To commemorate my first Free Promotion this weekend, I thought I would share some of the history behind Rottweiler. Herein, I’ll discuss the story and its origins, the process of writing the first draft, and the far more difficult process of editing the finished novel and preparing it for publication. I will also discuss how I’ve actually applied the advice I posted on March 8 and March 12 and how these lessons were pivotal in the development of Rottweiler.
What follows is the description of Rottweiler as it appears on the MY NOVEL page on this site.
Jon is the only witness when the girl two doors down is mauled by the neighbor’s Rottweiler. He is also the only one who has seen the mistreatment the old dog endured at the girl’s hands. But Jon has been trained to always hold his tongue and to never bite back. And now an innocent victim is dead because of it.
Staring into the Rottweiler’s eyes, Jon sees his own life reflected clearly for the first time. Jon has been beaten, bullied, and abused for over fifteen years by his high school sweetheart, now his wife. As he revisits the moments that made him the man he is today, Jon can only wonder if he still has it within himself to bear his fangs and say ‘enough’.
And what will be the consequences if he does?
Rottweiler explores the question of manhood in the modern age, and whether Jon can call himself a man at all when he seemingly stands for nothing and is willing to fight for even less. Because he grew up as the biggest and strongest boy in school, Jon has become the weakest person he knows. Society has taught him that he needs to be a gentle giant, and life has taught him that to be anything but will only end in pain and misery. Jon endures humiliation at the hands of childhood friends, he endures a vicious beating at the hands of a self-righteous and over-protective aunt, he endures shame and rage and scorn and misery. And, more than anything else, he endures an abusive marriage to a woman he’s no longer convinced he ever loved.
Jon endures because it is the only the thing he knows how to do. It is the only option men like him have ever been given.
As a teenager, I dated a girl for a few years who was mean as a snake. And I stayed with her because I was too insecure to walk away. Years later, I thought to myself, what if we took this situation to its absolute extremes? What if the young woman in question was not just mean, but truly cruel? Abusive, even? Physically abusive? And what if the young man wasn’t just meek, not just a gentle giant? What if he was truly spineless? Unable to stand up for himself at all?
How long could that relationship last? And how deep would the abuse run before it was over?
The result was a battered man.
And – to me at least – it doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch. As boys, how often are we told that we cannot under any circumstances hit a girl? That rule never seems to change for as long as we live.
But is there a time when it can? When it should?
Rottweiler‘s opening lines were born.
I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I’m fairly certain that the idea hit me when I was behind the wheel driving to my parents’ house in June, 2009. It was one of those occasions – another mundane task I’ve done a thousand times before and don’t really need to think about – and it bore fruit. I still have the notebook where I scribbled down those first lines sitting at a stop light.
My wife was gone that evening, so when I eventually returned home I had the house to myself. I started typing.
By the end of the night, the first draft of the first chapter was finished. I had met my narrator Jon and given him a story to tell. And in telling the first of his tales – a volatile young girl, an incontinent old dog left in her care, an outburst of violence, an act of retribution, and a victim condemned – Jon found a voice.
That first chapter is still some of my favorite writing in the whole novel, even if it’s not necessarily the best. It was raw, it was honest, and – born in a fit of passion on a night like a single held breath – it was something that simply happened. And while it was happening, the rest of the story started to flesh itself out in my head. It had come alive. And I was brought to life along with it. I was more excited to write than I had been in years.
So I wrote.
For a while at least.
The only other clearly defined moment of inspiration came the following winter.
When I was four or five chapters along, Rottweiler, like all of life, got put on hold for football. But with the 2009 season and the winter holidays behind me, I was ready to get back to work. That winter and spring I was training for a 5K I never actually ran, and a mile-and-a-half into an easy four I realized how the book needed to end. What I thought would be its last scene played itself out in my mind. I silently drafted the words as I jogged. Twenty minutes later, I wrote down what I’d repeated in my head throughout the second half of my run. Those notes are the closing lines of chapter 13 – the final lines of the main narrative – almost verbatim.
So I had the beginning and the end. Tomorrow’s focus will be on everything that still needed to happen in between. I will also weigh in on the classic debate of “plotting” versus “pantsing” and my experiences with each.
Click here to read Part 2 of The Story Behind ROTTWEILER.