Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Story of my Book

In about a year, my first novel, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, will be published by William Morrow. It's a thriller about a man that reunites with his college girlfriend twenty years after she disappeared. She comes back into his life to ask for a favor, and he winds up involved in a heist, several murders, and a rekindled romance.

I know that I'm always interested in the behind-the-scenes stories of books, so here is mine, a long-winded post for those of you who might be interested.

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart began life as a short story that quickly became a novella. I had just finished writing a complicated novel that involved multiple timelines and characters. Before revising that novel, and preparing to send it out to agents (I did, and no one was remotely interested), I decided to work on a story idea I'd had for a while. The spark of the story was, and this is the usual case with me, one of those "What if" questions. In this case, the "What if" question was: What if you were a high school student who had gotten into college, and didn't want to go? What if someone else went in your place? First of all, I thought that it could never happen nowadays. Too many Facebook pages, and cellphones, and digital histories. But when I went to college--back in the 1980s--kids just showed up and matriculated, and no one knew anything about anyone. It was a completely fresh start. And I thought that it could be done, that two seniors in high school could switch identities so that one could go to college, and one wouldn't have to.

If I were a different type of writer, this might have turned into a love story (well, it kind of is), or a comedy, or a piece of literary fiction about the temporal nature of identity, but I turned it into a thriller. I was partly inspired by the movie Brick, written and directed by Rian Johnson, in which a noir sensibility is fused with a story of high school students. I wanted my novella to feel like pulp fiction, but with college freshman in 1986.

I wrote it relatively fast (for me). As William Shakespeare famously said, "This shit writes itself." It turned out to be about fifteen thousand words, which is a terrible length. Not long enough to even consider padding into a book, and too long for most short story markets. I knew, however, that Mysterical-E accepted novella-length stories, so I sent it there. To my eternal gratitude, and surprise, Joe DeMarco published it.

About a year after it was published, I received an email from Nat Sobel, an agent at Sobel Weber Associates. He had read "The Girl" because it had been nominated for a Spinetingler Award, which was news to me. Nat told me how much he liked my story and asked me if I had an agent. After googling Nat and discovering that he was an actual, successful New York agent (and not a Nigerian prince looking for a bank account), I told him that I'd love to work with him. I sent him some of the novels I'd previously written, and he liked some and didn't like others (one thing about Nat is that he will always tell you exactly what he thinks), but what he was really excited about was the possibility of turning "The Girl" into a novel. I told him that I'd thought about it, but I didn't think there was enough "story" there. Nat agreed, but wondered what would happen if my two characters, George and Liana, met again twenty years later. I gave it some thought, and came up with an idea, and that was how the novel version was born.

It took me about a year and a half to write the book, bouncing ideas back and forth with Nat, and it was hard-going. At one point, after delivering a full manuscript, Nat suggested I change from first person to third person, and restructure the time frame of the whole novel. It was this particular revision that was the hardest to do but the most productive. The novel began to work in a way it hadn't before. By late summer of 2012, there was a manuscript in place that Nat was considering bringing with him to The Frankfurt Book Fair. I was thrilled, but I was also cautious. I had been trying to get published for over ten years and had gotten very used to disappointment.

That September, my wife Charlene and I went to Bermuda for a week. Just before leaving, Nat told me to check my email while I was there because he might have some news for me. I don't usually bring my laptop with me on vacations but I brought mine along. We had rented an apartment in St. Georges, and internet was spotty, but one afternoon I got an email asking me to call Nat right away. When I called him, he told me that I had a two-book deal with William Morrow. It took me a while but finally I believed him. That night we celebrated (Dark 'n Stormy's were involved), and Charlene and I felt like we had suddenly entered an alternate reality. We hadn't taken a trip in two years for financial reasons, and suddenly we were on this beautiful island, and celebrating a book deal. It didn't feel like our real lives.

Since then, Nat and his partner Judith Weber have sold the book to several overseas publishers. As of now, The Girl will be published in the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, The Netherlands, Japan, and China. And since then I've been working with my amazing editor, David Highfill, on getting The Girl ready for publication, and I've been working on my new novel, tentatively titled "The Lonely Lives of Murderers."

Oh, and all of this is a long preamble to explain why I don't blog as much as I used to. I just don't have time, even though I'm watching as many movies, and reading as many books as I used to. This blog might change a little, become more of a writer's blog and less of a critic's blog. It's a trade-off I'm happy to make.

1 comment:

  1. How creative people produce their work is always an interesting story in itself. Looking forward to reading it.