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Archive for January, 2013

Why SERPENT became PLAGUES

A sunny day in my old Upper Village apartment in Manhattan. But  something is amiss: nefarious forces are at work, trying to take over the country.  Fortunately, Judy Dench appears to bring me to the group of resistance fighters uptown.  “We can’t take a cab,” she says. “Kanye is midtown, and they’re not letting anyone through.” So we get into her helicopter. She flies it like a madwoman (perhaps because she doesn’t see so well), but we  make it safely to the meeting of a professional writers organization. It turns out, we writers  are the resistance organization—under the guise of writing fictional plots, we will instead be saving the country. Yep. My fellow novelists, willing to risk their own lives.

I didn’t get to hear the whole plan, because my dog woke me up.  But THIS is one way I know I’m back, working on a thriller.

SO, EDEN 4

BL river in edenB.K. and  originally planned that the fourth book would be Serpent of Eden, the book that takes place IN Eden when Jaime first arrives, in between books one and two (Chasing and Beyond). And we worked on it. We have the first 75 pages. We know all about Eden; we have maps, and topography. We understand  the basic engineering of how it runs, and the differences between life in Eden and life in the Terris world. We knew what happened between Jaime and Yani, and the other  surprises in store for Jaime.

What never felt right, at least to me, was the tone of the book. B.K. and I billed it between ourselves as a “gentle mystery.” But what did that mean? We knew plot-wise, but tone-wise?  Was it like a “cozy” set in Eden? Or was it more like Lost Horizon?  Honestly, I don’t think it’s that we’ll never figure it out. I think it isn’t time yet.

So a year ago, after the e-book versions took off and just kept going, B.K. and I decided Eden 4 would be a thriller, the next in line after Treasure. And yes, because we are comfortable plotting them in three book arcs, likely the first of the second trilogy.

FINDING B.K. TO WORK WITH HER

One of the most interesting things about writing with B.K. is the setting in which we find ourselves. See, she has this other job. And it keeps her so busy (and she is so good at it), that we can only meet to intensively plot books when she takes leave. Usually, I also have to fly somewhere around the world to meet her.  Once things are rolling, we’re good by email and/or Skype. In fact, the second two books were mostly written while she was deployed to war zones. I worried it would be too much for her, but she claimed it gave her another world to escape to when she came back to her hooch at night to decompress.

And we did write Chasing after her first OIF deployment, when she was back Stateside. We started it in the rental house at Lake George, and continued in her Miata on the way home. We’re really really good at plotting in vehicles. We finished up CHASING in a boat going down the Rhine in Germany (after a lunch at a castle perched so precariously that we would start to roar up, and slide back down, and roar back up.)

 chateau frontWe plotted most of Treasure when I met her for a very moving series of wreath-layings and memorial services to celebrate American Memorial Day, in the Champagne region of France. There were still old men who’d fought in WWII, and those who remembered being liberated by the U.S. It was very touching. We fought our way through the plot while staying in a chateau turned b&b, that of course wound up in the book at Mark Shepherd’s house. But I remember hours of driving through the most magnificently stormy French countryside wrestling with the plot. (And also thinking, “if our 6th grade French Underground selves could see us now!”)

Yes, settings from our writing jaunts usually turn up in books. However, often, I have to send B.K. in by herself to get the real scoop. Here she is at the Second Sister, in the ruins of Ur, noted in Chasing.I also sent her to Baghdad Airport, Camp Anaconda, and various other Iraqi locales. Good thinking on my part, let me say. Author at work

So now, B.K. is once again taking leave to work on the plot. This time, I’m driving to her current posting, which, cue the (Army) band, is not only in the same country and the save time zone, it’s 45 minutes from my house!

It’s in West Point, New York, attached to the Cadet Chapel. Yes, with secret bookshelves that swing out and secret rooms with lepers’ windows. That’s where we’re working. Off a Gothic, wood-paneled hallway in a sunny room with a fire in the fireplace, and two dogs settled in for the long haul. Of course we are.

On the rare day that she can take leave, and I can take leave, and the dogs are available, we wade in.

NEXT

Jaime and Yani (and a few other recognizable folks) show up…

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Return to Eden

eden 2In recent months I’d almost forgotten what it was like to be caught up in “artistic flow,” when thoughts and ideas start tumbling, scenes start presenting themselves nearly whole, and characters begin to get uppity and say whatever’s on their minds.

Then our publisher politely pointed out that B.K. Sherer and I had agreed to give them the book referred to as Eden 4, and, as the first three Eden thrillers  continued to go great guns, “yesterday” was as good a time as any to get the next book to them.

Writing with a co-author has produced both the most wonderful and most miserable experiences of my literary career. Let me be quick to say there was only one “miserable,” and there were plenty of warning signs, which I chose to disregard due to youth, inexperience and hunger for that particular contract. It was the year I came to understand “Life is Too Short,” not only in my mind, but in my bones. I came out of it having learned not only a valuable lesson, but with–despite everything–a lovely book.

The Edens are the first and only fiction series I write with a co-author. Pre- Edens,  if you’d asked me to write fiction with someone, I would have demurred, not understanding how writing something as personal as fiction–which gets free range inside the author’s internal universe–could be shared.

The Eden series was born in Lake George, NY, on a “girls weekend” shortly after my best friend since elementary school, B.K. Sherer, returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom.  She was by then  a Presbyterian minister, an Army chaplain and an officer.  The minister part, I got, having grown up with one.

The Army chaplain part lost me completely. What had happened when she was Iraq also was beyond my ken. No clue. When she talked about it, in a language that somehow treated alphabetical letters as words, I realized that there was a gulf between our current worlds. (I saw some of that same lack of comprehension in her eyes as I spoke on the phone to my then-toddler daughter.) And there was a decision for both of us.  Did we continue to remain friends up in the simple atmosphere of good movies and Mexican food? Or were we willing to commit to the hard stuff–the unexplored worlds and strange languages?

If you’re reading this, you know the answer. We dove in. The water was deep. But Jaime and Yani–and a whole bunch of wrestling with the meaning of life and death and relationships with God and money and Bedouin tribes and Greek islands were there in the depths. Up to that point, I’d written a number of successful nonfiction books, I’d ghosted for myriads of celebrities, and had hundreds of magazine articles to my name. I’d also come very close to publishing several of the novels I’d written in my little office (closet) under the stairs in my “Upper Village” apartment in NYC.  Chasing Eden was the first novel that I sold to a major editor (Jennifer Enderlin) at a major publishing house (St. Martin’s Press). We got a 3 book contract.

What a journey those three books were. We wrote the other two as she continued to be deployed to Iraq. Three times, total. None of those deployments were easy. Some were harder than others.

We continued to write, by email and Skype, and we met up in Germany and France and Germany again. Her experiences, and my experiences, were folded into the books. (Jaime is NOT B.K.–she is both of us, and, mostly, her own self.) We regained the kind of verbal and nonverbal shorthand we’d shared from sixth grade through high school. I even gained somewhat of a fluency in Alphabet–er, Army.

The fit between B.K. and myself has never been benign. We met in Mrs. Conard’s sixth grade class when she moved to town (my family had moved in a year earlier).  From the get-go, we had the ability to annoy each other on levels usually reserved for siblings and rival political candidates. In some ways, we seemed to be exact opposites–she was athletic, musical, brunette and way too smart, while I was smart and  (as Elphaba would say)  blonde.

But the real reason we had this IAC (instant annoyance capability) was that we were too much alike. We were both  competitive, iconoclastic, imaginative,  adventurous, and stubborn.  We both knew, even at 11, that we somehow wanted to change the world. For the 6th grade talent show, where most of our peers sang or played piano or tap-danced, we co-wrote and co-starred in a play about the French Underground in World War II. We never got together to try out make-up or play Mystery Date. We started a spy organization called D.A.G.G.E.R., co-wrote books about a teen spy group called OOS (the Order of the Orange Surfboard).

Then we graduated from high school. She headed for Florida to become a marine biologist. I headed for Wheaton, Illinois, to become a journalist. Of course, nothing happened the way we’d planned it. I ended up at NYU and she ended up at Princeton Theological Seminary. I came to her graduation. She and my dad traded off being ministers at my wedding; she was also maid of honor and he was also father of the bride.  Then we kind of lost touch for a while. Until she went off to Iraq, and I kind of published one of her letters into a magazine story before she got back. Then we went to Lake George, and Jaime and Yani followed us home.  They had adventures through three books.

And, for 4 years, we knew we had to do a fourth. Last week, we knew (were told) the time had come. And, I was completely at a loss as to what “Eden 4″ would look like.

To be continued…

 

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