I finished the screenplay in a couple of weeks, revised it, and began networking. I joined the Done Deal screenwriters’ forum, a place where not only experienced writers but even a few production executives hang out.
Just about everyone loved my premise. Just about everyone said my first scenes were crap. You can still find my posts there, under the screen name of Aruna.
A lot of people helped me write new drafts; but finally I realised I wasn’t made for screenwriting.
I was a novelist.
The next step was obvious: White Night, the novel.
Meanwhile, I did my research. The more I read about People’s Temple and Jonestown, the more one thing became clear:
This was not going to be a sensationalist story.
It was not a story of murder and mayhem. It was not about a bunch of crazed loonies blindly following a despotic madman into death. It was not about zombies or brainwashed idiots.
It was about humans. It was about good people with high ideals who wanted nothing more than to live together in peace and happiness. It was about a community seeking a dream that turned into a nightmare. It was about deception, intimidation, fear-mongering and manipulation.
I read personal stories from survivors and relatives of victims, and wept. I read books so moving I felt presumptious for even touching this tragedy. I read conspiracy theories, academic studies, original files and transcripts from Jonestown itself. I exchanged mails with someone who had been Jim Jones’ right hand and someone who had slept with him and someone who had escaped the final catastrophe with all the loot. I sifted through pages and pages of information until I grasped what I felt to be the essence of truth; and that was the foundation of my own story.
I felt I owed it to the victims, survivors and their relatives to be loyal to this truth. Most of all, I had to respect the innocent who died, and if possible redeem them in public memory. To do this I would build upon the facts with fiction.
The book that emerged is a blend of both.
Writing it was relatively easy; I had the screenplay to work from. A screenplay is a tightly stuctured work with small and great climaxes and turning points and character arcs and action all clearly defined. Writing the novel was simply a matter of adding flesh to that structure, and involved adding characters, plot twists and themes that only enhanced the earlier version.
I loved it.
By mid-2006 it was ready for submission. My situation this time was a different one.
The obstacles that had tripped me up with Last of the Sugar Gods were now irrelevant. For one: no more British agents.
This was all about America and Americans. The location, the background, was indeed important, but the story itself screamed America. Check one.
A rejected option novel? Not in America. My previous novels had never been published there. I had no shadow in the USA. There, I counted as a debut author, yet with excellent writing credits – a double bonus! Check two.
I had a big story, a famous real-life event with an original twist. Isn’t that what agents say they want? Check three.
I has a hunch that this time, it would be different.
I did my homework. I researched American agents.
In June 2006 I sent off my query.
Tomorrow I’ll post it.