And That’s How You Get Intricacy

A few years ago, my friend Jenny Lytton and I went to see an exhibit of mixed media works from emerging artists. We discussed our responses to the different pieces, and as we were nearing the end she said, “I get you now. You’re drawn to intricacy.” I was delighted, not only because it’s a wonderful feeling to have someone tell you something about yourself that’s actually true, but also because she articulated it for me so beautifully. I used the phrase verbatim in my author bio.

Even so, with BLOOD’S PRIDE I didn’t sit down with the intention of writing an ‘intricate’ book. In fact, the original plot I had conceived was quite straightforward, and had more than a little spaghetti western in its DNA (you can still spot the traces easily enough, if you’re looking for them.)

Intricate happened because I couldn’t stop asking questions, going further back, looking deeper. I wasn’t able to work with any character who was, to quote James Thurber’s THE 13 CLOCKS, a Mere Device. I had to know their backstory, and it had to be rich and believable. I had to know the workings of the society that produced them and how the exigencies of survival had shaped that society’s attitudes and morality. I had to know their relationship to the other characters – since BLOOD’S PRIDE is a story that begins in the middle, very few of the characters are meeting for the first time –so that their behavior in the moment is a continuance of that relationship and not something happening in a vacuum. I had to know the realities of the physical world down to its most minute details and the extent of their sensitivity to it. I had to know all of these things in order to know the most important thing: what they want.

There are six ‘point of view’ characters in BLOOD’S PRIDE and I went through this – grudgingly, more often than not – for all of them. There are many more secondary characters and I did this for most of them, too. Even some of the servants and soldiers who may only have a line or two and then disappear forever have histories that you will likely never see.

Intricate is the thousands of unique points of intersection of all of these details; not so much an orderly weave as a ball of string after the cat’s been at it. Because these characters are so inextricably connected, a detail that might not emerge until the very end might give me cause to rethink whole relationships or plot points. It’s a laborious, slow, messy, iterative process and it’s just the beginning, because the real work is to find the shapes, to coax out the important parts and let the less important ones sink into the background. Otherwise, you’ll end up with impenetrable instead of intricate, and nobody wants that.