Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Backstory of "Legendary," Conclusion

I began adapting my 1980s high school screenplay, "Finding the Way," in the spring of 2010. I discovered that my train rides to and from work were my favorite times to write. The 45 minutes there in the morning, and the 45 minutes returning home gave me enough time to write 8 - 10 pages at a time. The year I spent writing the first draft of the book was the most enjoyable and freeing 12 months I'd ever spent as a writer. For the first time in my life, I didn't give a damn about what anyone was going to think about my work. I kept telling myself, "This is an experiment. I'm a screenwriter, not a novelist." I believe it was that lack of concern that allowed me to be so loose and to write so fast. I've been chasing that feeling ever since.

I completed the first draft around Thanksgiving of that year. Now entitled Legendary, I sent it to my friend who worked at Simon & Schuster. At Christmastime, we met for coffee to discuss the book's potential. She had general notes on how to make the book better, and felt that it was worth pursuing. Her two biggest suggestions were 1) changing the time period from the 1980s to the present day. This way, the book might have a better chance of getting read, and I might get a literary agent. And 2) reducing the number of main characters/narrators. In adapting the screenplay, I'd come up with seven different narrators for Legendary. The book may have captured the ensemble feel of a Paul Thomas Anderson film, but it was hard to follow.

I had no problem with any of what she said. On the spot I decided I would rewrite the book to follow the love triangle that made up one third of Legendary (the other two stories might make it into another book someday. Who knows?) The feedback I received got me excited to dive back into the text.

Throughout 2011, I revised, revised, revised. Some writers hate the editing process, but I find it thrilling. It's like a puzzle and you're trying to find the exact word or phrase to fit the sentence or paragraph. Maybe you cut entire passages, things you love, but it's all for the betterment of the book.

By the end of 2011, I had completed the new version of Legendary. My friend reread it and was enthusiastic. She even offered to submit it to her bosses, and to allow me to use her name in some of the query letters I sent to literary agents. This was how I knew that she wasn't just paying me lip service that Legendary was pretty good. If she was afraid that Legendary would have embarrassed her, she wouldn't have offered what she did.

I did the query routine, sending the book to a long list of agents. Unfortunately I was turned down by all. Maybe I shouldn't say that, but I'm not ashamed. That's part of the game, right? Rejection is how an artist grows. I actually received some very kind feedback from several agents. Most of them really liked the character of Allison (one even suggested rewriting the book entirely from her point of view), but almost all of them said that trying to get a book with a male protagonist as the central character would be too difficult.

It was disappointing, to say the least, but I didn't let it get me down. The experience of writing Legendary gave me the confidence to continue writing prose. For the second time in its life, "Finding the Way," now known as Legendary, was put to sleep in a file cabinet, or rather a hard drive.

In 2012, while sending out all of those queries, I self-published Basement Songs, the book that collected some of my favorite posts from Popdose (but you know that because you're here and you own a copy, right?). In editing that book, I pretty much put to rest the "Basement Songs" column. It had run its course. I attempted two other columns for Popdose, "Scotty's Jukebox," which was supposed to be a look at all things pop culture, and "Goin' Country," an attempt at exploring country music. Neither gained traction. Or rather, neither got me thrilled the way "Basement Songs" used to do.

As 2014 began, I started thinking about what I wanted to write for Podose in the coming year. I was working on two spec TV pilots and a feature length screenplay, but these things wouldn't work on Popdose. Then it struck me: What if I published Legendary as a serial novel on the site? The book was complete, so I wouldn't have to worry about writing deadlines, and I could include music, like I did with "Basement Songs." But what music? And would a contemporary teen driven story connect with Popdose's audience.

Then I thought, "What if I returned the story back to its 80s roots?"

Within days, I worked out the details with Jeff and began revising the novel. I made 10 separate playlists of songs to include in the posts. And I came up with the idea to include original art with each chapter.  There may not have been writing deadlines, but I have a spreadsheet charting everything that needs to be done for this summerlong project.

You know what? I'm stoked. In placing the story back in its original time period, I believe Legendary got better. For anyone who read the original final draft, this story will be familiar, but different in enough ways that I think you'll get a kick out of it. Plus, it has music and art, people, music and art!

So that's the general backstory about Legendary. I could write more, but the history isn't important, not in this case. What's important is that Legendary is out there, and that you enjoy reading it throughout the summer.

Check out Popdose tomorrow for the official introduction to Legendary.


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