Threatening Sky

I thought that getting Threatening Sky fit for publishing would be easy. After all, it was half written before I turned serious about it as a sequel.

The truth is, this novel was harder to write than Mackerel Sky. Not simply because it was the sequel. It was actually in bad shape: scattered, plot-holed, endless. I’m grateful to my writing coach for pointing out the issues. I wasn’t early on (which you’ll know if you’ve read the previous post) but I am now. Took her advice too, mostly.

The End

One of the main difficulties was finding an ending. One that would satisfy me and the characters.

Mackerel Sky and Threatening Sky used to be one big novel. And it didn’t end there. I’ve got the bones of books three and four, too. However, they’re not why I never had an explicit ending for this sequel. I simply hadn’t thought of ‘The End’ (or that this might one day bite me on the butt when I tried to publish).

In saying that, though, the novel has ended in much the same way as the long-ago original storyline did–with a new house. When I’d started getting serious about finishing, the writing coach saw a version which had no mention of a new, comfy place where Owen, and Andrew and the kids could live in peace.

After a couple of huge changes to the plot had twisted off other endings, I revisited the possibility of shifting house. I wanted Threatening Sky to end on a positive note after so much heartache, but not be so completely at odds with everything that had changed. In actual fact, shifting house tied in well with those changes and I’m very happy with how it’s come about.

I really had to force myself to stop writing about the house though! Everyone was very excited, but the novel was long enough already. For being such a ‘big’ part of the overall novel, it’s got the smallest ink-print.

Introducing Adie

Addison David Malone is a gutsy, precocious teenager with crazy gingernut-coloured hair and eyes that are somehow both green and indigo. He’s got an active imagination and, infuriatingly to some, no sense of danger.

He goes by Adie because, well, wouldn’t you? No offence to his mum, who named him.

Adie’s parents think he’s just going through a phase with his attraction to guys. After all, when he told them, he was only fifteen. How would he have any idea about what he was or wasn’t?

The First Problem

His parents would have thought the phase was over if Adie hadn’t got himself picked up by the police for doing something in public with another man. Adie’s not ashamed of that or of the fact he’s been with regular guys for money. He likes the contact, and payment is a side bonus.

He doesn’t understand that being with strangers is dangerous. The danger isn’t simply from his father once he’s retrieved him from the police station; it’s the fact that this time Adie’s come into sudden ownership of counterfeiting plates.

The Second Problem

Mark is one of the men Adie has been seeing and Adie would give everything to be exclusive with him. Mark’s The One. Except, they haven’t talked in two weeks after a blazing argument. Yet, if anyone knows what to do with counterfeiting plates it’s Mark because he… Well, Adie doesn’t actually know what he does for a living, but Mark exudes danger and that’s hugely attractive.

And the plates will be a good ice-breaking tool, hopefully.

The Third Problem

Mr Malone’s losing all patience with his son – the being gay, the being picked up by the police, the inability of the kid to understand that these things are just. Not. Done. He cannot accept that Adie is gay.

When Adie says that calling him David won’t change things, he reacts with a fist and a promise that Adie will complete his final year at Black Oak Academy, a military school with a reputation.

After another incident, Adie hurriedly packs a bag and flees to Mark. Within twenty-four hours Mark is Adie’s temporary guardian and Adie is picking through his belongings on the garage floor, knowing that what he leaves behind his father will probably burn.

What Happens Next?

The outcome is up in the air.

Adie is with Mark, which he wanted, but he suddenly seems to be without parents and he’s not sure how to react. How is being gay such a terrible thing that a father would wash his hands of his child? Should he be grateful he’s away from his father’s fists and name-calling or distressed that he’s become a half orphan?

Is Mark’s love enough to keep him from falling apart?

(The image is Adie. He’s technical Raegar, an Aimerai BJD Doll.)

Finding a home in Chicago

Well, first thing, I don’t live in Chicago. My characters do, but up until just recently they lived in an ‘imaginary’ part of the city. All because I had them in a neighbourhood that is a New Zealand neighbourhood and they just don’t really exist in the US. Definitely not in the spots in Chicago where I’d imagined my characters living.

By a New Zealand neighbourhood, I mean individual houses (single or double-storey) on their own land with fences between and fences in front (though not always the latter, but always very much an individual plot). Sidewalks and off-street parking (with or without a garage), letterboxes. Front lawn, back lawn. (Yes, US neighbourhoods have these things but Google what they both look like and you’ll see what I mean.)

The Tremayne house exists in my head (and on paper) with a full layout, and is obviously a major setting for the novel. The outside has more of a role in the second book but that’s such an important role that I couldn’t change the imagined layout of the house or grounds.

When I visited Chicago back in 2014 I thought I’d found the perfect street. It was close enough to walk to Lincoln Park Zoo (which had a small but important role) and there was a community park down the end of the street (which has a recurring role). Thought I had it made, and everything was just perfect. However, when I got to see the street with my own eyes I knew immediately it wouldn’t work. And… and none of the streets around it would work. The houses were multi-story apartment blocks with a communal entrance and no front lawn.

Not feasible at all.

I thought then that it didn’t matter so much, I didn’t need to actually state a street or even a suburb. But I also want this novel to know where it is. It has to be true to Chicago and its environs. I can make things up but I need to be real too.

So… I’m here in Chicago now (two months before publishing) to make things real, and to find a ‘home’ for my characters that suits what I’ve already written.

Yes, sounds like I’m being stubborn – a setting has to fit with my story and not the other way around. But that’s not how it has turned out! I mentioned Lincoln Park Zoo above; well, that’s totally gone. My characters just cannot live close enough to it. I used Google Maps to look at some of the more northern suburbs and streets/houses and spotted both a location that could just work.

Evanston lies lake-side, about forty minutes’ drive north of Chicago. It’s home to Northwestern University, great beaches and some stunningly huge mansions! For a bibliophile like me, it’s got several bookshops! It is, of course, home to a lot more than that: Visit Evanston to find out more. This little park sits between Elgin Road and Clark Street.

The street shall remain nameless. This is because, though it has all the elements I want, I’m going to tweak it just a little bit. Actually, I’m mostly going to tweak the park nearby just a little bit. And, anyway, would you like your street named???

The neighbourhood around my street actually has a New Zealand feel to it. Or that could just be because I’d found my characters’ home. Not sure, but I can very clearly imagine them living there. There are schools close by, shops, main roads, little roads, easy walk into Evanston itself, just as easy walk down to Howard, where the red line starts.

The ability to get out of ‘home’ is important, as is the ability to get into Chicago. The red line takes you all the way in and there are a number of buses that head in too, including a couple that go right past where I’m actually staying. They offer a hop, skip and a jump over to the lake and Owen will use them a lot as he seeks ‘alone’ time far far away from his brothers and sisters!

Calvary Cemetery
There’s one other tiny thing that helped me decided Evanston was their home town – Calvary Cemetery. Yep, a cemetery. The fog was rolling in when I visited last week but it was a lovely peaceful spot, and many of Chicago’s mayors are resting here. A few of Chicago’s architects too, as well as Charles Comiskey of the White Sox.

This quiet spot has taken the place of Lincoln Park Zoo in the novel. I love visiting cemeteries and I’ve imparted that to Owen, though I do think he goes there because he knows his brother won’t follow so quickly.

Mission Accomplished
One of my primary ‘must do’ activities while visiting Chicago and experiencing it first-hand was to find Owen and his siblings a home. It’s an activity I can tick off the list. When I envisage the kids now I can ‘see’ the surrounds and put them out into a wider scene – getting groceries, going to school, public transport, walking about ‘downtown’ – which I couldn’t quite do before.

I just need to re-visit on a sunny day to experience what Evanston’s like during a bright spring day, because the day I visited it was foggy and damn cold!