But You've Got to Know the Territory!

Here's a little piece x-posted from LJ about how I put the new book together - and made it work by turning it into a musical:

Yesterday I turned in my first draft of PURPLE WISH (alias FAIRY GODMOFO) to my editor and agent. It's a really cool mystery book set in the same world as I KISSED A ZOMBIE AND I LIKED IT. It's occupied me for most of the summer - this book came harder than most of mine. Around the beginning of summer, when I got started, I was in a major slump. I didn't like anything I was writing - or anything I was reading, even. Everything seemed clunky to me - even the classics. 

Then, when I got the greenlight on FAIRY, I had only written the first 75 pages and had no idea what should happen next. I loved my first 75 pages, and was able to come up with a general idea of how the LAST 30 pages would go, but that left me with a major gap and some major problems to solve. 

See, the book is about a girl who gets a visit from a short, scruffy guy in an overcoat and fedora who tells her, in a gravelly voice, that he's her fairy godmother. 

He then explains that he's a bit of a jerk, like all fairy godmothers (there was no GOOD reason Cinderella had to be home at midnight - that was just her fairy godmother being a dick). He says that he'll grant one wish for her, but that she has to get a guy of his choice to kiss her at prom. If she doesn't, she'll die. 

And so I had the story of a girl who would just DIE if she didn't go to prom. Literally. But this created a problem: how in the world was she even supposed to function with that hanging over her head? How are pages 50-150 not going to be all about her sitting in a corner, rocking back and forth and hyperventilating? And how can I possibly make it funny?

Part of the problem was solved when I rewrote things a bit to make the main character a 17 year old version of Jennifer Van den Berg, one of the protagonists of I PUT A SPELL ON YOU. When you have to go to school the morning after your dad is caught breaking into the school to steal the master word list to the bee, you learn to compartmentalize. She has an uncanny ability to push the "omigod I'm dead meat" stuff out of her mind and focus on solving the puzzle in front of her.

But I still needed to do a real tightrope walk in keeping her functioning - giving her a lot of options, a lot of reasons to doubt that the "fairy godmofo" is for real, a few major distractions, and a lot of false hope. Not only did I need to figure out the solution to the unsolvable problem Jennifer was given, I needed to figure out WHY each character was acting the way they were, and figure out how each plot point should be important for the conclusion. How each loose end should be tied together. Why things that seem like major coincidences should turn out not to be - and why the characters wouldn't have guessed that in the first place. 

Along the way, I came up with one idea that actually helped a lot: turning it into a musical. 

Somewhere along the line in the process of writing drafts of a new chapter and tossing them out, I determined that one of the characters (first her parents, then her) should be working on a production of THE MUSIC MAN, since I had determined that I was going to need a Wells Fargo Wagon in the last 30 pages or so. Subtle MUSIC MAN references started popping up, and seemed to be going a long way in helping push the book forward. As the references built up, I came up on the idea that every so often, there should be a scene where one of the songs from the show COULD be sung (or played) and fit in perfectly (with minor lyrical changes in some cases). 

I made a list of all the songs and began to shuffle them around. What could happen to these characters to make one of them sing "Good Night, My Someone?" Or "Piano Lesson?"

I didn't end up using every song - there was nowhere that "The Sadder But Wiser Girl for Me" really fit in, for instance, though I could imagine a place to shoe-horn it in. And songs like "Ya Got Trouble," which are mostly talking about specific plot points, would have to be rewritten entirely (though subtle shout-outs to both that song and "Rock Island Line" pop up all over the place in the book). But gradually, the plot began to take shape, and eventually gave me an idea for a twist that tied the whole thing together.

So, in the end, the book became a musical using pre-existing songs. I didn't have any points where characters actually break into song - this being a book and not a stage show - but if someone were to film it, they COULD sing some songs. Other songs play on characters' headphones or at appropriate times over the radio in a laundromat. The songs would appear in this order:

SHIPOOPI (rehearsal scene)
PIANO LESSON (sung by Jennifer and her parents - new lyrics required)
YA GOT TROUBLE (partially Jennifer and her father - slightly different lyrics)
SEVENTY-SIX TROMBONES / SINCERELY (in Jen's headphones during a scene where she takes a crowbar to a bunch of dollar store junk to relieve stress)
GOOD NIGHT MY SOMEONE (sung by Jennifer)
TIL THERE WAS YOU (Beatles version plays on the radio)
MARIAN THE LIBRARIAN (rehearsal scene)
PICK-A-LITTLE (sung by Mrs. Smollett at a Shakespeare Club meeting)
THE WELLS FARGO WAGON (sung by Jennifer, Amber, Jason and Mutual, as they roll through town in a Wells Fargo wagon)
ROCK ISLAND LINE (partial, with different lyrics, sung by Jennifer)
TIL THERE WAS YOU (reprise at the finale)

Readers who haven't seen this post will probably never notice that it's a musical. But setting it up like this gave me ideas for plot points that might not have occurred to me otherwise - and helped me break out of my slump and get the pieces of the plot fall into place until the plot was as tight as a cork.

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Adam's New Book: Sept 2013