From The Writers' Room Featuring Tremontaine

Racheline Maltese and Paul Witcover on writing Tremontaine S2E8: “A Rushing of Wings”

Tremontaine Nation – By Paul Witcover

tremontaine-s02e08-a-rushing-of-wingsThis is the phrase that popped into my head this morning before it had left the pillow. I’m a writer who does not spurn the offerings of my unconscious; in fact, I depend upon those offerings to illuminate the way forward in art and life. My colleague Joel Derfner, in his blog post for Episode 4, has already weighed in most eloquently on the intersections of what I have to come to call Trump Land and the collaborative world of Tremontaine that Ellen Kushner has so generously allowed us the freedom to explore and create, so I won’t repeat his insights, which, if you haven’t read them, I recommend to you.

Instead, I want to write about partnership. And not just because this episode—unlike my solo episode from last season, in which falling turnips sparked a scientific breakthrough for Micah—was written with the gifted Racheline Maltese. Of course, little did Racheline and I know, as we plotted the twists and turns of our episode at a local bar, the Sea Witch (we happen to be neighbors), fiendishly chuckling over what awaited Rafe and Micah, that in mere months another plot line, that of slow but real and meaningful progress in this country’s affairs—the arc of the moral universe Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about—would be rudely reversed, if not shattered outright, by the election of a bigoted, authoritarian sociopath to the presidency.

But that happened. Reality once again proving not stranger but stupider than fiction. Oscar Wilde, thou shouldst be living at this hour!

In the days preceding the election, and even more in those following it, the “secret” Facebook group Pantsuit Nation became a guilty pleasure for me. At first it seemed to offer assurance of a Clinton victory, then a hard lesson in confirmation bias, and finally a sometimes annoying, sometimes frustrating, but on the whole encouraging example of fundamentally decent people doing the best they can, under disheartening circumstances, to look out for each other, and especially for the most vulnerable among them.

In the midst of a crushing loss, which for so many was far more personal than any mere electoral setback, here are men and women who are picking themselves up, offering each other support, and organizing resistance on a variety of levels, from small acts of personal protest to large-scale marches. It’s easy to sneer at such efforts. To belittle them or dismiss their efficacy. Yet I’m convinced they matter more than we can know.

This attitude is one that permeates Tremontaine. Yes, we all love to follow the cold-blooded, ruthless machinations of Diane—and believe me, they are even more fun to write than to read! But to me, the essence of this series is the bonds that have been forged, tested, broken, and then reforged between characters, often outsiders and interlopers, who dare to love each other, no matter the cost. Kaab and Tess. Rafe and Will. Vincent and Reza. Even Micah, my favorite character, who in so many ways serves as the glue holding everyone else together.

In this episode, Racheline and I send Rafe and Micah  on a brave but impulsive journey to rescue Will from his imprisonment at Highcombe. It’s a journey that will test them and change them . . . and have unforeseen ramifications for the future. They are two small people, motivated by love and friendship, who, in embarking upon a foolish endeavor for the only reasons that matter in the end, exemplify the best of Tremontaine Nation.

Episode Pondering – Racheline Maltese

As a native New Yorker, I don’t know how to drive, which means it’s easy for me to say that unlike Micah and Rafe in “A Rushing of Wings,” I’ve never been on a road trip. But as Paul and I sat down to write the episode at a local bar (we’re neighbors in the vague New York sense of the term), I remembered the reality was quite different.

After all, once upon a time I took a bus from New York City to Austin and back, and everything that could go wrong did — criminals were met, connections were missed, and wildlife mishaps occurred. Also much like Rafe, I was on the road with a large backpack of snacks and nothing useful to offer as things began to go awry.

Paul and I both write long and had a nearly endless sense of the incompetence that could befall Rafe and Micah on their journey. Thousands of words were written and scrapped of even more ineptitude (Rafe) and cheerful perseverance (Micah). But the episode had to be about far more than the journey, and we realized early on that we effectively needed to condense at least two episode concepts (a road trip and rescue mission) into a single episode where we also needed to set up life at Highcombe and deliver a vision of Micah’s family — all in 12,000 words. And then I said, “So what if we have this creepy bird…?”

“A Rushing of Wings” probably involved about 25,000 words on its path to about 13,500 words (thanks, Serial Box, for letting us run long). Much like my ill-advised bus trip to Texas, there was a gap between the plan (44 hours each way) and reality (60 hours each way).

Our episode is ultimately about that gap between expectations and reality. Sometimes the unexpected works out well (Micah vs. a highwayman) and sometimes it works out terribly (Rafe vs. his actual ability to handle a sword). We also wanted to capture the way people and places go odd when left to stew.

When I took that bus to Texas I slept as much as I could. One day, before dawn, I woke up to find us stopped at the Texas-Oklahoma border. A truck in front of us on the road had overturned and was on fire. Rescues had been made, but now safety crews were just waiting for the vehicle to burn down.

We got out of the bus on the side of the road and watched the dawn begin just as the flames went out. Suddenly, birds rose from the field we’d been standing at the edge of. Thousands of them wheeling and screaming, and for a moment blocking out the coming dawn.  They felt like a sign, and they felt like power, but when I finally got to Austin my friends just said, “Oh yeah, Grackles. They do that.” The magic at the end of my trip in the midst of a fire turned out not to be anything out of the ordinary at all. And yet I still tell that story.

So what’s with the bird at Highcombe staring and Micah and Rafe in the dark? Bad housekeeping or madness manifest?

Sometimes the answer is simply yes.

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