The Bemann Report for Early July
Well, friends and neighbors, it’s been a tough go for me and my new novel lately. The Bemann Files has turned into one of those projects where I wrote a whole draft, but halfway through realized I wanted the feel to be more believable than fantastic. Since the subject matter comes from an old, off-the-cuff series of teenaged instances, which felt more like Warner Bros. cartoons without the visual aspect, this makes for a big challenge.
Here’s an example: in my original plan, Randy Bemann meets up with a guy who’s essentially a mad scientist. This guy makes a gas for him that Bemann plans to unleash on his enemies. The gas was like a bad stink bomb, in very pure form.
Sounds like the plot of a G.I. Joe cartoon from the 80’s, if I wrote it from my goofball point of view, doesn’t it? Somehow, this was supposed to be a device to get Bemann recognized by the government as a dangerous terrorist. A little far-fetched? Yep. Did I care when I initially plotted out the book? Nope, and I’ll tell you why: when I began this one, I was coming off my goofiest project ever, Redheads and Bubblegum, and I had it in mind that maybe all my work was going to follow the ultra-goofy bend. I thought, “Maybe this is my style,” and while I still believe that’s partially true, I also think that a story needs to develop according to its own designs. Fiction isn’t something writers are in control of; often, I find myself getting pissed because my characters do things I didn’t plan on, but I know is better for the story, and now I have to go back and do more work.
That’s exactly what happened with Bemann. Through actions and reactions of characters, I began to realize that a greatly lesser degree of fantasy would better serve this story. Is Randy Bemann still on the fringe of the real world? Sure, but in the age of instant communication, viral videos, and obsession with those who present themselves as both celebrities (even if they don’t really deserve it) and authorities (often self-decreed, and always self-important), I think the idea of what Randy Bemann does in the novel – doing and saying everything wrong, and thus being declared a terrorist – is on the far end of possibility. How do you explain Koresh in Waco, or dozens of others, if not for the plausibility of wackos gaining power from time to time?
Back to the writing process: this realization has necessitated some massive changes to the structure and flow the novel. Chapters need to be rearranged, which means characters formerly un-introduced should now be present and contributing to the story. Also, it means some parts need to be let go to the cutting room floor, while other parts need to be written up from scratch. It’s like a big jigsaw puzzle that doesn’t come with all the pieces, and so every once in a while you have to go make a new one from the scraps in the garage. It takes time, patience, and the ability to ignore the overwhelming sense of work to be done, even after so much has already been put in.
I flirted with the idea of shelving the book for a while, but after a talk with Margie, I’ve decided to stick with it. Right now, I’m typing up what I have – all of it – and then I’ll try to assemble the jigsaw pieces as best I can. Then I’ll see which I can finesse into new shapes, which just don’t work, and where the holes are. One thing at a time.
During this time, I’ll be working on shorter projects, too, so don’t fret: it won’t be years before you see something new from me. In fact, check back soon for a new short story. Details soon. Until then, happy Independence Day!