Hitting the Reset Button on My First Novel.

Reset ButtonThe Mystery of Things was my first novel. Published in 2004 by Idylls Press, it sold maybe a thousand copies, still finds its readers, and has its fervent fans.

Some copies are still available, but it’s out-of-print and I’m not actively promoting it anymore.


Glad you asked.

See, only towards the end of the ten-year process of writing that difficult book—accomplished mostly during babies’ nap times, or after the family had gone to bed—did I realize that what I really wanted to do was make it the first in a series of contemporary Arthurian-inspired novels. You know, like a medieval Grail cycle.

At the time, I assumed all the books in the series would be like TMoT. Mystery thrillers. I even got a good start on the second book, when “life got in the way,” as we like to say in Clan Murphy, and I had to set it aside.

“To live is to change.” —John Henry Newman

By the time I was able once again to give the project serious attention, I discovered that without entirely realizing it, I had begun to rethink the whole damned thing and that my vision for the series had radically changed. The characters had changed as well as the leading themes. So did the genre. No longer a mystery thriller, the new book (and series) taking shape in my imagination morphed incrementally into an epic Arthurian-themed Science Fiction/Fantasy thriller with paranormal/urban fantasy elements.

The last (and arguably greatest) change took place in the wake of our move to Oregon. As I began to explore our new home and acquaint myself with the spectacular beauty and diversity of the Pacific Northwest, a powerful genius loci took hold of me. It wasn’t long before I decided to change the series’ setting as well, because (so I told myself) a story as big as I was imagining must be set in an epic locale. Beautiful it is, yes, but also potentially lethal, with volcanoes and earthquakes and tsunamis, bears and cougars and rattlesnakes, and an intricate spider’s web of endless footpaths through cool forests and high deserts, with the mighty Pacific breaking the rocks ever only a few miles away.

What all this meant was that I had to start over.

Hitting the reset button.

The process was initially excruciating. I felt like an ER nurse doing triage on train wreck victims bleeding from every orifice. Victims who also happened to be my beloved children. Could this character be saved, or this plot point?

In the end, after toying  with a number of possible scenarios, I decided to lift the main murder plot of The Mystery of Things—the bare bones of itand re-imagine it in a much larger field, with new characters, a new timeline, and a new setting: the near past and near future Pacific Northwest, increasingly racked by natural, political, and economic upheaval. This Northwest would be a new Wasteland in need of a new Arthur, and a new Grail Quest.

Loss and Gain

That was several years ago. Since then, research alone has been daunting, and I’ve asked myself more than once if I hadn’t gotten in over my head. At the very least the process—the whole big bloody mess—has schooled me on how right Henry James was when he advised a fellow writer to “try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost.“

Instead of mourning time “lost”—taking detours, burrowing down rabbit holes—I’m learning to focus on what I’ve learned along the way and put it to effective use.

Crazy, isn’t it? How many weeks and months and years it takes to write a novel to be read in a few hours? (But remembered, one hopes, for a lifetime?)

But who am I kidding? I’m having the time of my life.

Get a sneak preview of the first book here.

Categories: Portfolio, Updates-News-Events, and Writing.


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