Sunday, June 17, 2007

On Writing Diva NashVegas

Today, I was thinking of some of the elements I tried to weave into Diva NashVegas and decided to blog them here.

Whether you've read the book or not, maybe you'll find it interesting.


Since I've never been a country superstar, nor do I know one, I had to make up a lot of the story from my own understanding of the super star life - and from watching one too many episodes of Access Hollywood or a Barbara Walters' Special.

I read several bios both in book form and online. While in Nashville researching, I had lunch with artist Kim Hill. She was a blast and had some really great experiences to share with me. Through her, I learned what it was like to be on tour. How the music business worked from the inside. And how a public life might effect a private life.

While my diva needed to be some what larger than life, I did not want her to be a mean, hard character. Driven, strong, focused, yes, but not selfish or nasty.

Coming up with her Name

While talking with a friend about this book, I mentioned the name I'd planned to use. He said, "Better not. There's a porn star by the same name."

Ooops. I Googled and sure enough. Now, I didn't ask him, young man that he is, how he knew my intended heroine would have the same name as a porn star.... Hmm, note to self.

So, I picked Aubrey James. Googled it and found it to be a safe choice.

The Scenario

Since I write chick lit, I thought it was best to come at this story from a "lower" stand point. You know, the girl-wannabe who is in Nashville trying to make it. Since American Idol is so popular, I thought about making Aubrey a contestant on a "Idol" like show, but as I talked the story out with people, it seemed best to change the angle of the story and have Aubrey be a super star.

The idea made me nervous. I can relate to being a wannabe, but how would I create the life of someone really famous? Research. Which I don't like very much but consider it a very intricate part of my writing.

The Interview

Some how I got the idea to have her be a media mystery and wrap the story around an interview. If I started the story with her being a super star, how did she get there? What are her thoughts on being famous? Who is the real Aubrey James?

Formatting the interview caused me a lot of heart burn. How should I make it look? Should I just drop back and have the interview appear like standard narrative text set apart by italics? It was really a puzzler.

Ami McConnell, my grand editor, and I decided to have the interviewer's point of view in the story, so I knew I didn't want to leave him out of the interview scenes. I liked Scott Vaughn a lot and wanted to him to bring out things in Aubrey as they talked. I felt it was important for the reader to "see" and "hear" Scott's interaction and reaction to Aubrey.

I was two-thirds of the way through the book before I found a solution to my problem of how to present the interview. But more on that later.

Coming up with the Hero

Originally, the interviewer was going to be female. Beth Rose. Aubrey's love interest was to be another songwriter. But when my dear friend and author Christine Lynxwiler read the synopsis, she suggested making the interviewer male and Aubrey's love interest.

Brilliant. From a writing stand point, it really streamlined the story and created an on stage scenario for tension and conflict.

If I'd remained with a female interviewer, I would've had to develop something between them - rivalry or friendship - and I didn't have the space for it in this story. Looking back, I can't imagine doing it that way.

Once I put Scott opposite Aubrey for the interview, I knew there had to be a residue between them - a bad meeting previously or something.

That's when I decided they... Well, I won't say more. If you read the book, then you know.

A Diva's posse

In my research, I read the autobiographies of several Nashville elites. Man, they have a thousand people around them at any given time! Manager, business manager, booking agent, tour manager, band manager, assistant, lawyer, producer, musicians, security, trainer, house manager, cook, nanny, stylist, employees for their merchandise business, roadies, musicians, etc, etc, etc.

I started out with quite a few people in the opening stage scene where Aubrey is waiting to go on for CMA Fest, but readers found it a bit confusing, so I paired it down to the essential people.

I brought in other key people throughout the story, but had to leave out people like the stylist.

Her Parents

All along I planned for Aubrey's parents to be gospel singers who met with tragedy. I was struggling how to tell their story through her eyes, imagining them being struggling artists before they died. While talking or emailing with Ami, I suggested maybe they were famous gospel singers. Ami replied, "I thought that all along."

Making them famous gave me a launching pad to make Aubrey famous as well as an experienced singer and musician. It also added the media intrigue I needed.

I read a fascinating article by John Carter Cash about his parents that helped me focus on what it would be like to be the child of icons.

The Betrayal

Why was Aubrey a media mystery and what would bring her out of hiding? Again, I'd worked on the book for over a month before I solidified why Aubrey finally agreed to a sit down, in-depth interview.

I'd created Melanie Daniels character and dubbed her the Judas, but she had no real reason to do it other than revenge. Which is a good reason, but as I worked through the story I added the motivation of Melanie's boyfriend. I felt it worked well.

I also tried to show how tired Aubrey was of her famous life. And how distant she felt from her family and any kind of normalcy. And, at the time of Melanie's betrayal she'd been the target for so many tabloid stories it didn't make sense to keep hiding.

Thus the line, "Everyone's talking about me but me."

How ideas morph

While looking for some sort of twist to Aubrey's character, I'd thought of her being a rebellious teen who ended up pregnant. The baby would've been put up for adoption, but Aubrey kept in touch with the parents. So, I thought the daughter might show up in the story.

After brainstorming with Ami, we decided to put Aubrey in foster care after her parents death and have a younger girl also in foster care at the same time. So, the character of Jennifer became an "adopted" baby sister instead of a baby up for adoption.

I wanted Jennifer to be black, but didn't feel I could do justice to her. Then, when I needed her to be a big Aubrey James fan, I didn't think it fit an African American woman well. Some times when I think of Jen's character, I still think of her as the original.

I like writing stories with characters from different races.

Developing the relationship between Aubrey and Jen was tricky and I rewrote the emails between them many times. In fact, when I turned in the manuscript for the first round of edits, I'd not done a good job of tightening the email portions so the relationship was unclear with my editor, Leslie. But, I fixed it.

Record label problems

This was perhaps the most frustrating part of writing the story. In my record company research I discovered a few things. One, artist don't make a lot of money at first. If ever. Second, record companies recoup all recording, promotion, tour, advertising, whatever, expenses from the sale of an artist album.

An artist has to sell Gold (500,000 copies) just to break even and make a little money. Of the 300,000 or so records released every year, only 300 sell more than 10,000 copies. Only about 30 go platinum.

An original idea was to have Aubrey in financial problems. But when I realized she was a mega star - think Faith Hill meets Amy Grant - I knew she would've made a lot of money on her albums and unless she was a total nut job, she would have money.

I decided she was financially smart, so money issue became a moot plot point. Yet, I wanted her to be in a dispute with her record label. How desperate I was to sit in a label meeting between artist and label head, but no one was asking me to sit in, so I had to make it up.

In order to create a realisitc conversation around the board room table, I had to have specific details about Aubrey's argument with them.

Good luck, me.

I could not find specific details to save my life! I even talked to a Nashville entertainment lawyer and a producer at the famous Blackbird Studios. All I got was "creative differenes" or "money issues."

Can you see Aubrey arguing with the label head going something like, "But we have creative differenes."

"Do it our way."

"But I want to do it my way."

What way? Why are they figthing? I thought such dialog was stupid.

More research taught me that record labels are looking for radio play, drive time songs that capture soccer moms. Okay, that could be a good dispute.

Some artist have argued with their label over a new album not having a "radio tune."

I'd planned to have Aubrey want to branch out and do something creatively different, so the argument over a radio song worked, but what else could I add?

All my Googling rendered nothing new or specific until I changed from record label Googling to record company Googling.

I found a forum of experts and one of them kindly gave me a list of eight things an artist and label might fight over.

I happily worked those into the story. They provided conflict as well as detail. The dialog sounded real and specific. I was happy.

About this time, I came across the resource that helped me figure out how to format the interview.

But more on that tomorrow.

Find out about Car's character, the why's and how's. And did you catch any of the symbolism in Diva NashVegas?

Check it out tomorrow.

1 comment:

Rel said...

Loved this post, Rachel :) I will be back tomorrow!!!