Tuesday, December 6, 2011

K [phantasmagoria] part one

I first sat down to write this story more than two years ago. It began as a sketch on how horribly depressed I felt as a man having to live within the confines of his own mistakes. Under the thumb of consequence. Having to look myself in the face when the reflection in the mirror was the picture of futility. Heavy stuff, indeed, but I’d argue then as I do now that there are a lot of us out here mired in failure, frustration, and the deep sand of personal responsibility. It’s anything but easy.

As I moved through that desolation, I couldn’t get away from my little sketch. I called my protagonist by a simple letter: K. I didn’t know what else to call him. It was easier anyway, since so much of the story was autobiographical and K can, by extension, denote Chris. Okay maybe I'm reaching. Anyway my sketch was just a simple scene in which a man is awakened by the oppressive sun streaming into his bedroom on an early September day in Meridian, Idaho. It would be hot and bright and washed out. And he knew he would hate it. So he thrashes around with the blankets and the alarm clock until he realizes he cannot avoid responsibility and consequence any longer: if he doesn’t get up and get his butt to work, he might lose his job—all he has left.

I continued to work on it, share it with my friends at the Huckins Writers Guild, get critiqued, and then work on it some more. It began to grow. Before I knew it I had produced about 100,000 words. Somewhere deep within, though, I wasn’t satisfied with it. It was sophomoric. Kind of childish; undeveloped. It lacked grit, intensity. It wasn’t believable, even to me. And that’s when it hit me: I knew what was wrong. Strangely, it had to do with mechanics. Spelling and grammar type stuff. More specifically, tense.

It reminded me of when I was in high school, playing the trumpet, or learning how, more like. The sound I produced in real life wasn’t always equivalent to the sound I heard in my head. When improvising a solo over chord changes, the melody in my head was far different than the one I could wrestle that recalcitrant instrument to produce. It was the same with my new stillborn novel, K. In my head it played like a movie; I could see it all in front of me. But on the page it was stale, impotent, cold, disengaged. So I set about making a few changes as an experiment.

About that time, I was finishing work on another piece; The Marsburg Diary. Since part of it is set in the late Victorian age, I was hitting up old dictionaries apace, looking for period-accurate vocabulary. I came across the word phantasmagoria. And that’s when my working title gave over to the final title: K [phantasmagoria]. I decided then to write three novels in a series, with K [phantasmagoria] the first in the line.

And just a sidebar here: My original idea for the three volume series has grown. K [phantasmagoria] was getting to be so long that I had to break it in half. Yep. So three novels have become six. It's still going to be three main titles, but each title will have two parts, so K [phantasmagoriapart one will be followed by K [phantasmagoriapart two next year. The other two titles are top secret, natch.

I finished Marsburg and shifted to K. My experiment—changing the first chapter’s past to present tense—just flat out worked. While there will be some, like Les Edgerton, who protest against the use of present tense in fiction, as for me I’d found my happy medium. Writing in what I call CenterCode lent the sizzle I required. So I set out to change the entire book.

In that process I found out that I needed more background for K as my protag. It wasn’t quite right, just waking him up and throwing him into a massively explosive precognitive event on his way to work. I needed something more, some background, relationships that made him more human, gave him something to lose. So I introduced new plotlines, like the new first chapter, [Provocation], new characters like Quincey the cuz, and Essie Gray the Harley riding girlfriend, and Dr. Charles Wen, K’s government mandated psychiatrist. All of it gave me more opportunity to ply the conflicts in the story, and really set up the explosive main event that happened originally in my little sketch on the frustrated man.

It’s been said that all fiction is autobiographical. It helps me to know and believe this, because I can make peace with the idea and not hold back in my writing. K is 100% me in the sense of my experience; i.e. my perspectives on things. But as a character he’s an amalgamation of people I’ve met in my life and gotten to know. I suppose, really, that includes me. Those who know me will recognize bits of him as self-portraiture, certainly, but not all of him.

I mentioned earlier that I’ve not held back in this work. I made an executive decision with this book to include profanity, for instance. My rationale for it is that it creates a different environment than could be made otherwise. It makes the characters more believable, more fun to write, and raises the stakes a bit, providing a little more intensity. But that’s not the only area I’ve tried to push things a bit. I don’t, for instance, believe it’s wrong to struggle with life or wrestle with God, and I certainly don’t think it’s apropos to stick Him away in some God Locker, cloistered within the confines of Christian fiction or the subculture du jour. He swaggers front and center on these pages sometimes, and K wrestles him all the way, from start to finish. Some of it may seem irreverent, but keep reading. I think wrestling, in season, is all good, and I’m not afraid of it or what questions it may provoke in people. Questions are meant to be asked; God has all the answers.

This book, K [phantasmagoria] part one, is intensely personal for me but I think there are more out there like me who dare to ask tough questions. There are more out there who are at peace with their decision to ask, even if there is no clear answer forthcoming. This book is about that. It’s also a piece of fiction in which, hopefully, you’re kept guessing until the end about what’s really going on here. Evil has many brands, many faces. You’ll see lots of those in this book. Sometimes what we wrestle has to be dragged kicking and screaming to the light… even if it’s us. I hope you’ll begin the journey of the K series with me; it’ll be quite a satisfying ride, I think.

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