Some characters take me a few books to come to love – Monica, namely. Some, a book. Some a few chapters. Only one of them has made me love her from the very introduction, and that’s little Rowen. From the moment she whispers, “Daddy’s sick,” in regards to her drug addict father and takes Garrett’s hand so she can be rescued, I loved this character. No one, not Brianna, not Murphy, not Sloan, won me over so completely in the series as Rowen.
Even now, writing this about a year and a half after first publishing For All the Sins of Man, I think about her and get a little emotional. Rowen in her piss-stained jammies, with her hands misshapen from being beaten and broken, with cigarette burns on her arms from her “Auntie” Em, with a heart full of strength even when all hope is lost, could be the best thing I’ll ever write, and I’m perfectly okay with that. Because she is flawed and beautiful and there are millions of kids like her out there, kids who are facing even worse horrors, who won’t have a knight to rescue them. You ask why I write something so brutal and ugly as For All the Sins of Man, and it’s for them. It’s for every kid who’s been beaten, abused, exposed to drugs. It’s for the hopeless and the lost, who deserve to be on that page, who deserve to be the people being saved if just in my own mind.
For All the Sins of Man might not technically be the book I regard as the best among my efforts – that honorific probably goes to Forever and Farewell – but it is the living, beating heart of my writing, and by proxy, me. That book is my soul laid bare on the page. It’s me dropping all the jokes about how much I despise kids and showing you the fiercely paternal part of me, the part that sees the world’s abuses and wishes for nothing else so strongly as kids being able to sleep soundly at night without fear, without pain, without all the thousands and thousands of hurts we inflict on them.
For All the Sins of Man is about the real monsters in the closet.
In retrospect, though, I’d have completely changed the end to Rowen’s story arc.
As it stands, I think it’s (unintentionally) lazy writing. Letting Rowen live would have been far more intriguing. At the time, I thought the two options were to either kill her off, or let her live and become Garrett’s ward. The latter felt much more emotionally resonant, so I went with that.
In retrospect, what I’d have probably done differently is let Garrett save her in the nick of time, take her back to her cousin’s, and explain what Ethan’s wife did for a few measly hundred bucks. It would have not only allowed Rowen to live, but opened the door for Garrett to have a brighter, less edgy future ahead of him, something I came to regret as the series wore on. As it stands, though, I made the best decision I could with what I was capable of writing at the time, and I don’t regret that.
Goodbye, Rowen. I love you.
END OF SPOILERS
Deep breath. Okay. Now onto the rest of it.
For All the Sins is deeply flawed in one particular regard, and that’s the Brianna subplot, which I think, while necessary to cap off the mental breakdown aspect of Shifting Furies, either needed to be fully fleshed out or slashed to a portion of what it was. Seth Roe is a terrific villain and either needed more time to shine or saved for another novel. As it stands, he barely qualifies as a footnote, which is a shame.
I will, however, freely admit to not being able to read Garrett and Brianna’s reunion scene without getting a little bit emotional. Other scenes to date that have done this to me:
- Florida and Galbraith’s last victim’s goodbye in The Ghost at His Back, and oddly enough, Garrett watching Brianna play pool when he thinks he has to cut her out of his life.
- THAT scene in For All the Sins.
- Brianna’s “It’s okay because you’ll be okay” in Bone Carvers, as well as the bath scene.
- A villain’s last goodbye in Band of Fallen Princes, as well as Garrett’s last hallucinations and the moments immediately thereafter.
- So, so much in Smyle.
- ??? from Plague of Life.
Getting back to FATSOM, the other aspect I need to cover is Sloan, one of my other favorite characters from the series. The abuse she suffers early sets a dark tone for the novel, bleaker than anything that’s come before. Twisting her revenge into her “villainous” character arc was a bit of a gamble. I didn’t want her to be a typical villain from the series, but she wasn’t exactly a bystander, either. Some of the atrocities she commits are her own decision, and not Desmond’s something that comes back to play a key role in her future development. She’s delightfully complex, and I hope she’s as well liked by readers as I loved writing about her.
Let’s see, what else should I mention? Oh, start to publication, FATSOM has the fastest turnaround time on any novel I’ve written to date. I finished the first draft in something like three weeks, had it out to readers within another week beyond that, and published it shortly thereafter. Smyle came close to matching that record, but didn’t quite make it.
So yeah. As uneven as For All the Sins of Man is, I think it’s the most heartfelt, genuine thing I’ve written. It’s the one book people tend to shy away from due to its themes, and I can’t blame them. It’s brutal and cold, but that also allows it the greatest heights of beauty I can manage as a writer. It’s funny to me then that the two best things I’ve written – this and Forever and Farewell – are the two novels I can’t convince people to read for the life of me. Oh well.