LX Commentary #9: Do You Think They Would Tell You?

This wasn’t supposed to happen, but ultimately it became the embodiment of the epigraph at the front of L Extreme:

“Oh definitely. There is a theme there. I don’t want to say anything about it. Maybe it’s love. There is something that the whole thing’s all about.”
—Benji Hughes, Artist Direct Interview, October 2008

Little did I know it would also evolve into the linchpin of the whole story.

“Do You Think They Would Tell You?” is my favorite song on A Love Extreme. I procrastinated writing the L Extreme chapter because I wanted to do it justice and wasn’t sure on the right approach.

Half of my 2014 NaNoWriMo sprint was spent on a European vacation to see the last ever Carter USM concert. On the Chunnel train from Paris to London I opened my laptop and decided to give this a go. I had this inkling of an idea about a doctor with a microscope diagnosing the Jessica character with cancer, but it was a total bummer and not my style. On a whim, I scrapped that and wrote the most literal play by play of the song I possibly could.

Hints on the paperback spine.A little woman lives in your brain. She wants to meet the man in your heart. She’s over all the ones in your feet. Scientists believe this is how love works…

A few paragraphs in I remember thinking “Wow, here we go. I don’t know where this is going, but I really want to find out.” I finished the song and moved on to the next one. And the next one. I glanced at the track list, and knew this stylistic interlude had to carry through the rest of Side B, culminating with a massively epic “Girl in the Tower” to close it out. An embedded novella that’s such a 180 it causes the reader flip back a few pages to make sure it wasn’t a weird printing mix-up. (Note the hints on the paperback spine…)

And that’s how “The Ballad of Heartman & Songstress” was born.

Other tidbits:

  • If I wasn’t mirroring the section breaks to match the vinyl sides, this would be where Side B/Part II opened. Over time I’ve come to appreciate how Heartman & Songstress is an important part of Benji & Jessica’s courtship, so the prelude of “Where Do Old Lovers Go?” still works as the section opening chapter. 
  • Several early readers had that exact “I thought it switched to a different book!” reaction I dreamed about on the train ride described above, which makes my past self smile every time it happens. Related to the above bullet, the “normal” chapter leading off this section might help give the surprise the right impact.
  • I’m frequently diagnosed with musical Tourette’s, and it’s the one part of me I embraced and magnified for the protagonist of my first novel Timely Persuasion. Now I know it really comes from a little woman in my brain.
  • The world inside the body portrayed here plays out as a cartoon in my head, or maybe a graphic novel.
  • Originally I intended to have a slightly more epic battle with the right foot, but in the interest of pressing on skipped it to write later and put in the throwaway placeholder about the left foot attack magically impacting the other. When later came, the idea of “paired parts” had marinated in my brain to a point where I dug the mystical mystery of it, so I (pun intended) ran with it.
  • An early draft ended this chapter with a scientist lifting his eye from an experimental microscope (one that could see so small) and contemplating what he’d do with this monumental discovery. The eventual reveal would be that he was the intrusive narrator of the whole book. Aside from serving the literal take on the song it wasn’t really adding anything, so it landed in the pile of killed darlings.
  • More importantly, I had a better idea of who the narrator should be inside the larger Benji Hughes-iverse, which we’ll get to in a few chapters…

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