Raspberries, Wine, and Chocolate

Joel and JamesSomeone asked me recently what it’s like inside my head. I told him what some of you have already heard, that it’s all raspberries and wine and chocolate. I’m all filled up, because I’m always writing, even when I’m not.

Last week I met a friend for wine. He tells a good story, and I grilled him a bit about his fraternity days in Vermont. He was talking about hazing and drinking and I was completely focused on what he was saying until he paused and looked up at me. You’re not filing this away, are you? he asked, For one of your books?

Well. Maybe.

I wasn’t consciously thinking about my fictional world as I was listening to him, but as soon as he asked the question I realized that somewhere in the back of my mind I was all caught up in James. Because James was in a fraternity. Because the experience shaped his college years. Because in my third novel, the one I’m writing now, he still thinks about that year he quit.

So yes, it’s possible that part of my friend’s story will end up in my work. At the very least, I left the bar inspired.

Though I’m always thinking about my work, I’m not always talking about my work. People might ask me about my books, but they’re not asking about my characters. So I’ll hear, “how’s the book?” or “how’s your writing?” But the people who text me a photo of the train tracks at Zilker Park when they’re hanging out there with their kid, just because they know I’m going to immediately go in my head to my photo shoot last May (see that beautiful photo at the top of this post, and view it in dim light so you can really see the nuance) are few and far between. My friend who told me about his fraternity days texted after we met for wine and asked, “What are your characters up to now?” and I swear I felt a pang of something so sweet right in the center of my being. For someone to speak so familiarly about these men who inhabit my waking (and sometimes dream) hours feels incredibly provocative to me.

I have plenty of friends who haven’t read my books. Most of my family members, too. Sometimes it’s the subject matter that makes them procrastinate; sometimes it’s time. Their reasons always sound so strange. I don’t judge them; I get it. I really do. I’m busy, too, and the bottom line is that if one of them were to write a book about a subject that feels foreign to me–baseball, for example–it might take a little prodding to get me to read it. At the same time, I feel like my work is that proverbial window to my soul.

If you know my characters, then you know me.

Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

That Question Is too Intimate

A friend of mine occasionally asks how my characters are faring. How’s Joel today? she’ll write in an email.

At first her questions took me aback. They felt personal and deeply intimate. But now those questions make me giddy.  Even when I haven’t had much time to write, instead of seeing those questions and feeling guilty because I haven’t had the opportunity to give my characters the attention they deserve, I pause for a moment and think, How IS Joel today?

I just finished my last major read-through of The Crossing.

I take notes as I go, instead of editing as I read. That way I’m able to maintain the novel’s flow in my head; I’m able to tell if sentence follows sentence, paragraph follows paragraph, scene follows scene, seamlessly. When I get to the end I look at my notes, usually a dozen pages of what needs to be changed. But this last time around I had less than one page.

That’s how I know I’m getting close.

From now on I’ll be looking for minor edits, keeping an eye out for stray commas and homophones. I’ll also make sure that the novel’s structure makes sense; in an earlier draft, Joel’s life was measured by James’s semesters. But now I’ve blocked the novel differently, and I want to make sure that works. I added a few moments during my last read-through, too, and I want to make sure they make sense when read against the novel as a whole. After my photography shoot in May, for example, we ended up with some great photos of James (Addison Roush) peeling off his coat to give to Joel (Evan Shaw) on the night of his 25th birthday.  (Look at this photo in dim light, so you can really see what’s going on.) That moment never happened in the original scene. But we ended up with those shots courtesy of Josh Baker and they were so perfect that just yesterday I added it in. I’ll make sure when I read through the novel that the addition wasn’t a mistake.

I don’t think it was.

Then I’ll be ready to work with my designer to get this novel into your hands. We’re already revamping my website in preparation.

Soon you’ll be able to see for yourself how Joel’s doing.

p.s. While you’re waiting, give I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden another look, and in the comments below, tell me what you thought. Did you love it? Did Adam make you crazy? (Oh, you still haven’t read it? Click here to purchase.)

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

Delaying Gratification

I promised to tell you more about my photo shoot. But I’ve been holding back.

I could lie, and say that I’ve been keeping those magnificent photos all to myself, but that’s not the truth.

I haven’t looked at them even once.

A few years ago, just before I published I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden, I scrawled one hundred pages’ worth of what will eventually be my third novel. Then I got busy publishing and promoting, and then I went back to The Crossing, which you’ll get to read later this year. Those hundred pages of my third novel I saved on my laptop, and I’ve only looked at them one time since.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about Joel and James and Adam, or what’s happening to them. I think about them all the time. But reading through those pages: that brings me too close. Until I have the time to work on that novel in successive days, there’s no point in opening the document. If I do, if I read those pages again and again for my own gratification, then by the time I can really sit down and work, the words I’ve written might be dead to me.

I’m not willing to take the risk.

I feel the same way about the photographs from my shoot. For more than a week I’ve had an email in my inbox from Amie King, the friend who hooked me up with Josh Baker of AzulOx Photography. The subject line? Top Ten. She’s given me her ten favorite photos from the three hundred Josh took, and she wants to know mine.

But I’ve been delaying gratification.

That shoot was just so fantastic, and the photographs themselves are so enthralling, that I don’t want to treat them lightly. I want to look at them; of course I do. But I want to do so with reverence. I want to lock myself up in the darkness of my closet (which from a metaphorical standpoint I find pretty hysterical), and just let myself go.

At the same time, I don’t want them to lose their glitter. And I know that the more I look at them, the more I lose that moment when everything is so new I’m breathless.

I have more to tell you: about the spring, about the last-minute revisions I’m going to make to my novel because of what Addison and Evan brought to the shoot. About what I have coming for you later this summer.

But I’m going to delay that gratification just a little bit longer.

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

Twilight

*The photographs in this post are intentionally shadowed and are best enjoyed in dim light.  

In I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden, Adam thinks back on his relationship with Bobby and says,

If I let myself, I could spend my entire life reliving those six years. If I let myself, I could crawl inside and never come out.

I’ve had the same feeling the past few days, as I’ve scrolled through the photos from my shoot last Thursday; I have the same feeling about my work in general. If I let myself, I could crawl inside and never come out.

Sometimes it takes a seriously concerted effort to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Last Thursday a cold front swept through Austin, breaking all kinds of records for the date. But instead of freaking out as I shivered on my deck that afternoon, I couldn’t stop smiling. The scene we were shooting takes place late in October. Of course the universe would deliver up a blustery day to match.

Josh Baker of AzulOx Photography showed up at Zilker Park ready to work. I hadn’t known what to expect; I’d never worked with Josh, and I had no idea how I was going to marry the vision I had in my head with what Josh might be thinking. He hadn’t wanted to read the scene ahead of time; instead he wanted the barest of directions (tunnel under Barton Springs Road, for example), and emotion (desire, guilt, attraction). But I could see from the beginning that he was willing to do whatever it took to get the perfect shot.

What really blew me away, though, was that Josh disappeared into his work the same way I disappear into mine. I could tell by the expression on his face, and the way he was setting up. I could tell by the way he answered my questions, and talked to his assistant, Austin.

Except that we were working on a scene that I had created, so in a way it felt like we were disappearing together.

I stood at the back of the tunnel, Josh sprawled on the ground in front of me, belly down on the tracks. Ahead of us, James (Addison Roush) leaned against the railing. Across from him, Joel (Evan Shaw) lit a cigarette. Josh started shooting (click, click, click) and I couldn’t help myself. Holy shit, I said. Because this scene, the one I’ve had in my head for so many years that Zilker Park has become synonymous with this moment between Joel and James, came alive right before my eyes.

I mentioned in my last post that Evan Shaw, an actor currently studying at David Mamet’s Atlantic Acting School in New York, was a pro from the very beginning. How do you feel about a wig? I wrote to him in an email as we were preparing for the shoot, and he said, I’ll wear whatever you want. Are you going to be too cold? I wrote on Thursday morning, and he wrote back, I’ll keep warm, don’t worry. He was too focused on the character to let himself get preoccupied with anything else, and he took up the role the second he stepped into the tunnel.

Playing opposite him was my own version of a Hail Mary, a friend of a friend of a friend who said he was willing to step in after the actor I had previously booked canceled on me. I actually considered having a third actor on set, just in case Addison couldn’t deliver.

That would have been a bad decision. Addison could not have been any more nonchalant about the role–or any more perfect.

The chemistry between Evan and Addison was so tantalizing, and the photos were so beautiful–Josh stopped every so often so I could see the magic he was conjuring and tell him what I wanted to see next–that I decided to go with a little more light. My original idea was to keep the actors in shadow, because when I read a book I want to use my imagination. And while Addison is very much like James, and Evan is very much like Joel, neither actor looks exactly the way I envision those characters. But when Josh gave Evan and Addison more light this happened.

JenHritz-251-2 copy

Are you in awe yet? I am. Just writing this post I can feel myself sinking deeper into this world.

I have more to share with you, I promise. You’ll want to see some of the shots from the spring. But you’ll have to stay tuned.

Because for now I’m pulling out.

I’m teasing you, I know.

It’s my own little form of foreplay.

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved