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    Twists and Turns: To Plot or Plan?

    By Michele Karlsberg–

    Michele KarlsbergAlex Reeve, author of Half Moon Street, is featured in this issue of the San Francisco Bay Times. I asked him to discuss the crafting of his debut mystery, the first of a series with Leo Stanhope. 

    Half Moon Street is packed with twists and turns and unsettling about-faces. Do you plot as you write, or plan it all out in advance?

    Alex Reeve: I always have a theme in mind when I start, and the theme inspires key scenes that I can visualize in their entirety, almost as though I experienced them myself. The bit where Leo and Major Thorpe walk in St. James’s Park was like that, as was the funeral. Once I have those scenes fixed, I create a plan that joins them up, and then I start writing. After a few pages, I find I’ve invented an eleven-year-old girl, a silly game that she and Leo play, and a friend for him named Jacob. So, I redesign the plan to accommodate them, and then I start writing again. Three more chapters in and I’ve diverged even more, so I redo the plan yet again and carry on. About half way through I abandon the plan completely and just write. It’s a strange process, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it, but it seems to work for me.

    Sometimes I write myself into a corner deliberately, asking myself: What would Leo least want to happen next? And then I have to find a way out. So much of writing crime fiction is problem solving; you have to enjoy navigating through the maze while sending your reader off in all sorts of entertainingly wrong directions.

    Michele Karlsberg: Why did you choose a transgender theme for this story?

    Alex Reeve: For me, writing and reading fiction is all about empathy. If I only ever wrote a slightly fictionalized version of myself, I would quickly get bored, and I’m certain readers would too. I don’t lead a very exciting life! (I suspect that’s true of most writers; you can’t spend hours on your own talking to made-up people and still expect anyone to be interested in you.) So, for me, the joy of writing is in imagining someone quite unlike myself: a different era, a different background, a different way of thinking.

    I wanted a hero who would be distanced from the conventions of the late nineteenth century and would have a unique perspective. I tried several other ways of doing that before finally accepting that Leo Stanhope knew best, and I would have to tell the story through his eyes and with his voice. Having done that, my main challenge was getting the balance right. At the time of the novel, he’s already been living as a man for ten years, so he isn’t spending all his time thinking about his voice or mannerisms; he’s quite accustomed to his life. He’s wearied by the trials of hiding his physical form, but he never doubts who or what he is.

    It’s incredibly important to me that this isn’t a novel about being trans. This is a crime novel featuring a man who happens to be trans. Most characters in fiction seem to default to the so-called norm unless there’s a plot-based reason for them not to. But the so-called norm isn’t really normal at all. People come in lots of different flavors. Why should including a trans or gay or disabled or any other kind of character require the plot to center around that attribute? I think we need to move beyond all that and include every kind of people in our stories as a matter of course.

    Alex Reeve is an academic, specializing in novels set in Victorian England but written later. Though he hoped to write his own “neo-Victorian” mystery, he “didn’t want another gaslight-and-crinolines book,” and was searching for a theme that would allow him to close the gap between the actual Victorian era and how the period is perceived. 

    Michele Karlsberg Marketing and Management specializes in publicity for the LGBTQI community. This year, Karlsberg celebrates 31 years of successful book campaigns.