As you may know already, I published a book last fall called Weight of an Empire. I consider it my first serious work. It was the first novel I completed, and it was quite the experience. Well, I wanted to give a little insight into the process of writing the book. Also, another excerpt is below.
First, listen to this while you read the excerpt:
I woke early that Monday morning when the light came on in my room.
“What the hell?” I mumbled, rising and holding my hand above my eyes to block the light.
“There you are,” he said. I opened my eyes and saw Riley Tiergarten standing beside my bed. I rubbed my eyes. “Nope, it ain’t a dream,” Riley said. He chuckled. It sounded like a dry cough that came from his upper chest.
“What are you doin’ in my house?” I asked.
“Nevermind that. You know you got a fine ass woman in the other room? Why the fuck are you sleepin’ in here?” He sat on the futon and tilted his head to the side as he looked at me. He had a sawed-off double-barreled shotgun across his lap. Bits of snow melted into the shoulders of his heavy old Army field jacket. It smelled like stale cigarette smoke. Riley’s nose was red and he wiped it with the back of his gloved hand and sniffled loudly while he stared at me.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“Well… I came to pick you up,” Riley said.
“To go for a ride.” He wore a calm, contented expression on his hairy face.
“Down the road a little.”
“I ain’t goin’,” I said.
Riley stood and took a breath. He pointed the shotgun at me and said, “Lucky for us you ain’t got a choice.”
“So that’s it, then.”
“That’s what?” He had a wry smile stretching across his face.
“I figured you’d come around eventually.”
He sniffed and nodded. “But you ain’t gonna sucker punch me this time,” he said. “Come on. Get up.”
I surveyed the room and rubbed my eyes. The closet was behind me, and in the closet was a small safe where I kept a little 9mm handgun. I used to sleep with it under my bed, but I always told myself I was being paranoid. So it went in the safe in the closet. I looked at the closet and then at Riley’s shotgun again. “How’d you know where I lived?”
“Ted showed me one day.”
“And where’s he at?”
“Don’t worry about that,” he said. He wagged the shotgun at me and said, “Come on.”
The longer I was awake the more I began to panic. This is really happening, I thought. I tried to stall him until I could figure a way into that closet. “How’d you get in?” I asked.
“The back door was unlocked.”
“Not bullshittin’,” Riley said.
“I always lock it at night.”
He smiled. “Or not.”
“Son of a bitch,” I mumbled, sighing and rubbing my face.
“So come on,” Riley said, wagging the shotgun again. “Get up.”
“All right.” I nodded. “I’ll come quietly as long as I know she’s all right.”
He scoffed. “She’s still sleepin’. So is the baby. Now come on.”
I stood and scratched my head, still trying to figure a way out of it. I found a mental rut on the idea of stalling him so then I said, “Ain’t it supposed to snow?”
“It’s snowin’ already,” Riley said. “That’s why we’re gonna do this now.”
“Well, what is it?”
“You just need to come on.” He showed me the ends of the barrels again.
“Take it easy,” I said, showing him my palms. “It’s all right. I just need to get dressed real quick.” I kept my hands up and pointed at the closet with one of them.
“You’re fine like that.”
“I’m only wearin’ sweatpants.”
“You’re fine like that.” The muscles in his face relaxed and the smirk disappeared as his eyes seemed to darken. He held the gun steady and took a few slow steps to the side, angling around me until he stood between me and the closet.
“All right,” I said. “I’m fine like this then.” Helplessness twisted itself in my stomach and climbed outward with nothing better to do than spread for the sake of spreading. He stood in the center of the room and waited for me to leave first, repeatedly jerking the barrels of the shotgun toward the door.
He followed me out of the house, and I peeked down the hallway toward Allison’s room along the way. The door was open and I could see her sleeping in the bed. At least he didn’t do that, I thought. We went out the front door and into the dark and cold. The falling snow was thick and steady. It was already ankle deep. I hugged myself as I walked, bending forward against the falling snow and clenching my teeth with each frozen, barefooted step.
Teddy’s truck was parked on the shoulder of the road near the house. The engine idled quietly. The lights were off. It was barely visible through the thick haze of falling snow and hanging darkness. When we reached the truck the parking lights came on and Riley ordered me into the back seat. I paused at the back door, shivering and cradling my elbows in my hands as I pushed my shoulders to my neck. I looked at Riley. He stood at the front of the truck with the shotgun. The gun, and his sleeves and gloves were drenched in the warm glow from the parking lights on one side and empty and black on the other. The falling flakes flashed past the half-lit shotgun. The thought of running came and went, bursting up from the abyss in my stomach and then dissipating faster than the falling snow. Then, from the shadows above the ambient yellowish light a throaty voice snarled.
“Get the fuck in the truck.”
This scene in the book is the beginning of the end – the buildup to the climax. The song is “The Rat” by a local band called Dead Confederate.
And here’s the album featuring “The Rat”: The entire track list is excellent.
The significance of the music and that scene is that this whole story began with a mental image of some serious shit going seriously bad in the middle of a snow storm. From a brief mental image the story unfolded into who’s who and why’s this and all that. It consumed me for a short time while I was working another job, capturing my mind in idle night-shift hours. That was in 2009. The story evolved a bit during a three month mental obsession. I never really wrote any of it down back then, instead simply cataloging imagery and quotes in my mind for apparently no other reason than to take up brain space. One morning on the way home I drove up a rise in the land at dawn, just as a black car coming the other way entered my field of view. Something about the aesthetics of that moment clicked, and I logged that away for memory, too.
Then I went on with life, quitting one job to work another, quitting the other job to go back to school and finish my English degree. In the spring of 2013, when I was almost finished with school, this story came back. I didn’t really bring it back. It just sort of… returned. And it was different; more complex. Unusual. It meandered through my mind with its hands in its pockets, slowly telling me the story in parables and brief explosions of imagery.
So I started writing it in February of 2013. Started from the beginning – the bonfire scene. New characters arrived. Pard showed up and began narrating what was originally going to be a third-person psychological thriller – slash – tragedy about Teddy. Riley showed up then, really pushing hard against Pard’s natural ambivalence and cowardice. The whole damned thing changed. The style changed. The voice changed. Before I knew it I was over 40,000 words in. When it was all finished that May, I stepped back and read through the whole first draft one time. All that remained the same from the original 2009 idea was the mood, and then that scene in the snow at the end. But even the climax changed a little bit – the motivations were tweaked and the sequencing changed with the added characters. The way I told it changed as well, because we see it all happen as Pard saw it.
Well, anyway, while I was writing this thing I used that Dead Confederate album to get in the mood. I listened to “The Rat” every day that I wrote, sometimes several times each day. The music captured the mood perfectly. And now you know some shit you didn’t before – shit that probably doesn’t do you a lick of good in life… but maybe you’ll check out the book or help spread the word a little bit. You know, ‘cause you got insider knowledge and shit now.
Thanks for reading.