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THE (IM)PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY by Craig McDonald

September 19, 2014

BetimesBooksNow

Lassiter 5 covers-page-001 (2)

Retcon.

That’s a relatively newish term that’s a contraction for “retroactive continuity.”

Typically you’re going to run into this when a long-running print or film series reckons it’s time to inject fresh blood or your lead actor has to be recast.

Take the current Bond flicks as voguish example: Daniel Craig enters as a tyro, newly-minted 007 who reports to an aging female M. But wait: that same M was introduced as Bond’s new boss when Pierce Brosnan took over from two-time 007 Timothy Dalton after previous Bond Roger Moore packed it in. However, before that, George Lazenby succeeded Sean Connery who…

Yes, this sort of thing can make your head explode.

Best to simply suspend disbelief and roll with reshaped reality, right?

Comic book companies build lucrative empires on events that raise the concept of retcon to an epic level. They upend universes, slaying hosts of favorite characters to create some dodgy New World Order, then, when sales again flag, they retcon again (yes, it’s a verb and a noun).

The dead are deftly resurrected. Newly created heroes who misfired or failed to prove-out disappear like jowly 007’s into that not-so-gentle night.

I wrote the entire Hector Lassiter series as a larger saga from the starting gate, putting down nearly all the first drafts before the second book in the series was contracted for publication. But only four novels of a completed nine were published between 2007-11.

As originally presented, those first four novels could be regarded as overt retcons.

Playing with readers’ minds and perceptions was an intent I had from Hector’s conception. The “first” Lassiter novel’s title was also a mission statement.

I was jazzed by the notion of giving the world a novel about this particular man, writer/screenwriter Hector Lassiter, then re-contextualizing that man across successive novels. Time was used in a very unusual and radical way in the novels as originally written and sequenced.

Individual novels—always for story reasons—sometimes spread across several decades. But more, the novels jumped around in time, book to book.

The first novel in the original publication sequence, Head Games, opened in 1957. The second, Toros & Torsos, kicked off on Labor Day weekend of 1935. The third novel, Print the Legend, opened in July 1961 and the fourth, One True Sentence, extended over the course of a single week in February, 1924.

As Betimes Books issues all of the Lassiter volumes in the weeks ahead, the “old” and the “new” in a concentrated burst, we are also endeavoring to do so in as close to chronological order as individual titles allow.

James Sallis observed time can be as much a character in a novel as any man or woman an author chooses to place on the page.

Time, particularly as it progresses in fiction, can also be an alchemist.

As my novels began being distributed in 2007 (the first, Head Games, at least appears to end like no other novel launching a series ever ended), I came to see reader regard for Hector Lassiter was radically shaped by the first novel they read.

In interviews during those years, I made a point of stating that since the novels were presented out of chronological order, in theory, a reader could start with any of the books. “Read ’em as you find them,” was a marketing motto: No harm, no foul. It was true, at least up to a point.

But if you start with Head Games, the emotionally wounded widower who tells that tale is the Hector Lassiter who looms largest for you. I came to see that version of Hector bonded far differently with first-timers than did the dashing, twenty-something young Hector stalking the streets of 1920s Paris in OTS, seeking his writer’s voice, hobnobbing with Hemingway and questing to craft one true sentence.

Publishing the books in chronological fashion quite frankly changes everything. Lassiter number four for instance, the aforementioned One True Sentence, now opens the series.

Because of this re-sequencing, the larger saga now follows Hector from his apprenticeship to his distant period as a literary lion in winter.

This new sequence also required me to revisit my books in chronological order for the first time. Reflect on that for a moment. I didn’t write Hector Lassiter’s story, womb to tomb. Not even close.

You see, if the Lassiters were sequenced far differently in their original print sequence, the order in which I originally composed them was even more radically at variance. I didn’t start Hector at point A and go to Z. There was none of that expected alpha to omega stuff, not at all.

I started Hector at age 57, then went all over the place with him. The resulting writing effort was a little like playing three-dimensional chess in terms of maintaining any semblance of continuity.

Oddly enough, revising and reading proof of the novels and short stories for Betimes—essentially for the first time as his creator watching Hector grow older if not always up—has been a revelation.

I wrote this man to have a far larger character arc that would thematically bind the series into an overarching story.

Only now do I see how much more poignantly that larger story emerges when Hector’s life is viewed in something close to straight-ahead fashion.

For established readers, I invite you to revisit the novels in this new, “proper sequence,” as I have been doing these past few months. I think you may find, as I did, that everything old is new again.

—Craig McDonald, September 2014

 

THE BETIMES BOOKS SEQUENCE FOR THE HECTOR LASSITER SERIES:

One True Sentence

Forever’s Just Pretend

Toros & Torsos

The Great Pretender

Roll the Credits

The Running Kind

Head Games

Print the Legend

Three Chords & The Truth

Write From Wrong (The Hector Lassiter short stories)

 

THE LASSITER NOVELS IN COMPOSITION SEQUENCE:

Head Games

Toros & Torsos

One True Sentence (Working title, City of Lights)

Print the Legend (Working title, Papa’s Last Wife)

Forever’s Just Pretend (Variously, The Last Key/Never Send ’Em To the River)

The Running Kind

Three Chords & The Truth (Gnashville)

Roll the Credits

The Great Pretender

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