. . . or is it the fifth? I've kind of lost count by now. Whichever one it is, I started it today. Actually, I probably started it last week, when I arrived in the US, but I was dipping into the draft, changing dialogue and the odd setting. But this evening, after checking into my hotel in Portland, I went back to the start of THE REAPERS and began adjusting the prologue, then moved on to the first chapter. That's a proper rewrite. Anything else is just dabbling.
I've said it before, but I wonder if there isn't an easier way to write a book. Again and again I encounter fellow writers who produce perfectly good books by submitting their first draft to their editors. Perhaps they just have their act together, whereas I do not. (I'm not fishing for compliments here. I just genuinely believe that there are authors out there who have a clear picture of the book they want to write set in their heads from the start, so that the first draft is less exploratory than it is in my case.) Anyway, THE REAPERS is coming together, even if does begin with what feels like a lot of bloodshed, some of it at the hands of Angel and Louis.
A month ago, I received an interesting email, through the lovely webmaven, Heidi. It was from a woman who expressed some concern at the direction that she felt THE REAPERS was taking, judging from my occasional posts. She liked Angel and Louis, she said. She liked their humor. She was uneasy about the possibility thate her impression of the characters might be undermined by what was about to happen in subsequent books, and THE REAPERS in particular.
I thought of that email again as I was revising the first chapter. In this draft - and, to be fair, in every draft since the first - Louis is particularly cold-blooded in the way in which he deals with a set of potential adversaries. So too, to be fair, is Angel, even if he has some qualms about their actions. To me, it seemed like the natural response that these two men would have to a particular situation. They are, after all, killers, and one of the themes of THE REAPERS is the psychology of killing. I've been doing a lot of research in that area, and it's been fascinating, in a disturbing way. That research, I think, has informed (if not influenced) some of the actions of Angel and Louis in the novel. In other words, as I delved deeper into the psychology of killing, I found that the way in which I was thinking about Angel and Louis matched the reality of certain responses to the act of killing in, for example, warfare, and among soldiers.
Nevertheless, the lady's very thoughtful email raised an interesting question about the nature of a reader's relationship to characters of whom he, or she, has grown fond, and the writer's duty, if any, to those responses. It's a situation that only really arises in certain forms of genre fiction. As I think I've written before, mystery fiction is unusual in the strength of its dependence on recurring characters. Literary fiction, by contrast, uses them to a lesser degree, so much so that the latest Philip Roth book has attracted more attention than usual, I think, precisely because it represents the "last ordeal" of Nathan Zuckerman, a recurring alter ego in Roth's fiction.
Yet, by contrast with mystery fiction, Zuckerman has hardly figured at all in Roth's work. Only crime fiction (and, to a lesser extent, certain types of sci-fi, fantasy, and romantic fiction - or, to lump them all under one umbrella, genre fiction) returns again and again, on an annual basis in most cases, to a single character or set of characters. That is part of its appeal to the reader, and it is hardly surprising that a bond develops between the reader and those fictional characters, one that is frequently very loyal and affectionate. The dilemma for the author is: to what degree should he or she be influenced by that bond? The answer, to be brutally frank, is not at all, even at the risk of alienating some of those readers in the process. The writer has to be true to the characters, in bad things as well as good, otherwise they have no meaning.
So, in the course of the most recent draft of THE REAPERS, Angel and Louis behave in a way that is open to a number of interpretations, not all of them favourable, yet each represents a facet of their characters. Similarly Parker, by being seen through the eyes of an outsider, an observer, emerges as a far more enigmatic and disturbing individual than perhaps he does when his actions are explained in his own voice, but that too is not being untrue to his nature. The fact of the matter is that the way in which we want our favourite characters to behave is not necessarily the way in which they should, or would, behave, given our knowledge of their natures. They may be invented, but they are human, and they are duty bound to behave as human beings would do, or else they have nothing worth hearing to say to us about our existence.
It's now midnight where I am. Strangely, I am writing for the sake of writing. In a sense, none of this seems terribly important. Susie, who contributed regularly to the forum, passed away last week. I had hoped that she would get the opportunity to read the draft of THE REAPERS when I returned to Ireland with it, because I thought she would enjoy doing that, but it was not to be. I met her only once, after a signing, with her husband and a friend from the US. We had dinner. She was a sweet, funny, courageous human being.
May she rest in peace.