‘But who is on in the bar tonight?’
Before we start this month’s actually very special interview, I’m just back from another trip to Glencoe during which my pal Lora had reason to ask an actually very special–pertinent anyway–question. It was with regard to Sat nite’s entertainment. I confess I had no idea.
So I was astonished to see…..
I mean imagine that. I didn’t know the good captain could sing, play the bagpipes and bodrum either. But needless to say I was one of these waiting with anticipation last nite at 9 to find out.
Anyway this is a special interview. My guest today, Marie Carhart did not write the book she is here to talk about. When you see on the book trailer that this was a first and last book, by J.R.Egles, you may be wondering what that means exactly. Perhaps hoping it does not mean what you think.
I’m thrilled Marie’s here today and I just want to hand you over to one helluva lady and one helluva book.
Marie: Thank you for having me here today Shehanne.
But before we go any further, I have to give credit where it is due and that is to another Etopia Press author, Laura Diamond. Laura is the one that came up with the suggestion to discuss what it was like to bring The Kabrini Message to life and get inside Joe’s head via his manuscript. I was so happy with how that idea turned out that I asked Laura if it would be OK with her to continue to tell that story and she generously agreed! Here is a link to Laura’s blog: http://lbdiamond.wordpress.com/
OK, so here goes:
I’ve asked Amy Bell of WritePunch Inc. to join me since we will be discussing the process of bringing The Kabrini Message to life, and I could not have done it without Amy.
Amy: Aw, shucks. You are too kind, Marie. I feel honored to have had an opportunity to work with you—and Joe, at least in spirit.
Marie: As you know, The Kabrini Message is a novel written by my late brother, Joe Egles, back in 1987. I only recently discovered Joe’s manuscript (hand typed by our mother) in a box in my attic. It was in a manila envelope labeled “Joe’s Book” in my mother’s handwriting. You can read the full “story-behind-the-story” in the two-part blog post I wrote:
First of all, I have to say that I could never have done it alone. I had a lot of help from a very talented writer, Amy Bell of WritePunch Inc., whom I’ve asked to join me here today.
I asked Amy to polish the manuscript, flesh out the characters, elaborate on the ending (with more details), describe locations in more detail, etc. We also needed to update the technology and certain references to the present day. There were also two areas, as I recall, that Joe had written as the characters discussing what happened after the fact, and Amy revised both of those situations so that the reader is taken through those actual stories.
Amy and Rob
Amy: As soon as Marie contacted me and described how she’d stumbled across her late brother’s manuscript, I knew I had to take on this project. It was such a compelling, poignant story, and I truly believe that Joe and Marie’s mother led her to his manuscript. Then I actually read The Kabrini Message. I was absolutely blown away. For a book that was written back in 1987, it was incredibly timely and insightful—a unique mixture of buddy comedy action adventure (a la Indiana Jones) and deep space sci-fi.
Uh-oh. Sci-fi. When I realized the book ventured deeply into the sci-fi genre, I was suddenly petrified. Before Marie reached out to me, I had ghostwritten and edited an array of books—everything from religious memoirs to southern fiction novels to business books. But I had never so much as dabbled in the realm of sci-fi. And then, it dawned on me. I happen to be married to a rabid sci-fi fan. My husband Rob has been reading sci-fi books since he could reach his dad’s book shelves, and I can’t tell you how many sci-fi movies he’s dragged me to the theater to see. So, with Marie’s permission, I lent The Kabrini Message to my husband, who devoured the manuscript in one night. He was hooked, and he promised to help me with the project. At that point, I realized there was no way I could turn it down.
Marie: As far as getting into Joe’s head while working on the manuscript, I guess Amy had to do that more than I did – which had to be challenging, since she never met Joe. Somehow she was able to pull it off, though, because I could not tell who wrote what unless I got out the original manuscript and compared it to the edited chapters as she sent me each one.
Amy: Thanks, Marie. Now I’m blushing! Believe it or not, it was fairly easy for me to mimic Joe’s writing style. That’s because his style is actually quite similar to my own: simple, to-the-point and at times gritty and sharply sarcastic.
Although Joe had not written back stories or detailed physical descriptions for most of the characters, I could imagine who they were, what they looked like and where they’d been simply by reading their dialogue. (As a side note, my husband and I both agree that Joe’s direct, witty dialogue is some of the best either of us have ever read—especially in the sci-fi genre. He was a truly talented author.)
Marie: In fleshing out the main character of Jeffrey Driscoll, most of that is fictional. However, we gave him some of Joe’s background particularly regarding his love of astronomy, building telescopes, and hanging out at an observatory for fun during high school and college years.
Amy: Yes, and we enjoyed imagining Driscoll “as played by” Bradley Cooper. Not a bad vision to have in your mind all day.
Marie: No, definitely not!
Amy: For me, fleshing out the characters and modernizing the story was the easy and fun part. The most daunting task was elaborating on some of the stories and expanding the ending, which involved writing new content from scratch. This included a few chapters and stories that dealt heavily with futuristic technology, deep space realities and other sci-fi topics. That’s where my husband Rob saved the day. Not only is he a self-professed sci-fi nerd, but he’s also a veteran who spent a year in Afghanistan and currently works in federal law enforcement. There’s no way I could’ve pulled off this project without his vast knowledge of military, technology and national security topics. I can’t tell you how many times he researched bizarre tidbits for me, such as “what would happen to a dead body in outer space”? We’re probably on some government watch list after a few of those online searches! Google was definitely our best friend throughout this process.
Rob and I also spent a few nights brainstorming together over cocktails, debating over how to connect the dots and fill in the missing pieces for The Kabrini Message. I could not have done it without him…which is another reason why I think Joe “chose” me, or should I say us, for this project.
After our wine and beer-fueled brainstorming sessions, I would sit down at the computer the next morning and breathe a silent prayer. I asked God to let Joe speak through me. I know it sounds strange, but I was absolutely terrified that I would somehow screw up Joe’s manuscript. I realized The Kabrini Message was unfinished when Marie handed it over to me, and I wanted to stay true to Joe’s original story. I kept thinking, “If I wrote a rough draft of a manuscript and then died, and some random ghostwriter took it over and completely screwed it up, I would be livid! I would come back and haunt them!” Obviously, I didn’t want that to happen to me. So, I literally prayed to get it right, and I also asked Joe for guidance. When I struggled with the new content, I would take pause and ask, “What were you trying to say here, Joe? What the hell did you mean by this? How would Driscoll have handled this situation? How did you plan to connect these dots?”
And miraculously, the words would flow again. I can’t explain how it happened, but it did. Every time I asked Joe for help, the words came to me.
Marie: Thanks to Amy, by the time the manuscript went to the publisher, it was so polished that the only changes the publisher made during final edits all had to do with punctuation. They really did not change one word! Wait…I take that back. They did change one word. Everywhere it said “mankind,” they changed it to “humanity.” I guess “mankind” sounded sexist perhaps? But that was it!
As far as bringing The Kabrini Message to life, we were diligent to change as little as possible. We expanded the novel, but really took nothing out.
I couldn’t wait to read each chapter as Amy would complete the editing and send it to me! I made notations of questions and comments in red and we would go back and forth working on them. It was so much fun!
Amy: I would wait on pins and needles after sending Marie each chapter. “I’d always wonder, “Is she going to hate it? Is she going to say it sounds nothing like Joe and ask me to rewrite the entire thing?” But she was always ecstatic. Her excitement and enthusiasm was contagious, and I grew increasingly confident that I could actually pull off a sci-fi project.
Not only did I genuinely enjoy working with Marie, but at times we actually read each other’s minds. I would think something like, “We really need to change that one part about the Genie Drug,” and suddenly I’d get an email from Marie expressing the same opinion or idea.
Marie: Yes, the drug Athenium was originally called “The Genie Drug” and it was a serum discovered inside a crystal. We thought that should be changed, as drugs are not really named “The ‘something’ drug.” For example, Viagra is not called “The Impotence Drug.”
Amy: Actually, in the example I used, I’m pretty sure I called it “The Boner Drug.” Classy, I know.
Marie: Joe had also written that the drug was a ruby serum inside the crystal stone, but we figured the serum would have dried up after thousands of years. We decided to change it so that it wasn’t the actual serum in the stone, but the directions to make the serum inscribed on the stone. We chose the Tiger’s Eye as the stone itself because Joe described it as a large, football shaped crystal, which is also the shape of an eye. Also, Tiger’s Eye is one birthstone (in addition to Topaz) for November, Joe’s birth month.
Amy: Yes, that was a pretty major change from Joe’s original story, but we were worried “The Genie Drug” concept might come off as a little hokey in this day and age. We wanted to appeal to a modern audience of readers. I still worry that Joe might be mad at us about that one! After all, I spent this entire project trying to get inside Joe’s head and fill in the blanks in the way he’d originally intended. However, at times, it was challenging to walk the line between staying true to his story and ensuring The Kabrini Message is a huge hit today—25 years after Joe conceived the original manuscript.
Marie: I guess if I was able to get inside Joe’s head at all, it was the fact that I can hear him in the dialogue between his characters. It’s totally his sense of humor, and the conversations between the characters just sound like him to me and to other family members as well. In fact, the entire book just sounds like him, and we can hear his voice as we’re reading it! It was very important not to lose any of that in the editing and revisions, and we were completely successful – it is still 100% Joe’s personality and sense of humor.
Amy: Again, Joe wrote some of the funniest and most realistic dialogue I’ve ever read! As we worked on the book, Marie kept pointing out lines that “sounded just like Joe.” Even though I never met him, I feel like I know him, like we’re old pals. I’d love to sit down with Joe and share a few stories over drinks. Maybe I’ll have the chance one day.
Marie: Joe did weave a few personal things into the story. For example, Chapter 16 takes place at a radio station called KUX radio. Joe did work at radio stations and was also into ham radio, and his call letters were K2UX. Also, the character of the news reporter at the station is named Gwen Jones, the name of Joe’s real life wife!
There was a line in Chapter 31 that struck a chord with me, too. Mark Ranier (the Chief Extrusion Technician), tries to console his girlfriend Marla about the fact that it appears they will be stranded in space for several more years.
“It’s not forever,” Mark said, lacing his fingers in hers. “It’s just a continuation of…well…a different part of our lives. Or something.” It didn’t come out right, and he knew it was probably of no consolation to Marla. He hated how every time he tried to be sensitive, it just came across as awkward.
Something about that last line was, I believe, very telling. Joe was never one to show emotion, even though I know he loved his family very much. I think that line came straight from the heart.
Amy: I’ve always loved that line. It makes Mark, the ultimate tough guy, seem so vulnerable. When Marie told me it reminded her of Joe, it gave me chills.
Marie: All along, step by step, everything fell into place just as it should and just when I needed it to. There has been a very strong sense of guidance through the whole process—some subtle signs and some not so subtle!
There have been a lot of strange things happening around my house…lights flickering, computers going wacky, etc. Especially right before publication – that week my computer was going crazy, my fax machine wasn’t working right, my TV upstairs was turning off by itself and my TV downstairs had a picture but no sound on three different occasions! The night before publication, I was reading through the final proof from the publisher, and I remember thinking, “Please don’t mess with my computer tonight, I have to get this done.” I didn’t have one problem. (I guess I should have just asked sooner.) But as soon as I finished and thought to myself, “I’m done for tonight,” the lights flickered twice!
Amy: My computer also completely crashed a couple of days before publication. I was working on a few final edits to the back cover blurb, and my screen went completely black—something that’s never happened with this computer.
I figured Joe didn’t like the direction I was taking with the synopsis. When I emailed Marie with that concern, she assured me that he was just excited.
Marie: Oh, then there’s the author’s photo. Joe hated to have his picture taken so there are not many of them in existence. I asked my brother Bob, who has most of the family photos at his house, to try to find a shot of Joe from around the time the book was written. He managed to find one and tried to scan it and send it to me, but for some reason, it would not scan. Bob said that has never happened before, and he scans things all the time. The picture looked fine, but when you scanned it looked like a negative. So Bob physically brought the photo to me, I scanned it and it seemed to work. Do you know that somehow that photo managed to not make it into the ebook? The publisher apologized (I’m sure it was not their fault, I think someone intervened!) and promised to make sure it will be in the print version. I guess we will see who has the last say on that.
To learn more about ghostwriter and editor Amy Bell, visit www.writepunch.com.
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