On Time when You’re Not on Time


Here I sit in a state of aftershock from completing one of the toughest and most intense projects I’ve ever worked on. I have slowly fallen off the planet since it started, which is a weird thing to do when you have plenty of family and friends and are still trying to be active and act normal with them. And yet just by looking at my Facebook page, Google account, and blog it’s obvious that my interactions with all people have descended steadily to a minimum over the past year. Although physically present, I have felt a psychological absence. My heart and mind have become more and more a part of this absence, taken away, halfway to always in the clouds.

But let’s back up—a year and a month ago, I published a novella called Slash of Crimson with the small press Rymfire Books. Editor Armand Rosamilia gave me a shot, and though the splash may have been small, the swim felt good. The novella got generally good reviews and folks who read it seemed to enjoy it. I donated my first royalty payment to the Tom Piccirilli get-well fund. The reading I had scheduled fell through, but it at least got me back in touch with some writers, editors, and friends from years back and hey, I had a great interview with Dan O’Brien on Friday the Thirteenth last year where I got to hang around my creepy attic and talk about ‘urban’ New England and H.P. Lovecraft.

The momentary high was exciting enough to encourage me to revisit a project that took place in the Crimes of Heaven and Hell series after which this website is named, and rewrite it as the first full-length novel for the series. And so, Reigns the Wicked is now off to its first reader, an agent who I’ve worked with before who is willing to take a look.

Completing this rewrite was nothing short of brutal. Eureka moments of excitement with regard to the developing story were combined with quaking fears at the sheer magnitude of the task. For I was attempting a true rewrite. I was not just changing names and sentence structure, I was reworking an entire plot, adding and removing characters, changing the book’s beginning and end.

I can remember reading Stephen King’s On Writing, where if I’m remembering correctly, he discusses how a novel ought not to take more than about three months to write. You then leave the manuscript to get ‘cold’ (in his words) and revisit it. For me, it usually takes about six months to write a 75,000 word novel, which I chalk up to having a full-time job and family.

I think there is always an inherent contradiction in the craftsperson’s relationship with time. The re-write took a year and a month. I went past a self-imposed deadline of a year, which I already thought was too indulgent. And yet the entire time I was working, I reminded myself that the rewrite was worthless if it was not complete and the best it could possibly be.

At the same time, I know some folks who work on one novel for years and years. They re-write and re-write and it’s never really done. On top of this sounding like a maddening task, the word on the street from established and those just becoming professional writers is that the ‘perpetual novel’ is a classic pitfall, literary quicksand, and should be anathema to anyone doing real work in the craft. I tend to be open minded to a fault, and never say never, and am sure that there have been a few instances where taking decades to write something has paid off. But generally speaking, you want to keep things moving.

We’ve had a few downed planes in the news lately, and their images in photos across the web haunted my mind as I prepared my manuscript for submission and sent it out. One went down just before I sent it, one went down just after. A friend of mine was on the second, the Southwest flight at LaGuardia where the landing gear failed. She’s okay, which is good for all of us, as she works at a distillery and makes fantastic bourbon. But during a time when the delicate nature of timing itself has been at the forefront of my mind, I can’t help but give respect to pilots and liken the act of writing a novel to the touch it takes to gracefully move burning steel across the sky. The stakes are high, because if you’re taking it seriously and you’re spending the hours of your life on it, taking time away from other ways to make money and quality time with family, you are literally putting your very existence on the line.

And so while there are probably jollier metaphors for the things in life that require you to go ‘not too slow, not too fast, yeah, just right,” I am going to offer a paean of respect to all those who take risks with their craft, who put up their lives for something that may land you with nothing, and specifically to the pilots of the Concorde flight that went down over Paris. For it is their words that have been in my mind for a year and a half: “The air speed! The air speed!”