Last week at my writing appointment with Brandy I slipped and called The Project “the book.” I hastened to correct myself, but Brandy, who is observant and has fast reflexes, was onto me before I should slither out of it.
“Book. You said book,” she said. “And the universe is honoring that agreement. You have to call it a book now.”
Really, though, it’s almost 90,000 words so there isn’t much else I can call it, except a project.
I thought I’d share a short passage and then discuss how it came about. First, a bit of set-up. Madrigal, one of the main characters, is a magical being, trapped in our world with his ward, a young woman named Mirth. They are on the run from powerful enemies who want them both dead. They just fled Seattle and have come to Los Angeles. Because he has to be underground, Madrigal makes a living by hiring his magical abilities out to criminals. He has just undergone a grueling “audition” with a crime lord. His magical ability nearly drained, he is “hired” and about to get a new identity.
“Not from around here, though, are you?” Giorgio snapped his fingers and a man brought over Madrigal’s wallet. He pulled out the Washington State driver’s license and the credit cards. Another minion torched them, filling the warehouse with the smell of burning plastic. “You got a name you like?”
He flailed mentally. “Barnes,” he said, remembering the large out-buildings he and Mirth had seen when they’d gone to Skagit Valley for the Tulip Festival. “James Barnes.”
Giorgio, and six of his men, laughed.
“License to kill?” Giorgio said, raising his eyebrows. “We’ll need your fingerprints.”
Wow, look at that! It’s like a clever little Ian Fleming homage in the middle of my urban fantasy. I’m just so clever. (There are more than six of Giorgio’s men in the room; apparently some of them are not 007 fans.)
Yes, it reads that way now.
Let me tell you what really happened.
This scene is flashback buried deep in the book, and it’s backstory. Throughout the story Madrigal has gone by another name, Ian Early. (See? I can’t get away from those Fleming references.) Originally, Barnes was going to be the name he had used in Seattle, and he was going to choose the alias of “Early” in this scene. Except, after working many years for Giorgio, he and his employer are going to have a parting of the ways that is not friendly, and Madrigal well need another alias, the one he’s going to use when the main human character of the book meets him and the main story unfolds.
Originally, I had a complicated idea of why he chose Early, and that was in here when I first wrote it. And when I say wrote, I mean, “Inscribed onto paper with a pen” because that is how I’ve written most of this draft. Here’s what a typical page looks like.
Then I realized that he couldn’t be Early, yet.
I had envisioned a heart-tugging scene where Madrigal and Mirth had gone to the Tulip Festival in Skagit Valley before they left Seattle, and were overjoyed by the carpets of bright colors against a cool blue sky and blah-blah-blah. Nobody, not even me, cared about the tulip festival and a possible bonding moment — at least, not in this book. And I wanted the idea that Madrigal chooses his names more-or-less randomly, often inspired by something he sees or hears, so that there is no unconscious pattern for a dedicated pursuer to pick up. Thus, “barns” into Barnes.
I still didn’t see any influences. I knew he wouldn’t be Ian, yet, even though there is a bit of dialogue where Giorgio asks him if he’s British. Early has always played in my imagination as British Professor, even though that is a mask, a persona he has developed to keep himself and Mirth alive. Beneath that is a much different person. So “Ian Barnes” sounded okay, except he couldn’t be Ian yet. While I was transcribing my handwritten sections onto the screen I saw (and heard) for the first time, “Barnes. James Barnes.”
And then I had to add a reaction.
I love how it looks as if I planned it.