Two weeks I ago I had a phone call with my editor, to chat about future projects. She encouraged me to start brainstorming ideas that had strong commercial appeal.
I immediately broke out in hives. (Sorry, KP, but it’s true.)
Back when I was earnestly trying to be a working novelist, I was repeatedly encouraged to write books with strong commercial appeal. Of course I was. Publishing is a business. Commercial appeal theoretically translates into cha-ching. Win-win for all involved.
Except, my brain never seemed work that way. Me + high concept x commercial appeal = cheese. And not even good cheese. More like pasteurized cheese food.
I attempted to explain this to my editor, who lovingly brushed away my concerns. She acknowledged that thinking of stories in these terms requires a different sort of writing muscle. The only way to strengthen it, she said, was to exercise it. Repeatedly.
In other words, the message was this:
You can do this.
So, I started to think. In the car, in the shower, while walking the dog. I kept coming back to this idea I had years ago. It was inspired, in part, by my admiration for Amy Sherman-Palladino, aka one half of the genius team behind Gilmore Girls, aka one of the best-scripted TV shows of all time. Could I revisit that idea? Should I? I wasn’t sure on either account.
And then it happened. I got thwacked in the head with the story stick. Hard. I was reading an article from a back issue of a magazine I no longer subscribed to but picked up on the free table at work. A profile of a woman who, for whatever reason, intrigued me. As I made my way through her tale, I could see the Lifetime movie adaptation clear as day. Like, I could even see the commercial for the Lifetime movie. I even found myself wondering if her story had been optioned for screen yet.
It’s the kind of thing that stays with you. Or at least, it stayed with me. The next day, I found myself playing the “what if?” game, adding a teenage girl and a serious plot twist into the mix.
I immediately got excited. Really, really excited. In mere minutes, I’d worked out about 85% of the novel. I knew these things sometimes happened; I’d read interviews with authors talking about the phenomenon. Some novels you wrestle with for years, while others come to you as if in a dream.
I’d never had that dream-novel experience, though. Well, not entirely. True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet was cooked up in the car ride home from a NJ transit station (the same day I first met my current editor, actually).
But this is different. For me, anyway. It’s not even my typical genre. And it has some definite commercial appeal. I even confirmed it with my editor, who after a fifteen-minute conversation wrote the logline: “____ for teens. Yeah, I can pitch that.”
Now comes the hard part: taking the brain movie and translating it to paper (or, more accurately, pixels). The timing couldn’t be worse; I leave for New Orleans in less than a month for my organization’s annual conference, and we’re now short another staff member. So, there’s that.
But I know me. And I know how my head works. This story? It’s going to eat at my brain until I get it out and onto the page. Better to surrender to the process than to fight it. Besides, I can’t remember the last time I was this excited to get type-type-typing.
Writer friends: when was the last time YOU got hit by the story stick? What happened after you did?