This book has given me fits since I first started writing it. I began Solitaire, oh…about three years ago. Just for fun, because I wanted to see what happened next in the Parabalonis’ lives, those interesting spies I’ve created. (Yes, sometimes an author writes to find out what happens next; that is my big secret to eight successful years of NaNoWriMo, I want to find out what happens next so badly I don’t have much of a problem pounding out 50,000 words in a month. [By the way, on a random side note, each Parabaloni book is a standalone story. There are no cliff hangers at the end of a Parabaloni novel, each one is designed to be picked up and read whenever, though the characters do develop a bit throughout the series. So if you haven’t read the previous three, no sweat, pick up this one.]) I enjoy Simeon the taciturn super spy, and Vincent the sunny inventor, and Pete the skinny Saudi, and Gigan the French sharpshooter, and I was curious what their next adventure was going to look like. I came up with a satisfactory villain, formed a plot, and began to type. The first half of the book went alright, and I enjoyed it, and found it adequately fun and interesting. (When Vincent gets kidnapped things really take off!) Then the second half came along. I pounded it out, and I found it adequately fun and interesting, but…something’s bothered me about it from the first time I wrote it.
A few months later, I came back to it. (Like a mental grass bur, I can never really shake a nagging problem with a book of mine.) Rereading the scenes, with Simeon playing the part of Italian Mafia man and all the Parabaloni working out their con on Gigan’s family, I enjoyed it…but it just wasn’t right. So I rewrote the whole second half, about 50,000 words. It was better, the plot got a lot of issues ironed out, and made a lot more sense, and even the characters were more true to themselves. But it still just…wasn’t right. Even after revising it a couple of times, this one has always given me the dreaded feeling that it needs something. And then I decided to do this Four Books Four Month thing and I’m going, “Ack! People are actually going to be reading this!” Which I hope you do, I hope you read it and like it, and maybe even learn something from the words of encouragement during the hard times, or the doggedness of sticking out a difficult duty; that’s why I’m getting the book out there. But I admit to a bit of sudden panic at the knowledge I had to fix it in one month.
What do you do when you have to fix something and you don’t know what’s wrong with it? Easy; you get someone else to tell you what’s wrong with it. One of my awesome beta readers (probably my most faithful and honest one [no offense, beta readers who read this, I mean she’s good about telling me when she doesn’t like something]) went through the whole book for me, and put her finger on it. The issue isn’t really with the characters, it’s with a proposed difficulty I felt for them.
Weird right?! Ok, so you remember me saying that one of my favorite things about writing novels is creating the characters, making personalities that seem as if they are alive, working at it until I feel like I would know them in a heartbeat if I saw them walking down the street, and they would be a bosom friend. Well, I’ve worked with these Parabaloni for years. The first one was my first ‘serious’ book; before that I played around with fairy tales and whatnot, but that was my first attempt to actually write something real. And then it was the first one I revised seriously (ok, rewrote and then revised seriously). I’ve spent a lot of time with these guys. So here’s the thing; when I had Vincent take Simeon’s name, it worked, and it was perfect, and what they both needed. And then I threw Pete and Gigan into the mix, and a part of me is going, “They need to feel included, poor guys can’t be on the outs the whole time.” And yes, I am laughing out loud at myself as I type this up. See, I don’t think that way when I’m writing a book, or plotting it. I just tell the story. So after I got my beta reader’s notes back, I had to spend most of a day analyzing why I wrote it like I did, and I realized that was the issue. It was me. I wanted Pete and Gigan to be on ‘the in.’ And it didn’t work. Seriously, it doesn’t work. They have families of their own, and they really don’t need another one. You need your family. Christian friends are awesome, and a Christian brother is a real bother in Christ; but a blood brother will always have that special link of familial closeness that a bosom buddy will never really break into.
I know that. I’ve always known that, and appreciated it, there is a certain link to a blood relative (adopted ones too, of course) that just isn’t there with a friend, no matter how close you are to them. It’s a beautiful strange mystery that God’s instilled in this world, and one that I am so grateful for, and thoroughly enjoy. It’s a blessing that is at once exciting and strange, that such different personalities really do exist in (relative) harmony, and are tied inexorably together by a family name. One’s family is a small world that is gigantic in its eclecticness and eccentricities. G. K. Chesterton’s marvelous essay “On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family” comes to mind whenever I ponder this weird truth. I don't agree with everything he writes, but the idea in that one, from Heretics, is pretty spot on. I’ll post the whole thing for you next week, but here’s a good quote from it to explain a little of what I mean:
“We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbor. Hence he comes to us clad in all the careless terrors of nature; he is as strange as the stars, as reckless and indifferent as the rain. He is Man, the most terrible of the beasts. That is why the old religions and the old scriptural language showed so sharp a wisdom when they spoke, not of one’s duty towards humanity, but one’s duty towards one’s neighbor… The best way that a man could test his readiness to encounter the common variety of mankind would be to climb down a chimney into any house at random, and get on as well as possible with the people inside. And that is essentially what each one of us did on the day that he was born.”
Our family is an adventure. And it’s our own adventure, that no one else can claim; except maybe a sibling. Now, Gigan and Pete, they like adventures. I never tried to make them dump their families, in fact I worked hard not to let that happen, but despite me when I tried to add on a new family that’s exactly what was happening .
So, this month, I dumped the second half of Solitaire again. And wrote a new one. Not a completely new one, I used a lot of the scenes from the last one I wrote, but at least half of it is completely rewritten and new. And I like the parts with Simeon clambering over the Notre Dame roof chasing an evil scientist, and I’ve always enjoyed the bits with Pete and Gigan trapped in the loony bin with the dirty psychologist. I am happy to report the Ant Man soundtrack works well for giving inspiration, and Gigan and Pete are so much happier and more natural the way I have them now. And they don’t feel left out at all; I guess it was just me all along.
And now, I have half a month to revise like a wild thing and get it into your hands. Yes, I was crazy to start this. But I hope you like Solitaire, and learn a little bit about faithfulness, and its ties and limits, and decide what color the Statue of Liberty should be. I am off to have another of many a long editing session with my furry corgi muses.