I’ve been reading The Official Making of Big Trouble in Little China and finding it tremendously comforting. I bought the book because it’s about my favorite movie of all time, but I’m finding it comforting because it’s reminding me to swing as wide as I can while telling the best story I can, and then let go and let the Girls in the Basement take it from there.
Reading through the different interviews, I started to make connections between my book and John Carpenter’s story. They were there already–the best dish at the Chinese restaurant next door to the bar is Eggs Shen and then there’s the Six Demon Box–but remembering the movie in detail made me realize that so many of the things I loved about it were things I’ve been trying to avoid in the book. Like the way the movie wholeheartedly embraces the completely batshit insanity of the story. There’s no place where Carpenter steps back and says, “Well, wait, let’s get a grip here.” Instead, it’s all in the reflexes.
So I love it that the hero of the movie, Jack Burton, is actually the clueless comic relief sidekick to the real hero, Wang Chi. I love it that the heroine, Gracie Law, is a kickass, smart-mouthed lawyer who is such a force of nature that Jack walks away from her in the end without kissing her because he knows he can’t handle her. I love it that Jack is over his head from the beginning–“I’m a reasonable guy. But, I’ve just experienced some very unreasonable things”–and just goes with it. I love how the movie just gets crazier and crazier and it doesn’t matter because Our Team–Wang Chi, Jack Burton, Gracie Law, Egg Shen, Margo Litzenberger, Eddie Lee–are goin’ into the Wing Kong Trading Company to rescue Mao Yin, and not even the Three Storms, the Sewer Demon, and the Wild Man monster are going to stop them. I love it that Gracie leaves a lipstick print on Jack when she kisses him and Jack doesn’t know it. I love it that Wang Chi wiggles his eyebrows before he takes out one of the Storms. I love it that Jack fires off his gun above his like a macho hero and brings down the ceiling on himself. I love Gracie Law kicking the bad guy off the stage, and the gang in the elevator feeling kind of invincible, and I love Jack missing LoPan when he throws the knife at him at the end, and LoPan catching it and throwing it back and how that plays out. I love this freaking movie more than any other I’ve ever watched, and I think it’s because it just doesn’t give a damn whether you like it or not, it’s gonna go over here and do this demented and delightful thing. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted in my own writing.
I had that in the beginning because I didn’t know anything about the romance genre. I knew I loved Georgette Heyer, but I’d never read a Harlequin, never talked about romance online, never really understood that the genre was more than the whole bodice ripper thing. I wanted to write mysteries, but my brain didn’t work that way, so I tried romance. Stuff happened and I sold a book to Harlequin, not realizing that my editor was taking a big chance on the book. She told me later that the day the book came out, she went into her office and shut the door and put her head down on her desk because she was sure her career was over. At the next editorial meeting, the senior editor said, “We’ve received thirty letters about Manhunting,” and she thought, That’s it, I’m fired, except they were all good letters, asking for more stories like that one. She knew we were crossing a line, I didn’t. That’s why I could cross it. I couldn’t see the damn line.
Starting like that gave me permission to cross the line again, helped by the fact that the line moved and romance became a much more open genre. But I’ve also gotten clobbered for going over the edge, and the more success I’ve had, the harder it’s been to trust my reflexes. It’s ironic: success makes you doubt yourself. Should I be doing this? This is going to annoy a lot of people, disappoint a lot more who are still hoping for Bet Me Again. What the hell am I thinking?
But that misses the point. I’ve been writing for almost thirty years, I have a lot of the basics pretty much down now so that I can fix damn near anything in a rewrite. What I can’t fix is the spark that a good story needs, that excitement under the surface, that sense that there’s a wild ride coming at you. Writing batshit insane stories can be terrible without craft and skill, but writing with only craft and skill can result in terrible stories, too. I need to embrace Jack Burton’s philosophy: “Like I told my last wife, I says, “Honey, I never drive faster than I can see. Besides that, it’s all in the reflexes.” I can see pretty far, and the farther I go in a story, the more I see. So now . . .
I’m thinking that the batshit stuff I’ve been avoiding is the story I want to tell. I’m thinking about the first time Jack Burton throws that knife and because he’s overthinking it, he misses. I’m thinking about the last time Jack Burton throws that knife. I’m thinking it’s all in the reflexes.
Damn, I love that movie.