Monday, August 11, 2014

Adventures in Co- authoring Part One: The Genesis of an Idea

There’s a lot of background to my collaboration with fellow Spencer Hill Press author, Elizabeth Langston.

We’d first bonded when I worked as the cover designer for three of her books: A Whisper in Time, Whispers from the Past, and I Wish. I found that I enjoyed working with Elizabeth and really appreciated her ability to “get” my ideas and communicate her own quite coherently. When it came to visualizing, Elizabeth was a natural. And not to diss others I’ve worked with in publishing, but that’s not as common a trait as you might think.

A friendship was formed through our professional contact, that later moved on to some serious fangirling (okay—I’m going to admit it—she is bonkers over the hottie Irish actor Michael Fassbender and I am almost psychotically obsessed with uber-adorable and brilliant Brit actor Benedict Cumberbatch.)

Elizabeth: Michael sang lead vocals with his movie band on The Colbert Report this week. Top that, Bennie.

But lest you all think that our celeb crushes are ALL we talked about—we quickly moved on to our nerdish ways and our enjoyment of the historic TV show that launched this past spring on the AMC channel. It’s called TURN and it features a ring of Revolutionary War spies located on the eastern tip of Long Island.

Elizabeth was already aware of this show because of her Whisper Falls series. Since half of the series takes place in 18th century North Carolina, she’d already done mounds of research. I was aware of TURN because my mother told me about it.

Now, you may be wondering why my dear astute mother knew, without a doubt that I would be interested in a show like TURN when I generally write twisted paranormal mysteries, like Breaking Glass and Vision. (note: In Breaking Glass, Jeremy Glass is an uber-history geek, so there’s a bit of a clue)?

My dear mother knew, because three years ago, in the summer of 2011, I totally bent her ear about the Revolutionary War hero, Nathan Hale, nearly to the level that I am currently obsessed with Mr. Cumberbatch. And being the good mother she is, Mom took an interest in Nathan, even learning that a nearby town had a plaque to mark his landing on Huntington, Long Island at the start of his ill-fated mission to be Washington’s first spy.

Weird thing to fixate on, you think? Well, in my case, weird and obsessive often gets put to use at some point.

BUT WHY NATHAN HALE? What’s wrong with you, woman?

Well, I guess I owe some explanation, even though large swaths of the (male—jealous much?) population think Mr. Cumberbatch looks like an otter or an alien. But Nathan Hale? No one really has much of an opinion on him.

Elizabeth: Go to Nathan’s wikipedia page and check out the photo of his statue. Fix that image in your mind.

It all started back in, oh, I think 2007, when my daughter was in seventh grade. She had a rather detail-oriented taskmaster of a History teacher (who I really liked, even though she might have felt otherwise, lol--*waves at Mr. Colin Welch*). Mr. Welch was a real detail oriented guy and gave very elaborate study handouts. And being the devoted mother that I am, I used to sit on the floor and help my dear, not so terribly studious daughter to study. So, one evening, pouring over the handouts on the Revolutionary War with her, I read the small paragraph that Mr. Welch had written about Nathan, and his famous quote, as it is most frequently paraphrased. “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” Yeah, heard that. BORING. BORING old guy who died for his country.

But wait—what? Nathan Hale was a kid of twenty-one who snuck behind the British lines and was hanged as a spy? How did I not know that Nathan was only twenty-one? And he was a spy? Hmmmm. Wheels turning. Wonder what the heck he was doing behind the enemy lines. This guy is interesting!

Okay. So that went into my cobweb file. And sat there for years. But occasionally I’d think about poor Nathan and wondered—why does nobody really not know anything about him? Was he handsome? Dumb? Smart? At twenty-one he’s just a little older than the age of YA characters. He could have connected with teen “rebels” when he was behind enemy lines, couldn’t he?

Fast forward to an evening in 2011 with my BFF, Joanne, a collector of every kind of trivia imaginable, who tells me there is a plaque on 61street and Third Avenue in Manhattan, at the location of what used to be a restaurant called the Sign of the Dove, and that it marks the place where Nathan Hale was hanged. Wheels really turning, now. Obsession engaged.

Yeah. That was going places. When I brought this up to my then agent that summer, she was like—umm, huh? Excuse me for yawning in your face?

But that did not deter me. By 2011, somehow, this preposterous idea about doing a young adult paranormal history about Nathan Hale and what he did when he’d spent a week behind enemy lines took root. I read, probably ten to fifteen books about him and his real life. Learned he’d gone to Yale, became a schoolteacher and left a string of swooning broken-hearted young ladies all over Connecticut back in the late 1770s. I learned that he was a progressive young man who believed that women should be educated. And that in the summer of 1775, he dropped everything and joined the Continental Army. And that, in September 1776, a few months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence and his twenty-first birthday, Nathan was hanged from an apple tree by the British and left there to rot, a disgraceful death at the time.

I also learned that Nathan’s great, great, great something or other grandfather was John Hale, one of the accusers in the Salem Witch Trials. And that Nathan was born with a mark on his neck called a witch’s mark, which he’d grown up believing foretold that he would die by hanging.

I also dragged my kids to visit the Hale homestead in Coventry, Connecticut. I’d become, in a word—really obsessed. Because the more I learned about Nathan, the more I liked him. Nathan Hale was not some fusty, musty forgotten figure from history. Nathan Hale was not a QUOTE. Nathan was a good-looking, charming, brilliant, super-educated colonial hottie who was willing to basically throw his life away for his ideals. Now how hot is that?

And so, I was pumped. I was going to write this thing. Hells, yes.

But I hit a wall.

What did I know about writing historical fiction?

Writing historical fiction, I soon found out, involved a lot more than simply researching the background of the character you wished to write about.

It entailed understanding social moirés, dress styles, customs, style of language, etc. I had no idea where to begin with that.

So, sadly, I let the entire idea fizzle out and went on to other projects. Like Breaking Glass, and Vision, and Until Beth, and The Garden of the Lost.

Fast forward to 2014, TURN and Elizabeth Langston.

In our talks, Elizabeth and I had decided that we’d watch TURN together and live chat about it. In one of our chats, I bemoaned the fact that Washington's Spies, the book that the show is based on, had a first chapter that was not even mentioned in the show. And that first chapter was about Benjamin Talmadge (who is a big character in TURN) and his very dead best friend, young Nathan Hale.

How, I whined to Elizabeth, could they have not at least MENTIONED Nathan, America’s very first spy? I mean, the CIA headquarters has a statue of him. How could they not have at least dropped the poor guy’s name even once?

That got us talking. And Elizabeth mentioned that she had also found Nathan Hale to be an intriguing figure.

Elizabeth: Nathan would be an amazing hero in any YA or NA story. He was hot, smart, charming, athletic, and visionary. When he loved--whether it was his family, a woman, or his country--he was fierce. About the only flaw he had (and it was a fatal flaw) was being too impulsive. What author wouldn’t want to get her hands on that character?!

So, that’s when the wheels started turning inside my Squirrel-on-Crack brain. Elizabeth may remember this differently, but the voice in my head said this.

Lisa: Elizabeth is a GREAT writer. Elizabeth knows her historical stuff. Elizabeth is cool. We worked really well together on those three covers we did. Like we almost read each other’s minds. Elizabeth is logical and analytical whereas I am—BONKERS. Hmmmm…”

“So, I said—would you—what do you think about if we, like, wrote something together about Nathan Hale?”

Okay—let me tell you—I was totally ready for that giant yawn, I was so used to getting. But no—instead I got a different response. And if I had the to patience to scroll back through eight months of furious Facebook messaging, I’d even be able to pull up the actual discussion…but it doesn’t really matter.

Elizabeth: What I said was--I’m in. When do we start?

And the rest is, yeah—you guessed it. The rest is history.

Find out how, we started the ball rolling in Part 2 of Adventures in Co-Writing:

You can visit Elizabeth Langston on her website and blog.

1 comment:

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