Editorial letter

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Editorial letter

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Editorial letter
Series Title:
23 Minutes
Colgan, Mary
University of South Florida
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
1 online resource, 3p.


Subjects / Keywords:
Time travel
Teenage girls
Bank robberies
Juvenile fiction


Editorial letter from Mary Colgan to Vivian Vande Velde, outlining Colgan's response to the revised version of 23 Minutes.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of South Florida
Holding Location:
University of South Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
H43-00013-014 ( USFLDC DOI )
h43.13-14 ( USFLDC Handle )

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February 26, 2015 Dear Vivian, Thank you for your patience while I pulled together my notes on your revision. Your edits have definitely made the manuscript even stronger and more compelling. As a next step, as I mentioned in my email, I think the book would benefit from some emotional deepening to ensure that Zoe’s character development is on par with the excitement of the main plot. All the seeds of this are already there. You’ve done such a lovely job of including captivating details of Zoe’s past, family, and inner pain. These aspects have ignited my curiosity and made me hungry to understand Zoe better, and I think readers’ experience of the book will be fuller and even more satisfying if these things are further developed. As I reviewed your revision, I made note of the three significant turning points, which are wonderfully placed and so effective: when Zoe and Daniel are shot together in playback 3, when Daniel comforts Zoe as she cries in playback 7, and when the playback doesn’t work in playback 9. (I could read those scenes a thousand times and never tire of them.) This splits the book nicely into quarters, so we can look at the four acts individually. Overall, the first act works very nicely, though I think it could have more momentum. Some scenes feel a little slow. The first go-around with Charlotte, for instance, is rather long and extremely detailed. This is, of course, one of the challenges of first-person present tense before events start happening at breakneck speed—ordinary life doesn’t move very fast. I do think, however, that this entire first telling of the events, which comprises chapters two and three, could be tightened quite a bit. (For reference, these chapters combined are 19 pages, which is longer than almost all of the playbacks.) Perhaps we should get to Daniel faster? That first interaction with him, when he gives Zoe the missing reindeer name, is so fantastic. Similarly, the scene in playback 1, when Zoe borrows a phone from the mother and two kids, also strikes me as a little drawnout. It does, however, contain a fantastic moment when Zoe suddenly gets hit by the emotion of what has happened and “feels the spatter of the warm blood against her face and chest.” (Yikes!) It also includes a tidbit from Zoe’s life at the group home (about Delia calling 911), which is very smoothly incorporated. Overall, this playback doesn’t necessarily feel


too long—but perhaps more should happen rather than spending such a long time (4 pages) on one conversation? The little boy is certainly annoying, as he’s supposed to be, but I’m not sure he warrants so much “screen time.” Other than those few pacing issues, the early chapters do a great job of drawing readers into this world. By the time we reach the first turning point in playback 3, we’re completely on board with Zoe and deeply care about her—and about Daniel as well. It works beautifully. In fact, I think this playback is one of the most effective. We see how Zoe has begun to change through her own thoughts and actions, but also through Daniel’s reaction to her when he asks if she’s all right and offers to help. It’s a wonderful glimpse into the vulnerability she tries so hard to hide. I just love it so much, if you’ll forgive a little gushing. That first turning point is significant in multiple ways. The most obvious is that it causes Zoe to switch tactics and seek Daniel as an ally. Just as importantly, though, it kick starts her emotional development. I believe the second act (playbacks 4, 5, and 6) is the section that could use the most development. On an emotional level, these chapters should progressively build up to the second turning point, when she breaks down crying. There are already wonderful indications of this. The scene in playback 4, in which Zoe repeatedly says “I’m sorry,” leading to the memory of her mother slapping her after she apologized is extremely affecting. Zoe’s reaction to seeing Daniel’s gun is also very telling. As readers, we get that this stems from her life experiences. A person with a less traumatic life might not jump to the conclusion that Daniel is a bank robber just because he’s carrying a gun, but it’s completely believable that Zoe would think this. There is also the anecdote about Zoe’s mom bringing a gun to a counseling session. This is such an intense fact to learn, but it doesn’t pack the punch that it should (even when we learn a little more about it later). It comes across more as a plunked-in justification for Zoe’s mistrust than a way to more fully understand and empathize with her. I don’t want to be too prescriptive in suggesting ways to address this, but rather to communicate that I think there’s a fuller story begging to come out. At present, the scene in which Daniel holds Zoe as she cries feels very focused on the main plot—she is emotionally exhausted from all her futile efforts and overwhelmed with guilt about nearly letting Daniel die. If the other layers of the story were more developed, this scene could be about more than that—about Zoe confronting her own life


and her deep emotional damage. Zoe allowing herself to be vulnerable and to be comforted feels like a huge step for her. She’s letting herself trust someone in a way that perhaps she never has before. It’s a breakthrough that could not have been possible without the events of the day, which makes it a significant moment of growth for her as a character. I want to reiterate that I do think all the seeds of this are already there: the papers Zoe carries with her; the information about her past and family; the information about her present life in the group home. It’s really a matter of developing these aspects and weaving them throughout the action and exposition. You will likely end up with a longer, meatier manuscript. There are some fabulous moments in act 3. The scene in which Daniel dies in Zoe’s arms is just gorgeous. And I love their interactions with Van Der Meer—especially how he jumps into the middle of their conversation with, “Are you crazy?” and then very surprisingly becomes another ally when before he was just a nosy stranger for Zoe to scowl (or shout) at. The part of this section that lags for me is the interaction between Daniel and Wallace. I worry that this aspect feels too beside the point and not as interesting as everything else. I’m not sure readers have enough reason to care about their back-and-forth. Is there perhaps a different way to approach this? Maybe even an entirely different reason for Daniel to know Wallace? I also wonder if Daniel’s brother working at the bank feels slightly forced. Both of these aspects serve purposes: Daniel needs to know the bank robber and needs a reason to be accepting of Zoe’s supposed psychological issues. But is there a way to address those needs in a way that feels more natural and not quite so convenient? I realize I’ve just thrown a lot at you and you might need some time to turn it all over in your head. If you’d like to talk things over on the phone, I’d be glad to do so. Or if you just want to ruminate for a while, that’s fine, too. I love this book so much, and I really believe that with some deeper development, it will truly hit the ball out of the park. I look forward to hearing what you think. All best, Mary


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