I promised myself in the beginning I'd never be one of those bloggers who just babbled on and on without anything to say, and I haven't been. Sorry if you think that's hardly an excuse for not writing for over a year, but it's all I have.
2013 was a difficult year for writing for me. I got ALONG THE RAVENSWOOD out and piddled around thinking I'd design a web site (didn't come to anything) and get both Ravenswood and CHICAGO STORIES: WEST OF WESTERN out in hard copy. That didn't happen, either. It was early spring by then, so I thought, well, I'd get to work on the next Chicago story. I already had a rough draft. Maybe I could even get it up on Amazon by July.
Obviously that didn't happen. I ditzed around all spring and summer, writing this and that, tearing out my hair, spending a lot of time working in the garden. I hated the way the story felt. It was boring and not at all like the Pilsen I remembered and loved. The characters bored me stiff. They even bored Seraphy.
I told myself I didn't have to love writing. It was a job. Stephen King has talked about that. Put your butt in the chair and write. I kept putting the butt in the chair and writing and the result was a fat butt.
Then I decided to change my main character (besides Seraphy) from Matt to his significant other, Alex. Alex, a second-generation Mexican/American, a fashion designer who's worked her way through school and started her own business, a woman on the verge of major success. Hmm, things were hotting up. She has blue-tinged temper tantrums. Seraphy was never interested in fashion and isn't sure what to do with her. Better and better.Matt remains a strong character but takes a place in the background.
The schoolhouse's former owner turns up, very dead, in the disused dumbwaiter, just when Seraphy thought the demolition was going well.
Better, but still not much is happening. Add in Paco, ten or thereabouts, a kid from a huge family barely hanging on in Pilsen, part legal, mostly not.His father and uncle and two cousins have disappeared. He can't go to the cops because they're illegal . . . the missing men and forty others had been living in the old schoolhouse Seraphy's redesigning for Alex. All disappeared just before Alex closed on the building. Seraphy is shanghaied into hunting for them.
It was all getting better, but didn't really come together until the fourth or fifth revision, when I began to understand just what I was really writing about. It's always like this for me. I write a story and am the last person to figure out what it's really all about. Not the surface story, the murder mystery, that's obvious from the start. But there's always more.
It took a comment from my writing instructor at Gotham Writers to point out that the theme of West of Western was home--Seraphy's learning how to make her home and what it means for her to be home. There's more,of course, the power of imagination and the havoc wreaked by those who lack it, the strength of unexpected friendship, and kittens.
When I started writing Along the Ravenswood, I intended a straight-forward mystery thatwould take place in upscale North Side Ravenswood. I ended up writing about the essence of fine architecture, what it means to be a family, what happens to old soldiers. Wow. I never saw it coming.
So why was I so surprised when AT THE HEART OF CHICAGO refused to materialize as another genre mystery, turning into a story about immigration, about new beginnings and old evils and friendship, but above all, about what lies at the heart of Chicago. Because Chicago, ever since the days of John Winthrop, has been for so many the city on the hill.
I'm sending the manuscript off to my editor, the fierce and perceptive Elizabeth Lyon, tomorrow or the next day. Then, after she unerringly points out the icky parts,I'll fix them and send it off to Booknook for formatting--then, in a month or three, I'll sling the result up on Amazon. Really.I will.