Well, that certainly did not go as planned!
I’m referring to the just-completed third story chronicling the adventures of Isaac Shepherd, On the Rocks.
Intended from the off as the story featuring the return of Gordon Grey, the whole story took me on a ride into directions and levels of darkness I was not intending or anticipating when I began to write it.
This murder mystery happens in May. I was delayed in completing it by my real-life involvement in Fleet Week New York. Upon returning to Norfolk intending to get deep into my own separation process as my 20 years in the Navy comes to a close, life happened instead. Real-world events necessitated a great deal of my attention be focused on work and other matters, thus delaying this story.
And yet this story is a great example of the Writer’s Craft; namely, the tendency of a story to tell itself to you, instead of you telling it. All writers experience this; a character suddenly up and tells you they should do an action instead of someone else. The dialogue writes itself as you hear your characters talking in your head. The very story reshapes itself, deciding for itself what is “right” about it. Every writer experiences the story taking on a life of its own to a certain point…but this “life of its own” was pretty big even by my standards!
The “Gordon” name thread was in the first rough idea I had. Norman’s body washing ashore after being dumped was there at the story’s genesis. So was the week of Norman being impersonated by Gordon Grey. I also planned on Shepherd being mailed Norman’s driver’s license.
After that it all just went south.
Norman’s murder was supposed to happen a different way (I won’t tell you how; I want to use that method in a future story). His squadron mates from the fictitious HSC 227 were supposed to feature heavily. The waiter, Gordon Stewart, was supposed to be found hidden inside a void on the Norfolk Rover. The very title was supposed to have a double meaning; a literal description of where Norman’s body was found and be a pun.
Obviously almost none of that took place. The one thing that did work out as intended was the title describing where Norman was found. As to the pun…it was lost.
As soon as Shepherd approached the ship after getting the license the story changed. It just…changed. It took itself in directions I had not intended and Gordon Grey’s character revealed himself to be far more depraved and dangerous than even I had thought.
And yet Grey also revealed himself as something more than a two-dimensional cardboard villain existing solely so my heroes can act heroic. Derange as he is, Gordon Grey pulled back the curtain on his psyche to reveal a very human sense of betrayal and loss and pain. In other words, he proved to be a three-dimensional character. A despicable and depraved character, yes. A character most people would not sympathize with at all, but a character most people would believe to be real. We all know loss and betrayal and pain; those are universal human experiences. We all know the horrible feeling of being cheated out of something we believe rightfully ours.
We all also know people who go through these dark experiences and yet come out with the completely wrong idea of life or a decidedly skewed and possibly narcissistic reaction to these events—a desire to lash out and punish everyone and anyone for the problem. And a total failure to look in a mirror and recognize their own distorted, selfish line of thinking.
June’s murder mystery had been planned from day 1 to be a moment Looking Back at Shepherd’s past. Fortunately will be short, even for this series, and that should help me get back on track to cranking one out per month until Shepherd and I both retire from the Navy in September.
So this bit of performance art goes on, this effort of this writer putting himself out in public by publishing, chapter by chapter in serial format, rough drafts of these stories for the world to see.
I’m not sure if On the Rocks is even good storytelling or not. It formed itself so differently and so much darker than I intended that I honestly can’t tell if it’s good or not. But, good or not, it’s my story and I stand by it. It is the third tale in this series, and will remain in continuity. It was very hard to write, especially to keep it under 60 pages. However, that difficulty makes it all the more satisfying to have it completed!
But…either way (good story or not), that certainly did not go as planned!