Tuesday, June 06, 2006

How I Got Here

The first seed of Michael Drayton, Detective Guy was planted back around 1978 or 1979. My best friend from high school had gone into the Army and was home on leave. During one of my visits at his parents' house, he showed me a science fiction story he was writing about an intergalactic detective. Inspired, I sat down and wrote the beginnings of a parody of it.

That went nowhere simply because I don't personally care for science fiction. (Please, no letters of condemnation. I don't care if anybody else likes it. As far as I am concerned, drink the cup dry! Just don't try to force it on me. Okay?)

A year or two later, I took a course as part of my benighted college career called "Film as Literature." The second movie the professor ran was "The Big Sleep" (the first had been "A Night at the Opera") and he had us read the novel as well so that we could make note of the differences. I wasn't expecting to like the book, but, by the bottom of the first page, I was smitten. I now had two new friends, Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe.

My interest in writing a detective parody revived, and since it seemed like Chandler had most likely gotten the name Marlowe from Christopher Marlowe, I decided that a nice, small joke would be to use the name of another of Shakespeare's contemporaries for my detective's name. There is a legend that Shakespeare died after having gotten drunk with Ben Jonson and a Warwickshire poet named Michael Drayton. Although it is likely that this story is at least an exaggeration since we know that Drayton was a teetotaler, I decided to pinch the name. It just sounded right.

After another year or so went by without a word being committed to paper, I happened across an old book that was being sold outside the tiny Gothic library in Kingston, Rhode Island. It was an edition of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason that had been originally printed around 1900. Inside the front cover was a handwritten inscription, "Jesse Bertha Gibbs, 1904." It occurred to me that such a volume might be used as the hook in a mystery. (This notion has since been split, like the atom, and is used as a plot device in two Drayton stories.)

Years passed and I did nothing with the idea. In the mid-80s, while I was living in the Washington, DC area, I took a flier at writing the story as a novel, but got nowhere. The writing was poor, flat, and unconvincing. The idea went back on the back burner.

By the early '90s, I had resettled in Atlanta (having first lived there for two years in the '80s). I had, at some time, come up with the idea of turning Drayton into a teleplay for a TV movie and worked on this project studiously. I produced a pretty good version of it by sometime in 1992 and set about marketing it. One agent in the Atlanta area really liked it and wanted to represent me on it. However, she wanted me to make changes to it that I thought would hurt the script overall, such as removing all references to drinking and changing mild oaths such as "God!" to "Gosh!"

After being rejected by an agent in Savannah who was more interested in a script someone else had sent him concerning a mystery-solving team of grandfather and grandchildren and having a local attorney-cum-agent lose the manuscript I gave him, I got caught up in other projects and left the teleplay to molder in a drawer.

When I found out about National Novel Writing Month in the fall of 2004, I thought that turning Drayton into a novel might be a good way to participate. And now it's all this.

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