May 11, 2010



The stern web master requires of me a why-I-wrote piece each time that a new book is about to arrive in stores. I find them difficult, but I am assured that you, gentle readers, enjoy them. I suggest that your time would be better spent eating some good Mexican food and contemplating the historical importance of the jalapeno. Nevertheless, here goes:

For almost a decade, I entertained an idea for a novel in which the lead character would be a woman who founded and led a dog-rescue organization.

Many such groups exist in the real world, as opposed to the fictional worlds inside my peculiar mind. Each focuses on a breed that it admires. A group that rescues abandoned and abused golden retrievers might save 300 or 400 dogs a year–or even more–in one metropolitan area. This means that tens of thousands of dogs in a single breed are abused and abandoned every year in this country. What does this say about humankind? Nothing good.

I felt dog-rescue would make a good background to a suspense novel because the people who devote themselves to this work are committing time, money, and their hearts to a mission of mercy. They embody the tendency to selflessness that I have long enjoyed celebrating in the lead characters in my novels.

During the decade that I hesitated to start this novel, I knew that Amy Redwing, one of the two main protagonists of THE DARKEST EVENING OF THE YEAR, was not who she appeared to be, that she kept a shattering secret. I knew what that secret was. But I didn’t know anything else regarding the novel: not what it would be about on a thematic level; not a clue about what might evolve on a subtextual level; not an idea about the story line.

Because of the secret Amy harbored, I did know that I had one substantial narrative problem, regardless of what the plot turned out to be. For the longest time, I could see no way around that problem.

I never talk about book ideas percolating in my head, not even to my beloved wife, not to my dog, not to anyone. Yet several years ago, for a reason I do not understand, at dinner with my publisher, Irwyn Applebaum, I told him that I had an idea for a novel set against the background of golden-retriever rescue. I described the character of Amy Redwing, but did not reveal her secret. Mostly, I told stories about real dog rescues by real dog-rescue folks.

We didn’t speak about the book again until, in the summer of 2006, Irwyn suddenly said, “Do you remember that novel you talked about at dinner a few years ago? I can’t get it out of my head. I wonder…have you worked out the narrative problem, and are you ready to write it?”

Coincidentally–or not, since I don’t believe there is such a thing as a coincidence–I had only a couple of weeks previously hit on the resolution of that problem. I had not thought about the novel for at least two years–yet suddenly, into my head had come an idea for a different approach to the story that eliminated the problem. I agreed, therefore, to write THE DARKEST EVENING OF THE YEAR to follow THE GOOD GUY.

While I hope that this is an edge-of-the-seat story that keeps the reader turning pages, while I hope it is both comic at times and at times has a high emotional impact, and while I know it has twists that often surprised me–even if they surprise no one else! –I became most enthralled with the task before me when it became a story about the difference between those who live with purpose and a sense of meaning, like Amy Redwing in her efforts on the behalf of dogs, and those who live nihilistic lives based on the premise that who we are and what we do has no meaning. From this grew a few antagonists whose hearts are as cold as dry ice and whose self-justifications were chilling and fascinating to explore. In addition, this became a story about identity. From where do we get our identities? What forms us as people? Family and fate? The ideas we sometimes too readily allow others to pour into ours heads? Our own actions?

It is a story, too, about the strange order that underlies the apparent chaos of life, about the patterns in our lives to which we are so often oblivious.

And, of course, it is about dogs! Not one dog, not two, not even the three dogs that Amy has for companions, but about many dogs, the wonder and the beauty and the joy of dogs. When a golden retriever named Nickie comes into Amy’s life in the first chapter, she proves to be a dog of great mystery, with a secret of her own that will drive the story and will lead Amy toward an amazing opportunity for redemption.

So. All right. Those are some reasons I wrote this book. I also wrote it to stay busy and keep out of trouble with the cops, to entertain myself, to refine some of my thoughts about life, and to escape the deceptions and the lies of the world we live in for the order and truths that, ironically, one can find more easily in fiction.

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