Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Quiet One aka The Other Guy

Share |
Almost didn't notice: it was the other guy

Sometimes it’s time to … step off the bus.

And sometimes you have to throw X under the bus.

The ‘bus’ I am referring to is not a bus bus. It’s the story that is underway and proceeding, and close to finished. Doing this longish detective story imposes its own assumptions and habits as I write and edit each day. These notions and expectations and reflexes carry on just below the level of conscious awareness.

As always, the danger lies in letting things carry on, as though the story itself has its own logic and destination. Part of the destination has to be the revelation of the villain who is behind the violence stalking my protagonist and main character from the get-go.

Usually that villain announces himself or herself right from the moment that the plot of a story comes to me. I tend to begin with an interesting character and imagine what they get up to, and how they will endanger the main character, a cop who should be showing up for the next story in the series – but may not. That becomes the plot.

The villain I had come up with had some elaborate trappings right from the start and he quickly became a very full figure – too full perhaps. Modeled after one of Dublin’s most notorious criminals, he loomed very large indeed in the story. It’d be his plans, his methods, his family, his techniques, his personal history and vendettas and appetites and weaknesses that would carry the story.

Reading late last night, half-adrift in that am-I-asleep-or-awake mode, I received a visitation. The sleepy feeling vanished, and all I needed to do was to pay attention, and then make a note on paper. That note was to be my proof that I hadn’t actually been asleep and dreaming the whole thing up.

The note had two entries:

a) Wrong guy! and

b) Always overlooked X 2.

So, without giving away the plot, let me explain a little.

This gangster had become so large in the story that in some way he was blocking out the light, taking too much oxygen. Now, today, I think that I understand why too. The real-life inspirator is a very sinister, very violent person. Knowing that, and periodically getting updates on what he and his cronies are up to) kept him occupying centre stage in my mind. So, like the way a family deals with an alcoholic in the family, my characters navigated around this presence, hoping to avoid his wrath. I was co-opted… by myself.
And that is the ironic and rewarding part of this: the fear that this person inspires was always the key to this story, but I was not quite aware of its effects. I was fixated on him, and what he could do. Now, the villain is to be someone who has always played second or third fiddle to this gangster, the always loyal lieutenant who now has his chance to escape at last – or so he thinks, anyway…!

Not alone this, but this ‘new’ villain has a cohort in an unexpected place. That cohort too has been living in the shade of another figure, and he too wants his place in the sun – no so much revenge, as loot and freedom.
What does this mean now for editing the story, and finishing it?!

It means some reverse engineering. So far, I think it means pulling up nuances and minor details that, taken together, will be compellingly clear and satisfying when the villain is finally revealed. Clues, hints, and ambiguity are now the order of the day. The big question though: should I just finish the story with this ‘new’ villain, and then go back and stitch in these items, or go back now and build in the scaffolding to support his new role?

This will not be answered without espresso. More anon.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

John Brady

John Brady is the author of the acclaimed Matt Minogue mystery novels. His first Matt Minogue mystery novel, A Stone of the Heart, won the Arthur Ellis Best First Novel Award, and his novels Unholy Ground, Kaddish In Dublin, All Souls and The Good Life have all been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. The sixth novel in the series, Islandbridge, was shortlisted for the Dashiell Hammett prize and his most recent, The Coast Road, was named a Globe & Mail Top 100 book for 2010.

Go to John Brady’s Author Page