November 24, 2014 Dear Vivian, First, I want to reiterate how absolutely delighted I am to have the chance to work with you on 23 Minutes . I had just as much fun reading through the manuscript in preparation for this editorial letter as I did on my first readÂ—though this time I managed to read it at less than breakneck speed (not easy!). Many of the points I will list below are small matters. There are only a few slightly larger issues that you might want to consider in revision (along with the change we discussed re: making Zoe another year younger). I will begin with overall questions and comments and then list some additional notes by page number. (BtwÂ—the page numbers in your manuscript got a little wonky. The page numbers IÂ’ll reference below are accurate, but will sometimes differ from the numbers in the headers.) Opening IÂ’ve given a lot of thought to how youÂ’ve approached the beginning of the book, and I wanted to pose some questions to help you determine if itÂ’s definitely the right way to go (which it certainly might be). The first summary of the events in the bank feels just a bit distancing and hard to follow. I feel much more connected to Zoe beginning on page 4, when she ponders where her ability came fromÂ—and then even more so on the following page when we jump into the real time narrative (Â“Zoe is walkingÂ…Â”). This caused me to wonder whether the self referential Â“metafictionÂ” approach makes sense in light of the rest of the book. Parts of the first two chapters read as if theyÂ’re from the perspective of an outside narrator. This particularly stands out on page 4, with Â“So, for this one time onlyÂ…Â” which made me wonder who was talking. Is it intentionally meant to be an outside narrator? Or is it meant to be Zoe thinking about her own life as a work of fiction? She does at one point refer to the folder of papers as Â“the story of her former life,Â” but otherwise this technique isnÂ’t used again until the end. This does work as a way to bring the book full circle, but it still feels slightly forced. On the other hand, the idea of first telling the story quicklyÂ—in order to immediately get to the first high drama momentÂ—and then backing up to tell it again with more detail feels like a good instinct. Maybe thereÂ’s a way to approach this without the metafiction approach? Just food for thought. IÂ’m going with trying to stress this rather than delete it. Backstory YouÂ’ve done a lovely job of incorporating ZoeÂ’s backstory and how her past experiences inform her current behavior and decisions. And youÂ’ve refrained from overloading the story with excessive amounts of information, which is also great. There are, however, a few areas where a little more insight into ZoeÂ’s character might help readers identify with her even more. Perhaps thereÂ’s a way to weave in a bit more information without upsetting the balance? One area that particularly stands out for me is how Zoe has used her ability over the past two years. We know that she spent a lot of time exploring how playback works when she was thirteen, but what about since then? She indicates that using playback has caused trouble in the past. Perhaps one or two examples of this? Has she perhaps made a deal with herself that she will not use it anymore because it has turned out to be more trouble than itÂ’s worth? This might bring an interesting layer to the storyÂ— that in order to intercede and save the people in the bank, Zoe will have to break a promise to herself.
One possible place to incorporate this might be on page 5, when Zoe reflects that she wishes she could play back time to avoid her altercation with Mrs. Davies. The fact that she did not do so suggests that she does not take the decision to use her ability lightly. Done. Similarly, on page 11, she asks herself, Â“Should she say it?Â” when sheÂ’s embarrassed about being clumsy in front of Daniel, which could suggest that she does have the urge to use playback for small matters, but doesnÂ’t give into it. More information about ZoeÂ’s past experiences with playback will also help clarify why she hesitates so much during the first go around, since she considers using it several times before she does so. It also might be beneficial to offer a little more context regarding ZoeÂ’s current situation at the group home. We do get a bit about Mrs. Davies and also about Rasheena and Delia, but a few more details would help readers better understand ZoeÂ’s daily life. Is she friends with those girls? She does mention that she and her friends drink coffee, but otherwise, we donÂ’t get a sense of her social life. Is she more or less content to be at the group home or does she wish there were another option? (This isnÂ’t to suggest you need to necessarily answer all of theseÂ—just questions that came to mind.) Knowing a little more about her present life will also help readers see how these playbacks may spur positive changes. Her self awareness about her own impatience is a good example of one way that this already works. Daniel/Zoe Dynamic First, I have to acknowledge that Daniel is definitely crush worthy. And it is completely natural and common for teenage girls to have romantic feelings for or be attracted to older men. ZoeÂ’s blooming feelings toward Daniel are handled beautifully. Where we need to be careful, particularly now that Zoe will be 15, is in DanielÂ’s reactions to her. There are just a smattering of lines that could be misconstrued as indicating that he returns her affections or that Zoe sees a real possibility for a relationship between the two of them, which suggests that she is accustomed to thinking of adult men as potential boyfriends or has had that experience. If that was the case when you were thinking of her as 17, would it still be the case now that sheÂ’s 15? Page 10: Â“He thinks she's cute in a gawky, clumsy, homely kid way.Â” done Page 11: Â“She hasnÂ’t decided yet how interested she really is, andÂ—besidesÂ—it would never work out.Â” done Page 37: Â“Â…apparently, he's only attracted to clumsy girls who step on him and drop papers with reindeer names at his feet.Â” (Is Â“attractedÂ” the right word choice?) Page 59: Â“Which, she tells herself, does not mean theyÂ’re on a date.Â” Page 95: Â“Daniel flashes her a quick smile which makes her willing to forgive the at least seven year difference in their ages.Â” Again, could sound like she believes a romantic relationship between them is a possibility. Page 133: Â“But she isnÂ’t clear whether he means heÂ’s sorry he doubted her, or heÂ’s sorry sheÂ’s only 16.Â” Minor Characters/Time Loop You introduce some of the other people on the streetÂ—the fast food guys, the older guy with the big dog, the biker with the Chihuahua, the teenage girl with the cell phoneÂ—early on, but only the mom and two kids make consistent reappearances. (Though I love the scene when several people help pick up
ZoeÂ’s strewn out papers and she feels touched and grateful for the kind gestures.) It could be fun to show the others a bit more throughout, with ZoeÂ’s reactions affecting the people around her, as well as indicating her changing emotional state. This is a commonÂ—and enjoyableÂ—element in a lot of time loop stories. The moment on page 153 when Wallace uses the same language he did on page 17 works very nicely. Should there be more instances in which people repeat dialogue or behaviors or in which they show different and unexpected aspects of their personalities (such as how the guy with the Chihuahua is kind to Zoe when she falls, but snaps her when she says Â“BlitzenÂ” as he walks past). Showing the minor characters in action a bit more could help bring the world of the story to life even more than it already is because we would get a more complete view of this particular period of time. Random Questions, Logistics, and Nitpicks Page 2: Zoe describes DanielÂ’s facial expression, but if he has stepped between her and Wallace, wouldnÂ’t he have his back to her? After stepping between Zoe and Wallace, Daniel gets pushed against the wall (p. 16). Is this whoÂ’s standing exactly where? Detail distracting enough that it needs to be explained in this spare retelling? Page 13: IÂ’m having a hard time picturing the staging here. I was surprised that Zoe was closest to Wallace, since sheÂ’s near the table with the bank slips, and heÂ’s at the teller station. Not a big dealÂ—just briefly shook me out of the story. Map? Page 14: WallaceÂ’s reaction to Daniel may need to be more intense/obvious (without signaling to Zoe that itÂ’s because they know each other). This would help make it very clear to Zoe later on that DanielÂ’s presence instigates the killing. It feels odd that WallaceÂ’s reaction to seeing Daniel here is so mild compared to his extreme reactions later. Page 20: Zoe is staring at her knees, but she knows itÂ’s one of the bank tellers screaming and one of the customers crying. Just from their positions? She also knows the police have come in, though she doesnÂ’t at first see the feet and legs of the policeman right in front of her. Page 30: Â“Unless, somehow, the police knew that the robber already knew they were coming.Â” I donÂ’t follow this. Page 31: Â“Â’That guy,Â’ the witness continues, pointing, Â‘was only a passerby trying to help. Other oneÂ’s police.Â” WouldnÂ’t Zoe notice when she sees the two bodies that one of them is a police officer? Pages 31 32: Is there a way for Zoe to know that Daniel dies in this first playback? As it stands, she doesnÂ’t know whether he dies or whether he instigates the killing here, so sheÂ’s left to assume both things later on. Pages 36 37: I wonder if there should be some hint of connection, even if itÂ’s very brief, between Zoe and Daniel each time they are in the bank together. The idea that he would ignoreÂ—or just not noticeÂ— a teenage girl being manhandled out of the bank right in front of him seems out of character. Page 39: Â“She is aware of the woman with the hair rollers tapping on the glass of the store door, trying to motion Zoe back in. The sound is reminiscent of the bank guard knocking on the window and telling her to move on. Their concern for her safetyÂ…Â” This sounds as though both the hair roller woman and the bank guard showed concern for her safety, though I assume Â“theirÂ” is meant to refer to all the people in the card shop.
Pages 42 43: Should we Â“seeÂ” Zoe within her surroundings while sheÂ’s considering what to do here? Is she just standing still on the street? Might be fine as isÂ—just throwing it out there. Pages 42 44: (This is one of my favorite playbacks, by the way.) I am slightly confused about her goal here (perhaps because sheÂ’s not sure herself). Is her intention to keep Daniel from instigating the killing (and thus save everyone) or to save him at the possible expense of everyone else? Sounds like the latter at first, but the former in the paragraph beginning Â“But this time Zoe is planning ahead.Â” Maybe itÂ’s to keep him out of harmÂ’s way, which will hopefully save everyone, but, if not, at least save him? ItÂ’s fine if Zoe herself is unsure or vacillating; I just wasnÂ’t sure if that was the intention. Page 67: I donÂ’t follow what Daniel means when he asks Â“Am I one of the Greenbergs?Â” Pages 111 121: We lose the rain here. Is it meant to be raining all throughout these scenes outside the bank? Page 116: Daniel asks Zoe to help him up, but isnÂ’t he already standing? Page 128: Van Der Meer saying Â“By the way, I am the stranger interested in picking you up that your parents warned you aboutÂ” sounds a little pedophile y, which IÂ’m guessing is not the intention. Page 143: Not sure how Zoe missed Wallace coming up to herÂ—just because sheÂ’s looking over at Charlotte? IÂ’d think sheÂ’d still see movement in front of her. I hope these notes are helpful. Please let me know if anything is unclear or doesnÂ’t feel quite right to you. Once youÂ’ve had a chance to digest a bit, will you let me know what feels comfortable to you as a deadline for a revision? Best, Mary