Thursday, June 30, 2022

More danger

I’m officially a Midwesterner, moved in and (somewhat) unpacked in Orchard Lake, Michigan. I’ve dragged my writing chair to the corner of an office, near the window, where I can sit at 4 a.m. and write until dawn when sunlights drifts in and tells me to start my work day.

I’m whittling my way through a rewrite of a novel I sent to my agents, Julia Lord and Ginger Curwen at Julia Lord Literary, a couple months back. The book is what I hope will be the first in a new series set at a boarding school, a setting I left only a couple weeks ago, after living and working in that world for nearly two decades.

The feedback I got from Julia was simple: the middle dragged a little. “More danger,” she said. I don’t disagree (Stephen King, in “On Writing,” says, after all, “The editor is always right.”), but I’m into the revision and one promised cut –– a twenty-page section in which our protagonist drives out of state to locate the book’s other major player –– I’m not going to make. As I'm re-reading, I'm finding that too many clues are there to fully eliminate the section. I will, however, tweak to add “danger.”

As I'm working, I'm realizing the importance of nuance and that narrative tension can be controlled by subtle language moves.

I’m not changing the plot as much as I am adding and cutting words and lines, changes that punch up the risk and the consequences of a bad decision. In the book a man flees campus, his girlfriend is threatened with physical harm and that threat comes to partial fruition, and the narrator’s son goes missing. Questions that (hopefully) engage the reader and create narrative tension: Is the son with the fleeing man? Was the son taken? And who is behind it all (chasing the man off campus, the vanished boy, and the injured girlfriend)? These questions drive the book, and keeping them at the forefront of whatever decisions I make is important.

All of which has me refining the book's "danger" and even redefining the word. The physical need not take place if the threat of it exists. It's like the music in the horror movie. Toni Morrison said you can’t use fiery language to describe fire. I’m trying to create narrative tension with light brush strokes.

Here’s an example:


He heard something in my voice and sat up.

“Where was this picture taken?” I asked.

He held Liam’s laptop, squinting. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t recognize that room?”

He shook his head. “That’s Liam,” he said, “and that’s Taylor. Who’s the third person?”

“They aren’t looking at the camera,” I said, “but look at the picture in the background.”

“It’s Amy and Maggie.”

Given the photo, the person not facing the camera had to be Amy Boyd –– same hair, slight build.


He heard something in my voice and sat up.

“Look at this picture,” I said.

He held Liam’s laptop, squinting.

“Recognize that room?”

He shook his head.

“You’ve never been there?”

“I don’t think so,” he said.

"I need you to look hard. Think."

“Dad, you’re freaking me out. I don't recognize the room. Is that where Liam is?”

I ignored the question and pointed. “That’s Liam. That’s Taylor. Who’s the third person?”

“They aren’t looking at the camera.”

“Look at the picture in the background.”

“It’s Amy and Maggie,” he said.

The person not facing the camera had to be Amy Boyd –– same hair, slight build. The location was on the file: Brunswick, Maine. It had to be Amy’s dorm room at Bowdoin College.


Aside from revision suggestions, during the call, Julia also shared some news: an agent at ICM, representing Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Bruce Norris and his screenwriter partner Caroline Wood, reached out to Julia to say the tandem likes my single mom/Border Patrol agent Peyton Cote and waned to talk to me about a “shopping agreement.” I spoke to Bruce and Caroline last week, asking about their vision for what a TV series might look like. It’s exciting because it’s different from one other foray into this discussion I've had. That time, the people who approached me hadn't actually read the series and wanted to move the character from her French-Canadian roots (the books are set in Aroostook County, Maine) to Arizona or Texas. Bruce, Caroline, and I will write a pilot and a pitch for what would be a one-hour-per-episode TV series based on the first book in that series, “Bitter Crossing" (which Caroline has read eight times). If it gets off the ground -- a big "if," of course -- my role will be as “consulting producer,” something I came up with, given I start at new (very) full-time job July 1.

Where does any of this go? Who knows? You and I both know many calls are made, but few shows actually are.

1 comment:

Anna said...

A TV series---what a kick! If it comes to fruition, great. If not, at the very least it will be an interesting experience (everything is material, right?). On the strength of this post and the agent's interest, I have just ordered a copy of Bitter Crossing. Having lived in far northern New Hampshire for many years, with regular visits to Maine, I am sure to enjoy the environment along with the plot.
Good luck!