I strongly recommend reading the book before the following commentary. You can find a sample of the first five chapters here on the blog or get it on Kindle.
So, chapter 1.
So, chapter 1.
I went with the streamlined font, reminiscent of Calibri or Arial, because it felt to me like it had a utilitarian feel that a company might decide to use because its simplicity saves money.
The purpose of the extended quotes at the beginning of chapters is probably self-explanatory. I wanted the world of the book to be as involved—and involving—as the characters; I wanted the reader as curious about that world as they were about the characters. Also, understanding what kind of world a person lives in makes understanding that person’s behavior easier. But here’s the problem: who stands around with someone they know—someone with whom there is a shared common history--and says, “Remember when the government passed that secrecy law and how we have all those information dealers now?” The other option was extended info dumps of exposition in the narrative. But every scene in this book is told through someone’s point of view—I’ve tried to place you as much in the character’s mind as I can without first person narration. So, again, the exposition info dump didn’t feel natural to me. Hence the quotes. They were originally going to precede each chapter. But with thirty-three chapters, I figured I’d be revealing a bit too much mystery—and perhaps constraining myself for the future—if I revealed too much about the world that didn’t relate directly to this book.
I never wrote a version of this book that didn’t start with Blake. We met him at different points on this particular day in his life, but it was always Blake that led the reader into the world. It was always, in one way or another, Blake’s story. And he was always a fish out of water. And to make him even more so in the final book, I introduce him here and build a reason for him to go to Aaron for the first time.
The minutia of Blake’s morning lasted even longer in the first draft. This was one of the more heavily cleaned up areas. I wanted to establish how thoroughly mundane Blake’s life was to contrast what would come later. But really—how many of us don’t have a mundane morning ritual? So it definitely ventured into the excessive—as did Blake’s dislike of mornings. The morning thing was all me. I hate mornings with a passion that may well be undefinable. Needless to say, the whole process is shorter and better here.
We also get a peek at Katharine who I will talk more about later. And then there’s the snapshot of the Johnsons’ stilted interaction. I’ll talk more about that later, too.
I have a few digs at Chicago here. I lived in the area (suburbs and not city, thankfully) for a few years and was never impressed. I suppose it’s absolutely petty to take out such feelings in print—but then if I can’t do that, why did I bother to write a book?
I’d always pictured this story beginning with Blake as an established client of Aaron’s. But as I mentioned earlier, I wanted Blake to be completely out of his element—no real experience or established relationship to cushion him from what was coming. It also, I think makes him more relatable to a reader. So this bit about Mitchell Ryan was a new addition to Blake’s story. I think it passes muster and does what it needs to do—which is to get Blake down an alley.
Another dig at Chicago. In fairness, I’m from the San Francisco bay area, and as anyone who’s been to San Francisco can attest—and as someone who enjoys the Mission District, I will completely agree—San Francisco can be quite filthy. So I’m the black pot throwing stones through my glass house at the equally black kettle.
And that question, coupled with one from earlier…
…Pretty much define Blake at this point. The reader gets a lot of thoughts from characters in this book. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those two are the only ones in the first chapter and are, therefore, the first two “quoted” thoughts in the book. I’m not sure that anything else we get from Blake for the rest of the book sums him up as well as those.
Chapter 2 commentary.