Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Metamorphosis of a Novel

At the start of 2010 I started research for a new novel. But unlike all the novels I've written before, this one was going to be a historical. After watching a History Channel show about underground speakeasies in Los Angeles during prohibition that were protected by LAPD officers at the door I just knew there was a story there. I began to research the period and was amazed at what I found. Prohibition, instead of what the proponents of it planned or thought would happen, created a nation of criminals. Ordinary citizens, who before the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment would never have considered breaking the law, found themselves doing so regularly and without remorse. The law quickly proved unenforceable and rather than quelling crime and violence, which was one of the goals of the naive temperance movement that voted it in, it proved a breeding ground for the greatest growth of organized criminal activity America had ever seen.

This was a story background ripe for the telling. I knew I wanted the main character to be a cop. A crooked cop, one of the star officers of a very corrupt police force. I also had plans to mix Hollywood into the tale. After all, Hollywood came into its own during Prohibition and the power of the movie studios soon matched the power of the police force and city hall that ran the city of Angels.

But along the way there were changes. I researched numerous stars and found one who fascinated me. Ramon Novarro, a Latino actor who was groomed to replace Rudolf Valentino as the screen lover in the silent movies. Novarro was gay. It was an open secret in Hollywood and a zealously guarded one, since if word got out, his career would be ruined. But though he was never able to publicly admit his orientation, he also never succumbed to a studio arranged lavender marriage like so many other gay actors did so middle America would go on thinking they were 'real' men.

I wanted a Novarro character in my story. Instead of making him a closeted actor, I was going to have him be one of the numerous cross-dressers that also flourish in those days. Some became quite famous. But I planned a twist. My female impersonator was going to be fooling everyone. Including the crooked LAPD officer who would fall in love with her. Originally the story was going to be a tragedy, where the cop killed the impostor when he found out, and was forced to flee the country.

But along the way my characters began to speak their minds. The LAPD officer was still going to be crooked, but the woman he was going to fall for wasn't going to be a fake. She would be a real woman, with her own set of secrets.

I could have forced the characters to fulfill the roles they were born to play in my head, but I think when characters reach a point that they become so real they tell you their story, a good writer listens. Which is what I did. And ended up with Color of Shadows and Smoke, what I think is a powerful story of a bad man struggling to leave his past behind, to change so he's worthy of a woman way out of his league and how their two tragedies intertwine and create a love story.

Right now I'm in the very early stages of a new story idea. That will be the subject of a future blog.

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