This week, I’m talking about the genesis of my debut novel Midnight in the Chapel of Love, which is released on Friday, January 29. This is Part 3 of 5 — stay tuned for the whole story!
May 2015. So there I was, all my work lost, freaking out at having to start over. But I started over regardless… and it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.
Because the writing was so fresh in my mind, I found I was able to reproduce the lost work with uncanny accuracy – sometimes on a line-to-line, word-for-word basis. Everything that was good about the writing was still there, and my fresh start improved the bits that weren’t gelling. White, blonde Stephanie Tannenbaum – a tip of the hat to the bassist of Something for Kate, who started this ball rolling in my mind – felt more like a conscious reference than a person, so I rethought the character and she became Sloane Nowak, a Chinese-Australian who acquired manuscripts for a local press. (Her familiarity with fiction and its tropes allowed for some subtle meta-commentary.) I added a few more chapters, including the opening scene in 1964 with teen spree-killers Billy and Poppy on the run, delved deeper into the Polish aspects of the story, and thought up some audacious thriller twists that I promptly discarded for being a bit too loopy.
I know a manuscript is working when minor elements start knitting together beneath the surface, adding layers of unintended connection. I’d already mentioned Diamanda Galás in the first draft, and when my research revealed that she covered “Gloomy Sunday”, the infamous Hungarian “suicide song”, I decided to put that in Jessica Grzelak’s CD player; Diamanda appears on the soundtrack of Natural Born Killers, which is mentioned in passing by Jessica and Sloane; at one point, some of the characters go to see The Blair Witch Project, which had an accompanying album that features Lydia Lunch’s version of “Gloomy Sunday”… I love this sense of things coming together, lending a story a sense of substance and casual verisimilitude.
I put the manuscript on hold in June, frustrated that I still hadn’t solved some of its deeper issues. At this point I’d written most of the past chapters but had held off on the present ones. The next writing I did was in October, in a Collingwood hotel room while I was on the road with Priority Orange, and that comprised the opening paragraphs of the new first chapter. I chipped away for a while before taking another short break, and when I returned, it was again in an unfamiliar writing environment: I bashed out the entirety of the first Jonny chapter, “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea”, in the Pirie Autopro office on my lunchbreak while I was back there to pick up some extra work.
A note here about the chapter titles: they’re all named after songs. I’ve included them along with their associated artists in the back of the book as a playlist, and it’s a fairly diverse one: The Cure (naturally), Joy Division, Metallica, Chelsea Wolfe, Godflesh, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, and so on. I also made sure to include some Australian bands such as Something for Kate (obviously), Silverchair, Effigy, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (who kind of count as a couple of members still live here). Each of these acts is mentioned within the manuscript itself, as well as a number of others who didn’t score a chapter-title guernsey. (This may be the only novel in existence to namedrop Frenzal Rhomb, Regurgitator, and Testeagles alongside Eminem, Johnny Cash, and The Baha Men!)
With the remaining plot issues resolved, I determined to get the manuscript finished by the end of the year. At the beginning of December I still had thirteen chapters to go, but I knuckled down and got stuck into it. This included writing on Christmas night, at my parents’ house while the rest of my family watched Terminator Genisys (I still haven’t seen it or any of the franchise’s subsequent films, but I don’t think I’m missing much). It came right down to the wire, but my dedication paid off: I finally finished the first draft at around dinnertime on New Year’s Eve, knocked down a few celebratory beers, then went into town and caught up with some mates for a few more.
The first draft was done! My eighth novel manuscript was complete. But so far, I hadn’t managed to get any of them published. Would this one be any different?
Obviously, that’s a rhetorical question for dramatic effect – by now you know that yes, it would. But the path to publication, like the course of true love, never did run smooth…
Read all about it tomorrow in Part 4!
Meanwhile, the book will be available next week at Dymocks Adelaide and other SA stores that are selling my first book – I’m also working on getting it into a bunch of shops nationwide. Meanwhile, here are some links (valid worldwide) for online purchase.
The Book Depository (UK): Midnight in the Chapel of Love : Matthew R Davis : 9781950305582 (bookdepository.com)
JournalStone store (US): Midnight in the Chapel of Love – JournalStone