Monday, November 18, 2013

Undertakers of Rain: The novel

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This is a novel about returned war veterans. True enough. But my intent when I started Undertakers was to write a book about jewel thieves. Jewel thieves. This was because of a dream I had. In the dream I was hiding under a staircase with someone, a woman, I think, and we were waiting out the war with a pile of jewels. I think there was more to the dream that just this.

I had to ask myself, why write a book about jewel thieves? I took a couple of points: the jewels, the male-female relationship and the backdrop of war.

The writing process, I suspect is different for every writer. I also think that the process changes for each writer. At the time I drafted Undertakers I was writing close to 40 hours a week. They were just about 40 uninterrupted hours too. This was 2009. I had just got out of graduate school. As the case with most grad school graduates, I two things going on: 1) I felt like I had something to prove. And 2) I was in a heap of debt. The writing process in 2009 was this: wake up, fire up the computer; make the coffee, get the notebook open to the right place; begin draft two. A couple of hours working on the latest draft and then lunch. I got dressed at this point and left the house. I went to a park, the backyard or a coffeehouse and with my notebook, I began to work on the initial draft again. Late in the day, I headed off to work. I did this seven days a week for most of the year. The fall of 2009, I taught two classes at the community college and I got nearly twelve hours a day to write. It was a hell of a time. I was turning out 50,000 word manuscripts every 6 to 8 weeks. Undertakers of Rain was the August-September project.

Back to the jewel thieves. They made it into the story. They are, in fact, a big part of the plot. But the jewel thievery is not the major focus of the book. The major focus of the book are the two main characters, John and Sam and the way they reconcile the past.

So, I set the story ten years after the war. I set the story in Portland, Oregon. I set the office building where these two work in the office building where I worked. John lives in the house where I lived in late 1999. This is about where the autobiography ends.

The construction of characters is a process in itself.

As many of you know, and as the all of you will find out, I dedicated this novel to my buddy Chris Howk. Chris and I met in college. He was still in the Marines at the time, and I had been out of the Army for a few years. We did not go to war together, as the two characters John and Sam did. But Chris is a integral part of the construction of my two main characters. In real life, Chris and I had adventures that lasted a decade. In that ten years we lived in Denver and Portland. We worked in fantastical places like Elbert, and Willamina. We squatted on the beach at Rockaway and we were homeless in Denver. Ten years is a long time. I love Chris.

Much like a war memoir, jewel thieves, and my life with Chris, these do not make a good story and they do not make good fiction.

I took every negative quality I saw in both Chris and me and put them into one character. I took all the good qualities that I perceived in both of us and put them into the second character. This was the birth of Sam and John. I gave them failed relationships, bar fights and stressful jobs. Nothing too far from real life. And, as it was, the book wrote itself.

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