Like I said towards the end of Part I, after chipping away on a novelization of A Love Extreme on and off (mostly off) for a few years I had a song by song storyline that (amazingly) worked so much better than I imagined given the circumstances. I’d also come to appreciate the non-linear structure the album track order dictated, and was occasionally awed by the patterns that formed.
Each side/part included a dream, a flashback, a list, a pop-culture influenced set piece, and a relatively self-contained plotline ending with a stake-raising segue. Reveals from later parts made re-reading earlier parts more fulfilling. Seemingly minor characters took on major roles as the story progressed. The addition of a non-album bonus track to Side D gave it a symmetrical 7-6-6-7 cadence. And the whole book rode the line between goofy and sincere—sometimes shakily, sometimes stumbling—but somehow managed to keep a limb on each side of the line.
Was the album the reason it flowed together so well, or was it my interpretation? And more importantly: was it really any good, or was I fooling myself? I knew I was too close as both the author and a fan, and those were two potentially dangerous things to be. It was time for some outside opinions.
I turned to my two trusted first readers Jon & Nate, and interestingly got a split opinion on the first half:
- “The dream logic, pop-culture buddy comedy plus the mystery of L was great, but you lost me with that Heartman & Songstress nonsense…”
- “It started slow, but once I hit that Heartman & Songstress section it got really good for 70 pages. The rest worked when it called back to the fairytale, so-so when it didn’t.”
Around the same time, I posted two chapters to Scribophile as self-contained short stories with no reference to the source material. The opening dream sequence (retitled “Love, Devotion, Surrender & Other Strangers”) and the Jessica & Kenny vacation flashback (renamed “Just Say Dr. No to Jamaican Timeshares”).
Reactions to the dreamy opener were positive—especially the “And then I fall asleep” ending line. Over in Jamaica, Jessica and the James Bond references got high marks, Kenny served his purpose, and the intrusiveness of the narrator was a little polarizing.
My next round of edits focused on getting to Side B faster and calling back to it more frequently on the second disc. I also unified the dreams with similar openings for continuity. I posted the whole thing to Scribophile with no mention of the connection to A Love Extreme or Benji Hughes, curious if anyone would figure it out on their own and eager for more critical feedback.
Somewhat surprisingly, it was more of the same. People found Benji & C’s witty banter shtick enjoyable to a point as long as it kept plot movement in sight. But Heartman & Songstress stole the show.
“I am hooked–fascinated by the idea of a tiny, intuitive man inside someone’s heart. I love this concept”
“This is the goofiest, funniest, most ridiculous story idea. I love it!!!!”
“Other than encourage you to go much deeper into this body (he, he) I can say nothing about your writing art. Excellent sentences. Your style is easy to read, has a hint of sophistication and falls far short of giving me a headache.”
“Wow. Great story. I see the parallel to Cupid and Psyche, but it’s not slavishly following it.”
“This is weird and amusing. I like it.”
“Your writing style is unique. I enjoyed your ethereal descriptions. And your narrator is quite clever and entertaining!”
“At its heart, this story has legs.”
“This has to be one of the weirdest things I have ever read. Wonderful!”
“This has me smiling, and giggling, and turning the proverbial page.”
“Fun read, awesome concept. What the hell did you take to conjure this one up?”
Humble bragging aside, there was also helpful constructive criticism (and some less constructive dislikes—can’t please everyone!), but the overwhelming message was “yeah, this thing might work.”
But what was “this thing” exactly? It was a novel based on an album ostensibly starring the musician who created it. But ultimately it was the story of how Heartman & Songstress navigated life both inside and outside the body, soundtracked by A Love Extreme.
The next rewrite kept that idea front and center, imagining the album came after the book and making sure Heartman & Songstress were always on my mind. The love story, the dreams, the banter and the songs all served the same greater purpose—even early on when the reader didn’t know about them yet.
Out here in the real world, someone else also didn’t know about this yet. I’ll get to him in Part III…