Well, as I promised you, I have an update for my story. Once called “Old Ipswich Road” it’s now been renamed “Blood on the Quarter”. Why? You may ask. Why would you re-title a story that you’ve had titled for the last three years? Didn’t it break your heart? Didn’t you cry a little bit? Didn’t part of you die inside?
Change, dear readers. Change is necessary.
It’s also very painful.
In answer to the questions; yes it was painful, it did break my heart a little bit, no I didn’t cry, and maybe just a little part of me died. But it’s all for the best. Really and truly.
Allow me to explain.
Five years ago I wrote a short story while enroute to the Suez Canal. I really didn’t care where we were going, I just knew I hated my boss. I was sitting at the small desk my shared berth came with, listening to my iPod and writing. The story came out of me so fast it was all I could do to keep up. The story contained all of my anger, anguish, and nineteen-year old angst about my situation, and regret for signing on the dotted line. Needless to say, everyone died. Including the lovers. Both had their hearts ripped out, and to this day I wish I would have kept the notebook. I don’t know where it went, and I hate myself for ever losing it. Nothing I’ve written since, that had anything to do with the story-no rewrite-has been quite as good.
The story, that is to say Old Ipswich Road, always been a re-imagining of Red Riding Hood. It’s just longer and more complex now.
The story itself was ambiguous to its setting, it needed some place with snow and a forest that could easily conceal monsters that ate people for fun. I didn’t have to describe it to anyone-it was an anger fueled story-but in the back of my head, it was always Salem, Massachusetts that the story belonged. Part of it always will belong there, as far as I’m concerned, but story evolution tells another tale.
You have to understand, when a story is written, it’s never the final draft. In fact, every consecutive rewrite can rightfully be called the “first draft” something always changes within the story. Always, always, always. For me, the change was gradual at first; I had an idea of what I wanted, I just didn’t know how to write it. Then it became more immediate; something had to give.
Massachusetts couldn’t be the setting of the story. I’ve never been there. I don’t know the people or how they talk. I could certainly have some of the story take place in the state, but it couldn’t be the background. My long love affair with Salem and her stories would have to end. It could no longer be a part of the story. Louisiana, however, Louisiana I knew and loved. I knew the people, I knew the city and its food, and even some of its history.
I will admit with some shame, that I was a Goth kid in high school. Complete with trench coat and Anne Rice love affair. New Orleans was my Mecca.
You can stop laughing now.
As I grew up; I lost the trench, kept the Vampire Chronicles, and stayed in love with New Orleans.
That’s where the story belongs, I said to myself when I started seriously putting pen to paper, N’awlins. The Big Easy. The Crescent City. With all of her Creole charm, Voodoo magic, food, music, cemeteries, and alleys that make you wonder if you should walk any further. There’s a magic to New Orleans, the city holds a spell, and it’s that magic that I wanted to tap into for Old Ipswich Road.
One change down. Another to go.
While I was writing Ipswich, I toyed with the idea of setting it in a time different from the one I was writing. I had the time set in the 20th century with flashes into the 1600s. However, one scene was bothering me. It was set in the 1600s, but I wrote it so that it could easily have happened in the 19th. Did I pay attention to it? Not really. Should I have? Probably. But where’s the fun in learning a lesson if it hasn’t been taught yet?
Only later would I come to realize that the time frame needed to change. It happened because of a discussion between Shiri and I. Somehow, I had become reliant on her story for the bulk of mine.
Don’t ever. EVER do that.
A writing partner is a PARTNER. And, unless you two have a specific agreement to share your universe, steer clear of theirs and keep to your own. The immediate change I was talking about? That was it. I had grown reliant on her, not necessarily by choice, but because of one scene where her characters made an appearance in my story. An innocent thing, it shouldn’t have made that much of an impact, however, by her characters there, her rules became superimposed on my world. That fact became evident when I started to write the sequel.
Something had to give.
I had to have my own story, away from established rules and paradigms.
As Old Ipswich Road stood, it read something like this:
Thunder boomed overhead, making Melanie jump. She whimpered, wrapping her arms around her belly, tears flowing down her cheeks and chin. Mickey stared at her, his blue eyes shadowed with fatigue. Melanie bit her lip, feeling guilty for opening her mouth.
“Wha-” Mickey cleared his throat, “What do you mean he’s dead?” He asked carefully, “I was just on the phone with him.”
“What?!” She yelped in surprise, ignoring stares from passersby. “Y-you talked to him?”She asked, stepping closer to Mickey and lowering her voice.
“Yeh. He called a few hours ago, said he was coming to the funeral and hung up. Told me Nyquil had kicked in.”
Melanie swallowed a sob, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“I wish I was, love.”
She nodded. He paced a circle, raking a hand through his hair.
“Are you sure he’s dead?”
She ran a hand over her mouth, “I saw the photos.”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” He cursed, his accent coming out thick. “How bad were they?”
“His heart was ripped out.”
He stopped, staring at her, “His, what?”
She met his gaze, “His heart was ripped out. The angles were bad when they took the pictures, but it’s pretty plain that his heart was ripped right out of his chest.”
“Why would they accuse you?”
“How the Hell should I know?” She snapped. “One minute I’m in my hotel room, about to go back to bed and try and get some sleep, and the next minute I’m arrested and shoved into an interrogation room!”
She put her hands against her eyes, shutting out the world.
“He can’t be dead,” She muttered. “It’s all just a bad dream. It’s all a bad dream, I’m gonna wake up tomorrow and all of this is going to go away.”
Darkness she’d learned to control through therapy threatened her mind, making her tremble and shake. Locking her jaw, she forced her mind still, resisting the pull of madness.
Melanie tried for the door, using the light as a beacon.
“Come on!” The little voice urged, “I can’t keep this open very long, she will wake up! Come on!”
Melanie tried, straining for the door, but every step she took pushed it further back until she was running and running and getting no closer.
Melanie stretched out her hand, reaching for the tiny shadow, fighting against panic.
A heavy hand slammed the door shut, stopping Melanie in her tracks. Suddenly the thing on her neck was a heavy weight, dragging her down to the deck. Another hand slammed into her chin, sending her reeling back. Blow after blow made contact until she had nowhere to go but into a corner.
“Where is the journal?”
Melanie held up her hands, blocking her face.
“Where is the journal?”
She looked, a pair of feet stood before her. Melanie lashed out, her foot landing against shin. She stood, pain making her dizzy, and looked down at an empty deck. Another fist made contact with her spine.
“Give me the journal.”
The voice was a familiar hiss. Melanie crashed to the deck, catching herself with her hands and knees. Knuckles drove themselves between her shoulder blades, grinding against her spine, turning into something sharper, piercing the skin. Wave after wave of pain crashed through Melanie. She bucked, throwing herself on to the deck and kicking out, hoping she landed a blow.
“Tell me where the journal is and the pain stops,” The voice promised, a pair of lips close to Melanie’s ear. “All you have to do is tell me where it is.”
Melanie shook her head. A second hand grabbed her shoulder, sinking dirty claws deep into her skin.
“I promise you, the pain will stop,” The voice soothed flexing both hands, “I just need to know where-”
White light flooded Melanie’s vision.
Thunder slammed through her, vibrating her whole body and jarring the hands that held her loose.
“Run!” The tiny voice called from behind the door, “Run into the light! You’ll be safe there!”
And one more;
“Claire,” Mickey said, turning the woman’s attention on him. “I swear I didn’t know.”
“None of us did,” She agreed, thanking Melanie for the offered mug. “I just wish you wouldn’t have killed him before I could have gotten a turn in.”
“He wouldn’t have told you anything, too much time had passed.”
Claire grunted, looking up at Melanie, “How do you know Dama isn’t dead?”
“If she’s buried at a crossroads she’d be an idiot not to be dead,” Melanie said simply, going to the refrigerator.
Pulling out heavy cream and strawberries, Melanie set them down on the table and walked to another cupboard across the kitchen. From there she pulled a large bowl. Another cabinet and drawer and she had a whisk and bag of powdered sugar.
“I have this nasty habit of needing sweets when I’m upset,” She said by way of explanation. “It’s not the healthiest habit, but what are you going to do?”
Mickey and Claire said nothing, watching her intently as she whisked the cream and sugar together.
“Why would she be an idiot?” Claire asked.
“There’s an old legend about crossroads,” Melanie said, needing to talk. “They’re called the Devil’s Cross.”
Now, that isn’t to say what you see above isn’t going to appear in the new incarnation. Far from it. A lot of what I’ve written is good, and I want to keep the majority, but the time and a lot of the context needs to change. Old Ipswich Road was very much Melanie’s story, her experiences and feelings, and the sequel was again going to be her story.
Not so much this time.
Blood on the Quarter is most definitely going to be Steampunk. Why? Because the genre allows for greater re-imagining and reinterpretation of history. Victorian technology is updated (insofar as steam will allow), rules for men and women can be bent, and historical figures can realistically be put into situations that they wouldn’t have been in the history that we know today. And why not? History was written by the winners, Steampunk allows for the creative to challenge what the classroom preaches. You know, maybe Andrew Jackson did stay on for another term or two, and maybe the White House is even more corrupt than we really give it credit for not that that’s a far cry from the truth today, but, you know, these things can happen.
It’s also not Melanie’s story. Well, it is, but it isn’t. To have it from one person’s point of view is to dramatically narrow the story that I want to tell. And, if I’m honest, it’s damned hard to write that way. Shiri does an amazing job, Shaman is a truly great story, but I can’t. Nope. Blood on the Quarter needs to be a story told from multiple directions, blended in, stirred and maybe shaken, then given to the world.
Is it going to be a detective story? Sort of. Is there going to be a supernatural element to it? Oh yeah. I didn’t spend an anger fueled night writing a werewolf story only to take it out of the final product. No sir. Is it going to be filled with clockwork weapons and steam-driven objects that wouldn’t normally be seen unless you’re at the Steampunk World’s Fayre? Yessir.
Because Blood on the Quarter is Louisiana re-imagined. It is the Crescent City no one told you about and all of her dark little secrets are going to come out.
As a side note, would you guys believe it took me all day to write this post? True story.