Readers love to ask questions of authors like “Where do you get your ideas?” I know, as a reader, I’ve wondered that myself in the past. There are reasons why ancient civilizations personified the deliverance of ideas for artist works, gave them names, called them gods. To this day, we still show a certain reverence to The Muse.
When a reader is also a writer, the nature of the questions to authors changes. We go from “Where do you get your ideas?” to “What’s a typical day in the life?”, and “When and where do you write?” type of questions. Fledgling writers want to know and understand the processes that their ideals, Published Authors, go through.
Not only that, we fledgling writers love to hear the behind the scenes stories about how the Published Author’s work came together. This shouldn’t surprise anbody. We are a culture of the director’s commentary on our DVDs and Blu Rays, Dick and Ed walking us through the blooper reels of our favorite TV shows, and a cable music channel that seemed to save itself from obscurity by a little show called “Behind The Music”.
So, since I have such a long and prosperous publishing history [insert hearty laughter here], I thought I’d take you, the Reader, through some of the behind the scenes stuff of “The Dance”.
The idea for the story came from the age old idea of a deal with the devil. I can’t remember what I was reading at the time, but I doubt it was Goethe. What I do connect the idea for “The Dance” to was Brimstone, a VERY short-lived supernatural drama. I remember seeing a snipet of it and thinking, “Yeah. No. This one won’t go the distance.” Clearly it didn’t. Brimstone came out about six years before “The Dance” was selected for publication in 2004, which means I probably started working on it a week after seeing the Brimstone clip. I work terribly slowly.
Also connected to this story are images I made up in made head, images from vintage times, where urhins ran through the streets in rags, picking pockets, hiding from the law, and freezing to death. Real Oliver Twist kind of stuff. I had recently re-read The Alienist, a phenomenal historical dectective thriller. Among the characters in The Alienist was Jacob Riis, a very real journalist who wrote a seminal work on the slums of New York City called How The Other Half Lives. First published in 1890, it contains some stirring photographs of the street urchins sleeping on steam grates or together in piles like packs of dogs.
Once the basic concept of the story (pact with the devil), and the atmosphere (Dickensian) were set in my mind, it was time to write. I write I did. And that’s about all I remember about the writing. I’m sure it took me at least a year and half, because I was not devoting a ton of time to writing, always finding some excuse or the other. Add to that the fact that I was still a very fledgling writer, and, like a novice runner, still getting into shape.
What I really remember vividly was the submission process. I printed out a bunch of copies a mailed them out to various magazines, all of which were found by the old-fashioned method of combing through the big honkin’ Writer’s Market and writing down names and addresses on a piece of loose leaf.
Naturally, responses took at least eight weeks, so, in my writer’s mind, they took forever. They always feel they do when you’re submitting your own work. But two things in the submission/rejection/acceptance process stood out:
1) Mostly I got comments back saying thanks but no thanks but keep trying. Except for one. One editor (I wish I could remember now which one) took the time to offer a single line of advice. He rejected the work, saying it wasn’t really for him, though he liked overall. But, he said, you should take off the last sentence and end with the word “stares”. At first I had no idea what he meant. Then it clicked and when I went back to the manuscript, I realized how right he was. The last line was clunky and unnecessary and went something like “All his world had crumbled around him, blah, blah, blah”. I don’t recall it word for word anymore. By killing off that one line, the story had such a more impactful ending.
2) The second was the acceptance. I pulled the mail out of the box and sifted through it: bill, bill, flyer, credit card offer, stamped self-addressed envelop. Another rejection no doubt. I turned the letter over and on the back the sender had drawn a little smiley face. Given all the rejections I’d received so far, my first thought was “What kind of sick sonofabitch draws a smiley face on a rejection letter?” Then I opened it and found that “Black Petals” had accepted it. I was stunned and excited and finally an officially Published Author.
And that’s the Behind The Scenes story of “The Dance”.