9 years ago on November 1st, 2012, I sat down and typed the following words:
The still, gray waters of the lake reflected the bright colors of autumn from all sides, and as I stood looking out over the railing, it was fall the way I remembered it.
Not the feeble falls I had grown used to since I moved to Baltimore, with muted browns and dingy yellows, leaves not falling until almost December, some holding on until January. An industrial, slow, tired fall. Baltimore seemed almost to regret its autumnal season, as though the idea of shedding its summer trappings was a ridiculous concept better left to other less sensible and hard working cities.
But in this case the lake was surrounded by vibrant reds and yellows, rich oranges, the kind of colors from up north, where leaves do not ponder their choices but make a brisk change of outer wear come the end of August, displaying all their fanciest finery for September, and go to sleep promptly before Halloween. This lake clearly recalled the splendor of a proper autumn, and had coaxed its trees to produce accordingly. I tipped my fedora to it and whatever dryads or nyads mucked about with things here as I waited for my contact.
At the time, I didn’t know what I would be in for. I’d known for years I wanted to write, and had this idea for a novel bouncing around my brain. For the first time, I sat at my computer and took that opening and did something with it. I went further. I built a story. Fifty five thousand words and thirty days later, I’d completed my first NaNoWriMo, and finished my first novel.
This had been my idea since the mid-1990’s. A 1930’s styled noir mystery, but set in an early 20th century equivalent of a high fantasy world. Magic is real. Dwarves run diners and trolls work as bouncers. And a hard working detective has to deal with more than guns and hot lead when he’s hunting a lost magical artifact like the goose that lays golden eggs of legend. Ben Templeton was the star, ably assisted by his protege, Mirabel Sinclair (originally called Mercy Sinclair), his receptionist, Petunia, and a cast of secondary characters. The plot revolved around an order of evil nuns who had hidden the treasure away, and there is a battle on an airship at the midpoint I was quite proud of.
It sucked, and within a week of finishing I hated it. I shelved it for two more years and refused to read it, that’s how bad I knew it was. Ben Templeton had every bad trope of a 1930’s detective. I also soon learned that urban fantasy was already a thing and already filled with similar stories. The Dresden files had become a big thing in the years since I’d first conceived of the concept. I’d missed the boat.
But I smartly kept the document in case I wanted to revisit it.
Two years later, I did. My girlfriend, soon fiance, soon wife, Jennifer, encouraged me to return to the writing I loved. So I pulled it out and dusted it off. By then I knew writing was iterative, and not every story worked well when it was fresh off the press of your brain cells. I’d need to edit it to improve it. But I no longer really wanted to tell Ben Templeton’s story. He’d been kicking around my head since I created the character for a TTRPG called T.O.R.G. back in the 90’s, the type of hard boiled detective we’ve already seen plenty of. Instead, I found myself far more intrigued by the story of his protege, Mirabel.
And suddenly I knew what I wanted to do.
It’s taken another 7 years since the first re-write to reach this point. Over the course of those 7 years, Mirabel and her friends have gone through many major re-writes. The original plot was shelved, though the bones of it remained in place: a hunt for the golden goose turns deadly, and a search for an artifact becomes a murder mystery, in the great tradition of noir. Mr. Templeton went from being a stereotype, to becoming a true mentor who has a lot of life experience to share, but who wants more for the world around him. Not yet broken, but aware he can’t change much on his own. Drowning a little in a world that doesn’t care. A man Mirabel could admire.
There was a re-write where I attempted to make the novel “modern” to match current urban fantasy tropes, with much of the magic “hidden” from the real world. I hated it, and reverted back to the original 1930’s setting mashing up Tolkien with Hammett. The plot had holes wide enough to drive a train through, and those got repaired with a lot of diagramming character intentions during brain storming sessions. Beta readers helped me improve the story further, and pointed out places where my characters were problematic. Without them, it wouldn’t be where it is today.
Agents wouldn’t touch it. I got not one request for additional pages. Urban fantasy, I heard, was out of style. My query was bad. The plot too slow to develop. A thousand reasons why it failed to attract attention, no two alike. Nothing I could really focus on and improve. One small publisher really seemed to like it, but ultimately took a pass on it, unsure how best to market it.
I kept writing. Short stories mainly, some now published in a variety of venues. More coming out soon. I’ve written two more novels, a novella, a couple of novelettes. But I kept coming back to Mirabel’s story. Kept working on it. Improvements in the last 2 years have been smaller. Tightening the plot. Cutting out some of the fat. I worked with a couple of editors. The last editing pass reworked the order of the 1st act to fix those slow pacing issues, as well as added more internal dialogue from Mirabel herself. It felt like, this time, every chime went off in my head that I’d hit the target I’d always been aiming for. Noir, but beyond the tropes. Perfect? Maybe not. But as good as I’d always hoped it might be.
And it’s ready. As ready as it can be. As ready as it probably should have been when I first started querying it, but it’s all a learning process and I have no regrets. I’m moving forward with my plan to self-publish the work. I’ve seen the first and second draft of a cover and can’t wait to share it. I’ve purchased ISBN numbers. I have an account on Ingramspark to distribute the novel. I’ve updated this website with the novel info and a contact form. Formatting is getting done next. I’ve got some marketing options in place and will put it up on Net Galley to see if I can garner some reviews. Put it in the SFWA New Release Newsletter as well.
On November 23rd (baring any delays due to cover, formatting, or supply-chain issues) I will finally release Shadow of a Doubt into the world.
And those words I first wrote on November 1, 2012? They remained in the novel, if somewhat edited. No longer the first words, though. No longer the thoughts of Benjamin Francis Templeton, but of Mirabel Sinclair herself. What I began with remains a part of what it has become, tying the past with the present. And I love that little piece of symmetry. I love knowing that we build our foundations, and if we build them strong enough, something amazing can rest upon them even if we have to tear down the original house and start over.
Stay tuned for more information.