My current project is rewriting a Mellingham mystery from Chief Joe Silva's point of view. I first wrote the novel as an extension of a short story centered around a day spent sailing along the coast. I liked the idea of the discovery of the attempted murder so much that I decided to turn the story into a novel, making the intended victim the sleuth. This went along well, I thought, until my editor rejected the novel. (Another editor is reading the short story.)
For several months I felt stuck with a novel whose basic story I loved but whose lead character didn't seem to rise to the necessary heights. Something was lacking. At the same time I came to be interested in writing more about Joe's family. Readers like hearing about Joe's birth family, and I thought it was time to write more about the blended family he created when he married Gwen, who came with two young children, Jennie and Philip. I'd already written about Jennie in Last Call for Justice, and I thought now it was time for Philip to make an appearance. I decided to rewrite the rejected novel with the focus on Joe with his family in a supportive role.
When I taught writing courses, years ago, I used a variety of exercises to make various points. One point I liked to get across is that each story depends on who is telling it, or, in my case, who is the protagonist leading the investigation, however informal or formal that may be. I assigned students the task of writing the first few paragraphs of a story from the point of view of each character in the story, to find out whose story it was. Students were almost always surprised to find that the story differed according to who became the main character. I'm learning this lesson again. The story of a woman who drowns while out sailing told from the point of view of the surviving sister is a very different story from the one told by Joe Silva in his role as chief of police of Mellingham.
As I recast each scene, expanding some and eliminating others, and add more, I can see where I went wrong with the creation of the protagonist in the first version. Annie Beckwith, given a name I thought would lead to a great career as an amateur sleuth, seemed stunted and edgy. Under the astute gaze of the chief of police, however, she is emerging as a woman grappling with the loss of a dearly loved sister and her sister's husband, and learning things about her sister's life that she'd never known and never would have guessed.
Here I imagine the reader is thinking, "Ah, dark secrets are uncovered." Well, the reader is partly correct. Not all secrets are dark. But any secret can change the one who discovers it, and faces the challenge of abandoning old assumptions for new truths.
When I began the rewrite, I wasn't sure it would be worth the effort, but I felt compelled to see it through. I love the Joe Silva/Mellingham series, and willingly block out stories to write when I have the time. But now that I'm deep into this story, I am once again hooked. I think about Joe and his little family, Gwen and Jennie and Philip, and the life they have created for themselves in the small town on the water. In this installment Joe teaches Philip to sail, and Philip turns out to be the son the townspeople of Mellingham might expect for their beloved Chief Silva.