Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Oh, the Places I Had to Go: My Rocky Road Writing BLIND SPOT

My novel BLIND SPOT walks a fine line between two very different genres: thriller/mystery and contemporary/literary 'issue' book. I found as I was writing that it is difficult to balance between the two.

When I began writing BLIND SPOT, I wanted to write about my own struggles growing up with macular degeneration - an eye disease that causes a visual impairment. (I blog more in-depth on this on my author blog 'The Story Behind the Story').  I knew I didn't want it to be only about the visual impairment, another book where the entire plot centers on the main character's disability. No. I wanted to write a thriller, a page-turner, where the character happens to have a disability.

I also didn't want it to be one of those books that just throws in a disabled character for good measure. I wanted the plot, the mystery, to be intertwined with how that character sees, feels, lives. I wanted the reader to see the reality of being a teen coping with something that shapes who you are and who others think you are. A book where the character's disability is a part of everything she does, without the disability being  a part of everything in the book.

 I didn't understand what a tall order this would be.

In my original plot, my character heard voices of the dead that were helping her solve the mystery. I had a critique with Elizabeth Law who said to yank that story line and focus on the impairment. It took me a while to do this because it meant facing the disability head on, reaching into my own experiences, essentially, writing about me.

But I did it. I took out that plot line, revamped, revised, focused on my character's visual impairment. When I finished my second draft, though, I found I'd swung the pendulum too far. As then editor, now agent at Upstart Crow, Michael Stearns put it (who, though he humbly denies it, was critically instrumental in my revision process): The visual problem was overwhelming the story, becoming even whiny at parts, and needed to be toned down to let the story come out. Yep, I'd focused on the visual impairment. Too much. I'd forgotten the mystery.

So I went back in a third time. I added a bunch of plot and tried to scale back the disability aspects. But I found I was struggling. I was seeing my character, Roswell, as me, and therefore I couldn't allow her to do or say things that I hadn't myself experienced. I had to separate my story from her story. (I had a critique with author Jay Asher who said he had a similar problem when writing 13 Reasons Why.) My solution? I rewrote the entire third draft again - in third person.

This worked. Without me in the story, I had so many new options. And the result was awesome. Wow did I have plot! A page turner! I took it to a NY SCBWI conference and after reading the first 500 words, Liz Szabla of Feiwel and Friends, requested the full! YAY! A few months later, she sent me a wonderfully intuitive rejection: The premise was there, but I'd failed on the promise. It was too much of a thriller now . .  . and, in putting it in third person, I'd totally lost Roswell. At the time, Michael Stearns was again reading it too. He agreed with Liz. He told me to pull some plot threads, thin it out, find the heart again.

UGH! I was starting to lose my own heart at this point. Maybe trying to write both a thriller and a literary 'issue' book was impossible? Maybe I should just write one or the other, but not both? No. I don't give up easy, and I was determined to do it. Once again, I went back to the drawing board. I rewrote it in first person, which helped me find Roswell again, and I pulled many, many threads.Then I sewed it back together again.

Nervous and gun shy from so many failed attempts, I submitted to the wonderful agent-extraordinaire, Jill Corcoran at Herman Agency (I'll save the details for my July 11 agent post!). Jill not only loved it - she got it. She saw what I was trying to do. She helped me perfect it, and then found an editor who shared my vision for BLIND SPOT too: Karen Grove at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The rest, they say, is publishing history - or will be, in Fall 2012 :)

Yes, the road was rocky and full of dead-ends - but each dead-end turned me back towards the right path. If I had to travel it again, I would. It was a journey well worth the hand cramps.

2 comments:

  1. Oh, wow, Laura--this just goes to show you that the writers that succeed in this industry aren't lucky; they work their tails off! What an arduous journey, but what an inspiring story. I can't wait to read BLIND SPOT now!

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  2. Wonderful post - I like how you looked back and dissected your revision process. And now your novel is so much richer for all that hard work and blending of elements. I'm so looking forward to reading the final version!

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