Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Coming Full Circle

Flooded Katrina neighborhood   
In script writing, there is a concept of coming full circle that writers strive for.  The most obvious example I can think of is the sitcom Seinfeld.

The episode would start with the teaser, usually something ridiculous because Seinfeld was the king of ridiculous.  But that teaser would have a payoff at the end of the show, as would the other storylines that were intertwined with each other in ways that only became clear in the last few moments of the episode. 

It was less subtle than any other show on t.v. that was effectively accomplishing the same feat, but I think because it made viewers aware of the fact that the story was coming full circle, viewers thought the show was clever.  It wasn’t just a series of coincidences that ended the show on the same note that it began on, but an intentional design of the writers.

Novel writing is not sitcom writing.  If only.  Sitcom scripts are maybe 30 or 35 pages, with a cliffhanger before each series of commercials. So two or three is a fair number.

A 300 page novel needs as many cliffhangers as the writer can manage, preferably one at the end of each chapter to keep the reader’s interest.  And a mystery writer’s goal is to lay out a path of breadcrumbs that the reader doesn’t even realize is the trail to the culprit and then bring the reader full circle without the reader realizing it until it’s been done.  Mystery writing requires a delicate subtlety, maybe because readers tend to be sophisticated, at least in terms of entertainment.

I was thinking about the coming full circle concept a few weeks ago while contemplating how soon I would have Chocolate City Justice, the third novel in my series, ready to send to Billie to publish.  The reason I was thinking about the whole concept is that I began writing the novel right after Hurricane Katrina. I had not yet been offered a contract on the first novel, Gumbo Justice, and after Katrina changed the landscape of New Orleans, where I live and where my series is set, I had a lot to think about.

My first concern was that there would be no more interest in a novel set pre-Katrina.  We didn’t know yet what post-Katrina would bring, but the whole political and social climate of the city changed, at least temporarily, as did the D.A.’s Office and the NOPD, all of which figure heavily in my series.  My protagonist is a New Orleans prosecutor, as I was in the late ‘90's. But now, would my prosecutrix Ryan even have a job to go back to?

 So I thought I had two choices. I could rewrite Gumbo Justice as if it took place post-Katrina, which would have been a nearly insurmountable task for me and would have changed the novel so much I don’t think I would have felt right about publishing it.  The second idea was to start over, write a new first book with the same characters, and try to get it published first.  And that was when I began writing Chocolate City Justice.

I hadn’t realized the third option was still in the universe– that someone, in this case Oak Tree Press, would be happy to publish a book about pre-Katrina New Orleans.  Just as life began to mimic a sense of normalcy in New Orleans, Billie contacted me from an email query I had sent, and the rest is history. We did have a one-year delay when I was in a serious car wreck and on my  back for seven months, but one day short of a year from the car wreck Gumbo Justice was released, followed by Jambalaya Justice, and now Chocolate City is right around the corner.

I did have to make quite a few changes to Chocolate City. It still takes place during Katrina-- and I mean literally during the hurricane-- and the novel will still bring the cast into post-Katrina New Orleans for the series.  But some things had to be edited since it was no longer going to be the intro to the series and I had the mythology already established that I had to continue with and characters and relationships that had already been developed.

The title is in reference to a speech made on the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day after Katrina, by our mayor at the time, Ray Nagin, about how at the end of the day New Orleans would once again be a chocolate city.  He meant no offense. He was a charmer and everyone liked him and at the time I think he was saying what he thought people who had been sent to all of the corners of the world, many with no means of getting back, needed to hear.  But it did, of course, cause a stir.

What is causing a stir now, all these years later, and just as Chocolate City Justice is about to be published, is that our former mayor, who has been gone from New Orleans for a few years already and whose prominent speech spawned the title for my novel, has been indicted on all numerous charges in federal court and is expected to plead guilty in the next few months. It's a media circus and a pretty hot topic of conversation right now.

And that’s what got me thinking about the concept of coming full circle.  You really can’t buy publicity like that. And for the first time in my life, my timing might be just right.

Holli Castillo


Julie Luek said...

Best to you in the success of your book-- sounds like you struck a timely subject.

Beryl Reichenberg said...

Yes, If we live long enough, life has a way of coming full circle. Thanks for relating your writing and publishing journey. Success does finally come. Beryl

Holli said...

Julie and Beryl, thanks for the comments. I also can't overlook the role of good luck at the right time.