The novel’s main character, Denise Holton, was a blend of my wife and myself. Her hopes and fears about her son Kyle are accurately portrayed and drawn from our own experiences. This was my most personal novel, in many ways, and the most challenging to write.
The challenge didn’t stem from the portrayal of Denise’s relationship with Kyle. Instead, it had to do with the pacing and structure of the novel. When I was halfway through the writing of the novel, I was struck with a major case of writer’s block.
The problem had to do with the relationship between Denise and Taylor, and for a long time, I didn’t know how to handle it. In the novel, the progression of their relationship from their first conversation at the corner store to falling in love covered approximately seventy pages. That part was fine. But from there, because of Taylor’s internal conflicts, I had to dissolve the relationship. I understood that part, too. The problem was that I had to dissolve the relationship in roughly the same number of pages as the relationship had taken to build, and to do this even though neither character wanted it to happen and while both of them still loved each other. At the same time, it had to seem perfectly natural and plausible.
It was a tremendous challenge. The buildup and dissolution had to be about the same number of pages because of pacing and its effect on the overall quality of the novel. If the dissolution happened too quickly, the reader would question whether Taylor and Denise had ever been in love or if it was simply an infatuation. Had there been an obvious reason for the dissolution, Taylor’s character would lack coherence and it wouldn’t be consistent with the central crisis in his character, “the inability to commit.” Had either of them wanted it to happen, Taylor’s character wouldn’t make sense.
I remember reaching that point in the novel, my hands hovering over the keyboard, and simply stopping. I figured I’d think about it for a day or so and the answer would come.
But the day turned into a few days, then a week. Then a couple of weeks. Then a month. Then another month. By then, I was getting worried. Nothing I considered would seem to work and I’d thrown out hundreds of ideas.
My agent was the one who finally helped come up with the answer. How we solved the problem was to work backwards in the story. The last step in the dissolution was the break-up, that was obvious. But what was the immediate preceding event that led to it? Taylor hurt Kyle’s feelings in some way, though he hadn’t meant to, and Denise can’t live with that. What did he do? He’d promised to take Kyle to a baseball game for his birthday and didn’t show up. Why didn’t he show up? He swears it was an honest mistake. But Denise knows it’s more than that because? A few days earlier, Taylor didn’t drive her into work either. Why didn’t he do that? Because. . .
We worked it all the way back to the point in the novel where I was stuck, and once I had the general idea of how it was all going to happen, I was able to start writing again. I finished the novel within a few weeks.
On a lighter note, most of the names mentioned in the novel are names of friends of mine in the town where I live. For instance, Taylor McAden comes from the names of the Taylors and the McAdens. Carl, Rhonda, Kim, Ray, Melissa, Bart. . . all names of friends. Denise was named after the producer of Message in a Bottle, and she is also a friend.