile in the reader's lips as they read that perfect comeback, or to have the reader criticize the characters' decision - as if the character had made the decision himself! - or to have the reader feel a certain sense of homesickness when the book is read and laid back on the shelf - that is the thrill of writing. (Assuming, of course, you're lucky enough to watch someone reading your work.)

The ability to transmit accurately an idea or an emotion and somehow touch another person on a personal level, using nothing more than words...that is what I aspire to achieve. And that's what I've been missing these last few months.

Boy, am I glad to be a writer again!