What kind of a rock star lives in a small town in the middle of nowhere and plays at weddings and funerals? Then Jack Scratch comes into his life, ready to represent him and launch him to stardom. Jack can give him everything: a new band, a new name, a new life, a new look, and new boots…although they aren’t exactly new. They once belonged to The One, a rocker so legendary and so mysterious that it’s urban legend that he used black magic to gain success. But what does Jeremiah care about urban legend? And it’s probably just coincidence that the shoes make him dance better than anyone, even if it doesn’t always feel like he’s controlling his movements. It’s no big deal that he plunges into a world of excess and decadence as soon as he puts the shoes on his feet, right?
In the Red threw me a lot of curve balls and gave me a lot of surprises. It was supposed to be a short story and it turned into a novel. It was supposed to end where the halfway point is now. Most surprisingly, in the second half of the book, random side characters started entering into the picture and making themselves at home. Some of these were necessary, but one had been just a vague mention in the original story and suddenly showed up and made herself right at home.
In the original version, it’s mentioned once that Jeremiah has a sister who has studied fashion design. That’s where he gets his first pair of red boots from, and what makes the new pair he’s offered so tempting. That was it. She was a throwaway mention, a plot device, nothing more. And then, when Jeremiah was at the height of his fame as J.K. Asmodeus, a conversation came up that made me wonder who he and his guitarist Baal were talking about. My characters often grow on their own (Man, I hope it’s just my subconscious because otherwise, I don’t know…). I’ll get great subplots and tangents just by letting them have a long leash. This conversation, however, made my ears perk up and made me wonder. Could they be talking about…naaaaaah. Nah. That was too outlandish. I kept the scene in, though, because I liked it, but I pushed the thought of including that twist away.
It kept coming up. And coming up again. I stopped working on the first half and moved to the second half of the book. Suddenly she was right there, in the chair beside her brother, tending to him through a nightmare. She also refused to leave. It was obvious that he needed a foil for that part of the book, he needed someone to balance out his attitude and help him stumble along. It took me a few tries and a few names before I finally realized that Daniella Kensington was here to stay.
She’s an interesting character and one I like a lot. I don’t know if we’re really all that similar, but I admire her empathy and her fighting spirit. I like that she has a sense of humor and that she’s protective of her brother. She knows he’s screwed up, she flat out tells him he’s screwed up, but she’s there anyway. She refuses to give up on him, and she refuses to tear into him.
Her appearance helped me realize that I could write Jeremiah Kensington. Daniela brought out my own protective nature, and gave me a way to vent my own frustrations with her brother. Through her eyes I could see that he was just as much a lost, scared, needy guy as he was a selfish, childish, and cruel rock superstar. He wanted to be appreciated. He wanted to be liked. Deep down, he knew what he was and didn’t like himself, either. Through Daniella’s eyes I found my ability to pull for Jeremiah and tug him along, to try to get the best results for not just him, but the story, as well.
After a while, though, her knowing empathy brought up a few questions of my own. How did she know so much about what he had been through? Why did she not think he was crazy when he claimed to see strange things? How could she stand to have horrible accusations slung at her by her own brother?
The revelation was as shocking to me as I hope it is to those who read the books. Even I raised my eyebrows and wondered if I wasn’t trying to push the plot along, myself. Yet there was Daniella in her chair, suddenly relating her own experiences and past and blowing my mind. Her character was solid for me, and what I was writing in that conversation between her and her brother where she explains herself…there was no other option. Of course it was the right answer to fill things in. Of course it made sense. Of course it was the truth. Of course she would believe him and not flinch from the crazy things that were pouring out of his mouth. Of course she would feel sorry for him and be there when the rest of his family would turn their backs. She would know better than anyone what he was going through.
Why is that? I would love to fill in the blanks, but I don’t want to ruin things, so you’ll have to read the book yourself to get the answers. Keep in mind, though, that it was as much a surprise to me, and it brought the entire first half of the book back into focus. I could suddenly finish certain scenes and tie everything together. I could make everything make sense from beginning to end. Little asides throughout the book really began to make sense to me, even though I hadn’t gone into the plot with this subplot in mind, it was the only thing that could fill in the plot holes. I love happy accidents like that (it you can call it an accident), and this was pure serendipity.
It was also fun to see how Jeremiah responded to when Daniella is shown at her most fragile throughout the story. That was the point where I knew that he had started to evolve, and become far more interesting than a rock n’ roll evolution of an old fairy tale. They both ended up surprising me, they both grew on me, and it took a long time for me to realize that sure, you can plot and outline all you want…but sometimes the story really does know what it’s doing.
They’re mine. I’m really holding them, Jeremiah realized. I’m holding history that isn’t supposed to exist. When The One took the stage, any competition turned tail and ran. It was said that the one time the singer revealed what he looked like the crowds were moved to tears by his beauty and sophistication, and tore each other apart because they couldn’t get to him. Some said it was a conspiracy that complete copies of his songs didn’t exist because the music was too potent to release to the public. There were people who still worshipped the mystery, the music, the outfits, and the boots.
And now those people would come to him.
“Go on. Try them on,” Jack encouraged. Jeremiah nodded and carefully put the platforms on the floor. Shaking with nerves, the youth sat and guided his feet into the cherry red sheaths. Electricity crackled along his instep and through his toes. He tugged the vinyl up over his calf and gasped. Jeremiah was overtaken by a sudden burn, a sudden ant-crawling of power that worked its way through his skin and into his very soul.
“What the—” he choked. The plastic spasmed, tightened around his foot, and then relaxed. The left boot stretched itself a little higher up his calf and extended its sole and heel a little more to adapt to his needs. Jeremiah thought he had imagined it, but the right boot immediately followed suit. The matching sets of the laces squirmed and rippled, settling into a slightly different pattern than when they were taken out of their box. A quick look around proved
that while everyone in the room was looking, Jack was the only other person that actually saw. “Did they just…?” Jeremiah couldn’t bring himself to say something so bizarre. He barely managed to hold back a cry when a thousand tiny needle teeth nibbled his skin from toes to knees. A tingling sensation spread under his skin and Jeremiah was filled with a rush of violent confidence that almost made him swoon.
“Good. They fit,” Jack said. Only his tiny, mysteriously cruel little smile hinted that he was aware of the boots’ strange behavior.
The longer Jeremiah looked at himself the more he realized that he could do no wrong. My life just changed. With these on my feet, my past is gone. I’m going to be better than I ever thought possible.
All around him the yes-men and hangers-on gaped.
“You look so good!” the store footman practically swooned. His vinyl and lace frock coat danced under the fluttering movements of his hands. His sharp, pale face flushed with excitement underneath the stylized Victorian wig.
“I’m gonna cry you look so good!” the blonde assistant squealed, gripping Jack’s knee as if she’d keel over if she didn’t have it there to support her. “It’s like I’m witnessing history!”
The faces that surround him were positively thunderstruck and at his mercy. The camera kept right on clicking. Jeremiah got to his feet and struck a few more ambitious poses, dropping into a low crouch before kicking a leg up in an insane bastardization of a round kick. It didn’t matter that he’d grown up looking like every other average guy in Middle America. It didn’t matter that he’d been more accustomed to cotton T-shirts and washed-out blue jeans than the clothes Jack had him wearing. The overall look wasn’t complete, but the boots pulled everything together. The added height evened out his lanky proportions. In some unlikely way the platforms made his stubble-sporting, angular face look downright exotic. His eyes blazed liquid brown heat and his dishwater hair almost glowed under the dressing room lights.
Jeremiah sashayed around the tiny space and leapt onto the low podium at the room’s center, full of a burning drive to do something. He wanted to sing. He wanted to rock. He wanted to dance, and he’d never had that sort of urge before in his life. Every school dance he’d ever gone to had involved him either playing in the band or drinking contraband beverages with his friends outside the building. “Guess I’m a natural!” he laughed. He knew he was lying, Jack knew he was lying, but there was no reason for anyone else to know the truth. Why bother with the truth when the image in the mirror was so much better?
He had expected his balance to be shaky in the tall platforms, but it was like the boots were built for him. He hadn't thought to check the size. Maybe The One wasn't the original owner; maybe they conformed to whoever wore them. Jeremiah’s face glowed when he looked at his mirror image. His reflection looked as giddy and ecstatic as he felt. Why do I care what they are? If they work, they work! His eyes dropped to the new footwear. He was just able to see the tiny, warped image of his face in the shiny toes. Everything’s going to be amazing from now on.
As he admired his distorted image via his feet, all of his hang-ups and personality drained out of him. Who needs a personality with boots like these?
Jack Scratch watched his protégé glided round the room, that same tiny, dangerous smile just barely curling his full mouth. "Just think. What you have on represents everything that you want to be," he coached. His words drilled through the rocker's ears and hardwired themselves into the deepest parts of Jeremiah’s heart and soul. "They’re everything you want on your side. These boots are temptation and chaos, just like you. I've got it," he declared. "I've got your name."
"Give it to me," a raspy voice in front of the mirror breathed.
"Forget Jeremiah Kensington: folk singer, blue jean rocker, country boy, small town loser,” Jack breathed, his giant hands fervently patting down his front until he found which jacket pocket his cigarettes were hidden in. It was amazing that he didn’t gouge himself in the chest given the sharpened tip of the massive silver ring that enveloped his right forefinger. The manager leaned back against the sofa and lit up, never once taking his eyes off his new golden boy and meal ticket. “From now on you are J.K. Asmodeus, rock star and corrupter of the masses." A thin plume of smoke stretched up to frame his intense expression.
J.K. looked from Jack to the man in the mirror, saw how the red glitter of the boots was echoed in his eyes. "Yes."
The two ignored the gasps and commentary around them as everyone texted photos and alerted the necessary paparazzi. The pair shared a slow smile as Jack inhaled another draw of nicotine. “It’s time to sign,” he murmured. The smoke crept in front of his face and turned his pleased expression into something that bordered on animalistic. He removed the top sheet of the stack he’d been examining and held it out to the younger man.
I should wait and consult a lawyer. I should take my time. These things need to be done with care, a distant echo of a Midwestern conscience chided. J.K. ignored it, grinned back at his manager, and reached for the fountain pen the manager handed him. His expression was almost as malevolent as Jack’s, though there were still traces of wholesomeness that had yet to drain away. “Let’s do it.”