Looking Back at My Own Work - Fairlane Road (2017)

I began writing Fairlane Road not long after finishing Other Endings. I knew from the start that it was a strange story, and knew very little about where it was going. The rest of the book, especially the end product, was a surprise to me—in some ways, it’s still a surprise.

I think part of that is because I don’t always know how to classify my own books. That is especially true of Fairlane Road, though time and reflection have given me some perspective.

I finished writing it in February of 2016. Although the book is only about 150 pages, it took me roughly a whole year to write. At the time, it was the hardest book to finish that I had ever written despite its small size.

Looking back at this book, I can see how it was a struggle to find my voice. I was emerging from some important parts of my life and stepping into a new stage in my progression as a writer. My relationship to language—how I used language—was changing, especially after my discovery of Raymond Carver, who remains possibly my favorite writer of all time (I’ll likely do a post about him, someday). And over the course of Fairlane Road, I think my voice evolved and settled into a comfortable rhythm. Of course, I’ve evolved so much more as a writer since then, but this was an instrumental book in my development.

Partway through, in fact roughly halfway through the story, my writing slowed down almost to a stop. I realized that the antagonist of the story—Charlie Knox—was not who I’d originally thought. The story took on a deeper philosophical meaning, and from there it was complex to me, harder to write. At one point I got so stumped and writing felt like such a chore, I abandoned the book and began to write short stories. I needed to write, I always need to write, but it was no longer fun working on this book. Taking a break turned out to be a fantastic thing to do. It gave me space to breathe. I had fun coming up with short stories and finishing them within a day or two.

It was as if I’d rediscovered the joy of writing. Reminded myself of what it’s supposed to be, what it can be. And I was able to return to Fairlane Road after about a month (if I recall correctly) and the rest of the story went much more smoothly.

And, as with any past work, there’s plenty to critique.

I think the very beginning of the story is a bit stilted, primarily in the dialogue. I’ve had a friend confirm this, though luckily it isn’t so bad as to be unforgivable, and the story cruises along nicely so that this stiltedness dissolves.

There are a couple of small early scenes with Charlie Knox that feel a little overly theatrical, again with dialogue. This makes the scenes pretty fun, even if they skirt a bit with the cartoonish. I believe this is a result of my not knowing Charlie Knox well enough yet. Had I been a better editor, I could’ve fixed this in subsequent drafts, since I came to know him better later in the story.

And perhaps one of the most interesting things about my own relationship with this book, to me, is how I think of the character of Andrew Jean, Jezebel’s father. When I first wrote the book, he was one of my favorite characters to write. He’s a bit cynical, pensive and philosophical and stubborn, and he has a troubling connection with Charlie Knox. This connection isn’t as interesting as Jezebel’s, but it’s enough to make Andrew’s and Charlie’s confrontation a tense one. As time has passed and I’ve reread the book, now that it’s been published for awhile, I don’t feel the same about Andrew Jean. I think he’s overly serious, and his cynicism is a sad weakness since his philosophies border on nihilistic. There is a self-importance about him that makes him a compelling character, but not one I’m as personally fond of anymore.

That isn’t so much a flaw in the story as it is interesting to me, and kind of exciting. The way my relationship with my own characters changes over the years. I’m sure any writer might find joy in exploring this with their own past work.

Perhaps the biggest thing about Fairlane Road to me is how I feel about its philosophies, because it is decidedly a philosophical book.

While there is much discussed by the characters on the deeper nature of good and evil, right and wrong, and other similar things, I think the most important and impactful philosophies are the unspoken ones. It’s all good and fine what the characters speak about, even if I would rewrite much of it now if I could, but the heart of the story is in what the story says without saying.

Vague spoilers, by the way, if you’ve not read the book.

My last reread revealed this to me about it. How, really, the main opposing characters represent light and darkness at odds with each other. And, by the end, the course of events implies the powerful importance of meeting our dark sides and embracing them, seeing darkness as the other face of light, death as the other face of life. It’s a simple message, but I still find the way my book explores it to be compelling and thought-provoking. And very weird, too.

On the note of positive aspects of the story, I’m still proud of some of its structural tricks and the unfolding of the narrative. And the characters have stayed with me, especially Jezebel who, though embodying the light, is far from perfect and whose actions are often questionable. I love writing closely in her perspective (though still in third person), meaning I almost never judge her actions as the narrator, meaning it’s up to you to judge her as you will. This wasn’t intentional in Fairlane Road, but is something I tried to do in the sequel, which I’ll discuss more in my next post. But the effect of this has been a delightful range of interpretations of Jezebel; it’s different for almost every reader I’ve talked to. Some of those perspectives were surprising and enlightening. I love that.

This book was a culmination of many things. Its primary thematic elements stem from far back in my life as a writer. I have a number of developmental works from my youth that deal with young people who straddle the line between our world and another. This goes way back with me, for some reason—and is part of the reason the writer Neil Gaiman is such a beloved favorite, and a definite influence. I’ve even had characters who very much resembled Jezebel in past books, and they too were torn between our world and another strange world. Fairlane Road was the first time this ever came together successfully in a story of mine.

It is also a book of many influences, from the poetry of William Butler Yeats, to the screenplays of Ingmar Bergman and also the first season of the show True Detective. And the character of Charlie Knox began in a dream. Early in my conceiving of the story, I had the character of Jezebel, I had the town of Lamplight, I had an idea of what the Higher World was like. And then I had a dream about a ruined city where the streets are full of trash and degradation, and there is a cult run by a married couple. The married couple were psychopaths, completely insane and depraved. And they had a child. The rest of the dream was simple fun and strangeness, but the idea of a child of two cult leaders, and who that child would grow up to be, is how the character of Charlie Knox originated. It’s one of the few times that a dream has truly inspired me.

Feel free to comment to let me know what you think, leave any feedback, or let me know what you’d like to see in future posts. Thanks for reading!