Mad In Pursuit Notebook

cover page from 1993 manuscript

SMUGGLERS' ROAD -- It's Alive!

Sat, 1.24.2015. Strange things happen in January when you wake up before dawn and have entire delicious days without obligation. Last Thursday I was hunting around for a Facebook #tbt [Throwback Thursday] and half-randomly came up with this one of Jim at the amulet market in Bangkok, 1990 (photo below).

amulet market Thailand 1990

That got me thinking about those amulets he bought on that trip, still sitting in their riker-mount display box on a shelf in our bedroom. I took them out, got them photographed, and began some research. After 25 years, I was really seeing them for the first time.

Phra Pitta Thai amuletFor example, the one illustrated here is the popular Phra Pitta style amulet, made of black clay and measuring 1.5" or 40 cm long. It depicts Lord Buddha closing his eyes to find peace and happiness. While Buddhism itself doesn't recognize magical charms, popular belief prizes this amulet for its hope of protection and wealth.

That was last weekend. I was congratulating myself for such a perfect January -- eating right, back to yoga, daily meditation, ambitious stitching projects... Now, attending to collections again. The only thing missing was my writing. "Nellie" had been stalled at 27,506 words since Nov. 30... waiting for a plot breakthrough.

Then Sunday, these cross-currents swirled into an idea. Where was that manuscript of my Thailand novel SMUGGLERS' ROAD? That was the story that started out as Book #1 of my international art-crime detective series. That was the book that got me my NYC agent. What turned into PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD was supposed to have been Book #2. But, long story short, at my agent's request, PASSION AND PERIL wound up combining the opening of SMUGGLERS' ROAD and the plot of P&P... which meant SMUGGLERS was dead.

Why could't I "just" change the names and get the thing published??? I had been telling myself (and others) that this was impossible. Changing names changes personalities... a major re-write. I'd tried it once, except that I changed a major character's sex from male to female -- this did change all the dynamics and I bogged down in that swamp.

Instructions to self: don't overthink it.

I found the file. Luckily, somewhere along the line, I'd already converted it from Wordperfect to Word. But it was still in 1990's manuscript submission style: Courier New font, old-fashioned straight quotes, and double spaces after periods. So, after picking a handful of new character names, I began my massive Find and Replace operation.

By Monday, I had a working manuscript, 111,879 words long.

When I started my read-through, I was dumbfounded: holy cow, it was good! The plot was gripping and the writing polished. Yep, this is what my agent fell in love with, even if she wound up not selling it. Sex! Violence! Suspense! In three days, I finished my read-through, making some minor edits along the way, in fact cutting out about 500 words.

Now I have a clear action plan. The opening scenes with Nellie, Jackson, and Dan (now Delia, DeMott, and Jack) have to be revised. Their backgrounds need to be more specifically differentiated from their P&P versions. The denouement sets up the characters for a sequel, but I think I'll back off that commitment and tie things up a little differently.

So, no reason not to have another novel published in 2015.

January in Rochester famously brings out the gloom in its residents. Unless you ski, you bitch. But I'm trying to open the door to enchantment, to let the mystery of dark mornings feed my imagination. So far, so good...


Image at top: from the cover page of the final revision submitted to my agent Laurie L. in 1993.