The making of a novel, part 5—serendipity, and Christmas

Around the time of making the switch from GNR to Bon Jovi, I was also noodling around with the theatre aspect of the story. I’m still exploring the relationship between Rae and Mac, but I know they’re going to meet through high school theatre. What show would the school put on? What roles would my main characters play? Would they be cast opposite each other as the leads? Might that lead to awkward physical/romantic moments? 

All valid questions, but because of a session at a writing workshop I attended this summer and some research I’d done for Dell’s story, there was another, more pressing issue: How can I include rehearsal scenes without using dialogue from the script? I’ve learned more about copyright laws, and I’d like to avoid having to deal with getting permission (something I’m told publishers will be reluctant to deal with too). 

Here’s where life comes in handy. Years ago, I was the assistant director of a community theatre production of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. First of all, I love Christmas. Second, there are a handful of holiday movies I watch every year, among which is It’s a Wonderful Life. Third, the stage play is one of my all-time favorite pieces of theatre to present or view. And fourth, it’s as much about the props, sound effects, and other stagecraft as it is about the words the actors say. 

I think Rae will be in the show, but Mac will be the student director. They’ll grow closer as they work on bringing the show to life—trips to Goodwill to scour the store for props, late nights in the theatre experimenting with how to make the sound of George jumping into the river (it’s harder than you’d think).

Convinced this was the right approach, I hopped online and ordered a copy of the script. And when I told Shawn, he said what had occurred to me as well: book or no book, I should have a copy of that script in our library because I Iove the show so much. All of the meaningful literary pleasures from our lives have an honored place in our library. I’ve got two shelves of theatre books, including librettos and scripts from my favorite musicals and plays. But should my newest acquisition go with my theatre books or my novel research/inspiration books…?

The making of a novel, part 2—titles

When Rae’s story was intended for adults, the key elements of the narrative were as follows: Patrice’s husband, Derek, had died almost a year before the beginning of the book; Derek loved Christmas, and the book opened with Patrice struggling to deal with her first holiday season without him; Rae was struggling as well, and Patrice didn’t know how to help her—musical theatre was Rae’s one salvation but not something she shared with Patrice. Eventually, Patrice came up with an idea of doing kind things for others as a way to distract themselves from their pain, thus leading them down the path to kindness and, ultimately, healing.

As I’ve started thinking about how to rework the story for a young adult book, I’ve decided to keep Rae’s interest in theatre, but not a whole lot else. Rather than her mom organizing the kindness crusade, it’s a random act from a stranger on Rae’s darkest day—the one-year anniversary of her father’s death—that prompts Rae to explore the power of doing good for others. And instead of her dad loving Christmas, now it’s 80s rock music.

It’s been interesting writing after having attended two writing conferences this summer/fall. I find myself brainstorming with half a mind for what may be more likely to sell. And because I know I’ll ultimately have to write a query letter and synopsis and so forth, I tend to focus my thinking in terms of how I’ll one day describe this book—which led me to the title.

I know publishers often change the title of a manuscript before it gets published, but I’d still like my work-in-progress title to have the potential to go the distance. So while I drove to work one morning, thinking about the main themes of this book—theatre, kindness, and rock—I had the idea of using those three elements in the title. After a moment, I felt I had it: Ghost Lights, Kindness, and GNR.

Excitedly, I told Shawn that night—but I knew even before I revealed the title that he wasn’t going to like it. Sure enough, I got a blank stare, and when prompted, he explained that my title doesn’t tell him what to expect from the book, what it’s about. He likes literal titles—The Hobbit, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. When I asked him if he would know what to expect from a book titled The Fault in Our Stars or All the Ways the World Can End, he admitted he is not a competent authority on book titles, especially young adult book titles.

So for the time being, Rae’s story is called Ghost Lights, Kindness, and Jon Bon Jovi. Shawn (probably rightly) suggested that my target audience likely doesn’t know that GNR refers to Guns N’ Roses. Switching to Bon Jovi also filled in some other missing plot points in the story, like a puzzle piece fitting into place, but that’s a tale for another post.