Thursday, April 4, 2013

Story Notes: A Fistful of Divas

The Mick and Casey saga began when I decided to sit down and teach myself to write a screenplay.  To make it easy on myself, I decided to write something standard -- and old-time western.  (Of course, being me, I couldn't write to just ONE standard, I also had to mix it with a second formula of a coming-of-age tomboy story.)

That script was originally called "The Legend of Casey McKee" (later I considered calling it "Girl Gunslinger") and it got me some nice attention, including a "just missed" the quarter finals in the Nichol Fellowships.  It was about a teenaged Casey, a wild and apparently orphaned girl who was determined to join a posse led by the legendary law man, Harry Lowe.  Harry, who is as ornery as Casey, will have none of it, but the necessity of the situation and Casey's stubbornness win out in the end.

Mick was a secondary character: Harry's good-natured young sidekick. He actually did for Harry what he does for Casey - he provides the smiling and talking whenever that is needed.  Harry was no more able to tolerate social amenities than Casey is.

However, once I'd finished the screenplay, I had a problem: when you sell a screenplay, you sell the rights to the characters.  It's very hard for a screenwriter to get what is called "separated rights."  That's when you keep the rights to the character and world, and the production company just buys rights to that particular story.

And I wanted to write more about these characters.  I didn't know what, I just did.  I had some ideas of a Maverick-like TV series, where Mick and Casey ride into town, get in trouble, get out of trouble, and then ride out again.

But I couldn't help but think about writing it as fiction rather than scripts.  After all, the writers most likely to actually get separated rights are fiction writers who have an established, published series.  So if I established the series, even in short fiction....

There aren't many western markets out there, but what I really wanted to write, always, was mystery.
And that's when the series clicked too: When I decided to let Mick narrate, I realized that I had a real detective on my hands.  Mick may seem a bit of a doofus, but he's actually an observer and a thinker.  That's why Harry tolerated him, and why Casey sticks with him.  And his job is to talk - to ask the questions before his partner starts shooting.

A Fistful of Divas was one of the first story ideas I had.  Their search for opera comes from a line in the original screenplay, in which Casey's father bemoans the fact that she married Mick, and will spend her life seeing the inside of saloons, but will never see the inside of an opera house.

The Advantage of Serialization

As I mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I never finished A Fistful of Divas. It was about 3/4 done as a short story, and I had a screenplay version done, but it was just hanging out in my trunk.

I started the serial here mainly to force myself to finish it. Little did I suspect that I would rewrite the whole thing from scratch.  It turned out to be a lot more work than I expected. I kept the plot, and some of the dialog and a few good lines with Mick's interior dialog.

But what you saw here was what I call a "rough draft with benefit of rehearsal."

And that got done because a serial demands that it get done.  On time.  One way or the other.

The Disadvantage of Serialization

I feel as though a number of threads got short shrift in this version of the story, because with a serial, you have to make the individual episodes work.  And that means you have to focus in tight, and some of the larger arcs get neglected. Or at least disjointed.

For this reason, I'm going to pause to rewrite before I publish the ebook version of this.

I feel that two things need attention: one is the thread of Casey's bad day.  I think that was somewhat lost after Rufus' body is found.  The story becomes complicated and both Mick and Casey are concentrating on other things.  But for me, this story is about Mick trying to live up to being a good husband. I don't think that it's clear in this version: but Mick thinks this obsession with opera houses is coming from himself.  He's trying to prove that Casey didn't lose anything by marrying him. He doesn't realize how much it means to Casey until halfway through the story.  And that, of course, raises the stakes and gives him a shot at redemption for screwing up.

The other element that I think needs more work is, ironically, the mystery itself.  I kind of reined in the "Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Wrench" aspect because I didn't want to get too far from the central story.  But this is that kind of story. It requires more subtle and more overt cluing, and better timing of cogitation. 

So both of these important elements interfered with the other.  I think next time I do a Mick and Casey as a serial, I'll choose a more straight mystery, with less of a tangled subplot.  (Something more like "The Hoosegow Strangler.")

In the meantime, I'll rewrite this one to be a cohesive story that does what I want it to do.  Eventually, I will write the events of that original screenplay into a novel.  I just have to re-frame the background plot into a mystery.

For those of you new to the Mick and Casey Mysteries, there are several ebooks available:

Have Gun, Will Play (novel) available in both ebook and paper at:, Barnes and Nobel, as well as these ebook dealers: Kobo, Deisel, Apple iBookstore, Sony eReader, or get it in all formats without DRM at Smashwords.

Waiter, There's a Clue in My Soup! contains two Mick and Casey mystery shorts.  Available as an ebook  at:, Barnes and Nobel, as well as these ebook dealers: Kobo, Deisel, Apple iBookstore, Sony eReader, or get it in all formats without DRM at Smashwords.

The Curse of Scattershale Gulch, a Halloween novelette.  Available as an ebook  at:, Barnes and Nobel, as well as these ebook dealers: Kobo, Deisel, Apple iBookstore, Sony eReader, or get it in all formats without DRM at Smashwords.

And on Monday, I'll start a blog series about breakfast and characterization.  Both our habits, and how we break our habits, says a lot about a character.

See you in the funny papers.


Kyra said...

ooh, I'm looking forward to the ebook version!

The Daring Novelist said...

I hope to get to it soon....