Writing the Chorus

Chorus of Dust is a book I never really meant to write.

That might sound like a strange thing to say, as the first part of writing anything comes from first sitting down and deciding what story you want to tell. Even if that story is a technical procedure on how to install a light fixture, there must be a starting point. Though the finished product is rarely what you have in mind when starting out, there’s usually at least a decent portion of your original intention still laced throughout your story. With Chorus of Dust, this wasn’t the case at all.

It began out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico back in March of 2011. I had traveled out to one of our company’s offshore production platforms for work. It wasn’t the first time I’d been offshore, but it still wasn’t something I’d done enough yet that I was totally comfortable with the idea. While lying in bed one night at 8:00 PM (the days start early, so you have to hit the sack early as well if you want any decent amount of sleep), I was thinking about just how isolated we were from everything. It was true that we had phones, internet access, plenty of food, and most of the other creature comforts from home. Physically though, I’ve never felt as isolated as I do when I’m out there.  You’re literally surrounded on all sides by at least 100 miles of ocean, and at night when you look out into the darkness over the waves, it becomes impossible to see where the water ends and the black sky begins. It almost feels like you’re sitting out in the middle of outer space. Naturally, this gave me the idea for a story.

I won’t go into all the details or else this post will take you all day to read, but the long and short of it is that my thoughts on isolation eventually turned to my Grandfather’s cotton farm. We used to visit him and my grandmother (we called them Nana and Grandaddy) about twice a year. He had owned the farm since my dad was little, a sprawling plot of land that seemed to go on forever. It struck me how, in many ways, that farm was just as isolated as we were out in the middle of the gulf. If something happened there, something terrible, who would know? What secrets could be held in that place for years, or even decades?

This is where the eventual story of Chorus of Dust took root, and though it was nothing like I originally intended, I’m glad it developed the way it did. It was not an easy book to write. I started the first draft in April of 2011, and didn’t truly complete it until July. After that I went back and worked it over again, then sent it out to a couple of people I occasionally chatted with on a writing forum who agreed to beta-read it for me. When their comments came back, I went back for another round of edits, and then another. Eventually, I finally finished the book as it is now in December of 2011, a full nine months after I started it. Great for creating a baby, but for a 25,000 word novella, this isn’t a real good turnaround time. Still, despite the difficulties in writing it, I’m proud of what eventually turned out. What difficulties you ask? There were two main areas that really hung me up.

(1) Thematic Elements

Religion plays a large part in this book. My faith is a big part of my life, and so I find it hard not to bring it up in my writing. Here, I wanted to ask the hard questions.

The first question was, what is the absolute most frightening thing I could imagine? For me, the answer was simple: the concept of atheism. The idea of there being nothing after death is terrifying to me. So, my way of addressing this was to make the main character, Adem Comeaux, a die-hard atheist who feels the same way. What if the belief you held closest to you was also the one thing you were the most frightened of? That’s the essential conflict Adem must face in the story.

After that, the second question became, what hope can you possibly have when you have nothing to believe in? I won’t go into too much detail on this theme (you’ll have to read the book!), but the story deals with a number of issues in addressing it. The corruption of the church, the abandonment of faith in our society, and secrets that we all pass on from one generation to the next, to name a few. It was difficult to examine my own viewpoint with a critical eye, but in doing so, I believe my own faith has grown because of it.

(2) Swearing

Following from the first issue, this one was particularly difficult for me. Anyone who knows me knows that I do not swear, period. It’s just one of those things I don’t do. So when I sat down to write about this character Adem, and he naturally progressed into this rough-around-the-edges guy with the mouth of a sailor, I was genuinely concerned. How was I going to do this? I could take the easy way out and simply replace the bad words with words that were less-bad, or remove them altogether, but when I tried doing so it simply felt wrong. It didn’t feel true to the story or the character.

So in the end, the bad words stayed in, every last one of them. I’ll be honest, I’m concerned about what people are going to think of me when they read this book, especially people who know me well. I hope they’ll understand that this is a fictional story and the characters in it are not a reflection of me as a person or what I believe. Instead, they reflect a narrative that was begging to be released, and I had no choice but to tell it in exactly the way that I did.

I hope that they’ll understand, but if they don’t, there’s nothing I can do about it now. It’s brutal, it’s harsh, and it can be hard to read. It is by far the darkest thing I have ever written. It’s also beautiful in its own way, and I won’t apologize for it. That will have to be enough.

That’s all for now.  Chorus of Dust will be released soon in eBook format, so keep checking back. As soon as it goes live you’ll find out about it here first!

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