- Full Name:
- Where I live:
Cortlandt Manor, NY
- Years Writing:
Five or More Years
- Primary Goal:
Publisher or Agent
- Type of Project:
- Fiction Genre:
- Number of Words:
- Breakout Title:
The characters of Nick Hornby; The time travel nunace of The Butterfly Effect
- Publication Creds:
Short Fiction Published
- Other Creds:
Short Fiction Published, Articles Online, Relevant Expertise
Twitter, Other Social Media, Relevant Experience
- Synopsis (novel / nf):
PAUL MILLER desperately needs to confront his wife CAROLYN about their crumbling marriage, but either the words die in his throat or his misguided approach ends in an argument. Paul then has a sudden, intrusive memory of STEPHANIE, a girl he barely knew in high school. He confides in his friend and colleague ERIC, who invites him to join his memory trial. Obsessed with this mysterious waking memory, Paul agrees.
The trials use a psychoactive drug that allows Paul to vividly experience memories of high school through his younger self, YOUNG PAUL. During the first two trials, he “meets” Stephanie, who’s only an acquaintance. Paul is shaken by his simple yet meaningful friendships. When Young Paul is too paralyzed to simply call a girl, an irked Paul utters, “Jesus, kid.” He’s surprised when his counterpart repeats the phrase aloud. The second trial ends.
Paul decides not to tell Eric about the “Jesus Kid” incident so he can continue the trials. When he tries to tell Carolyn, they clash once again. Lost and hurt, Paul begins trial three, where he discovers he can make changes to his memories. At an audition for the school musical, he diverts Young Paul’s attention to Stephanie and the two of them begin to fall for each other.
Back at home, Paul finds a photo of himself and Stephanie at a Halloween dance he didn’t attend. He’s been changing time. During trial four Paul guides Young Paul into kissing Stephanie, a major change that gives Paul “twin memories.” He now remembers two versions of the first time he ever met Carolyn: in one, he asks her out; in the other, he doesn’t even talk to her.
Paul returns to a timeline when he never met Carolyn. His life is in shambles. Carolyn’s a widow of Robert Deckard, a deceased Silicon Valley millionaire. Paul’s house is falling apart. And Eric doesn’t trust him. Paul plans to discover how kissing Stephanie led to all this.
During trial four, Young Paul learns he and his mother are moving from Texas to New York. Afraid she’ll leave him, he decides not to tell Stephanie. In a series of twin memories, Paul realizes this decision leads to a life of self-loathing and regret. So Paul ensures that Young Paul tells Stephanie the truth—“Tell her!” Time resets.
Carolyn has returned. Paul finds the words he’s needed and tells her he doesn’t love her anymore. She leaves him, telling him he’s been distant and uncommunicative for years. Paul wonders why his recent changes to the past didn’t improve this. He also can’t remember what happened with Stephanie, so he finally confesses the truth to Eric, who doesn’t believe him. Eric also tells him they found records of what they think is Stephanie’s grave.
Crushed, Paul tries to put his life back together. But months later, he mistakenly thinks he sees Stephanie. And when he finds out Carolyn is dating Robert Deckard, the deceased millionaire from the alternate timeline, Paul sets out to prove the truth to Eric. He steals the memory drug for one last trial. At the Halloween dance, he says goodbye to Stephanie, but also leaves a message behind a brick in the wall.
Paul drives to Texas and finds his message—“Eric. You invented time travel. Love, Paul.” At Stephanie’s grave, he finally remembers their bittersweet breakup—and he recalls her birthday: not the date on the stone. Stephanie’s alive!
Paul finds an old friend who tells him she’s kept in touch with Stephanie; she’ll give her his number. At the local diner, the owner tell him that Stephanie’s a widow with a 12-year old son. She tells Paul about her own life and he realizes he won’t tell Eric about the message—yet. First, if she’ll meet with him, he’ll tell Stephanie the whole story. “Tell her.” Finally, Stephanie texts him and they make dinner plans. Paul meets her in the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant and when she sees him she smiles—the beginning of a hopeful, uncertain future.
- Writer Organization:
- Your Bio:
I am a writing professor at The College of Westchester and at St. Mary’s College of California, as well as a freelance writer/editor and theater director. My first novel made it through several rounds at HarperCollins. My short play “Stage Fright” will be published as part of an anthology by Routledge Press in March. I was a film critic and editor for the now shuttered HUGEReviews.com. I have a baseline following on social media and a new, currently-in-development home page: michael-flanagan.com
- Your Writing Life:
I teach college writing and write short plays and novels. I'm a big believer in drafting--the first draft of my current novel was 110,000 words and TERRIBLE. But I'm really good at improving and revising and my training in theater directing and a "yes, and" attitude has helped with peer groups and beta readers.
I write short stories, plays, and an occasional novel. After writing my first novel, I explored a career in theater directing, which led me back to writing.
- Your Career Goals:
I want to write literary novels that blend slightly into other genres--sci-fi, historical fiction. The bestseller list would be nice, but even more so, I'd love to spend my career writing novels, directing plays and teaching in academia.
- Inspiration for Work?:
William Faulkner is a big inspiration. He was the first major author I ever delved into who believed, basically, that life is hard and we can endure it. That led me to plenty of others, like Cormac McCarthy, Chuck Palahniuk and Tennessee Williams. And I have a great love of people who can laugh in the face of that philosophy with me. My wife. My best friend. My dog.
- Reading Now?:
Currently reading Emily St. John Mandel's "Station Eleven." Recently read "Desperate Characters," "No Country for Old Men" Because of a half-dare with a friend, I'm reading the new "Canon" Star Wars books. Some are better than others.
- Manuscript Type:
- Working Title(s):
- Hook Line:
Paul Miller, distracted and detached college professor, can’t stop thinking about Stephanie, a girl he’s never met—though his memories insist otherwise. Faced with progressively more intrusive thoughts of this girl in the midst of his crumbling marriage, Paul agrees to an offer from a colleague: a trial for a drug that stimulates memories, allowing him to remember his past as if it’s unwinding before him.
Armed with the drug, Paul steps back into high school, where he finds Stephanie. But when he interferes—steering his younger self into a burgeoning romance with her—he realizes he’s doing more than remembering his past. He’s changing his present.
With the trial ending and every visit to the past plunging his present into further turmoil, Paul must make a choice involving Stephanie that will forever define his future.
- Conflict + Stakes:
Paul falls for a girl in a memory (Stephanie), which gets complicated when that memory turns out to be a past he can change. Though he's guiding a younger version of himself into romance, it's still an affair. He and his wife, Carolyn, are uncommunicative, unsure how to talk to one another about their crumbling life together. They make several plans to talk, but as Paul gets more and more involved in changing his past, those plans don't come together. Finally, Paul's interference in the past forever changes his present, and he only has a few chances left to master the power of choices at a second chance at life.
- The Protagonist:
Paul Miller moved from Galveston to Houston as a kid when his dad, a bar owner, died of a heart attack. His mother, and oil exec, becomes more active in the company to ensure family stability, and during the process Paul’s experience in Houston began teaching him lessons about friendship and, simply put, how to talk to girls. Before he could truly become enmeshed in that social life, his mom got a promotion and they moved to NY. NY led him to a series of friendships and romances that were unremarkable, as is his marriage. He wants to stay in his marriage but learns that desire might be more habitual. His joy of being alone, of going through the motions, becomes upended when he’s reminded, by a trip to his past, of a need for connection.
- The Antagonist:
Carolyn was born and raised on Long Island by a military father and pretty subservient mother. She wanted to be an elementary schoolteacher and studied for it in Manhattan at a small college. Late in those studies she met Paul, who had earned a PhD. He was slightly older than she. She was reading a novel for a class when they met. She liked to read in bars, in public places, around people. They were married fairly quickly, partially because she got involved with Paul at a time when all of their friends were getting married. She became an elementary school teacher in the city but Paul convinced her to move to Westchester when his friend Eric gave them a chance to buy his family’s house for cheap. There, Carolyn lost touch with friends and family and remained largely focused on her teaching. She felt comfortable relaxing into marriage and their home together, and the routine of teaching, of stores, of being home, until the routine began to spiral into a lack of invigoration and love. Though she didn’t notice at the time.
- Other Characters:
1) Stephanie. She’s not a loner and considers the nature of the world enough to embrace it and speak openly about it. She comforts through words, connection, honesty. Paul learns from her honesty.
2) Eric. He’s stable, a smart, funny, family man perfectly happy with his homelife, and engaged intently by his work environment. His stability is a counter to the instability Paul begins to face.
- Unique World:
Paul, the protagonist, participates in a memory trial and accidentally time-travels through his memories into his past. He shares his 18-year-old body with himself, only occasionally stepping in to take control and make changes. To express this, the narrative occasionally switches between 3rd and 1st person.
- Climax and Denouement:
Paul fixes time and brings his wife back, but they still agree to divorce, leaving him out of place in his own life. After traveling back to Texas in hopes of finding some remnant of his past, he discovers Stephanie's alive after all and his old, temporary home might be a good fit for a life.
- Your Opening :
A patch of dusty sunlight ran across the part of Carolyn’s crossed leg that escaped her robe and I wondered whether I should feel something about it. From the edge of the bed she tossed her hair mid-brushstroke so her eyes met mine in a curious glance. “What?”
She turned away and I searched the flow of those long, brown curls for an answer, a piece of wit, a rejoinder to make her breathe a laugh through her nose at least. But the last note of my phone alarm still echoed in the air and somewhere before that had been a dream I couldn’t remember.
I settled on “good morning” and swung my legs over the side of the bed, ignoring the routine reports of clacks in my neck. The last frame of my dream sailed into the fog, but from somewhere inside it I thought I heard The Beatles.
I hated The Beatles.
“Paul?” Carolyn’s voice crashed through the quiet.
The bed shifted when she rose. She pulled off her robe and tossed it mechanically atop the sheets. “Isn’t it too early to daydream?” A distracted smile ghosted across her lips. I let my eyes graze past a tiny hole in her underwear as she pulled on the brown dress that made her look more like a schoolteacher than anything else she wore. “I said I need to stop off at the store on the way home.” Her voice was louder than the hour. “Do you need anything?”
“So you’re going to go sit by her grave? That’s a little morose.”
In the backyard we sat on the kids’ swing set, Eric sidesaddle on a dolphin. I waited for him to look at me again. For the first time in months, this didn’t feel like debriefing. Only two friends talking, if uncomfortably.
Once he looked up, I said, “I need to.”
“I still don’t remember some details. I don’t know why I don’t. And I don’t know why I need to. But I do.”
“At a grave?”
“I’m not just going to her grave. I might—” I thought of the note in the wall. “—stop by the old high school. Drive around the old stomping grounds.”
“I don’t understand. You just got your shit together here. You—”
“Paul knew something I didn’t,” I explained. “And after experiencing the world the way he saw it. The way I saw it then. There was a sharp immediacy to everything. Crisper air. Sharper colors.” I thought of something Carolyn said. “Everything seemed to matter more. I need to see if I can find that again.”
“Paul, that could have been the drug. Chemical reactions. Why don’t you wait a few days? At least until I have your tests done. Once we know you’re okay. Then—”
“Then what? Some neuro-whatever doesn’t look right and I have to wear an electrical shower cap all day?”
“At least you’d know—”
“And what if the results don’t show anything?”
“Unless I could prove it to you. That this isn’t about my perception of memory. But about how things were. How they are. You’d never believe it. Right?”
He didn’t say anything for a while. “You keep referring to yourself—young you—as Paul. Like he’s some other guy. But it’s you.” He pointed at me accusatorily.
I shrugged. “Are you the same guy you were at 17?”
He thought about it. “You love her, right? Like, not then, but now. Present tense.”
I started to ask who? but it would have been stalling, so I nodded. Eric smiled in a way I hadn’t seen on him before: the right corner of his mouth extended up, chin down on his chest, eyes somewhere else.
He said, “Victoria DeRosa.”
- Writing Samples:
He nodded and felt her body pressing more firmly into him. He enjoyed the confusion of her legs snaking around his and bending under so her knees braced his hips. Her head slid forward and he felt her wet cheek on his lips and could taste the salt and her hair, still damp from the humidity outside, cold sweat a stark contrast to her feverish breath and he moved so her mouth found his.
They eased down the clinging couch, an odd squawking sound punctuating their fall as the world burned away and become secondary. The sound of their breathing replaced the distant running air and his muscles tensed with hers, their unexpected southward slide interrupted by the cold impact of tile and he felt a stream of spittle escape the rushed, tear-streaked heat of the kiss and settle on the corner of his own mouth.
There, he saw something—a whispered but statuesque idea. An empty, rumbling riverbed, the two of them trapped together at its center. He grabbed her hand, afraid he’d drown—a fate their tightly-entangled fingers kept each other from. As the oncoming white-capped surge ripped through them he knew, if they could intertwine their bodies like this, pushing hard into the marble bedrock and against the unwelcome current, they’d relinquish everything unessential: their fears and dread ripped away like old clothes, washed downstream into faded piles along the riverbank. The hesitation, regret, lies and half-truths they once kept—or would ever keep—now taken and drowned, tossed against the rocks, and lost.
He looked intently into the deep brown of her eyes now, holding his breath with hers, swaying with the loosening grip of the river as it washed over them, through them, the two of them together dividing its turgid violence while it attempted to rip them by the roots from deep within the muddy bed like rebellious weeds.
He held onto her and in the heat and the salt and the sweat and the arch of their backs and the crying of names and the unnoticed chill of the tile, he let go.