It’s been a year since I asked artist Christine Kilfoil if she’d be open to illustrating an on-line novel, web designer Kenda Blum if she’d design the website for it and arts, entertainment, IT and copyright laywer Michael Sniderman if he’d guide me through the project from a legal perspective. It’s also been a year since I asked my son, Benjamin Mora-Davison if he’d be my first ongoing reader. As a great strategist and designer when it comes to storytelling in video games, I knew Ben would be honest and constructive with his feedback whilst remaining patient and logical in his approach. I also reached out to Ray Knight, founder of Ray Knight Casting Ltd. in the UK, a seasoned performer and casting director, if he’d be willing to read my work as it evolved. So, with a year behind me, I thought I’d write a proper article updating you on the behind-the-scenes work as well as open up a little as to what you can expect with regards to upcoming plot points and story-lines.
With regards to the talented people listed above, while Kenda completed the bulk of her work once she’d finished designing the site, she still guides me when I have a technology-related question. And when the time comes for me to promote the finished product out there in the world, I’ll be turning to her again for my promotional materials.
I continue to collaborate with Christine on a regular basis as her illustrative contribution to the novel is ongoing. Being able to work with Christine is a highlight for me for several reasons, the first of which she is an amazing illustrator. Beyond that, writing, at least for me, requires hour upon hour of necessary isolation so collaborating with a creative person draws me out of my own head and minimises the loneliness which can be all-encompassing. Furthermore, it’s validating for me to see my thoughts translated into visual art. Seeing the stuff of my imagination illustrated gives weight to the process for me and keeps me pressing on with the project.
When it comes to lawyer Michael Sniderman, I continue to send him my work, generally 120 pages at a time, so, with a few exceptions, he is always reading ahead of you. As well as drawing up the contract between Christine and me and reviewing the work for information-related details (multiple mentions of existing songs and TV shows, the blending of fact and fiction with regards to both plot and setting amongst these details), he gives me general feedback on what he’s reading. Sending my work in regular installments to a professional third party helps me keep to the schedule I’ve set out for myself; it keeps me accountable in a self-guided process. As I’m working agentless on a mammoth endeavor with a fair amount of investment and making it public whilst it is still in development, I believe it would be imprudent to work without any legal guidance.
As helpful as Ben was for the first section of the novel, those of you who are up to date will fully understand why I’ve had to affectionately relieve him of his reading duties. While I’m about to hand him a section of the novel which doesn’t contain any love scenes, I’d feel extremely uncomfortable sharing anything explicit with him and believe me, the feeling is mutual! However, I still discuss my ideas with him when it comes to concepts, story-lines and plot twists and greatly value his opinion and input. But as for Ben sitting down with a stack of printed pages to review? Those days are no more. And as an aside, I’ve warned all close blood relatives that they may want to skip certain chapters. Believe me, the last thing I want is my siblings pulling out their chairs at a family dinner, saying, “Hey, Rosie – what about that chair scene?”
At my suggestion, Ray Knight, while he has read the first section of the story, has agreed to read the entire book once it’s finished and in full manuscript form. I still have so far to go and so much to sort out, I feel that to keep emailing him the novel in sections would hinder the reading experience for him. Wanting to send him the very best possible manuscript I can produce, I would rather wait until I’ve made it through the evolving digital version.
With regards to the creative challenges with this project, there are many. But the first, and probably the greatest, is the breaking through my own psychological barriers and writing without fear. Well, I don’t write without fear; I write through it. Digging through deep inhibition, worry over reputation, concerns over offending people, hitting an uncomfortable nerve in others to draw from the emotional well is beyond challenging for me. But I must tap into that emotional well in order to funnel the feeling into my characters whose situations are quite different from mine. And that means delving into the far reaches of my own sexual energy, capacity to love, feelings of entrapment and longing to have what I can’t have. It means returning to my own emotions of loss, grief, betrayal, dishonesty, rebellion and injustice and extracting those feelings in their concentrated form, turning the dial up on them to emote them onto the page. I must feel those emotions but intensified. A mix of fulfilling, cathartic and draining, this is a demanding exercise. I like to think of it as acting on paper. And then, when I’ve finished writing, I must pinch myself and remind myself that I am not my characters, I have not done what they’re doing, nor do I intend to. But as a human being, I can feel what they’re feeling. And that is an entirely different thing. Can you watch a film and empathise with a certain type of person without being that type of person yourself? Of course, you can. We do it all the time when we consume stories. And if this sounds like I’m trying to justify my writing, I most certainly am! I need to rationalise my on-page shenanigans all the time or else I’d be crumbling under the weight of unfounded guilt. Before I address the next challenge, however, I want to say that, whether my writing is worthy of anyone’s night stand or not, with the scenes I’ve already put out there (i.e. my mirror scene and synonym for “it” scene in ‘Treecalmoon’ and with ‘The Chair’ and ‘The Climax’ which I’ve just posted tonight), I’ve achieved my personal goal of working through my own self-inhibiting barriers to tell you the story as it wants to be told.
Another challenge that is ongoing is one of structure and tone. As you know, there are three main time periods in this story: modern day, 1849 and 1873, each one with its own distinct tone. While this gives me the chance to experiment with different writing styles, I do worry that my Phil sections undermine my more serious Victorian sections. For them not to undermine the emotion that’s gone into the Victorian sections, I will have to be strategic with my placing of those sections and, in the end, I may have to cut some of the wackier Phil scenes out altogether. They allow me to not take my melodramatic, broody Victorian sections too seriously and they also allow me to show some of the same issues in a very modern setting with very modern language. I think you’ll find, however, as I get closer to the end of the novel and Phil starts to understand how he is connected to the Victorian characters, the humour that’s followed him will deepen into a more serious tone. But the disparity between the two writing styles is an issue for me. Speaking of the Phil sections, I’m still struggling a little bit with his upcoming fall-from-grace with co-worker Jeannie Robbins. I will definitely share that path with you, but it’s not carved in stone. Also, with regards to structure, I’m finding myself wanting to stick with one given time period for a while before I switch to a different time period as not to break up my writing and your reading flow too much. The downside of that is by the time we’re done with a large section of the story, we might have forgotten what’s happening to everybody else in the other sections!
Challenges aside, however, I have lots of things I’m excited about. My beloved little Bertie, who is keeping me up at night with her unique accent, has made herself quite comfortable in the story now and insists on sticking around. She’s also going to have an adventure in London with Justine in the near future. Richie, Phil’s dead sister, is also going to figure more prominently and I’ve already shared her plot twist with both Christine Kilfoil and Michael Sniderman. I’m very excited about her and her role in the story. This week, I’ve been bringing Lady Emeline out of her drug-induced slumber and started working on her quite a bit. She has a past secret which is key to what’s happening with everyone else. I’ve also been developing my plot lines dealing with the artistic process, stolen art and the different kinds of stealing that happen both to art and for art. And you”ll be meeting some new characters soon, some of whom will be more important than others. Cyril Greaves, both Gregory and George’s editor on Paternoster Row will be making a comeback also.
The further I get into this project, the more I realise it’s a gargantuan task to pull off. Under the current circumstances of the current global health crisis, I’ve been writing about 70 pages a week. But looking ahead, I still believe I have a long way to go. Thank you to those of you who’ve been reading and following my journey with this!