Beginnings and Endings
This week is full of emotions: It’s my final week as an employee and resident of Northfield Mount Hermon School. We are moving to Detroit Country Day School in June, where I will take on a new role and a new life –– it’s a day school, so we will move out of the dorm and join the civilian ranks –– and I should hear an update from my agent regarding the status of a manuscript I sent her a few weeks back.
It’s a time of beginnings –– new job; and now that one book is off to my agent, it’s time to start the next. Assuming she can sell the one I sent her, I’ve started the sequel. (I’m an optimist; aren’t we all in this business?)
So what does it mean for me to “start a new book”? It means conceptualizing: sketching the characters and setting. Here’s a section from my pre-writing for the work-in-progress:
Blaise Academy is a small, traditional blue-blazer and skirt/cardigan New England boarding school with 350 boys and girls located near-ish to Hartford, with a view of the Connecticut River. In a world where “wealth” is relative, Blaise does not have the endowment of Exeter or Andover, and the Academy (and its leaders) can be placed in compromising positions to acquire the donations needed. It is a small school, where everyone knows everyone, a place where the sales pitch is “community,” a place where a few teachers do it all, and students are supposed to feel known by the adults in the community.
+Bo Whitney, 50-ish, former Hartford Courant reporter. Now an English teacher and hockey coach. Husband to HOS Kate. Out of place in this buttoned-up world. First-person narrator. Cynical about the wealth and privilege he’s surrounded by.
+Kate Whitney, Ph.D., Head of School. The first female head at Blaise Academy. And she feels the responsibility to carry the torch successfully.
Trent Highsmith, senior, from NYC. Has the world by the ass and knows it. Life comes easy to him. He’s 6’2”, 215 lbs, and will play linebacker at Brown. SATs aren’t quite as good as his haircut, but they’re close, and that’s good enough for Brown –– if you’re All New England. He is a four-year senior at Blaise, and is popular enough to be on the Student Council, but too lazy to do the work, so he doesn’t run. He would receive a Jeep for graduation, except that he got it a year ago. On a campus where cars are prohibited among students, Trent has been seen (by many including the Whitney kids) driving the Jeep. Of course, the deans can’t prove that. The book begins in April, six weeks before graduation, the day before Trent is found severely beaten in the woods behind his dorm. Trent is a difficult character to like, and we need to stress his positives to build sympathy –– he volunteers at home and worked a summer camp where he met and worked closely with Ryan Kinsley, 7, a wheelchair-bound boy, who Trent often took swimming.
+ series’ family of character
Starting a new book also means establishing goals for the book . . .
This book is not about sexual violence; it is about emotional manipulation and toxic masculinity and how far a young girl will go to find approval.
My character list is 14 people long, and I have a plot sketch as well. Part of that sketch is here . . .
. . . This is a dark story, one of manipulation and toxic masculinity. Bo’s cynical voice will highlight this. This is also a story in which readers are forced to consider the role of justice in the criminal justice system: Was Trent’s attack justified? In the end, Trent will recover and go off to Brown, and Hillary will be in therapy, and Bo will be forced to decide whether or not to tell Connecticut State Trooper Mitt Houston what he has learned, essentially defining justice in this book.
And so I’m off and running, looking over my shoulder at my sketches and plot concept and always willing to pivot if need be. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this approach or how they set about writing a new book.