Byuck: the true tale of the mysterious 40


This tweet perhaps deserves a bit of context:

Chapter 40, aka "An Expiration Date," is the Billy Joel chapter. The chapter that makes such an impression on people the rerelease's marketing campaign includes stuff like this:

(The full list.)

But what I say there is true. The Billy Joel chapter is what people most often want to talk to me about. So the fact that it is the largest difference between the 2012 publication and 2022 publication deserves some comment.

Comment One : Backstory

The year is 2003 or maybe 4. I'm making good progress understanding Byuck's shape but there's one plot point I can't make work. My protagonist is pretty dumb when it comes to certain aspects of life and I can't see how to shake him from his torpor. Lady Steed and I are shopping at Macey's when they begin playing the solution to my problem, one of Billy Joel's best. It all falls in place for me instantly.

And then we leave the store and I promptly forget the solution. I know I had one but I cannot remember what it was.

Then: we need groceries. Once again, Macey's plays the song and this time the solution becomes permanent. Thank you, Macey's!

Writing the chapter is difficult. Not because I don't know what to do or because the characters are fighting me, but because I want the song to be timed to the conversation in a completely realistic way. Each pause in conversation needs to naturally last the correct length yet end at just the right lyric. When people talk, it needs to cover exactly that many lyrics. I obsess, playing the song over and over, acting the chapter out as I  make sure everything is just as it should be. How long would it take Dave to do this? What part of the song would be playing when he finishes? Et cetera. I may have spent more time finetuning 40 than I did the rest of the book put together, even though I already knew the more important beats and even some of the lines my characters would say.

Comment Two : 2012 and a new 40

Strange Violin publishing Byuck after years of Beckett-level absurd correspondence with Deseret Book, a powerfully unpleasant moment from another MoLit publisher, and absolute silence from everywhere else was huge for me. Seeing Byuck in print made it possible for me to move on to other projects. I was free!

But something they wanted me to do was rewrite 40 so as to quote waaaay less Billy. They were worried I'd left fair use behind and they'd get slapped with a lawsuit. I was resistant. I had worked so hard on this chapter and I did not want it changed. But: I did it. Byuck needed to be in print and I wasn't letting 40 stop me.

I found narrative solutions to make things shorter and Byuck moved into physical reality.

Comment Three :  2022 and a new 40

When BCC Press agree to take Just Julie's Fine they also agree that it would be a good idea to republish Byuck since its 2012 rollout was rendered lackluster as its publisher plywooded its windows just before releasing my novel. It would be, that's right, synergistic if both books were available from the same publisher. Matching covers and so forth.

But I also saw a chance to pitch the original, longer 40. BCC legal looked and it and said, yes, sure, no problem. But then I reread it and . . . was the 2012 version actually better? I couldn't tell. Some BCC people gave me feedback and, in the end, 2012 became the skeleton with some original 2004 flesh grafted back on. Thus, 2022 has a new 40. Similar to its parents but not the same.

I'll admit I didn't agonize as much this go-round about getting the timings right, but I like to think all that effort poured in almost twenty years ago is part of the reason the chapter still has such a big impact. It is the right way for old Dave to become new Dave, and the honesty of his epiphany is part of what makes his journey worth reading.


I'm looking forward to many more Billy Joel conversations in the future.

So, when you're ready, tell me about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment