The Nameless Horror


In my post on The Desperate, The Dying, And The Damned I mentioned that there were reasons I still hadn’t completed a re-edit of the final Penguin book, Burial Ground. And there are, beyond merely being busy (I’m now writing/editing a trade mag freelance as well as working on a novel short-version-working-titled PORTAL, and, y’know, childcare, chores, other things). What they come down to is what happens when you gut a story.

In theory, BG should be an easy edit. The published draft has some improvements over the original - smaller cast list, clearer motives - and a lot of total balls. The book reviewed poorly on Amazon, but not for this reason; my editor included a comparison to Agatha Christie’s Ten Little N— I Mean, Indians/And Then There Were None on the back jacket and as far as I can tell, this novel of swearing, corpse-crawling and relatively frequent violence was bought primarily by Christie fans. And, well. Anyway, it deserves its general poor reviews. It’s at best OK, at worst a bit of a mess. Doesn’t make sense in places. That sort of thing. It was always a bit of an odd beast in terms of the overall series; by this point I really wanted to be doing a standalone instead, and this was as much of a prod in that direction as I could manage within the confines of an ongoing character.

I have the original draft on computer. (A draft which, incidentally, is probably closer to Christie’s story, even though it’s based mostly on survival horror tales like The Thing.) It’s a bit first draft-y, sure, but it’s more consistent in its story. I originally conceived it under the working title of Twelve - “12 people. 12 hours. 12 secrets.” Sweet, no?

But. But.

Cleaning up the bits that don’t work, including trimming the cast list (which is unwieldy when you’re writing in first person), means that it’s a bit… bony. I’ve got the skeleton of a book there somewhere, but there are gaps. Fleshy, squishy gaps. The sort of gaps that determine what a story looks and sounds like. And whereas with The Touch Of Ghosts most of what I had to do was excise unnecessary material and then sew the incisions shut to leave a much leaner, cleaner rebuilt model standing there, here I’m basically reconstructing a dinosaur from its constituent parts. I know what the story was supposed to be and how it was supposed to work, but I don’t have the faintest idea if I actually have enough here to achieve it. Or, indeed, to achieve anything at all. It’s certainly not horrible enough to be survival horror, not without putting some redshirts back in to die in horrible ways, and then what’s the point of that? Is it criminal enough to be a crime? Is it even likeable?

It may be a case of doing something radical with either the presentation of the story - perspectives, order - or else shifting the whole thing into one of the other forms it so nearly resembles but not quite. Both options represent a lot of work, and I’m not sure which is the right choice. Until I know that, other things take precedence.