By Guest Blogger, Kristin Wolden Nitz
Saving the Griffin (Peachtree, 2007).
When I finished The Griffin for the first time, it was just over 18,000 words long. It opened with Kate and her younger brother Michael having batting practice in a Tuscan Garden. When Kate dove under a laurel bush to retrieve a foul ball, she found herself nose to beak with a young griffin. After a series of odd dreams and a near-disastrous trip to Siena, Kate and Michael figured out how to help the griffin get back where he belonged.
While Lisa, my editor at Peachtree, liked the story and the characters of The Griffin, she felt it would be better to bring in a stronger manuscript to the acquisitions meeting. So we set up a time for a phone call to discuss her concerns. She feared some of the fantastical elements would be confusing, but liked how the first leakage from the other side came through a journal entry. Could I do more with that?
Defending Irene (Peachtree), I’d had lots of authentic Italian characters. Could I bring some in to raise the stakes and complicate things for my characters? She also suggested that I come up with some kind of a ticking clock to raise the tension. I said that I’d try to come up with some ideas. I suspect that I sounded less than confident. Two days after the phone call, I sent Lisa an email with “Re-visioning” as the subject line.
I’m quite sure I picked up that term from Darcy at some of the retreats that we’d attended together in Arkansas. The five or six paragraphs contained the bare bones of the changes that I’d be making.
Lisa responded with the following: “These all sound like terrific ideas…I knew you’d have some!!! Keep going…and keep me posted.”
About seven weeks and six thousand words later, I finished another draft. The odd dreams were gone, but that trip to Siena became absolutely disastrous. It kicked off a frantic twenty or so hours for my characters. I brought in several interesting Italian characters, composites of various people I knew.
Then I printed up the 24,000-word manuscript and sent it out. After another seven weeks, Lisa called to let me know that The Griffin had made it through acquisitions. Maybe I should have been a bit more apprehensive when she said we had a lot of work to do, but I had just received the best present imaginable for my 40th birthday.
Getting to Work!
Eventually Lisa called to let me know that the edited manuscript was on the way and said something along the lines o, “Now don’t panic when you get it back.”
She suggested that I look at each edit in terms of sharpening the relationships between the characters, clarifying the fantasy sections and more fully explaining the Italian elements. The package arrived.
Usually, I’ll read through an editor’s comments in one sitting. But after 90 minutes of studying the notes in the margins, I was just too depressed to continue. After all, it would take a good reader less than two hours to read through the manuscript itself.
I was overwhelmed.
I was intimidated.
I put it away for the night.
The next morning, I made myself some coffee and finished reading the edits. Then I went back to the beginning and made notes on Lisa’s notes. It became clear that some of the things in my head hadn’t quite made it onto the page. Other things that had actually made it onto the page didn’t work the way I thought they would.
It took awhile, but eventually I was able to look at each comment through Lisa’s prism. Often, I followed her suggestions to the letter. At other times I thought really hard about why she made those suggestions in order to clarify what was going on and still take the story in the direction that I wanted it to go.
I struggled to meet that deadline. In fact, one entire scene was only a few days old when I printed up the manuscript and sent it out the door. I was rather surprised when Lisa didn’t ask for any changes. But I really liked all of the new characters and the way they interacted with my original ones.
I now find myself hauling out a slightly modified version of Lisa’s prism when I get comments and suggestions from editors and fellow writers. When I read a comment, I evaluate it in terms of relationships, plot and setting. I check to make sure that everything in my head is on the page. And I examine what’s on the page to see if it’s really working the way I thought it did.
My final draft of Saving the Griffin–before line edits–was about 32,000 words long. The book opens with Kate and her younger brother Michael having batting practice in a Tuscan Garden. After a series of fantastical interactions and a near-disastrous trip to Siena, Kate and Michael figure out how to help the griffin get back where he belongs. But the journey is much more interesting.