Some years ago, when I began to get serious about writing crime and mystery fiction, and the character of Cantor Gold was forming in my mind, I understood that Cantor’s story had to be told as a series. The complexity of her life and its moral contradictions had to be revealed slowly, her post-World War Two social and criminal worlds excavated depth by layered depth. So by the time I finished writing Book One in the series, Criminal Gold, published by Bold Strokes Books in November 2014, and started the second, Tarnished Gold, released by BSB this month, I understood what to do, and I was undaunted, yes?
Oh, I knew the plot, at least generally. And having spent so much time with Cantor and her circle—cab driver and Cantor’s sometime lover Rosie Bliss, Cantor’s young right-hand guy Judson Zane, doyenne of stolen goods Esther “Mom” Sheinbaum, crime lord Sig Loreale, and tug boat skipper Red Drogan—while writing Criminal Gold, I knew their personalities down to their souls. Their voices were crystal clear to me, their mid-twentieth century New York criminal underworld rich with drama, passion, danger, and humor. And new characters for Tarnished Gold were taking shape nicely, too, their personalities layering, their voices clarifying. So what was in my way? Me.
More precisely, my false expectations were in my way. I’d spent so much time with my characters and their world when I wrote Criminal Gold, I figured that creating their next adventure would be easier than the steep climb of writing the first one.
Writing Tarnished Gold was harder. Much, much harder. Why? Because I was a better writer by the time I finished Criminal Gold than when I started, not only as a more practiced wordsmith, but because I had a better understanding of what good writing, good storytelling, demands. “Demand” is the operative word here. In general terms, I already knew that good writing demands digging down into my depths in order to locate and comprehend emotions that would drive the characters and the story. But to grow as a storyteller, writing a second book demanded I dig even deeper, claw my way down into my most protected marrow, where I don’t always want to go, and be willing to use what I find there to drive a more complex plot. (Tarnished Gold is a more complex book than Criminal Gold, and writing it created even more demands: that I develop the ability to construct and maintain the more intricate plot, complicated further by the series’ ongoing subplot, and give voice and action to the more difficult emotions Cantor and other characters must face as a result.) Writing the second book demanded and demanded and demanded and kept on demanding more of me, demanding I have the courage to take even greater creative risks. (Cantor is going to do that? The story is going THERE? Oh. My. God. Do I have the nerve to write this? Do I have the skill to pull this off? Well okay, no choice: here we go! Whaaa-hooo!) If writing Criminal Gold was like scaling the sheer face of a cliff, writing Tarnished Gold was like leaping off that cliff and trusting—terrified—that I could land safely.
And now I’m writing the third book in the series, and the demands have become even greater, as they must, or the series could fall into dull sameness. With each book, the stakes are higher, the risks riskier, the emotional digging deeper, and finding the means to express it all is much harder. So now that I’ve scaled the cliff, and jumped off the cliff, I have to be able to fly. Simply landing safely is no longer an option.
But the thrill!