Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Almost Crime: The Beyers Uncertainty Principle


I don’t remember the date I started writing The Almost Crime, or how fast I was moving – but I remember exactly where I was.

I was on a couch that is now in a landfill.

It was about time. The couch was white, for one thing, and I am not a particularly “clean” eater.

I was in Indianapolis, Indiana, and it was August – or early September – 2011. I had just come out of class at Sycamore School, where I was starting as an assistant teacher. In mid August I had graduated from a graduate program at Cornell University, and I had a shiny new 1-year Master’s degree in … Science Education.

Ha, ha! Useless! (I was just learning this.)

I finished and published The Almost Crime in January 2013, according to Create Space (the program I use). That means, technically, it took me about a year and a half to complete.

A lot can change in a year and a half, though. The couch. Where I live. The names of my guinea pigs. A year and a half ago, I was single according to the I.R.S., and now I’m filing jointly.

And the process of writing was, of course, not continual. I had a full-time job in Indianapolis. Now I live in Palmyra, Pennsylvania, and I have a full-time job. Saying it took me a year and a half to write The Almost Crime is like a painter saying it took a year and a half to finish an oil on canvas. Some of that time was thumb-twiddling, starting over, and letting the paint dry.

Months passed where nothing happened. Other days, I sat down in front of the computer and didn’t come up for air.

Most of the time, The Almost Crime was like dinner in a crock pot. I’d let it simmer. Inspiration would hit me. I’d add an ingredient. Then, I’d let it simmer.

The beginning and the end of the story actually happened pretty fast, in fact (I conceived the end before I conceived the beginning, like I usually do, writing – and then started at around chapter three or four, building backwards towards the front). The middle was conceptually more challenging – and in fact missing, for a while. That was the part I needed to ponder, and observe, to create. Once I had a working center, though, the final third of my novel came on like a fever – the same way the final 1/3 or 1/2 of Suggested Changes in Bold had come to me. I spent between 4-8 hours a day writing down the home stretch, and finished the first draft after about a week like this. 


Originally, The Almost Crime started as a sort of challenge-to-myself: Suggested Changes in Bold inspired me to write it. Not because it was good; because I was supposed to have improved with age. I was 23 (I’m 24 now…), and I hated looking back and thinking that 18 was, like, my creative hump. I needed to prove to myself that I was just as ambitious now, as then – and could still follow through, with something better.

But it was more than that. I started Suggested Changes in Bold and finished Suggested Changes in Bold on the eve of break-ups (somewhere in the middle, I had a nine-month relationship). I was young, and angst-y, and kind of tortured for most of the writing-time. (You could argue that I’m still young: it’s all relative, and I wouldn’t protest.) Now that I was an old(er), less was wrong with me. I had a fiancée, and after a year apart I got to be with her.  I was sort of doing the sort of work I wanted. My outlook on life was, all-in-all, improved; and I was mostly smiles.

So I hated the idea that, now that I was happy, I wouldn’t be able to write. I wanted to be like the man in the adage, who rises early and goes to bed early. (Healthy, wealthy, wise.) I wanted the world to tremble, but to laugh, too – and didn’t care if it was at or with me, really.

I didn’t want to have to undergo a tragedy before I got my mojo back.

One more thing. Suggested Changes in Bold had been a not-unremarkable undertaking, for an eighteen-year-old. But it hadn’t been the creative feat my eighteen-year-old self would have you believe it was, either. I poured more of myself into that book than I ever put into a diary, including actual entries I had written into diaries. (At one point, I copy and pasted a short story I had written into a chapter, essentially plagiarizing myself.)

By comparison, The Almost Crime was an experiment to see how elastic my mind could become. There was no word-for-word borrowing from my life, and by the end of the story my cast of characters was really and truly carrying me… until I knew where the story was supposed to end, and didn’t want it to. I got wrapped up in one character after another… until I couldn’t help but bring the dead guy back for a cameo in a dream, and spend an extra chapter with “the injured man” in his hospital bed. I even threw in a character I never expected to make the final cut, because I loved the way light bounced off of his shiny bald head, in my mind’s eye.

This time, my finished product was not about self-indulgence in a time of need. It was about interesting people and intriguing motives; twisted morality, death, and deceit.

This time, I drew a line for myself in the sand, and crossed it. (And even thought about a sequel, which was a first, for me.)

I hope you read The Almost Crime. And I hope you enjoy the read as much as I enjoyed the process that was writing it.

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