In Chapter 17 of my newest novel, THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS, Max, my dude bro character, draws his new friend and food truck-mate, Jordan.
The thing is, I don’t draw. Unlike Max, who is a closet artist, I am notably deficient when it comes to visual art. I am not a visual learner. My hearing is my super power; I hear everything. But drawing? I’m a stick-figure guy at best.
So when it came time for Max to draw, I enlisted the help of an artist friend, Staci Edwards. When I was artist-in-residence years ago at the Mesa Library, I helped Staci with her (extremely impressive) writing. She was more than happy to help me in return.
So Staci read the scene and came over with her art supplies. She then verbally walked me through her process as she did what Max was doing, which was to draw Jordan’s poem, in which he talks about being underground and trying to dig his way out, with the oxygen running out.
This is what Staci drew:
And how she did this was loosely translated into Ch. 17, although of course I had to take into account Max’s voice and situation.
The coolest thing about this was that she wound up drawing a boy under the earth, trying to scratch his way out, and then another boy on the earth, trying to help. This wasn’t in the poem; it was just where Staci went as an artist. The result is so compelling to me, and as these things tend to do, it impacted my writing AND the story.
Staci noticed that the boy on top looks more like Jordan than the boy underground. And Max is amazed to notice that unwittingly, he’s put himself under ground, with Jordan trying to help him. Which leads to the last line:
“Am I actually the boy on the bottom? Am I digging up and out of oxygen? Is Jordan digging down to save me?”
That, to me, is the sort of insight that can happen when I open up to the writing process and stop trying to control the story. I didn’t see this at the time, but Max, who is in his own mind a super-hero and thinks he’s saving Jordan, is also being saved, in a way. And later, when the two exhausted boys lie together on the gym carpet, “waiting for the next thing to happen,” the image recurs.
This time Max is on top of Jordan, which makes sense at this point in the novel. When my husband read it, he said the mirror of that earlier image was a really smart touch.
And here’s the thing: I DIDN’T DO THAT!
I had no intention of a recurring image or motif. And that’s how writing works for me. By stepping into the book, giving up control, and seeing what can happen, these kinds of cool things come to life.
Just so you see it, Staci later painted the boy underground and gave it to me as a present. I love it so much! Thank you, Staci, for sharing your genius with me and letting it change my book for the better!