My friend Ruth Madison invited me to talk about my next big project. This chain letter of sorts is an opportunity for authors to connect with each other as well as discuss their works in progress.
I’ve chosen to deviate from the norm by telling you about my novel coming out on November 1, since that actually is my next big project.
What is the
working title of your book?
What is the one-sentence synopsis?
The story is about two best friends: one wants to kill himself, the other bargains for a week to change his mind.
Where did the idea come from?
Patty Seyburn, an undergraduate fiction professor, assigned us each to write 50 first sentences of stories. For number 49 (no joke, I looked it up) my mind spit out, “An eerie calm falls over you when you finally decide to kill yourself.”
I stopped and stared at those words. I instantly knew there was a story in there, and I needed to uncover it.
At the time, I had no idea where the sentence came from. In retrospect, I have known suicidal friends and wanted to explore the subject in my writing. Now I had my foot in the door.
What genre does your book fall under?
The genre is literary, otherwise known to my theatrical side as drama, otherwise known to my cinematic side as indie. For readers who know my work in the suspense genre, don’t worry; mystery and suspense always play a role in my particular brand of storytelling.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I have a large cast of characters, so I’ll stick with the key people:
- Alex Evergreen (our protagonist): Joseph Gordon-Levitt
- Ed Cohen (our protagonist/narrator): Andrew Garfield
- David Morgan (Alex’s father): Jon Hamm
- Shannon Elliot (Ed’s girlfriend): Anna Kendrick
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My imprint King’s Men Press will publish the book on November 1. KMP was founded to release selected works, and The Last Night will be the second book produced under that banner. The first was my debut collection of previously published and premiere shorts called The Lookout and Other Stories.
Fun fact: The title story, “The Lookout,” is a spin-off the very first pages ever written of The Last Night, back when the book was told in the second person. (See the next answer for further development.)
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The short answer is two-and-a-half years. The longer answer acknowledges that the road to the first draft was filled with multiple starts and stops.
The narrative began in the second person, based on the inspirational sentence, “An eerie calm falls over you when you finally decide to kill yourself.” This technique worked for about 70 pages until the point of view became too limiting. Then I switched to first person narration from Alex’s POV. When I needed more emotional distance from his dilemma, I changed to third person before determining that Ed’s voice was the best way to tell this story.
The first draft clocked in at 200 pages (not counting the 100+ pages I trashed beforehand). Then I dumped another 140 and wrote 200 more to achieve the final manuscript over the next two years. This lengthy process turned out to be ideal training for writing a novel because I had the opportunity to try everything. For you writing nerds out there, the aforementioned page numbers are based on double-spaced, 12-point Courier font.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
This is the most difficult question because, frankly, I haven’t found any books that directly correlate. I’m certain this gray area was a factor when agents told me that they liked the story but couldn’t figure out how to market it to readers. The closest I’ve come across is A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby about a group of suicidal strangers who form an alliance to help each other out.
I think the challenge of this particular story—that is, creating a suicidal protagonist without making the book depressing or absurd—is a difficult balancing act. Most novels will use an attempted suicide as the prologue to the main story. My premise wraps the suicidal desire around the spine of the narrative.
The subject matter (in the broadest sense) may be similar to Hornby’s novel, but stylistically, my clean prose and understated tone is most akin to Steve Martin’s fiction.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Authors always told me that your first novel should be the story you would write if you could only write one book in your entire life.
The Last Night happened to be the second idea I worked on, but I was compelled to postpone the other manuscript because Ed and Alex’s story needed to be told. I didn’t understand what that meant for a long time, but I knew it was powerful and unique.
That first novel idea, my current manuscript, was damn good back then and has only gotten better because I learned a lot by writing The Last Night first. In the end, I chose wisely.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The novel runs the whole gamut of emotions, from love to loss, from fear to friendship, from hate to humor, without being overwrought on all accounts. Mostly, however, there is a drive behind the events because, in my mind, character and plot should be inseparable and balanced. A lot happens over the course of this story, and I think I’ve achieved an in-depth character study alongside a constantly moving adventure.
I’ve read this book about 20 times, and I am still finding new details. I hope the reader will have a similar experience.