Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Uncovering the Cobbler, Finding Ophelia

My feet dangling over the edge of Machu Picchu

I tried to capture my experiences at Machu Picchu in another blog entitled: And Then the Vultures will Eat You. It wasn’t eloquent or poetic but it did paint a picture of what it was like tramping around on top of the Andes, gazing down at clouds swirling and birds flying below. In those younger stupid years I perched on a ledge, 11,000 feet above the Urubamba River, and thought it would make a great photograph.

If there is poetic justice in stupid antics I suppose it came years later when I decided to write my first suspense thriller. At once I knew that I had to include some of the places and things that expanded my imagination and stirred up a cauldron of dark sinister images in my mind. Going back to Machu Picchu was at the top of that list. Of course, story-telling in the conventional sense seldom follows a straight and righteous path for most writers.

There must be something in my genetic makeup, perhaps some character defect, that I can write a novel or two or three then wait several decades before doing anything with them. Case in point:

‘Apache Death Wind’ and ‘Apache Blue Eyes.’ They were written respectively in 1974 and 1975 but didn’t see publication until forty years later.

Cobbler was the last of four novels that I wrote in a four year period of time. That book along with four screenplays and four plays kept my fingers pounding well into most nights. But at the end of that marathon writing spree, I realized I had to focus on just one manuscript at a time and bring it to publishing life. I chose ‘Love in the A Shau’ as that first novel. Others followed and ‘Cobbler’ fell by the proverbial ‘to complete’ shelf as writing plays grabbed almost all of my limited attention. It was a suggestion from Vida my editor that brought this ten-pound door juggernaut back to life again.

Now that suspense thriller inspired by Machu Picchu and written half a dozen years ago has resurfaced and gone under my editor’s surgical pen. Out of my nine novels written thus far, it probably comes in second, right behind ‘Love in the A Shau’ as one of my favorites. Just like parents aren’t supposed to have favorites, I must confess I have a special place in my heart for ‘Follow the Cobbler.’

In that rarified air of a lifetime ago, I knew this novel would be different. It would be written in first person which I hadn’t done before nor since. It would have two parallel storylines running concurrently; a suspense thriller alongside a love story. It would weave ancient folk lore, historical fact and fiction alongside modern computer technology and futuristic assumptions.

Most unsettling were the characters that slipped into my consciousness, grabbed a place in the story but never fully revealed themselves until well into the book. The mysterious ‘Cobbler’ was the hardest of all to pin down. Right from the start, I couldn’t identify his origin, motivation, goals and objectives or what he was ultimately seeking. I didn’t know if the ‘Cobbler’ was a person, an historical figure or an icon. The only real person who spoke clearly to me was LeFay, the Druid chieftain and arch enemy of the Cobbler. Along with his hunter-assassins, LeFay was hot on the trail of my two protagonists, Brian, and Katherine.

I found Brian’s voice quickly. He reminded me of myself at some point long ago. Katherine was another story. She was incredibly smart, quick with the quips and laser-focused on (I didn’t really know what?).  She wasn’t willing to reveal her motivation to me or Brian until well into the story. She was beautiful, coy and yet modest. Still she emitted a sexuality that curled my toes even as my fingertips lightly touched her every word.

The novel began with a suspension of belief. I asked myself what if pictures could come alive. What if an image you’re holding in your hands (a book, a photo, a drawing) comes alive. If you look closely at old pictures there are so many tiny enounces in them that they could have been taken yesterday instead of a hundred years ago. With that fractured thought in mind, I began to dream about a mysterious woman who somehow has been a part of my hero’s past. This would be a hero I was very comfortable with and felt I had known all my life.

Right from the start I knew it was going to be a long and arduous journey for both the couple and myself. It started at old Fort Snelling or at least with the image of the old fort and took my protagonists into Old St. Paul and beyond. I knew our search was going to take us long distances but even I didn’t know how far we would travel until we were all far afield. Fatigue set in at some point but we persisted and finally ended up where logic and reality ultimately took us.

Then my imagination created this icon I called the cobbler but I wasn’t sure why. Is it/he Jesus? Is it/he the second-coming? Or was it just an icon representing some historical figure in time?

As my two main protagonists began to talk and banter back and forth, I felt an immediate chemistry between them. Very quickly I realized this was going to be a two-level story. It was both a suspense thriller that followed a couple around the world and an evolving love story

There had to be conflict so I invented the Druids as my villains. But I had to explain their historical significance and make it plausible that they would be current and threatening.

I made up the hunter-assassins then found out later they really did exist.

I had to do a lot of research if I was going to travel around the world and this was before Siri and Alexa. There had to be authenticity so I studied Vespa scooters, the layout of Angor Watts, the details of Hong Kong Harbor, the layout of Rome, the architecture of ancient coliseum and the modern-day ruins of the coliseum.

At one point I was worried about the length when the transfer from computer to page format came in at 865 pages. An intense edit brought that number down to 664 pages which was still too long for an unknown author. I didn’t want to make it another trilogy or two books. There was no good place to stop the storyline so more editing was needed. This time entire sections were eliminated in an effort to keep the pacing in the storyline moving along.

There is an epilogue to this story.

Vida decided after editing ‘Cobbler’ that it might make a great YA (young adult) novel. So we continued editing it for that demographic.  Vida and her daughter created a new book cover and title for the storyline.  Maya, my eldest granddaughter, will be the first to give it a read (after Vida’s daughters, of course.)

Two for one. I love it.

I hope they do too.

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