Friday, November 4, 2011

Enormous Changes at the Last Minute

So, days before I was almost completely finished with re-re-rewrites on the manuscript, and fantabulous designer Kurt Thomas completed the book cover, the Penn State child molestation scandal broke in pretty much every U.S. media outlet. Students rioted on campus, get this, in support of coach joe Paterno, who allegedly knew about the abuse, but did nothing.

What does this have to do with Every Time I Think of You? Very little, actually. But I had months before decided to have the main characters eventually attend Penn State. It has, and historically for the book's timeline, had, the state's largest Forestry department.

It seemed a no-brainer. Reid should go to Penn State. For the potential sequel, I could easily do some research and recreate my own similar 80s college experiences at Ohio State to the similar university.

But the scandal changed everything. Even though one of my readers, an author and Penn State alumnus, gave me pointers on a few facts about the campus, I suddenly realized I wanted nothing to do with this now-tainted university. Even though my book takes place 30 years ago, the mere thought of having to bring this problematic school into my literary world became unthinkable.

Here's Washington Blade Editor Kevin Naff a Penn State alumnus, sharing his thoughts on it from a gay perspective.

So I switched Reid's major to one that wasn't anachronistic, and chose Temple University. Philadelphia is a big change from State College for a latter chapter setting, but I moved a few parts around and made the changes.

In the end, I think it turned out to be a wise choice. The idea of characters attending school in a big city, and even further across Pennsylvania from their home in Greensburg, has already inspired more ideas and potential than the somewhat isolated, and football-obsessed Penn State.

I found so much more applicable contemporary and historical stories about Temple U, like this one about a landscape architect student who won't let his disability stand in the way of his dreams. He's kind of a hybrid of traits that both Reid and Everett share.

Temple also has an honored place in the history of wheelchair basketball, another element in Every Time. Its Institute on Disabilities could play a major part in the possible sequel, because it existed at the time of the current novel.

So, wiping the taint of Penn State out of my book wasn't a quick decision, or an easy one, but I think it was the right one.

Others may choose to swiftly move on. Only a week later, the corporate media works toward dismissing and minimizing this scandal with a touchy-feely "let the healing begin" feature timed with the university's subsequent football game. Note the deliberate use of children in the accompanying photos.

No, sorry; it's not time for healing. It's time for arrests and investigations and jail time, including a closer look at the suspicious death of a prosecutor who tried to bring this horror to light years ago.

Sometimes, real events have an impact on fictional work. When I thought I had really "finished" PINS in 1998, Matthew Shepard was murdered (in a similar fashion to a character in PINS), and the Columbine shootings horrified me. Both events forced me to rethink how a school and a community react to a tragedy.

This also proved to me the advantage of being an independent author. Had I already submitted a manuscript to a publisher, it would have been very difficult to make so many changes.

Anyone who thinks authors sit cloistered alone in their privacy without a connection to the world doesn't know authors. We connect to the world in multiple ways.

(This post is pre-dated to not upstage my later more uplifting posts.)

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