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My Friend the Book Doctor

Today I am happy to welcome Nathan Everett to the blog. Nathan is a fellow writer and enthusiast of printing history and technology. He is presently on a combination book-and-blog tour to promote his newest book, The Gutenberg Rubric. I remember my reaction, when Nathan first told me about this idea for a new thriller he was planning. It was pretty much, “You had me at Gutenberg.” It’s a great story, and probably the most cultured and literate thriller you’re likely to encounter. I was honored to give Nathan feedback on his early draft, and only wish I was half so clever myself to have thought up the utterly brilliant rite-of-passage trial Keith Drucker must face in the middle of the plot. Without further ado, here’s Nathan:

I was stumped, frustrated, and ready for the first time in my life to simply give up on a book I’d started writing.

I’d decided to approach this book differently from others I’d written and after nearly a year of research and note-taking, I sat down to write in a deliberate and structured manner, taking my time over each sentence. Eight months and 40,000 words later, I hated it. My carefully crafted words were not conveying the story that I had in my head. What was worse, I didn’t know how to fix it. It looked like The Gutenberg Rubric was going to be no more than a good idea that never saw the light of day. Instead of just chucking it, though, I took Jason up on an offer to take a look at it.

Good decision.

A week later, I received a carefully marked-up copy of the manuscript with another 5 pages of notes attached at the end. Jason was complimentary about the storyline and intrigue. But…

“While you’re doing a good job so far of creating a page-turner intrigue, I do feel that the motivations of all the players aren’t clear enough,” Jason said. That has always been difficult for me as I find myself falling into the same writing trap that many writers do: Characters do things because I want them to, not because they are motivated to do so or forced by circumstances to do so. Essentially, that meant that I had not developed my characters sufficiently to let them make their own decisions. As usual, once I remedied that situation, the characters took over the story. Even though it did not go exactly where I originally intended it to go, the story was better for it.

“…along with that legend, there must be theories and speculation—as well as a consensus within the guild—as to what they think is in it…. I mean, if everybody thinks that the Other Book just contains Gutenberg’s secret recipe for Spaghetti Bolognaise, then there’s a problem,” Jason continued. Ah. That’s what the real problem is with thrillers in general and mine specifically. What is it that is at risk? In over half the thrillers I’ve ever read, the problem would have been avoided entirely if the hero had given up the search. The bad guys are always following the good guys, being too dumb to figure out the puzzle on their own. The hero ends up leading the villain right to the treasure. I had to come up with something that was more dangerous if they did not pursue it than it was if they did.

“Keith & Maddie’s relationship needs to be further along at the start of the novel.” Well, that makes sense, and when it comes down to it, I’m amazed that the heroes in many thrillers risk their lives to protect a prospective mate that they’ve known for only a day. Even Jason Bourne falls prey to this. If Keith and Maddie are going to trust each other as much as they do, they have to have a relationship that has already progressed to the point of being pretty serious, even if it developed rapidly.

“Steal his shoes,” Jason said in one of his character development blog-posts about that time, and we talked about that as well. I had to deal with the fact that it was too easy for both my hero and my villain. They didn’t really have to work to be successful. They didn’t have to overcome any set-backs. They were entirely too competent and things came too easily. Once I changed my story so that Keith gets seriously injured in an explosion and has to depend on other people to dress his wounds, give him pain pills, and drive him around, the task of tracking down the mythical work of Gutenberg became much more difficult.

“And finally, I think you should re-visit the interleaving of the present- and past-storylines.” Well that was a real problem I had to deal with, and the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize the way I had handled the historic aspect was absurd. In the original draft, I had attempted to intersperse a historic chapter every few chapters that tracked what had happened to the library of manuscripts over the centuries. What I finally figured out was that all the pseudo-history I had written was, in fact, just research that I needed to know in order to write the story but that the reader not only didn’t need, but wouldn’t be interested in. This was a real problem since nearly half of the 40,000-word manuscript was this back-story. And some of it was stuff I really loved. I’d been so diligent in creating a plausible method to get [spoiler redacted] around the Mediterranean that was consistent with recorded history and really could have happened. But the truth was that it didn’t fit in the action of the story. (Maybe it is another book by itself.) It didn’t fit with the concept of a thriller. It slowed things down. It just had to go.

I put the first draft away, did another two months of research and outlining, and on November 1 sat down to write. I finished the 80,000-word novel in 30 days. It won second place in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Competition and now I’m on an author tour around the country with a novel I’m truly proud of.

Thanks for all your help, Jason.

You’re quite welcome, Nathan. It was a pleasure to read your book. May you sell out your stock, and may the road rise to meet your feet. Pick up a copy on Amazon, and follow the rest of Nathan’s book-and-blog tour at The Rubricant or on Twitter.

September 06, 2011 16:21 UTC

Tags: Nathan Everett, The Gutenberg Rubric, book tour, testimonial, thriller

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