The Value of the Unexpected

The often expressed words of wisdom given to authors is “go with your gut.” The same might be said about cooking. Both creative efforts are similar, in that the longer you do them, the better you become and the more likely your experiments will turn out successful.

I am reminded of the time when, many years ago, I was preparing a Bolognese sauce and, on a hunch, reached into the spice shelf and added one eighth of a teaspoon of cumin—a Southwestern spice that should have no place in Italian cuisine. The result proved so successful that whenever I invite friends to a spaghetti feed and serve them this variation, the typical response is, “Wow! This is delicious. What did you put in it?”

I’ve had a similar experience while working on my latest work-in-progress. This book is different from my previous ones and, as a result, it often takes me weeks to complete a single chapter as I struggle through what my writer friend, Adrianne Montoya, describes as “the emotional roller coaster of writing a horror novel.” The more violent, but admittedly necessary chapters, frequently make me get up and walk away from my computer until I have composed myself enough to return. This book has also been difficult because, although I have been satisfied with what I have written so far, it has felt as if it is heading toward a predictable and ho-hum conclusion with no good alternative.

Another thing that has been gnawing at me is that, at one point in the novel, my subconscious brain had me toss in a character who had no obvious connection to anything I had written before and no obvious connection to anything that followed. He was so out of line that I have been tempted to eliminate him altogether, but didn’t because something in my gut kept telling me he was essential.

This morning, I was reading Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell when I came across a paragraph that brought that random character to mind and I realized, just as I had when adding the cumin to the Bolognese sauce, that his addition, as unlikely as it had seemed, would lead the plot to a WOW! and unforeseeable ending. And now I can’t wait to jump back in, finish the book, attend to the rewrites and always essential edits before sending it off for pre-publication endorsements.

Look for my horror novel—tentatively entitled Wraith—to appear by early summer.