Thoughts

Writing the Rails!

 

It’s Black Friday and I’m on a TRAIN! Sitting in the observation car, windows all around me, a table and tea, a charged computer, I’ve got (YIKES) 9,000 words to go to complete NaNoWriMo! I’ve been dreaming of this day all week, in the swirl of family and friends. I’ve been working towards this moment for months, and I’ve got 16 chapters written—the shittiest draft I’ve ever done of anything! Mirror, Imag(in)e, my Snow White sendup, has matured from its first iteration as act two of the opera Snow and Ashes, which I wrote HUH? Like twenty years ago? Only twenty years ago. At that time, I had conceived of the dwarves as Nevada’s high school squad, seven guys who weren’t ready to have girlfriends or be princes or whatever, and they also did beatbox hiphop. I think that was the dealbreaker for my collaborator, soon-to-be-world-famous-composer David Garner, who invited me to write a libretto for him. Knowing nothing about writing operas of course, only to make fun of them, I set the first scene in a bathroom and had the dwarves rap.

Fast forward to HAMILTON, in which Lin Manuel Miranda (or as I always accidentally call him, Carmen Lin Miranda) shows the world that hiphop IS musical theater! I saw it last week, (taking precious time away from the laptop), and wow, we’re in a whole new world now. Musicals were O-U-T 20 years ago, when the opera turned into a musical, and the rap turned into barbershop. The dwarves turned into college students in the nerdiest frat ever, and Nevada’s 49-day sleepover with them now help her find out who she really is.

Landscapes rush by the train windows—backs of houses here, a canal there, graffiti and weeds close up and hills just turning green in the distance. The sky is blue, and the sun shifts over my head and back again as the track turns, shadows dancing across the table in front of me, rays striking my eyes or whitening my screen for a second, everything in motion. I am closing in on the end of the story, the final big twist, and I’m working up the nerve to write it. How many times this month have I gotten that stuck feeling? I’ve never had writers block before. There’s a difference between running a marathon and doing a dance. The latter inspires me. The first intimidates me. And yet here I am, writing a marathon today, struggling through every scene, but now so very close to the finish line.

Today is also the birthday of my friend Alexandra Alisé, who, while we were dancing girls, brought opera close up and personal. She is obsessed with Snow White and gave me the idea for the original concept, “what if Cinderella and Snow White were best friends in high school?” Happy birthday to my muse! Before I dive into the home stretch of this novel, that has gained momentum over the years with inspiration from so many people—from my college pals to Terry Schiavo to Harry Connick Jr.—I send this diva some badass self-made princess kisses, plus a little glimpse of the new book that reflects the true spirit of girlfriendship that underlies everything.

The Souls of Her Feet, the first book in The Fairytale Reality Project, is narrated by Ashley St. Helens, but Mirror Imag(in)e is narrated by 15 characters around Nevada LeBlanc, each of them reflecting (get it, reflecting) on her bizarre story of attempted murder, unconsciousness, and true love. In Ashley’s chapter, she is talking about her sudden rise to fortune when Nevada didn’t show up to prom (hmm, plot point), and Jeff Prince selected her as queen.

Our friendship began the week after prom, when I was suddenly famous after being chosen from the crowd by Mister Popular. People who had always passed by me and my big feet were now congratulating me, waving, and obsequiously complimenting my toenail polish. But I also heard plenty of whispers about how I “stole Nevada’s date” and “stole her crown.” I was nervous to meet her officially, but about two seconds after Jeff introduced us properly, Nevada rolled her eyes and said, “This gossip is ridiculous. Lets hold hands on the way to class. That will give them something else to talk about.”

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As I write these words, the city outside disappears and a great expanse opens up, filling the windows with marsh lands and ponds full of shorebirds. I notice I am looking down into the depths of the sky. Mirror, mirror. Who needs a wall?

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