Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Threads of Malice, aka The Book That Sunk My Career (part 1)

I'd like to state from the get-go that, much like the opening of Dickens' Tale of Two Cities, writing Threads of Malice was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. Creating it was both an exquisite pleasure, and an exquisite hell. I still dream of it, sometimes, and can quote vast swaths of narrative and dialog from memory. Editorially speaking, it was the easiest book - it had minimal line edits, and only one structural change from the initial draft - removing a scene of Otlee in Atro's cellar. The finished book is nearly a word for word match to my first draft, which still astounds me, especially since Ghosts and Valley had such massive overhauls. There are huge chunks of the narrative I don't remember writing, in fact, there were several times when going through line edits from my editor that I'd run across scenes, usually totally clean and with no edits at all, that I simply could not remember ever seeing before. It was like they magically appeared in my manuscript while it was off in New York, but they were in my original text files, so I must have written them.

(More after the cut)

All of that was good, magical. But... if you've read the book you know that the content was horrific. Imagine, if you will, living with that every day for a year. Imagine researching it, immersing yourself in it. Imagine watching movies and footage of John Wayne Gacy and reading interviews and pouring over case files and photos. Learning about torture, and sexual sadism and knowing that, somewhere down the narrative, someone greatly loved would be terribly harmed, if not killed. Or worse.

I had no one to talk to about the book other than Sam via email, because everyone in my regular day to day life was mortified and disgusted. Shit, I was mortified and disgusted. While composing Threads, I was working full time, writing full time, going through the editorial process with Ghosts, marketing my upcoming first novel (which included the incredible, quaking horror of flying to conferences, a subject for another post), and dealing with my father's decline and eventual death. I was also a wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, quilter, baker, and all those other things that keep me sane. I'd come home at night after work, eat a nice supper with my husband and daughter, then I'd torture, maim, and ultimately kill people. Every night for nearly a year.

I pulled no punches, glossed over no awful detail, and I never flinched, not once, at least not in the narrative. In my real life, however, I spent a lot of time crying, a lot of time angry, a lot of time wondering what the hell I'd signed myself up for, and a lot of time totally enamored with Lars and Jess and Aly and Devyn. They kept the book going for me - not Dubric, the books have never been about Dubric, at least for me. So it was a constant struggle of yin and yang, but mostly it was my desperate desire to show that I had the guts to write something powerful and poignant with depth and heart and horror and love all meshed together.

And I did that. I lost my drive in the process, perhaps spent my fortitude and passion for the words, perhaps purposely pissed away any good will I might have had from the success of Ghosts. I have a habit of sabotaging myself when things go well. I was not prepared for Ghosts getting picked up so quickly or so well. I was not equipped to deal with success. For me, failure is easy, success is hell, and being the focus of any attention is acute horrific torture all its own (much like the overt subject matter of the book). So, sometimes I do wonder if I tackled and so frankly stated the awfulness in Threads simply to shoot myself in the foot. While writing it I told myself that it was a book that had to be taken seriously, but now, years later... I wonder. Was it just one more way for me to assure that any good that came to me would be a false promise? Was it just my way of protecting myself, making it my decision to fail, before external sources forced failure/ridicule/abuse upon me?

I don't know. I just don't know.

But I do know that, in Threads, I realized the books were about Lars, not Dubric. And, ultimately, Lars represented me. Take a licking and keep on ticking. Do the right thing, no matter what. Take the blame. Stand. Hope. Fail. Get the psychological shit beat out of you. Hate yourself. And stand up again, even when you're terrified beyond comprehension.

So, yeah. I wrote Threads of Malice, a story about an old man and a boy tracking one of the most horrid, psychopathic killers to ever exist. I wrote it in a weepy, quivering purge. I wrote it night after night, only to go to bed exhausted and wake up screaming. I wrote it to stare my personal demons in the eye, then spit on them even as they ripped open my guts and laid them bloody on the page. I wrote it to give myself a voice, a voice carried by a brave and damaged 15 year old boy whose greatest gift is his unyielding hope. I wrote it to tell my abusive past to go fuck itself. I wrote it because it was the idea I pitched second and felt contractually obligated to deliver. I wrote it because I hate myself and it's easier for me to delve into my internal darkness than walk in the light. I wrote it because no one - including me - thought I had the guts. I wrote it stone cold sober, fueled only by diet coke and kettle corn. I wrote it because someone has to stand up and declare that such things are wrong and must stop, no matter what. And, ultimately, that someone was me, speaking as a determined, terrified boy in a stable. Read what Lars says on pp 411-412 sometime. That's me. Someone has to stop this. Someone has to stare unflinchingly at abuse and say no more.

That's why I walk in the dark and report back what I see. That's why I never fucking flinch. That's why the book I'm working on, the book that becomes more and more personal - and darker, oh yes, so, so dark - is also about abuse and what damage it leaves behind.

I picked up that burden in Threads. It nearly broke me, but I won't let go. It's my job now, my purpose, no matter how awful. To stare into the dark, to stand, and to say 'I will not allow this to happen unchallenged any more.'

I did that in Threads of Malice. I will, someday, do it again. Maybe not tonight, maybe not this spring, or even this year. But someday again.

I didn't want to write Threads of Malice, I HAD to. And despite its commercial failure, despite all the trouble it's brought me, I would not change one single word.

No comments: