You Again Again, Part 2: What the Hell Is This Book About?

I have such a mass of stuff from trying to write You Again that going through it is going to be a nightmare. That means I need a touchstone, something that I can hold up beside each piece I find to see if it fits the concept of the book I’m writing now. Which means I need a concept. After which, I design the touchstone, which in this case is revamping my old collage. And after that, I go through a ten-year backlog of notes, pictures, drafts, outlines, e-mails from beta-readers, hoping that some of it strikes a chord and can be used again. Thank god it’s the Mercury retrograde; this stuff is perfect for that astrological clusterfuck.

The first thing I need is my protagonist. That’s Zelda. I’ve called her Esme and Roxie and a couple of other things, but she’s really always been Zelda. I’ve tried twice as many placeholders for her as I’ve had names, but what I’m really looking for is an attitude: No-nonsense, efficient, sharp sense of humor, driven, running so hard she’s forgotten she’s human, good heart, loyal friend, pushed to the breaking point as the story opens. She’s got dark hair and sharp eyes, and she’s not taking any more crap from anybody. So that’s good.

I had a lot of trouble with Zelda in the past because she didn’t have a reason to want what she wanted. That is, she wanted to find out who her father was, but if she didn’t, nothing awful would happen to her. So this time around, I’m giving her an incurable blood disease that might turn into leukemia (write what you know), and a need to discover who her paternal family is since the maternal side has died out. Zelda is the kind of person who will not rest until she has the answers she needs, and as the story progresses and somebody tries to kill her to stop her from finding out, she digs in deeper. That’s always a problem with protagonists and conflicts: why don’t they stop when the going gets rough? But for Zelda, the fact that the going is getting rough is more motivation to find out what about her past is so dangerous that somebody will kill her for it. Also, attempted murder pisses her off.

The question is, Why? What’s at stake? Many years ago, I told Bob Mayer I had a book I couldn’t fix, and he said, “Send it to me, I can fix anything.” Since that was pretty much true, I sent it to him to work on over the weekend. On Monday, he e-mailed me and said, “I’m going to need a little more time.” On Wednesday, he e-mailed me and said, “I’ll get this to you Friday.” On Friday, he e-mailed me and said, “What the hell did you do to this book?” On Sunday, he e-mailed me and said, “It’s about the house.” I e-mailed back and said, “It’s not about the house. I don’t know what it’s about, but it’s not about the house.” Because it wasn’t about the house. Fast forward ten years, and it’s still not about the house. I think it’s about money, about the money Zelda will gain and somebody else will lose if she finds out who her father was. But it’s more than that, it’s about belonging and family, too. So I have to cogitate. But I know who the antagonist is, and that’s huge. Well, I think I know who the antagonist is. I have it narrowed down to two.


But back to my protagonist. When I went back to my collage, which is still a great touchstone, I realized that there was no there there: Zelda was buried in the mass of images:

So I found a picture that seemed to sum up her attitude, glued a lot of play money to it, and stuck it in the middle. I had to print the picture out three times, making it bigger each time, but now, at last, Zelda dominates her story concept. Progress:

(Lousy picture on my make-shift desk late at night. I’ll come back to it when I’ve updated the whole thing.)

So I have protagonist, goal, and motivation, plus identity (Independent Fixer). I love this protagonist and I want to write her. I love the love interest, Our Guy, and I want to write the love story. But the basic plot? Clogged with back story (two, count ’em, TWO previous house parties) and nothing in there that’s fun or new. Until I had a scathingly brilliant idea . . .

Coming in Part 3: The Scathingly Brilliant Idea.

31 thoughts on “You Again Again, Part 2: What the Hell Is This Book About?

  1. My dog is named Zelda. She’s a Jack Russell terrier, so forever more, I shall be thinking of your Zelda as a terrier. You’ve pretty much described her as a terrier, anyway, although mine never forgets that she’s human. And terriers have lots and lots of attitude! Also awesome personalities.

  2. Can’t wait to hear the scathingly brilliant idea. The process leading up to the brilliant idea is fascinating. Is the place holder for Zelda Mary-Louise Parker? I love her. (Weeds and Red. Both are terrific.) Or is that Tina Fey? Love her, too. Off to find my glasses so I see more of the collage.

  3. Would it help at all to look at Zelda’s main problem by pretending you’re Spenser for Hire, or Hawk or even Emily Polifax, and see what they would see if they looked at the situation/collage/etc?

    (Best wishes!!!)

  4. That looks like Mary-Louise Parker to me, also, and I love her! I try to make her my protagonist all the time but she never wants to work with me. I can see her working with you, though.

  5. Did Bob maybe confuse the word “house” with “home”? If it’s about belonging and family, could she think that the house was a stand in for home?

  6. LOL, with you, there’s always a house. Great, wonderful houses.

    Well, very much looking forward to the next installment! (Little lightbulbs winking on and off with this post . . . feels like Christmas (-:.)

  7. I love the collages. One day there’ll be an art gallery asking to have a solo Jennifer Crusie collage exhibition. Maybe that’s already happened. Happy — happy writing 🙂

  8. Thank goodness for the The Scathingly Brilliant Idea.I’m all atwitter to find out what can save this hot mess of a book. (not that I really know what a hot mess is, I just like the phrase, so do bear in mind it may be wholly inappropriate.)

  9. You love Zelda, you love Our Guy and you love their love. What’s missing from this list?

    And chance you could just burn down the damned house and walk away from it, taking Zelda, Guy and their Love with you?

  10. Two collage things hit me: All those clocks! (I notice them because a recent collage of mine ended up full of clocks…and then I found out why.) Also, in the revised collage, Zelda doesn’t look in command of the money; it looks like it’s trying to swallow her up.

    Thank you so much for sharing your process. And hurray for scathing brilliance.

    1. Yes…my first thought as well…what’s with the clocks? What do they mean? Or am I supposed to figure that out…I’ve gotten quite good at that.

    2. Do the clocks represent that time is running out for Zelda if her disease truly progresses to leukemia and she has no bone marrow donor?

  11. Out of all the many writing books I’ve studied, nothing is as clear and helpful as your blogs. Thank you (again) for sharing. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    1. I’m starting to think all of the books from England that I grew up on were written over summer holidays, or in memory of summer holidays, or located in the summer holidays.

  12. “No-nonsense, efficient, sharp sense of humor, driven, running so hard she’s forgotten she’s human, good heart, loyal friend, pushed to the breaking point as the story opens. She’s got dark hair and sharp eyes, and she’s not taking any more crap from anybody. So that’s good.”

    Write what you know, indeed.

    I love this heroine.

  13. maybe it’s not the house, but the land. and it’s been tainted by some sort of illegal dumping and that is what has caused this odd blood disease. or not, but someone wants her out of the house. like an overly helpful real estate person

  14. This is so fun to read, thank you for making the time to share it.
    You get bonus points for stumping Bob.

  15. is there money in the house, or the land it’s on? the house is home for Zelda and $$$ for someone else? sorry. just some random thoughts as I read through your post and the comments.

    Love the description of Zelda and Mary Louise Parker as the stand in (Red! – really the only thing I’ve liked her in, but she was fantastic in it)

  16. My first thought was that this sounds like Davy from WELCOME TO TEMPTATION and FAKING IT, if he had grown up in a settled place with a regular, rather than chronic scamster, for a father. (And was a girl, of course.) One of my favorite characters ever – I look forward to seeing what you end up with!

    Re: house/home: there are plenty of places in the U.S. where “home” turns out to be the worst place to be – former dumping grounds for toxic chemicals, that meth lab that made the family who bought the place sick, etc. And there’s also grant money and clinical trials to study those areas, but the documentation needs to be rigorous. So maybe she needs to document something to get her upcoming medical care taken care of?

    I dunno, you’re the artiste but maybe something in that ramble will trigger a useful thought?

  17. maybe this is a dumb question, but does it have to be anything other than just really wanting to connect with her father/father’s side of the family? Does it have to be something else too?

    Just because someone asked a group of us recently “How did you know you wanted to have kids” and the answer was, we just really did. Some of us waited until something else (usually money) fell into place before we actually had them, but the wanting was just there, on its own, for the women who had it. “Why do you want a romantic partner?” is another one of those questions, and it seems like “why do you want to find your father” would be, too.

  18. In the Gothic Romance club, it was ALWAYS about the house. The house represented family and belonging and wealth and status. And safety. But until the heroine integrates with the house properly, until it becomes HER house, it’s dangerous.

    I am eagerly awaiting the Scathingly Brilliant Idea.

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