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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

We Who Are About To Rewrite Salute You

I’m back in the Rewrite Room of the Damned, and it’s all Diane Whiteside’s fault. Recently she volunteered to look over my current work in progress, Highway from Hell, a retelling of the Orpheus myth from Eurydice’s point of view. Greater love hath no writer than this, that she will lay down her critique for her friends.

Of course, this meant I actually had to pay attention to the crit. To make things worse—er, better—er, way scarier, Diane phrased her remarks so much like Teri Smith, my late writing partner, it lifted the hairs on the back of my neck.

“You’ve got a great character in Eurydice,” Diane said. “You’re right in there with her, feeling everything she feels, right from the start. But your readers will be coming to this from the point of view of Orpheus. Everything they've ever read has always been about him. Your challenge will be to show what Eurydice is fighting for. Is it the sex? Is it the lifestyle? Why would she go through this kind of hell to get back together with him?”

Although she didn’t get to write as much of the story as she (and I) would’ve liked, Teri helped me develop the plot for Highway. She hated Orpheus. She thought he was pond scum, and she fought me tooth and nail every time I tried to give him a redeeming feature.

But at the same time, like Diane, Teri never lost sight of the image our version of the story was going up against. Orpheus, the poet. Orpheus, the doomed and driven lover. Orpheus in Hercules, the Legendary Journeys, and Xena, Warrior Princess.

Diane’s critique also reminded me of comments I’d received from three beta readers who, unlike me, didn’t spend their teenage years in a purple fan girl haze looking for raspberry berets in the second hand store. These beta readers couldn’t understand why Eurydice got involved with Orpheus in the first place. He’s a demanding, narcissistic snot.

Well, duh. He’s also the sexiest, demanding, narcissistic snot on two legs, with a voice that makes trees dance and goddesses wail. Just hanging with him turns you into one of the cool kids. Living with him means you never have to wait in line. Bouncers and Line Nazis fall over themselves ushering you behind the velvet rope. Maitre des seat you at the best table in the restaurant, even though you don’t have a reservation and the place is booked until the next millennium. Whatever you wear, it’s in this minute. Cartier and Tiffany’s beg you to wear their bling. The hottest designers fawn over you and send you next season’s shoes wrapped in hand-printed tissue paper.

And everybody on earth is pea green jealous of the very air you breathe. Even the old farts who say they aren’t. They’re just so bitter they’re lying through their teeth.

It doesn’t hurt that so many hit lyrics come down to: “You do me wrong, but still I’m crazy about you.”

It’s part of the package. It’s expected.

Just like it’s expected Orpheus will act like a hero.

Oh *bleep*! I gotta write that in, don’t I?

Diane’s critique and my response to it also highlight another aspect of the writing process we writers tend to overlook. We don’t always speak the same language as our readers, even when we think we’re all working in English.

Those three readers were telling me the same thing Diane did. But when they said it, all I heard was: “Orpheus is a jerk, and Eurydice was Too Stupid To Live for getting involved with him.”

Well, she was stupid for getting involved with him. But music junkies like me couldn’t imagine a young woman not falling for the glamour Orpheus represents. To us it’s a perfectly understandable stupidity. We’d commit it ourselves—if only someone would give us half a chance.

But my challenge as a writer isn’t just to play to that particular choir. I need to convey that glamour, that sense of earthy divinity rock fans invest in their idols, to the people who didn’t grow up with my passions or my expectations. Otherwise, they won’t get the story. It’ll be nothing more than a race of pretty words to “The End”. I bleed too much in my stories to settle for that.


(Lyrics from "Ain't That Peculiar" by Smokey Robinson, Marvin Tarplin, Robert Rogers and Warren Moore)


Gia Dawn said...

Orpheus, ancient rock star. Gotta love it! Gia

Jean Marie Ward said...

Well, not so ancient in my version. *g*
But if you read the myths, what else could he be? And if that's the case, what was it like for Eurydice?
Hugs and grins,
Jean Marie