Friday, February 11, 2011

The Every Time We Say Goodbye Playlist

One of the (many excellent) editorial notes I received on my manuscript suggested I anchor each section more firmly in time -- without slapping down the years in big bold typeface on the chapter heads. (But it's so much easier to make a big authorial announcement: Attention reader! This section starts in 1925 and ends in 1942. Also apparently not allowed: gathering all the characters in one room at the end and having a previously-unintroduced detective explain all the mysteries.)
Working in historical references -- movie titles, wars in the news, teen singing sensations -- was harder than I expected. Even harder: making the reference sound natural and organic and essential to the scene, rather than something slathered with carpenter glue and wedged in.
The manuscript already had quite a few song titles, though -- organic and essential to the scenes. Some came from a giant bag of CDs my friend Dan gave me to help me think about the 1940s; others came from memory (my stepmother singing “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” quite cheerfully in the kitchen in spite of...well, in spite of everything). 

At the launch last week of A Cold Night for Alligators by fellow New Face of Fiction author Nick Crowe, I picked up a playlist entitled "Gator Songs" -- a list of songs that inspired Nick while he was writing his very compelling (and very funny) debut novel.

And now I'm stealing his idea.
Below is a list of songs you will find playing on radios and sung in kitchens in Every Time We Say Goodbye:
  • “My Melancholy Baby” by Bing Crosby
  • “Don’t Cry, Baby” by Bessie Smith
  • “You Belong to Me” by Patti Page
  • “Prisoner of Love” by Perry Como
  • “We’re Off to See the Wizard” by Judy Garland
  • “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden” by Lynn Anderson
  • "You Are the Sunshine of My Life” by Stevie Wonder
  • “Delta Dawn” by Helen Reddy
  • And of course, Cole Porter's "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" (the Ella Fitzgerald rendition).

Monday, February 7, 2011

Writing Is Like (v. 2)

Writing a novel for the first time is like playing a new video game (uh, when you've never played one before). First, you waste a shit-load of time selecting hair colour, boots and a sword for your avatar, activities which make you feel like you're playing the game but which have absolutely no bearing on the outcome.

Level / draft one: you're in a green meadow with a castle off to on one side, and your avatar is running around, leaping over logs, banging on the walls, trying to jump into a window, tossing rocks at the door, basically trying anything to get into that damn castle. When the door finally opens, you aren't even really sure if it was the combination of leap-knock-with-rock that did it. But you're in.

Level / draft two: what worked at level one does not work at level two. You're stuck in a turret with a chest that does not open and three monkeys. You know there's a grammar to the game, but you don't know the rules and you don't have the cheats, and the monkeys are just annoying. You turn off the game. Then, in the middle of doing the laundry, you realize what will open the chest! (Note: between turning off the game and pouring in the detergent, four months have passed.)

Level / draft three: it seems that you've been following some game-within-a-game which, while terribly amusing, has nothing to do with the main quest. You really, really want to start playing some other game right now. In fact, every other game in the world seems better, easier, and more appealing than this one.

Level / draft four: you can see the end, the final steps, the logic of the last level. There are moments of exhilaration, usually just before your avatar falls off a cliff and you have to start the section over again. Also, the monkeys are back, but you know how to handle them now. You tell a game-playing friend how much you've learned completing this game. She says, "Yeah. But the next game will be a whole different story."

At least you'll be better at the controller.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Writing Is Like (v. 1)

Writing a first draft is like sketching something in pencil. Every sentence is tentative, a light feathery mark on the page. You go over the good lines, making them darker. The rest of the page is a blank. Suddenly, an idea opens in your head, and in the big white space you hastily sketch an almost-complete picture. You are pleased. You get up to get coffee. You come back and look at your draft. You are not pleased. You erase most of it. Then you erase the rest of it. Start again. Scratch, scratch. The shadows of earlier drafts are still there, faint crossings and shadings under the new. Now, no matter how much you erase, the page will never be completely blank again. Unless you throw out the page altogether. (But frankly? The crumpled page on the floor is a movie convention, like paper grocery bags.)