It is finished. The seven stories of The Norfolk Murders have been completed. This exercise in the creative process as performance art is over.
I wrote seven novellas in nine months…while I was retiring from the Navy. March – November tracked the final active duty adventures of the Navy’s Accidental Detective, Isaac T. Shepherd.
In total, that’s seven novellas. A total of 157,561 words spread across 351 pages…and these that I published to www.sparks1524.com were only the rough drafts!
This project didn’t begin as whole cloth. It started originally as a convergence of my realization I could write a short murder mystery in the Agatha Christie mode and my desire to emulate Harlan Ellison’s performance art of decades ago (where he sat in a bookstore window typing a story and taping the pages up as they were completed—allowing the readers to see a rough draft in development, warts and all).
But, of course, after Off Center was completed, the inevitable question arises: was this a one-off fluke, or can I do it again?
Thus, The Eisenhower Murder was born. But, once that murder was solved on the carrier, my reflection looked back at me as I shaved and realized the question still lingered: ok, two is good but only a real writer can do three, right?
And On the Rocks took shape…but then went into a far darker place than I expected. And, about midway through it I think is when I finally truly crystallized the idea of doing seven stories, chronically the seven final months of Isaac Shepherd’s career. So, in short order Looking Back, The Hanged Man, The Murder Game, and The Norfolk Murderer came along.
After seven novellas in nine months, I can safely say with well-earned confidence, I am a repeat performer. I can write a pretty good murder mystery (even though, admittedly, there were actually no murders in The Norfolk Murderer). And I’ve given you all a very unique look inside the creative process.
I didn’t decide what do with Gordon Grey until I actually wrote the prologue to The Norfolk Murderer. But then I decided to have some and open the story with the death of…someone. Even more, I decided to write it in such a way that you, dear reader, might be fooled into thinking I was killing off Isaac Shepherd!
Abraham Gray originally fired the fatal shot, but as the story developed I realized that Veronica Bale was better placed to do that. Or rather, her character told me her function was to end Grey’s life. After all, her research led them to discover he was serial killer with a very long history, and having Abraham Gray—a professional agent—sitting calmly while Isaac, the amateur, does all this talking was a subtle way I was using to really confuse the reader.
Think about it—Abraham Gray is sitting there calmly letting Isaac banter with the killer while a gun is held on them. I had already intentionally started sprinkling in words and phrases that mirrored those used in the prologue when the unnamed person was dying…and all of those were a blind designed to make you (the reader) think Isaac really was about to get shot; that he and Gray got complacent and arrogant and he was about to pay for it.
But having brought Veronica Bale (last seen 17 years in the past during the flashback story Looking Back) into the present as part of the investigation…suddenly there is a third player who can turn the tables on Grey. The banter goes on, but then WHAMO! The bad guy is the one who turns out to have been the arrogant, complacent one. Gordon Grey turns out to the be the one who really was caught up in thinking he was more clever than he was, and paid for it with his life.
The banter between Shepherd and Grey really gave me a chance to showcase how depraved Grey was. In his mind, he was doing good things. In his world, he was right, he was the hero. But that’s how it is in real life. In real life, the villains don’t laugh maniacally while reveling in how evil they are. No, they think they’re the normal ones.
Barring something coming up, my next project is The Accidental Detective, the story of Isaac Shepherd’s first adventure in the Navy. I’m already outlining it in my notebook, but don’t hold your breath. I have a lot happening and won’t get to drafting it for a bit.
Still, it is finished. Nine months of work, and not just nine months writing a story. No, nine months creating seven stories. Seven separate plot lines, seven sets of misdirection, seven threats, seven literary roller coasters. Personally, I think seven novellas over nine months is far more work and far more difficult that one novel over nine months!
I hope you have enjoyed seeing this exercise in the writer’s craft. I enjoyed the challenge, and I am enjoying the feeling of success at meeting the challenge!