Blog No. 267
Before you go any farther, you should have read the story Shootout from my new book, All These Crooked Streets. If not, get that book, read it (not just my story, they are all good) then come back and read this post. You don’t have to, but I like the little insider stuff like this, so maybe you will too. Last chance. If you keep reading, you may run into the dreaded SPOILERS. Turn back now while you still can!
Like most of my stories, I had the basic idea for Shootout before the idea of the book ever came around. Also like most of my stories, the end result was much different from the initial (clearly lacking) idea. I probably never would have written a crime story in the first place if not for meeting and working with Edmond Gagnon, local noted crime author and ex-Windsor Police officer. We released the Illustrated Edition of No Light Tomorrow through Mirror World Publishing, and we had a self implemented mandate to get another book out under that same imprint contract. Christian had an idea to do a crime book (I think based on a story idea he had) since we had done several events with Ed and thought that working with him on a book could be a good fit.
I agreed and we all got to work. At the time, I was still finishing Pilot (a book that still doesn’t have a second draft). I managed to get that done before the end of 2016, and in January of 2017, I spent the month writing Shootout. I knew I wanted to tell a story with a guy getting in over his head with the wrong people and has to get away. In the initial idea, he had a girlfriend and was a much nicer guy, but as I started to work out the plot, that seemed really boring and obvious. I thought that someone with a chip on his shoulder, who constantly judges other people and the small world around him, could be more interesting. Even better, he could not be such a nice guy himself.
That left me with a bit of a problem. I had an unlikable, but hopefully interesting main character. I needed the reader to root for him, even if he or she couldn’t necessarily put themselves in his place. Though, I do find that we all have a little self loathing and can probably sympathise with some not so nice folks, sometimes. What I did was to give him a dream and imply that his struggle and the harshness of his environment are the reason why he lashes out at people. Since the guy was a photographer (an aspect slightly changed from the initial idea) he could have dreams of being an artist. In the story, he has an upcoming art show and is struggling to get enough good shoots with a film camera. He is hard on himself, tossing his photos to the ground when they don’t make the cut.
The other way I tried to make the protagonist (Geoff) more relatable was to make everyone else that much more awful. It was a bold strategy that let to some colourful language (something that took a lot of readers by surprise). The main villains, and even the coconspirator police officer (intentionally given an inappropriate name) are selfish, volant, and malevolent. The city is a reflection of how Geoff sees it. He’s not a great person, but everyone else is worse. Even the old lady he meets on the stairwell is oafish and nasty. The nicest major character in the story, the owner and editor of newspaper, is still selfish and not above threatening others.
Geoff is awful, the setting is awful, and the cast of supporting characters are awful, why would anyone want to read this thing. To be honest, I did get a little carried away. Those terrible people were fun to write (though less fun to edit). They were interesting, motivated by clear goals, and capable of actions far more extreme than the average person. I found them to be engaging enough to cary a story. What I had to focus on next was the plot. I’m one of those horrible people who doesn’t do a lot of planning when I write. I have an idea of where I’d like to go, but if I write any of that down, it immediately gets ignored for whatever pops into my head when I’m actually writing. I knew, basically, the path Geoff would take, but what he would meet along the way and how he would get to the end of the story just happened.
I knew I wanted him to take a picture of something he shouldn’t have. In the initial idea he was a private detective, but that seemed too far fetched (or maybe too obvious). Making him a photographer gave him motivation and put the responsibility on the crooked cop to get him in hot water. Untimely, it’s his own actions that cause his trouble, but his goal is to get paid for taking pictures, not solve crimes. I gave him an early run in with the same people he gets in trouble with in order to set up his character (what he’s willing to do to get his way) and to introduce the group of antagonists. When he meets them after taking the photos, he is immediately in trouble. We know who everyone is, and we have an idea of what they are capable of.
The character of Bianchi came from wanting to show that even the big bad of Geoff was a small fish. Geoff was less that nothing. Just a guy in the wrong place doing something a bit shady. Not that bad a guy. Plus, I loved writing Bianchi. Hawkins, the first antagonist, was scum stuffed into a fancy suit. He was bullish and though of himself as superior. Bianchi was just a scary dude who built an empire and clung to it with an iron grip. No postulating, no blustering, just business. One I had him, I had the ending. Everyone was terrible, Geoff had no chance in the city. He already wanted to leave, now he didn’t have a choice. But with most things, it’s never that easy.
The ending was a bit of a contentious one. I’m a big fan of bad endings. I like things to go wring for people. Not sure why, and I’m not sure I care to figure it out. Some of the feedback I got was mixed, but most people were not sold on the ending. I don’t know if I convinced them to root for Geoff, but they weren’t so sure he should end up dead. I didn’t want to just leave him running down the highway, though. I planned to change the ending up a bit, but by the time I got there (with all the edits) I wasn’t really up to it. I felt that the ending was fine and I didn’t have any better one. By then I was working on the layout (which came with its own avalanche of headaches) and I just wanted it to all be done. Maybe that’s a copout, or bad writing, or something, but I did like the ending, so I just stuck with it.
I suppose that’s all I have for this story. Besides, this post is getting long. If you have any questions about it, please send them my way. Maybe put them in the comments so other people can get the answers too. Plus, it will up the number of comments I get.