The following is an edited transcript from our chat with the author of our historical fiction novel, Sophronia L. “TB” stands for Tim Bridwell (@bridland) and “FW” stands for Folded Word (@foldedword). To view the original conversation, search for #SophroniaL on Twitter’s discover tab.
FW: Welcome to the #SophroniaL TweetChat with @bridland — our first ever:-)
TB: Greetings, Tim Bridwell here.
FW: Can you tell us what initially inspired #SophroniaL?
TB: Growing up on Martha’s Vineyard, I suppose. The lore of our whaling past was everywhere, from the Captain’s houses to whale vertebrae in the front yards. Never a live whale, unfortunately. Many beached whales, though.
FW: Whale vertebrae in the front yards? As planters or as accent pieces?
TB: They usually served no apparent purpose. I would have to mow around them in my lawn mowing youth.
I was also inspired by the island’s 19th century deaf heritage. Many families from the region of Kent in England carried on the trait of deafness.
FW: You write graceful scenes depicting the deaf community. How did you learn about that aspect of #MarthasVineyard?
TB: I did research. Many of the elder Islanders actually remember this period or have heard tell of it.
FW: What was it like to work with @murphcas on #SophroniaL?
TB: @murphcas (editor) was a joy to work with. She brought a fresh perspective to a story I knew all too well.
FW: Editors often prep books to be “owned” by readers, not just the author. Was this something you & @murphcas worked on?
TB: That’s a great way to look at the process. Yes, we tried to get the book “out of my head.”
FW: By the way, @Mel_Bosworth‘s mother is hard to please, but she LOVED #SophroniaL. I doubt she uses Twitter to tell you herself;-)
TB: I aim to please! Thanks @Mel_Bosworth’s mom! The world needs more moms like that.
By the way, Nora Ellen Groce’s book EVERYONE HERE SPOKE SIGN LANGUAGE is the definative work on island deafness.
FW: Is this the book? http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780674270411
TB: That’s it! I worked off many small press books like that for my research. I also relied on town censuses, diaries, and whaling logbooks. I used some typewritten, photocopied books in my research, too.
FW: We think small presses are crucial for making niche-market information & creations available. Thoughts?
TB: They certainly are. The “gatekeepers” are not necessarily interested in the esoteric.
FW: Some passages in #SophroniaL are poetic. Do you write #poetry or have you studied it?
TB: I love poetry and studied it at Emerson (during my film days) but wouldn’t be so bold as to call myself a poet. My dad read James Dickey and James Wright to me when I was a kid. He got me started on poetry.
FW: Well you certainly have internalized the poetic spirit;-) Did your film training play a role in #SophroniaL?
TB: If you consider that #SophroniaL was adapted from a screenplay, then I suppose so. The script won the Golden Lion Award at the 2010 UNA/George Lindsay Film Festival. That gave me some encouragement to go ahead with the novel.
FW: So #SophroniaL was a #screenplay first? How long did it take you to revise it to a #novel?
TB: I would say about 2 years. The question is how “rough” a draft was that revision!
FW: As in “rough draft” or as in “I need a drink”?
TB: I practice clean living, so I would say the former. A screenplay doesn’t have much narrative in it, so fleshing it out into a novel is an opportunity.
FW: 🙂 So 2 years to complete a draft and then another 2 years in various revisions here at the press. Worth the work?
TB: It has to be, right? What’s the worth of anything in life, for that matter?
FW: We’re definitely glad you labored. But we’re not tyrants, so if you have a different opinion… 😉
TB: I’m just kicking around some rhetoric.
FW: Thanks so much for sharing your time. See you in an hour for Mtn/Pacific lunchtime folks.
TB: See you then!
FW: To everyone else who’s been reading these tweets but keeping mum, thanks for being here!
FW: Welcome (back) to our lunch chat with @bridland. To ask him questions about his #novel or #writingtips please use the hashtag #SophroniaL.
FW: Last hour we had a hashtag glitch and missed @jamccaffrey‘s question about your next novel. Did you say your next novel is set at sea again?
TB: I am working on another novel set at sea, this time in the present day. It chronicles the last 2 hours of a sinking container vessel. Cheerful stuff.
FW: So not #HistoricalFiction then. What #genre would you say it is?
TB: Good ol’ #literaryfiction.
FW: We love #literaryfiction. Excellent. Is this part of your studies @VCFA?
TB: Yes, I’m writing under mentorship as part of my MFA in Writing canidacy.
FW: How is the editorial process different between your MFA program and the press?
TB: I think because the mentors see the work at an earlier stage, they can suggest more leeway in terms of a novel’s direction. I’m more malleable! A press usually won’t see a work from such a rough draft onwards, I think.
FW: Interesting. So more developmental editing than copyediting?
TB: A bit of both, though different mentors have different scopes. Sometimes it is indeed a “microscope.” At the masters level there should be less copyediting needed, though we all have our days…
FW: Getting back to #HistoricalFiction, how much “poetic license” with the facts do you think an author has?
TB: First of all, let me say that I committed myself to staying faithful to the facts. That way I felt the most inspired. I do believe that a HF author should put the story and its characters first, even if that means tweaking the facts. I was lucky that my characters were on a rambling voyage 😉
FW: In tweaking, do you mean bending timelines or character traits or filling in gaps in the record…
TB: HF authors routinely have to play with time and select which events to focus on. Adding minor events would be merited. I painted my ship and characters into the historical painting, so to speak. The Bering Sea CSS Shenandoah incident is a good example of this. The events and dates were all correct… except for my ship.
FW: The #Shenandoah scene was amazing, so we’re glad you took the liberty:-) Definitely understand the need for it.
TB: Thank you. In fact, the only thing added to that scene was my ship. All the other elements were as they were that day. I enjoyed the challenge of that.
FW: Do you think you have more leeway with facts in your modern-day novel than in your historical one?
TB: Perhaps you’re right there. It depends on how familiar the public is with the incidents.
FW: You mentioned earlier your dad exposing you to #poetry which now seeps into your #prose. Your dad was a writer, yes?
TB: My dad (who passed away on 12/12/2014) was Norman Bridwell, author/illustrator of #cliffordthebigreddog. One helluva guy.
FW: Your first book signing for #SophroniaL was at the same shop where he signed his books, wasn’t it? https://folded.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/sophronias-island-debut/
TB: Yes, @EdgartownBooks. It meant a lot to sign there, the store that hosted so many great signings for my dad. I didn’t use the Clifford suit, though.
FW: LOL! Not quite the right time period for #SophroniaL;-)
We only have a few minutes left. What advice could you give to other #writers trying to adapt a #screenplay into a #novel?
TB: Well, I took the approach of transforming screenplay sequences into chapters, which resulted in 64 short chapters. Perhaps longer chapters might be others’ aim, in that case the sequences have to be segued a bit.
FW: Those short chapters read like #flashfiction. Are film scenes usually self-contained like that?
TB: You’re right… flash fiction. In any case, a screenplay must be fleshed out to become a novel. Film scenes tend to be rather contained like that. There are many styles out there, though.
FW: The length of a #screenplay is shorter than a #novel? Is that why novel adaptations to the screen leave so much out?
TB: Exactly. Screenplay adaptations are an exercise in reductive synthesis. One difference is that you can have a novel read like a screenplay (some do) but not the other way around.
FW: “Reductive synthesis” — wow. So what is the term for adding (#screenplay to #novel)? #SophroniaL #SorryWeAreWordGeeks
TB: SOPHRONIA L.!!!
FW: 😀 And on that note…thanks so much for staying up late in #Paris to talk to us today!
TB: It has been my pleasure.
FW: To everyone else who’s been reading these tweets but keeping mum, thanks again for being here!