Short but not Simple
Last week I received the ARC of my brand new Rapid Reads book, THE FALL GUY, which is due for release by Orca Book Publishers in April 2011. It is always a thrill to hold the new baby in your hands for the first time, seeing the fresh, full colour of the cover and the flow of your words across the neatly printed page. But in this instance, it was a double thrill because this is the first of these books that I have written, and the whole concept, not to mention the look and feel of the book, is completely different from my Inspector Green novels. It’s like starting a whole new family. I felt a quiver of trepidation when I sent the manuscript in, another quiver when I received the first edits, and a full-blown attack of the jitters when the real book landed in my hands.
I have written eight published novels and more than two dozen short stories, so I am fairly confident I can handle both those forms. But the Rapid Reads books are neither full-length novels, nor short stories. THE FALL GUY, for example, weighs in at 17,000 words. They are intended to be easy-to-read, faced-paced and suspenseful. No fancy layers or flashbacks, no interwoven subplots, symbolic overlays or literary flourishes. In short, stories stripped to their bone, with a rich, compelling plot, an engaging protagonist, and no frills.
Years ago, when I was a child spending the summer at Lake Memphremagog, I used to sit around the campfire with the other cottage kids, telling stories. Around us, the forest and the darkness pressed in. Our faces were lit only by the flickering orange glow of the fire at the centre. We took turns telling ghost stories, of which the sole purpose was to scare the living daylights out of us and keep us breathless on the edge of our seats. Language was simple yet powerful, evoking images and feelings with a whispered word or two. The characters were few, so that the story was not lost in a morass of names and people. Action unfolded, one galloping step after another, heading towards a scary and dreaded end.
Writing THE FALL GUY brought me back to those times. I wrote on instinct and in the moment, stepping into the shoes of my protagonist and rushing along with him on his headlong quest to solve the case and escape danger. No distractions, no “by the way” flashbacks or reversals of path. No characters who didn’t have to be there. Sometimes I found myself thinking, “Is this too simple?” and being tempted to add a literary flourish or a symbolic layer, as I always had. Being tempted to add subordinate clauses to my sentences and sophisticated words to my prose. But I culled them ruthlessly on rewrites. I chopped sentences in two and put short, punchy words in place of elegance.
It was a challenging but gratifying experience. To reconnect with the essence of storytelling and to tell a story that I hoped would capture the imagination of all kinds of people. Not just mystery lovers and avid book addicts, but new immigrants, the literacy challenged, the elderly, the impatient and the time-pressured, who just want to lose themselves in a damn good story for a few hours. If I entertain, keep people on the edge of their seats, and touch their hearts along the way, then I will have succeeded. THE FALL GUY will tell the tale.
Barbara Fradkin is a child psychologist with a fascination for how we turn bad. In addition to her darkly haunting short stories in the Ladies Killing Circle anthologies, she writes the gritty, Ottawa-based Inspector Green novels which have
won back to back Arthur Ellis Awards for Best Novel from Crime Writers of Canada. The eighth in the series, Beautiful Lie the Dead, which explores love in all its complications, is hot off the press.