Titles are hard. Seriously – I would pay someone to write titles for me.
I tell my students in my writing courses that the intro/first paragraph of an essay/story is like meeting someone for the first time. It’s our first impression where we size each other up and decide whether we want to continue with this essay/story/conversation.
A title, then, is like meeting eyes across a crowded room – it’s the thing that leads to the first impression. A bad title means they aren’t crossing that room – their eyes are going to keep scanning the shelf. (Please excuse my mixed metaphor.)
Titles are hard. But finally – after working on this novel for a little more than a year, I finally have one. And all because I misread a billboard while driving. 😛
I’ve decided to make a significant change to Lucas. I’ve been toying with the idea of him being a wheelchair user for some time now. I considered many different paths that would land him there before ultimately deciding that this would just be his life. I don’t want his story to become “inspiration porn.” I didn’t want this to be something he had to overcome. It just is. Like Kya’s sexuality, Lucas’s wheelchair use is treated simply as a matter-of-fact by everyone, including the narrators. (Well, aside from one creepy ass hole artist that has a show at the gallery – but I needed that guy to be yet another degree of gross.)
It’s going to be hard to see anyone but Paul Rudd as I write – it’s been a little over a year, after all. But it is my wish that if there is ever a visual representation of this story, this role will go to an actor who is a wheelchair user in real life.
If you are interested in writing novels and have no idea where to start, I highly recommend checking out Structuring Your Novel and Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland. I always direct my students to Weiland’s Character Questionnaire as a means to get to know their characters (and I use it, too!). When writing a novel, we should know our people so well that we know how they would react in any given situation (an organic reaction based specifically on who they are). This questionnaire is a great way to start.
I’ve got a few more of my characters cast. This has been a really fun experience – something I think I will carry on for other things that I write. 🙂
This is Cat. Also known as Cote de Pablo from NCIS. She is Stanley’s long-time best friend. She is Italian and sassy and fiercely herself. I’d want her to be my friend, but she’s scares me a little. [strained smile]
This is Kya. Also known as Michaela Conlin from Bones. She will become Alice’s best friend in Chicago. She is the opposite of Cat in many ways – though both are loyal friends.
Lucas. Also known as Paul Rudd. [pause for dreamy sigh here] I’ve been a fan of him ever since Clueless. This is my type of leading man – a little bit goofy with soulful eyes. In the world I’ve created, he’ll be an artist. I mean…any excuse to day dream about Paul Rudd, amiright?
I’m a visual person. I always do best when I can see something. If I’m to learn something new, show me – and then let me do it. (Kinesthetic is my second learning style. Auditory falls waaaay down on the list.) I also really love finding errors in continuity when watching a TV show or a movie (not in judge-y way – but in a detective-on-a-mission way).
What do these things have in common? The way in which I’m tracking my novel.
Everyone has their own process for writing. Generally, my short stories develop as I go. I might have an idea of where I want the story to end up, but I don’t hold to it if it feels more natural to go elsewhere. (I learned this lesson in grad school when a particularly stubborn character was just not having the trajectory I wanted for her. She eventually got her way.)
But a novel is a beast. Too many subplots and details to hold in my head. So hello PowerPoint. Each character gets a slide, or two or three, for me to keep track of things like birthdays and meanings of names and AIW characteristics. (The more minor characters that pop up, the more I gotta dig deep into the AIW canon to find connections.)
I’m also finding some joy in casting my characters. It keeps the visual movie playing in my head from shifting when I have concrete people walking around trying to hit their marks. I give you my main cast:
Meet Alice. Also known as Emily Wickersham, who plays Ellie Bishop on NCIS. Alice is, of course, based around the lead character from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. She is a little bit me. I picked this actress specifically for the role she played in NCIS because I enjoyed her energy and the idea of taking one’s life on a new path simply to shake things up.
Meet Stanley Hoppenworth. Also known as James Marsden. I’ve lost track of where I first encountered him as an actor, but I LOVED his performance in Hairspray, the musical turned movie. He’s got a little bit of the goofiness that I love so much – but he also has the needed polish and glamor Stanley requires. Though I tend to refer to this novel as Alice’s story, it is equally Stanley’s. He, too, is on a journey of this own. (I really wanted to frame this character after Leslie Odom Jr, who I once saw perform with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and who gave me goosebumps with his rendition of “Without You” from Rent. But Stanley is one of the POV narrators, and I certainly don’t feel qualified to write from the explicit perspective/POV of a Black man.)
Meet Tarrant Hightopp. Also known as Chiwetel Ejiofor, who played Lola in Kinky Boots (I encountered this story from the movie, I should note, since there is also a Broadway show based around it). I was absolutely captivated by his performance. If you haven’t seen it, go now. You can thank me later.
Meet Carol Lewis Hightopp. Also known as Jurnee Smollett, who I first encountered on Grey’s Anatomy – she had a brief story arc surrounding a clinical trial aiming to cure a particular type of brain tumor. Though Carol is Tarrant’s wife, that is the least of all that she is. She is a force to be reckoned with. I want her to be real simply so I can be her friend.
And this is Lily. She is truly written as a tribute to the force that is Debra Messing – who, among other great projects, is Grace Adler on Will & Grace – the show that for a young girl living in a teeny-tiny town pre-internet whose best friend just came out to her was EVERYTHING. Messing is a queen. Lily will be, too (once she shows up on the page…).
It’s always a lovely surprise when a new idea bubbles up. It’s rarely from an expected place – just *pop* – there it is. No explanation. I can’t always connect the dots to where it came from, but I’ve also learned that it doesn’t matter. It’s just important to follow it.
Sometimes, though, it comes from something concrete. I read a line in a book that transports me to a memory, or a couple of words catch my attention and won’t leave until I’ve turned them into a poem. Once, I wrote an entire chapbook full of found poems using nothing but the dialogue from the TV show Gilmore Girls (it was more about sharing the experience with a friend than anything). One time, it was a student’s last name that sent my fingertips scurrying along.
That’s this time, actually. I’ve just come off a particularly rough semester – a semester from hell, if you will. I don’t say that in an overdramatic sort of way. Or a woe-is-me sort of way. It happened. It’s thankfully done. And today, somehow, I’ve put down 8,000 words of creative writing.
I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a writing streak like this – mostly because I can’t remember when I last had the time to sit down and write anything longer than a haiku. I’ve been thinking about stories constantly, though, dreaming of stealing away to my favorite local coffee shop (Kavarna, a place I’ve been patronizing on and off for almost twenty years – even when I’ve moved away, any return trip to Green Bay, WI, required a stop here) and sitting with a pot of peppermint or chai tea and just writing until my fingers ached.
But as writers know, it doesn’t always happen like that. It can feel like it rarely happens like that. But today – it happened like that. I couldn’t type fast enough. And all thanks to a student’s last name.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll has been a favorite for longer than I can remember. I don’t care what form it came in – I will read it, watch it, listen to it. I love when AIW references pop up in TV shows or songs. And I have been spending a long time thinking about a modern retelling of this story – well, this idea. It’s Alice in Chicago without the LSD trip. And this semester, I had a student whose last name was Hoppenworth – and it, of course, caught my attention. “What a perfect last name for my white rabbit character…”
So aside from not having time, I also felt a bit weird using this name while he was still my student. But now it’s winter break, he’s not my student any longer, and I’m 8,000 words deep into Alice’s story.