I’m waiting on edits for Cahill Book 3, and in-between rounds, I have a little time to play with potential next-books. I’ve got one proposal almost ready to go, so was exploring other ideas…and a weird thing happened over the last few weeks.
I mentioned on twitter that I’d been thinking about writing a theatre book, because I did lots of theatre in high school and college and studied it in grad school and am married to The Playwright after all, and twitter got very excited. I started brainstorming – daydreaming, chatting with The Playwright, jotting down notes. I love stories like DRAMARAMA and THE REESE MALCOLM LIST, but what would a book about theatre look like from me? I came up with the idea to write about a girl whose high school production of The Crucible gets banned, and she ends up putting it on in her uncle’s barn with the help of a cute new student, and it ignites a sort of culture war in her small town.
The rural town would be very like the place I grew up, I reasoned. The girl would – much like I had once – realize that, much as she loved it, there was a whole wide world outside her tiny one-stoplight town. There would be some complicated female friendships and bullying and bravery and kissing. I did research on real high school productions that had been banned. I read some plays. I interrogated some very sweet friends who teach theatre and direct their high schools’ plays. A bunch of people answered questions about racial diversity in their rural high schools and acceptance of out gay and lesbian students and class schedules and play rehearsals and all kinds of things. I listened to my country music playlist in the shower and walking to the metro and while writing emails. I wrote up a pitch and sent it to my agent, who encouraged me to start writing. I told writing and real-life friends, who (lots of them being theatre geeks past or present) were really excited. I talked with friends who write contemporary YA about voice and debated edginess and instalove and marketing and all kinds of potential pitfalls.
I was so excited…right up until I wasn’t. Sometime last week I found myself staring at the blank page with no ideas. I had a cool premise, but who were these characters? I am a character writer. They come first, and they sustain the process for me, but these characters were not talking. At all.
Somehow – whether through worrying too much about the market, or sharing too soon, or focusing on premise/plot over characters – I killed it. It might be something I come back to someday when the right characters show up. But right now – ugh. I feel a trifle guilty for getting my friends excited, but this early in the process, a potential-book should still feel like magic. Not homework.
I have a new idea. The only people who really know anything about it are the fourteen year old girls in the writing workshops I taught every day this week, because I did writing prompts right alongside them. They said they want me to make it into a book and that they’d read it. So, that was encouraging. I sent my agent the sad news that theatrebook was DOA and wrote all of 2 sentences about this new thing and he was like, “Well, that is vague…” and I was like, “I know. I’ll send you more later.” This time I’m proceeding with caution. I’m not telling anyone anything until I’ve got a significant number of pages.
But the characters are talking. Conversations are happening in my head. The protagonist told me her name the other day – I’d given her one, but it was wrong, and I woke up with her name on my lips.
This is the magic that was missing. These are the kinds of days that make me want to be a writer.