The Backassward Way of Process


I’ve been wrestling hard with INSTRUMENT over the last few weeks. I know the story I want to tell; I’ve just been having a bitch of a time figuring out how to get into it. And then I realized that voice that has been working best for this milieu is not the voice of the main character. This realization cemented the fact I’ve been avoiding: my main character–as I’ve been considering him–is just the wrong guy.

So, out with the old, and finding something new. A tagline for another story surfaced from the old idea file, hooked itself onto the main character, and suddenly I realized that RABBITS FOOT would be a much more suitable introduction to this world and these players.

Maybe it’s just background that I play through and then keep to myself as I go back to INSTRUMENT, better armed to get into the book. But I realize that the hook into INSTRUMENT works much better if you’re party to RABBITS FOOT in its entirety.

This is my process. Instead of figuring out the beginning of a book that has been dogging me for five years, I back-burner it entirely to write the prequel. I’m still not sure if this is avoidance behavior or clever redirection of a nut that my brain isn’t ready to crack. Somewhere along the line I stumble to the fact that GEARS is the book that follows RABBITS FOOT and INSTRUMENT. And I know what the city is called by its denizens, so I can finally ditch “Empire City.” It’s an old friend, but it needed to go as it no longer fit the world.

During the 1500 word blitz to the end of Chapter One today, I hit a spot where a bit character (Burke) informed me he was a secondary character of some importance (thereby giving me a huge way in to the history of the world), and the main character (Mistral) did a little thing that told me he was ready to play with others.

Excellent. Blockage removed. Flow is on. Now to Chapter Two, which opens with a severed hand in a sink. But, first, my favorite bit from today behind the cut.

Burke was washing his hands when I entered the bathroom upstairs. White froth against pink skin. Fingers moving slowly across one another in a rolling, tumbling motion like waves against a flat beach. I pissed, flushed, washed my own hands, and dried them off before he finished.

I handed him a couple of towels and waited for him to finish his ablutions. He might have topped six feet in his prime, but gravity had compressed him a few inches over the years. His short hair still had a few grey streaks, and the color in his cheeks and eyes were the only tints that kept him from being monochromatic. He wore a shapeless cardigan that might have been blue once, but was now closer to grey, and the rest of his attire was the sort of cast-off utilitarian you normally see on blue collar workers who don’t quite know what to do with themselves on the weekends.

“Suicide kings?” he asked as he dropped the crumbled and damp paper towels in the bin. “I thought so,” he said when I nodded. “It was too pat. Me with the black pair, you with the red ones. Tiny pair in the flop.”

I listened for a second, honing in on the sound of chips clinking against one another, the scratch of paper against felt, the shuffling of shoe leather against the cold floor. “There’s a queen in the river,” I said. “Along with those fives that were already there. If someone has a pair of ladies, then they’ve got a full house to our two pair.”

“That’s the way I’d do it,” Burke said. “If I was playing that sort of game.”

I heard his insinuation clearly. “It’s not my gambit.”

“How do you know there’s a queen in the river, then?”

“Like you said: that’s the way to do it.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

I looked at the pair of us in the mirror: the old card shark and the invisible man. Judging by our clothing, we could be related, or working in the same industry. Burke had more character etched in his face; I had a better haircut: the extent of the differences between us. That, and a couple decades of living in the city.

What had it been like when he was my age? I wondered. Had he come here from the War? Had he witnessed the decline?

“Are you one of them, Mistral?” Burke asked, jarring my thoughts.

“One of who?” I asked.

“Them,” he said. “The luckies.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“No? You’re just naturally this good at cards?”

I reached into the pocket of my coat and produced the deck of cards I had brought to the game. I shook them out of their cardboard sleeve, and made the Ace of Spades dance on my fingertip. “Yep.”