By Shawn Coyne | Published: July 8, 2011
After a compelling prologue, the next section of the narrative nonfiction proposal that I recommend is an overview. While the prologue is the SHOW—a representation of how the final manuscript will read—the overview is the TELL. This is the section in which the writer explains to the readers of the proposal (an editor, a marketing director, a publicity director and a publisher) why this particular story is:
- a unique addition to the subject arena,
- appealing to a critical mass of targeted readers,
- promotable for multiple media outlets, and
- commercially viable with major upside potential.
Rather than throw out a bunch of rules for the overview, I thought I’d give one a try myself.
First, a little background.
One of the things I love about my choice of career—the one I love most—is the opportunity to dream up books that have not yet been written. I get ideas for books reading the newspaper, sweating on an elliptical machine, in the shower, even while listening to my daughter and youngest son play house. If it’s a good one, I’ll write it down somewhere and let it simmer. I have scraps of paper in a file called “ideas.” If I can’t stop thinking about one in the file, I’ll pull it out and take it to the next level.
I’ll scour the industry for a writer out there who would be the perfect match for the subject. If she’s un-agented (there is a gentlemen’s agreement in publishing not to poach other agents’ clients), I do my best to convince her to take on the project. I then help her create a proposal. Once we both think we’ve done everything we can to make the proposal perfect, I put on my agent hat and sell the project to a publisher. The entire process from idea to sold project can take anywhere from six to eighteen months.
Among the hundreds of books I’d love to see someday be written and published, there are a few that torment me. I can’t convince the right writers to take on the projects.
And the project at the top of this list is WINTERTIME IN NASHVILLE.
“I think I would have probably drunk myself to death if I hadn’t got into something creative…I always felt like Nashville saved my life. It seemed at the time to my parents and my peers that I’d lost my mind.”
WINTERTIME IN NASHVILLE is a timeless story about an artist.
A boy is born to a respectable military family. His father is a Major General two star in the United States Air Force, a veteran of World War II, the Army Air Corps, and Korea. And at a time when most women get married and settle before turning twenty years old, his mother doesn’t. She’s made her own way and earns a degree from a small liberal arts School in Northern California, Pomona College class of 1933, just the kind of strong willed woman for a dashing flyboy bootstrapper.
After courtship and marriage, the mother gives birth to the boy in Brownsville Texas, 1936. The family avoids the peripatetic military life and settles in quiet San Mateo, California. It’s a conservative home and the boy is instilled with a duty to living up to what he should be…what his parents’ think he should be. He walks the line, sets the right example for his brother and sisters, and even attends the same college as his mother. At Pomona, he stars on the football team and is nationally recognized as such by Sports Illustrated. He’s Phi Betta Kappa and awarded a Rhodes scholarship. A Master’s degree in literature is his from Oxford University in 1960.
Now with his academic ticket fully punched, like his father, grandfather, and great grandfather before him, he is expected to serve his country. He comes back to California long enough to marry his high school sweetheart. Then he joins the Army. He trains as an Airborne Ranger but decides to follow in his father’s footsteps and get his wings at flight school. Stationed in West Germany, he flies helicopters and volunteers to serve as an early “advisor” in Vietnam. His request is denied. His wife gives birth to a baby girl in January 1962.
Now a Captain, he’s on the easy track to Major when his commission comes up in 1965. His orders are to move back to the United States and teach literature at West Point.
Instead, the twenty nine year old resigns his commission. He’s decided to move to Nashville, Tennessee. He’s going to be a songwriter.
“Kris let me read a letter from his mother in the studio one day, not long after I met him. And the letter in so many words said, ‘You are disowned. You’re no longer my son. You gave up your Rhodes scholarship, you gave up your education, your career, everything else that was planned for you. And you’ve gone to Nashville to be a bum and hang out, trying to be with like people like Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. And don’t ever knock on my door again.’”
WINTERTIME IN NASHVILLE is Kris Kristofferson’s four year journey from outcast to inimitable contributor to the great American songbook. Like Bob Dylan’s CHRONICLES VOLUME 1 and Patti Smith’s JUST KIDS, WINTERTIME IN NASHVILLE takes the reader through Kristofferson’s lean and mean years when no one stood behind him but his shadow on the floor.
TO BE CONTINUED