Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How I Came to Write This Book: THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE

THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE is available at Untreed Reads.

HOW I WROTE THIS BOOK: The Same Mistake Twice

By Albert Tucher

In the summer of 2000 I signed up on a whim for a fiction writing class at the Union County College in Cranford, NJ. Our teacher, Tom Cantillon, gave us weekly writing assignments, and one week he had us write an action story. From somewhere came a mental picture of a man and a woman standing by a car parked on the shoulder of a deserted highway.

So far, so noir, but who were they? I decided that they were a cop and a prostitute, and just to keep things interesting, I made her the good guy. He wanted to kill her, and she needed to stop him.
I couldn’t think of a motive that would play in 1,500 words, until I made the police officer a woman also. The motive became jealousy over a man who had been paying Diana—I knew her name immediately—and ignoring the officer.

The story turned out well, but I realized that it was open-ended enough to become the beginning of something bigger. It is now the first chapter in my currently unpublished novel Do Overs. For a long time that book was the beginning of Diana’s main story arc.

But it proved a tough sell, even after my friend and colleague Elaine Ash, aka Anonymous-9, did some needed major surgery on it. Elaine suggested that it had too much challenging material, including a cop killing and some hard-edged, explicit sex, to be the reader’s introduction to the Diana saga. She wondered whether I had a story that could come before Do Overs.

In fact, I had a novella with a solid noir premise: a John Doe turns up after ten years in a shallow grave, with nothing to identify him except Diana’s phone number freakishly preserved in his pocket. The number is one that she used only briefly, when she was just weeks into her career as a prostitute. Rather than give the police a list of her clients—certain death for her business—she decides to investigate, with results that could be fatal for her.

That story came in at 16,000 words. Elaine read it and said that it needed more. For starters, it needed the viewpoint of Detective Dale Tillotson, who has appeared in many of my short stories, and whose friendship with Diana is tested by the case. I also realized that the story is about the return of old mistakes and old enemies which gave me my title, The Same Mistake Twice. The theme also enabled me to rethink and reuse some material from Do Overs that had ended up on the cutting room floor. The result came in at 31,000 words, and Jay Hartman at Untreed Reads said that accepting the story for publication was “a no-brainer.”

I love it when that happens. The confusion lifts, and I have to think hard to remember what it felt like. Next time, why don’t I just skip the hard part and go straight to the good stuff?
Let me make a note of that.


Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Thanks for hosting Albert.

Albert - How interesting that you got that mental picture in your mind right away. I love it that you built your story around it. The characters must have been really worth exploring too, since they've now become a book. I wish you success with it.

Elaine Ash said...

Albert, it's been such a pleasure knowing you and working with you for the past, what--7,8 years now? When we met you had a few Diana stories published online. That quickly expanded to 50 and then Otto Penzler picked up your Detective Coutinho story for Best American Mystery Stories. That qualified you as an active member in the MWA--and you were off an running as a professional fiction writer. What a story arc, as they say in the biz! Congratulations, Albert. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
Elaine Ash

Charles Gramlich said...

Yeah, nice to skip the hard stuff and go to the good! Congrats on your success.

Paul D. Brazill said...

Good stuff and congrats! Sure to be gem.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Congrats, Al! I took creative writing courses as an undergrad and then taught them years later at the university. I think we all benefit from them.

Kathleen A. Ryan said...

Thanks for sharing your experience, Albert. Your last sentence reminds me of Elmore Leonard's writing advice to "skip the boring parts." It is amazing what a journey writing is and can be, and the tough road to reach a point of clarity.

Congratulations on publishing THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE. I'm thrilled for you! So glad Diana has found herself in a major published work. Congrats to Elaine, too, for the valuable assistance she provided and the wonderful results that have followed.

Thanks, Patti, for having Albert on your blog.

BTW, Patti -- I must share with you some exciting news, and I want to announce this in a blog post, but while I'm here at the moment: I attended the Public Safety Writers Conference in Las Vegas earlier this month. I had submitted "TEN CENTS," a flash fiction piece written as a result of your FFC about a van, to their writing competition.

It was awarded First Place in the Flash Fiction category :-)

I'm grateful that you proposed yet another intriguing FFC that gets the writing juices flowing. I always do better when I'm given a theme or scenario to write about.

Sending a huge cyber-hug and much gratitude your way!


Al Tucher said...

Thanks, all. And congrats, Kathleen!

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to read the book, Al---congratulations! And the backstory to the book makes it even more intriguing.

Congrats also to you, Kathy, for the Flash Fiction piece.

You both inspire me onward!

All the best,
Kate Lincoln