For those of you in Chicago, the Pilcrow Lit Festival has been going on this week and I am going to be on a YA Panel tomorrow (Sat, May 23) with Linda Jones, Gwendolyn Glover, Jane Hertenstein, Jessica Hopper, James Kennedy, and Daniel Kraus at 2 PM at Trader Todd's, 3216 N Sheffield Ave. I just wasted a bunch of time figuring out how to get there since the CTA was so brilliant as to shut down a section of the blue line between me and downtown on freakin' Memorial Day Weekend. Have I mentioned how much I fucking hate the CTA sometimes? But anyway, the panel is going to be awesome and there are a bunch of other good panels that day so I hope you'll go if you are in the area.
So, what have I been up the past couple weeks that has been keeping me away from the blog? Working on the proposal of my next novel, which as of right now I am calling Red Eyes On Orange Horizons. Yes, I took that from an Alkaline Trio lyric: "While you're taking your time with apologies/I'm making my plans for revenge/red eyes on orange horizons/if Columbus was wrong I'd drive straight off the edge/I'd drive straight off the edge." It's an angry grieving vengeance novel and it's also my first novel that is not set in the Midwest so I needed some sort of Chicago reference.
If you've been following my tweets (and my random blog entry earlier this week), you know I'm playing off of the Persephone myth with this one. It's been fun playing around with my favorite myth and adding a new twist to it. In the myth Persephone is abducted by Hades to be his queen. She's rescued by her mother eventually, but goes back to the underworld every fall/winter because (depending on which version you read) she either was tricked into or willingly ate the food of the dead, pomegranate seeds. It's the ultimate story of innocence lost, but in the myth Persephone isn't really pissed about. I think she should be.
In my story, Persephone is a the daughter of a model and a rock god (hello, pretentious Hollywood baby name trend). She lives in modern day Los Angeles. When she was five years old she and her best friend Cori (drawn from Kore, another name for Persephone) were kidnapped. There is no winter in California, so instead they go through a hell-on-earth type of experience every three years in the fall/winter. The latest bad experience: Cori is killed in a car accident. Seph along with Cori's twin sister, Cate (the storyteller of this novel, named for Hecate who is considered to be the third aspect of femininity in greek mythology- Persephone being the maiden, Demeter, the mother, and Hecate, the crone. Hecate has long been portrayed as sort of evil and a witch, thanks mostly to Christian interpretation, but in some versions of the myth she helps rescue Persephone and she is known as a healer of psychological pain so I like her and she is my story's heroine) try to figure out what led to the accident and seek revenge on all the people that have hurt them over the years. So it's like the Persephone story meets the Erinyes (the furies), hence I named the character Persephone Erihn.
So yeah, that's the basics. And it's fun because I get to play with the mythology and also get work in some social commentary/satire on fame in this day and age, which is something I'm both extremely fascinated with and also seriously disgusted with.
But to some degree, it's not fun at all. It's catharsis. This is how it seems to work with every book. There is some aspect of play for me and some aspect of therapy. Like with IWBYJR, I got to live out my rock star fantasies through the character of Emily, but I confronted some of my own inner darkness and pain through the character of Louisa. With Ballads... man, I must admit that Ballads was mostly painful catharsis stuff. I grew up in suburbia, I saw a lot of things that were fucked up. Ballads is not my life but it touches on a lot of stuff that hits close to home.
In the original draft of the Red Eyes proposal that I sent to my agent, Cori kills herself. My agent said, this is good, but why does Cori kill herself. It didn't really make sense. I was completely stuck; Cori needed to die, but she didn't have a reason to kill herself. I was ready to scrap the book. I felt completely scattered. I had no idea what to write and hadn't felt a real sense of purpose toward anything since I'd finished the draft of Ballads that was submitted to my editor in February 2008. Maybe I'd used up all the stuff that drives me to write. I was emotionally drained from revising Ballads and promoting IWBYJR and coping with the deaths of three friends within a six month span.
One friend died in a motorcycle accident and I'd become completely fixated on the song "The '59 Sound" by the Gaslight Anthem. "Were you scared when the metal hit the glass...." I would seriously listen to that song over and over and cry. I'd watch car accidents on TV and ball my eyes out. It's been almost a year now and I am still so far from healed.
Then the day before I had a phone call scheduled with my agent to talk about Red Eyes, wherein I was going to suggest that I just write my bartender book instead, I was in the car and the song "Gone Away" by The Offspring came on. I'm not a huge Offspring fan, but I bop along to their songs on the radio. Their song "The Kids Aren't Alright" was one I listened to a lot while writing Ballads once I really listened to the lyrics and realized we were kind of talking about the same things. I listened a little closer than usual to "Gone Away" and caught the lyrics "Maybe in another life I will find you there/Pulled away before your time/I can't deal/It's so unfair." It was raining out and I pulled over and completely lost it again over my friend. I thought to myself, Christ, this is bad. I really need therapy and I can't afford it. But then I kept listening to the song and this interview that I read with the fabulous author Alyson Noel came to mind. She also lost a few loved ones in quick succession and she talked about how she channeled that energy into writing books.
That's my therapy, I realized. And when I called my agent the next day, I told her Cori doesn't kill herself, she dies in a car accident. I'm still coping with my friend's accident. I need to write this book to heal. Agent said it sounded good, so off I went to restructure the synopsis and the first fifty pages. The plot, which I'd been struggling with for months, came together in days. I gave my main character Cate experiences that I've had, such as having the realization that my friend was killed in the accident, that it wasn't just a blameless thing, and visiting the grave for the first time. I've never felt so in the zone than I have when writing those. I cried reading over them, but it was release. It's release now when I sit and listen to that Offspring or Gaslight Anthem song. I may sob my heart out, but then I pour into the page.
Maybe that sounds twisted, but it's just an extreme version of what writing has always been to me, therapy, catharsis. So I hope that my agent and, in turn, my editor, likes the project. Because I've gone from it being this fun Hollywood version of a Greek myth I adore to it being something I need to write in order to heal.