Not One Iota: The Book; a novelization that realizes a project living in my head for eighteen years? I didn’t know if I could pull it off. Calista’s suggestion was too intriguing to ignore.
But, Not One Iota was a movie. It was envisioned as a movie, its story told through the language of film. Even though I never wrote the full script, I recited the story as a movie so many times that I had a clear vision of how the story unfolded; and that was the first hurdle to get past. Not One Iota: The Movie begins with a sequence conveyed through camera angles and audio cues which set up the tone of the whole film. I wasn’t excited about converting such sequences into book narrative, especially absent the original context that gave them shape. I needed to find a new point of entry into the story.
I spent a year consolidating eighteen years of rough notes, both analog and digital, putting them in order, compiling them into a single project file. During that time, I kept asking myself and Calista, what made this movie idea unique, intriguing, and entertaining. For Calista, it was hearing me tell the story, describing the scenes, and infusing my creativity to energize the characters and their off-kilter situations. My reasons could never be objective. Simply put, it was something fun to share. The aspect of sharing kept coming up during my brainstorming ideas on how to tell, excuse me, write Not One Iota: The Novel.
I latched onto the idea of writing Not One Iota as a type of memoir early in the book’s second year of development. This angle afforded me a needed break from the original story and renewed my energy in producing something unique rather than just rehash old ideas.
I focused on writing a compelling contextual memoir that enhanced the core story. The root of the narrative focused on the impact Not One Iota: The Activity had on my life. Over the years, I’ve been leery of chit-chat, especially at parties. Reciting my movie was an effort in making my social interactions unique and special.
Of course, focusing so much on what was once intended to be a movie lead me to dream about it finally becoming a film; a film I could produce. Enough time had passed that filming it San Francisco was impossible if I kept the story set in the late ‘90s. I thought about giving it the My Dinner with Andre treatment; film me reciting my movie to a first-time listener. This angle could capture and present what Calista loved about Not One Iota: The Experience, but I didn’t like the idea of acting, especially in my own film. However, this idea cracked my dilemma on how to begin and focus my book. I distilled my Not One Iota experiences into one specific memory I’ve always been fond of; my reciting Not One Iota to my friend Frank at a party in San Francisco.
The specifics of that anecdote I’ll save for another day, but the general point was that the unanticipated personal growth I received during that particular experience was analogous to the character arcs of Not One Iota’s three protagonists. And with the opening scenes of each story within Not One Iota set at a party, it felt poetic to use my own party experience to frame the entire Not One Iota narrative.
The result of year two was the creation of a short memoir capturing that experience with Frank. My next goal was to weave the core Not One Iota narrative into that short story, a task that would take another year for me to complete.
By the end of year three, I finally had a complete first draft. It fused together the original Not One Iota story, the short story of that night in San Francisco, and a first-person narrative expressing the importance of sharing Not One Iota. In other words, it was a huge mess. But that didn’t stop me from asking friends and family to beta read the first draft.
I collaborated on several of Justin Blake’s live projects. I was a make-up artist on his Valley Confidential and Give ‘Em Hell, Harry! theater productions. I also worked as his media and stage director on Shattered Ceilings. Justin’s understanding of story-craft was precisely what I needed.
His opinion of my book is his story to tell, but our conversation became a crucial and lasting motivation. “You’ve squeezed a 250-page book into 350 pages.” His advice was pivotal in shaping the more concise narrative of the second draft.
I duplicated the manuscript file, and the second draft launched under an aggressive delete key. It wasn’t easy to make those first cuts. I didn’t know what could be cut, and worse, what should be cut. A lot of time and thought went into that material, but it meant producing a better book, so something had to go.
For all the ways the memoir angle brought me to write Not One Iota: The Novel, I felt uneasy making the book that personal. It felt like aimless exposition and stole attention from the core story. I loved how the memoir concept framed the fiction, however, and that’s when a new strategy took shape. Enter Brandon Dale Edwards.
BD Edwards is a character from a separate movie idea I had created around the same time as Not One Iota: The Film School Drop-Out’s Dream. But now, he was also the fictional author of Not One Iota: The Novel. It would be his memoir that bookends the core Not One Iota story. He would create anecdotal material contained within the book, and it would be his filmmaker vision expressed during the movie descriptions. I had an all-new character to breathe life into, and this new vision of the book elevated the project.
I often wondered how different Not One Iota would be if I had begun the whole process by using a fictitious character to write the book. My task for the second and third drafts was to retroactively write a character who experienced situations in his life that lead him to write about Joel, Justine, Michael, and Nick. Sure, there are similarities between Brandon Dale Edwards and Travis Hiner, but authors often project parts of themselves into their characters. The key for me was that the experiences Brandon references are not my experiences, even though they come from similar situations and emotions. With his story firmly in place, I focused on further developing the core Not One Iota characters.
Continued in part three.