My Novel: Spin City

Good evening! Tonight it’s time for part two of my three part series in which I talk about the most important stories I’ve written so far.  We’ll be going over Spin City in this part, sticking close to the same format I used last night.  I’m hoping I provide some valuable insight into my creative process.  I don’t want to just gush over my own work, but I’m sure there’ll be a little bit of that, too.

Here is a list of the things I’ll talk about regarding Spin City:

  • What It’s About
  • The Inspiration
  • The Writing Process

Before I get going, I want to say something quick about titles.  I’m not attached to any of them.  The Repossessed Ghost and Spin City are both temporary names as far as I’m concerned.  When going the traditional publication route, it’s important to not grow too attached to things that are best left to the marketing department.


What It’s About

Spin City is about a down-on-his-luck private investigator named Arthur that works and lives in a spinning city on The Moon.  The case starts off simple enough.  He’s hired to take pictures for a man wanting to know if his wife is having an affair.  It turns into a murder investigation when that same client turns up dead in his own apartment.  As Arthur and his partner are drawn deeper into the inner workings of the city, from robot dog fights to glamorous night clubs, Arthur realizes that he must get to the bottom of the case before the place he calls home is taken over by a psychotic criminal.


What is it REALLY About

This is a more serious story about a desperate man struggling with alcoholism.  While the character of a drunk private eye is kind of a cliche, this story deals with alcoholism in a much more realistic way.  The question of why Arthur drinks is important as well as how his drinking impacts his business and his relationships.

Within the story are themes pertaining to immigration and personal responsibility.  I’m not sure what more I can say about this story in regards to theme without giving away some spoilers.  I will say that while I like Arthur in this story very much, a side character named Victoria is probably my favorite.


The Inspiration

I’ve already talked a little bit about the inspiration for this story earlier this month.  The very first time I wrote about the character named Arthur Kane, I’d just come home from visiting my friend Douglas.  He’d written a story about a detective and I decided to try writing a similar story of my own.

After my Dad died, I sat down and started a novel length story which I called The Arthur Kane stories.  Spin City is the grown up re-imagining of that novel.  As you might imagine, it’s very different from the original work.  While the names remained the same, the characters grew deeper and more realistic.  The plot is radically different though I kept a couple of significant events.  I tried to keep the good ideas from the original story and lift them up with stronger writing and a more intentional noir feel.


The Writing Process

When I wrote The Repossessed Ghost, I went up to the edge of the unknown and jotted down what I could glimpse just ahead.  Most of that story involved discovery writing and I didn’t have a clue how it was going to end until I got about halfway through the first draft.  Since I rewrote that ending in the 3rd draft, you could say I didn’t know how that story would until a few years after I started.

With Spin City, I couldn’t leave things up to chance.  I wanted to create a complicated mystery with crime elements.  To do that and have it make sense, I needed to work backwards.  First I figured out who the antagonists were.  I determined their motivations and their available resources, which told me what kind of crimes they could try to get away with.  Then I worked backwards chronologically.  For person X to accomplish crime Y, they needed to get the aid of Person Z.  That sort of thing.

Once I worked back far enough, I had a fairly comprehensive map of everything the bad guys accomplished.  That gave me ideas for how Arthur could find clues and be a disruption in some of the antagonist’s plans.  At that point, I started doing some loose outlining from the beginning and going forward.

This sounds way fancier and more complicated than it really is.  While I created an outline that went from the beginning to the end, it was not a very complete outline.  I left plenty unplanned.  Also, the exact details of the end were a little bit fuzzy.  I left plenty for me to discover along the way.

Like with The Repossessed Ghost, a couple of characters I expected to have much smaller parts wound up gaining more prominence in the story after I realized how much I liked writing them.  I knew that Arthur and his partner were going to need to bring in a specialist.  I assumed it was going to be a hacker named Victor.  She turned out to be a wet-wired net-head named Victoria, and I think she may be one of the best characters I’ve ever written.

The overall process still involved a lot of discovery writing even though I stuck with the outlined structure.  I wound up changing the outline in minor ways a few times when I realized that what I’d planned wasn’t as cool as some ideas I had along the way.  I made adjustments to the outline, rechecked the reverse chronological map to make sure everything still made sense, then kept going.

I wound up changing the ending quite a bit just before I got there.  Without going into spoilers, I thought I was going to end with a bigger action sequence.  While there is still quite a bit of action, the whole story is much more psychological than physical, so the ending shifted to follow suit.  I’m currently very satisfied with the ending.


Where is it Now?

I’ve submitted two queries.  One was a request for full that came out of the New York Writer’s Digest Pitchslam.  The other was to a prominent agent I’ve met several times at WorldCon.  The agent turned down the query without seeing the manuscript.  I haven’t heard from the one via Pitchslam yet.  It’ll be another month before I ping them.

I quit my writer’s group before submitting Spin City to them.  I don’t have a lot of people I can send it to that will provide a critique.  Most of my friends on Twitter are busy reading other things.  I finished this thing that I think I should be proud of, but I need fresh eyes and reader reactions to see where I can improve it.

Michael Gallowglas heard me lamenting my lack of critique partners and he volunteered to read it.  This is a big deal because he’s developed a significant critical eye on his quest to acquire is MFA.  Also, neither of us have critiqued each other before.  It’s kind of scary, but I trust our friendship to be able to handle this however it goes.  I’m sure Michael will tell me some stuff I don’t want to hear.  I’ll tense up for a moment, take a few moments to process, then try to see what he sees.  I’m sure it’ll be fine.

And just so you don’t get the wrong idea, it’s not exactly a first draft.  I did a lightning fast edit of the entire thing, reading it out loud to Melissa in order to find the most egregious errors.  I don’t like to share first draft stories with people anymore.  The current state of Spin City is that it is more than a first draft, not quite a second.  It’s also the rework of something I previously wrote.  I’m note sure how that affects the draft version math.

When Michael agreed to read it, he talked about printing it.  I printed it for him.  The damn this is 100,000 words and the chapters are short.  I knew it was going to take a lot of paper.  When I printed it for him, I had a copy printed for Melissa.  To give a literal answer to the question of where it is, Spin City is in two places.  One copy is with Michael, and one is buried under some of Melissa’s clothes in our room.