Eyeball To Eyeball

The Cuban Missile Crisis took place in October 1962 and bumped up against Halloween. Halloween was on a Wednesday in 1962, although people wondered if there would even be a Halloween that year, as we danced around the Russians and came within a hair's breadth of annihilating one another.

I love a homemade Halloween, and that's what my hero Franny plans for in 1962, so I'm having fun right now, writing about the Halloweens of my childhood. Since Halloween plays a central role in Franny's story, can I call it research when I stop work early today to carve a pumpkin and roast the seeds? I think yes.

That's part of my process today. Another part: I'm resisting allowing my hero to stumble, so I'm writing around the problem instead of through it. Arrrrrgh. Must stop this and plunge into that inmost cave where my hero faces her Supreme Ordeal.

I had this same trouble with Comfort in LITTLE BIRD. I didn't want her to suffer the way she did, so I wrote three different endings to LITTLE BIRD. Dismay came home, walking into Snowberger's smack in the middle of his own memorial service. Dismay didn't come home, but a "found a big black dog" poster was how I ended the book, so the reader knew that Dismay was out there, somewhere, and someone had found him. Then I wrote an ending in which Dismay was found dead. I couldn't stomach that one at all and threw it out immediately.

My editor read every one of those endings. Every time, she told me I was cheating. She was right.

In the end, I opted to be as truthful to my story as I could. Dismay could not come back, and Comfort's heart would be broken, and yet through her suffering, she would come to understand Peach's suffering, and even Declaration's suffering, and she would redeem herself and grow up. Something like that.

So today I'm reminding myself that it's okay for Franny's heart to break. She can handle it. She -- and the story -- will be the better for it. I know the resolution of my story is on Halloween and that the weekend before it is the hardest of Franny's life. I want to mirror what was happening in the country at the time, through Franny's struggle.

The weekend before that 1962 Halloween was as scary for the country as it will be for Franny, if I do my job well.

On that Saturday night, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said, "I thought I might never live to see another Saturday night." I want Franny to feel this way, too. I want the reader to feel this way. On that weekend before Halloween, as Russia agreed to remove Soviet missiles from Cuba, Secretary of State Dean Rusk turned to JFK's National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy and said, "We've been eyeball to eyeball and the other fellow just blinked."

I am eyeball to eyeball with Franny right now. I can't let her blink.

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