Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Going Back, Going On

by Nina Wright
author of the Whiskey Mattimoe mysteries

"Jade Greene, private investigator and proprietor of Greene I, Inc., would rather write mysteries than solve them. Since moving from Chicago to St. Pete, Jade can’t do either profitably, even with the enthusiastic help of three teens from St. Mary’s Academy. When their favorite teacher is arrested for killing her ex-lover, a real estate developer who hired Greene I, Inc. to stop the teacher from stalking him, Jade discovers disturbing parallels between the novel she’s writing and the case she’s working on. Is her subconscious mind solving the crime, or are stranger forces in play? Whose murder weapon of choice is a diamond-back rattler, and how can Jade keep the Academy Girls safe? Snakes, Pagans, and Icelanders mix it up in this darkly humorous, sparely written novel of suspense."

Recently I dusted off that plot summary and the 45,000-word partial manuscript that goes with it, a project I hadn't let myself think about for three whole years. I started that manuscript in another life, when I was living in Florida. Actually, I was living in Denial, trying desperately every day to convince myself that my husband wasn't a drug addict, and I wouldn't need to leave him in order to save myself.

I didn't know it then, but Denial had an expiration date, which coincided with the arrivals of hurricanes Charlie, Frances, Ivan and Jean. Within six weeks we were visited by all four. Newscasters spoke of "hurricane fatigue." My problem was Denial fatigue. I was a complete wreck, but not because we kept losing power and pieces of our home. Thanks to incessant threats of deadly weather, I finally lost my ability to pretend that everything would be okay if I just wished it were so.

I bring up my personal past because it raises what I find to be an intriguing technical issue. In rereading that partial manuscript from the summer of '04, I see the hand of a very different writer. Although by then I had already sold my first novel, Whiskey on the Rocks, I wanted--no, needed--to lose myself in the process of writing something completely new. So, with my husband unconscious in the next room, I poured myself into a terse, tense mystery featuring Jade Greene, a half-Asian, half-Jewish PI who flees Chicago for St. Pete because she can't handle cold weather or her own emotions. Go figure. Although Jade Greene is no more (and no less) Nina Wright than Whiskey Mattimoe is, that unique point in my personal evolution gave birth to her story.

Then along came the hurricanes--literal and metaphorical--and I put the manuscript aside. When I was ready to write again, I cranked out three more Whiskey Mattimoe mysteries and two teen novels. I didn't touch Jade Greene until last month, when I started packing for my latest move.

"Things happen when they're supposed to," a wise friend likes to say. I'm sure I wasn't ready to dive back into that manuscript until the memories it conjures didn't matter anymore. Beyond that, though, I'm oddly fascinated by the story I set in motion during that other life. It feels as if it was conceived by someone else.

Which brings me to my point: If we're lucky, the stories we spin find their way into print and endure. But the moment of their creation is ephemeral, even chemical. It's a tipping point: the unique synthesis of forces more potent than the sum total of our experiences to date. Fiction simultaneously masks and reveals our fears, hopes, obsessions, and environment. Hell, it even reflects the weather.

If I choose to finish my story starring Jade Greene, I know I can. Three years ago, I set enough gears whirring to carry me all the way to the end. But I could never have started that book now; I don't live in Denial anymore even though I remember the neighborhood.
Now available:
Whiskey and Tonic by Nina Wright


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Nina, I have a book like that, as well. It's not a mystery and it was originally written over 10 years ago. My agent has read it and loves it so every now and then I pick it up and try to rework it, but as you said: "I see the hand of a very different writer." It was written, as yours was, when I was in a very different place. I tried recently to edit it and just couldn't get into it. And, as you mentioned, I would never have started such a book now even though it's a great story. But who knows, one day it might jump out at me and beg to be finished, but something tells me rather than a re-write, the story will have to be written from scratch by the writer I am now.

I hope you do finish the Jade Greene book one day because it sounds interesting.

Mark Combes said...

I hail from the Port of Indecision but Denial doesn't look that much better....

We sailed from the port of indecision
Young and wild with oh so much to learn
Days turn into years as we tried to fool our fears
But to the port of indecision I returned

My gardens are filled with papayas and mangos
My life is a mixture of jingles and jangles
Come Christmas winds and blow all my worries away

Sing if you will and we'll sing to the sea

-Jimmy Buffett

G.M. Malliet said...

What a brave and excellent post. Thank you, Nina.

Julia Buckley said...

Nina, I think the book sounds terrific, and I admire the fact that you turned your pain into something productive, something which has brought you rewards. I hope your latest move brings you to a very happy place.

Skye in St. Louis said...

Thanks for that honest and insightful essay, Nina. I trust life is treating you much better now. BTW, I sure do love the Whiskey series.

Skye Bantram