Friday, May 11, 2012

The Editorial Letter Stage... and How I Immersed Myself in the WWI Era While Revising

On March 23, 2012, my brilliant editor, Maggie Lehrman of Amulet Books/Abrams, sent me a seven-page letter detailing her suggestions for In the Shadow of Blackbirds. I was on vacation at the time, which was probably for the best. I tend to want to jump directly into revisions once I receive them, but a long car ride between northern Washington and Portland, Oregon, helped me process the changes and let ideas marinate.

Fast forward to May 8, 2012. My manuscript and I came to an agreement that we had spent enough time together during the past six-plus weeks. I was starting to fuss over minor word choices, which will be tackled during the next stage of revisions anyway. My major changes to characters, plot, and setting were done, and it was time to see what Maggie thought of the revisions. I sent her the book that afternoon.

I don't know yet what she thinks, but I can say I survived the editorial letter stage! It certainly wasn't the first major edit for this book, but it was the first time I revised the manuscript knowing the novel will actually be heading into the world for others to experience and judge. I honestly had a blast digging further into my characters' lives and expanding my fictional world, and I can't wait to share the book.

Here are some of the ways I immersed myself in my 1918 setting while I worked:

1. I Devoured WWI-Inspired Entertainment.
Just ask my husband, the nighttime TV viewing in my household turned a little WWI-centric during the past weeks. We started watching Season One of the 1920s-set HBO series Boardwalk Empire on DVD, and I was thrilled to discover that WWI veterans play key roles in the plot. Young gangster Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) turns to the dark side after fighting in the trenches of France, and lost soul Richard Harrow (John Huston) suffers severe facial injuries that cause him to come home from war wearing a chilling mask. I loved the plot points involving these two damaged anti-heroes.

Also on TV during my revisions: the BBC adaptation of Sebastian Faulks's Birdsong. More life in the trenches for my husband and me.

 2. I Read Katherine Anne Porter's "Pale Horse, Pale Rider."
Not only did I pull out all my WWI nonfiction books during my edits, but I checked out a copy of Katherine Anne Porter's "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" from my local library. During my research of the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, Porter's name always came up as a famous sufferer of the deadly, life-altering illness that gripped the world in the fall of that year. "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" is an emotional, fictionalized account of Porter's experiences during the flu and the war, and I'm so glad I finally read her haunting passages.

3. I Repeatedly Listened to a 1960s Folk Song.
What? 1960s? Yes, I fast-forwarded several decades past my characters' time period for musical inspiration. In January of this year, I shared my In the Shadow of Blackbirds playlist over at The Lucky 13s, and one of the songs I discussed was Donovan's "Catch the Wind" from 1965. The lyrics perfectly epitomize my two main characters' struggle to be together while enduring the darkness of a troubled world. Each day after I'd drop off my kids at school before diving back into revisions, I'd play "Catch the Wind" in my car to get into the right mindset for deepening my characters' emotional connection.

Here's a taste of the song:

I also researched additional images from 1918 that I hadn't yet explored, but I'm not going to share any of those. Yet. In the Shadow of Blackbirds is slated to include early-twentieth-century photographs and artwork, so you'll just have to wait until the book debuts before seeing my pictorial inspiration.

On May 30 I'll offer tips for revising a novel over at The Lucky 13s.


Emma Pass said...

Congratulations on finishing your edits, Cat! And I will have to check out Pale Horse, Pale Rider. It sounds really interesting.

Cat Winters said...

Thanks, Emma! "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" was beautiful, dreamy, and sad, but it was perfect for my research. I hadn't ever read any of Katherine Anne Porter's works before, but now I want to hunt down more of her stories. She's a U.S. Southern Gothic writer from the 1900s.

Ara Burklund said...

I keep hearing that Boardwalk Empire is a lot of fun. I'll have to check it out. Congratulations on finishing this round of edits!!! : )

Cat Winters said...

Thanks, Ara!

Boardwalk Empire is highly enjoyable, but I should add (in case teens are coming through) it's definitely for adult audiences. It's an HBO series, so the sex, violence, and language isn't remotely close to PG-13.