Shot in Detroit was actually the first novel I wrote. It's the story of a female photographer in Detroit who comes up with the idea of photographing dead men and the trouble this brings down on her. I sent it out to about 15 agents and it generated little interest. Two agents who agreed to read it (mostly because clients asked them to) sent nice letters telling me how much they liked the writing, but that the protagonist was too dark. I should make the villain(s) edgy (they said) but keep the central character likable, relatable, pretty, young. But what if that was the point of the novel? What if the circumstances the protagonist endures over 300 pages whittles away at her edginess. A little at least.
So I put Shot in Detroit aside and wrote what seemed like a more salable novel, Concrete Angel. Guess what, I still wrote an unlikable character. Even more so perhaps. But she was balanced by a daughter who earned the reader's sympathy. Christine Moran was a Mildred Pierce and her mother, Eve, a Veda for those familiar with the novel.
Concrete Angel was more palatable in its structure too. It started with a big scene. As one editor said of SID, I shouldn't have to read forty pages before a crime occurs. And the crimes come fast and often in Concrete Angel.
I was ready to return to Shot and bring some of the devices I had learned in Concrete Angel into the story. I toned down Violet's more unpalatable traits. I worked to make Violet's consideration of her project deeper. Was she exploiting the black men she photographed or honoring them? This would be the main thrust of the novel--not the project itself or the crimes Violet becomes involved with along the way.
So each book ended up teaching me something I could use in the other. But neither taught me how to write a book about nice people. That would be a real feat. Shortly before my mother died, she said she wished either Megan or I would write an uplifting book. Ballykissangel was her favorite series. Hamish Macbeth-"write about a policeman like him," she said. I wish I could. Maybe if I lived in a village in Ireland or Scotland. But not writing from outside Detroit. Never from here.