The proposal for suspense/romance Susan and I have been working on went into the mail today. Where will it take us? That remains to be seen. It was terrific fun to write. In fact, I already have most of chapters 4 and 5, which were not required for the proposal, done. Our daughter Carol came down and claimed that when we have the characters tease each other, we are really using them as proxies. Perhaps.
We actually went out a day late since Susan got nervous about the synopsis. Getting a summary to the right length and making it a good read is tricky. It requires a lot of abstraction. My advice is to find ones you like on the Web and actually type in Once Upon a Time in your first draft. I also did some other things, mentioned in a previous post. Yesterday, Susan revisited the synopsis with “peril” in mind. She did this before we went off for a faculty dinner. During dinner, she kept turning to me and saying “doubt and heat.” When we came home, some hours later, she inserted plenty of heroine doubt and a bit of romantic lead heat. Nice stuff now, and it is closer to what actually emerged in the chapter we wrote.
The title above, by the way, is a gratuitous nod to the WWII ad campaign of Lucky Strike cigarettes, “Lucky Strike Goes to War.” The military needed a chemical used for their distinctive red circle logo. It became a green circle logo for the duration. This has nothing to do with our novel, but I’ll make up a rationale if anyone wants me to.
I’m still working on a budget of no less than 10,000 words per week. Since I am taking two university courses that require lots of writing, some of the words end up in Reflection Papers. I’ve reflected on how credit cards affect students, the rise of immigrants in the classroom, teaching environmental lessons without bias and more. Education is facing some disturbing challenges, and I expect that some of what I’m learning and some of the attitudes in fellow students will be grist for more fiction. But not for a while. When I was younger, I tried to translate today’s experience into stories immediately. I’ve learned to let it all ferment for some time and come out in unexpected ways.
I continue to wait for a number of decisions on stories and plays. Several are overdue, but I did get an early response from one editor. Her answer was “no.” She found the ending frustrating. She also said, “This story will sell, but not to me, sorry.” Is that a vote of confidence? I found it amusing. It’s still one of my favorite pieces. (Which has meant trouble in the past.)
“The Charisma Plague” is in print, to my delight. It is a difficult story because it has an unreliable narrator, and I was happy to find an editor who was willing to take a chance on in. He made an interesting connection to swine flu in the introduction. That’s something that wouldn’t have occurred to me.
Meanwhile, my hottest piece of fiction is a play, Breaking Momma’s Rules. It’s a one act where I am trying to balance the serious intent with a good amount of humor. I know how to do this in a short story, more or less, to my satisfaction. Drama, as I keep learning, is different. It’s about halfway done, but I need to really study one acts if I’m going to keep doing this. Elements continue to elude me.
One thing I keep running up against in writing is the temptation to take the easy route. Some of the demands of story seem to be beyond my capability. But the most important thing I’ve learned is to give myself permission to fail in trying something new. It happens. All the time. And I survive it. But when I don’t fail something really good happens.
For instance, I hit a point in the novel when the hero was thinking about a wonderful/horrible discussion with the heroine. One thing I wanted to have happen was for him to have a sense of wonder about what she could do in her job. I actually wrote some lines that alluded to her magic and did what was necessary to bring the story forward. But then I pressed myself to actually see some real circumstances where she got people to talk/work across boundaries. And I was able to express these in moments that, for me, came to life.
A bigger and more critical challenge was the rewrite of chapter one. Mess up that chapter, and you are dead. What we had worked fine. Cutting away the first two paragraphs made it work even better. (Probably well enough.) But I wasn’t happy. And I wasn’t confident that I could make changes that really accomplish what I wanted and still keep Susan happy. On Saturday morning we chatted about introducing the character, which is what I thought would be key.
The character is talented. She is also pretty tough. Could we get past where she was and what she was doing to making her real in far fewer words? I think we did. Everything was made more immediate. We saw our character not just get a small success in the beginning, but celebrate it (right before we plunged her into a nightmare, ha!). We both were very happy with where it came out, but I would not have bet on the reworking, against a tight deadline, working. Hope our luck holds.