I got the idea for my next series in May, when I was in Puerto Rico with my family. I had this premonition that I’d be really sad once I’d published “Impossible” unless I had something new coming down the pipeline, so I wanted to make sure I had another book to be excited about before that happened. I brainstormed with my family one night over a bottle of wine (I’m so fortunate to have such a brilliant family!), took copious notes, and wound up with a bare-bones outline.
Ever since, in between edits for “Impossible” and blog tours and what have you, I’ve been doing the preliminary research and fleshing out the outline (because I don’t just sit down and write. Occasionally characters do things I don’t expect, but I’ll be honest… it’s rare. I’m kind of a control freak that way.) 😉 Once I have an outline, I tend to write in “sets,” which consist of two chapters apiece of roughly 10 pages per chapter. Then I polish those two chapters as well as I can before I move on to the next “set,” and send the sets I’ve finished on to my primary editor: my mom, the original C.A. Gray. (Most of the “twists” in the “Piercing the Veil” series were actually her idea, so it’s always a good idea to run things by her before I get too far. Saves time later!)
The reception for those first few sets was somewhat lukewarm, though, and I kind of knew why: I was writing just to tell a story, nothing more. So I stopped to reflect: why did I write the “Piercing the Veil” trilogy? It wasn’t just to entertain people. I had something I wanted to say (read here for more on this). It was this sense of purpose that got me up at 5 am, got me through the writer’s block and the rejection letters, and kept me hopeful that even if what I’d just written still sucked, eventually I could write something worth reading, .
Then one evening I put on an old favorite movie as background noise while I typed up notes for research on the next book (on infectious diseases, of all things). Anyway, this time the movie was “Newsies,” which always moves me to tears. (Yes, it’s a musical. Don’t judge me.) It’s just such a triumphant “David and Goliath” story: the biggest newspaper publisher in 1920s NYC raises the price of the papers, exploiting the labor of the poor orphan kids who are his distributors. So the kids band together and form a union, singing these words:
Now is the time to seize the day,
Answer the call and don’t delay,
Wrongs will be righted
If we’re united,
Let us seize the day!
Now let ‘em hear it loud and clear,
Like it or not, we’re drawing near!
Proud and defiant,
We’ll slay the giant,
Judgment day is here!
Ahh, I just love that! So (spoiler alert!) you can guess what happens: despite all Mr. Pulitzer’s strong-arm tactics, the orphan kids win. Not only that, but their ringleader is publicly honored by none other than Teddy Roosevelt himself, riding off in a blaze of glory… only to return at the end, having realized the true value of his “newsie” family.
Some of my favorite stories have elements very similar to this one: the underdog hero somehow finds the courage to fight a seemingly all-powerful enemy. But he perseveres, and just when it looks like all is lost, he wins! Don’t these kinds of stories inspire you with the courage to go out and fight your own giants?
So I rewrote my outline, and I’m starting all over. I’m okay with this, actually… I’ve learned it’s best to “kill my darlings,” scrapping even some of my favorite scenes if they don’t contribute to or enhance the story. Ultimately my goal is to put something out there that’s worth reading, something that inspires others with courage and faith.
Can you think of any stories that serve this purpose for you? List them in the comments below!