TMS Architects is delighted to welcome J. Dennis Robinson back as a guest blogger after a hiatus in which he was toiling away on his new book, Mystery on the Isles of Shoals. The link he draws between architects and writers is very apt and we wish him well with his latest project!
I have been absent, but I have an excuse. I finished my twelfth nonfiction book. It was odd to see the digital file of the manuscript attach so quickly to an email. It took me 18 months of daily plodding effort to research and write and edit the book. It took about four seconds for all 367 typed pages to upload to my editor in New York City. I spent all those late nights placing one word against another. It was like methodically arranging bricks to create a freestanding structure. Sometimes I tore down a wall or added a room.
Thanks to computers I know exactly how many bricks it took to build this one. I estimated the book at 80,000 words. It came in at over 120,000, plus 20 pages of footnotes and a 10-page bibliography. If an architect designed a building 50% larger than planned, heads might roll. In my world, it’s just a little more ink and a little more paper.
But there is still a lot of architecture involved. I thought long and hard about the design. My readers have to move smoothly from room-to-room. If they encounter obstructions that slow them down, they may not keep reading. If my blueprint is too complex or the design is not aesthetically pleasing, I could get a bad review or the book could fall flat.
My book is divided into six sections. It you think of the reader moving through my story in time, it’s like rising up six floors of a brick building. My book is about a real murder, so the first floor — the lobby — provides all the necessary background the reader needs to know. The murder takes place on the second floor. The killer is captured on the third floor and goes to court on the fourth floor. On the fifth floor the killer sits on death row for two years, then he is hanged.
There are subplots, of course, with lots of minor characters. They move in and out of the carefully constructed rooms. Some characters show up on only a single floor while others ascend along with the reader from the lobby to the top.
The sixth floor is really a roof garden with a tremendous view. The real murders took place in 1873 and a lot has happened to the story since then. So I lavished a lot of time in the final section, bringing my readers up to speed on what happened to the characters after the tragedy. By the time my readers reach the roof, they know pretty much everything I know about this true crime story. So I invite them to take a seat, have a drink, and we discuss what we have learned and what it all means.
I spend a lot of time designing chapters, paragraphs, and sentences. It’s pretty much all I do. And like any craft, one gets better with practice. I was feeling pretty proud of finishing a dozen books when I saw in the newspaper that a local architect had finished his 250th building project. Pretty impressive. Let’s hope both our works are still standing 100 years from now.
Click here to see a New York Times article about the link between writers and architects.
J. Dennis Robinson is editor and owner of the popular Web site SeacoastNH.com and author of 11 books about history. His latest titles are UNDER THE ISLES OF SHOALS about archaeology and AMERICA’S PRIVATEER about the War of 1812. He is currently finishing a book about the 1873 Smuttynose Island murders due out November 4, 2014. You can “follow” his history postings on Facebook.