Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, genealogy and family history, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Novel in Progress

Unless you're interested in writing, this will be boring.

I stopped writing for a couple of years because—as an under-published author—I knew I'd never achieve success. Success—finding an agent who'd sell my book to a legit commercial publisher would be difficult (OK, impossible) because I've self-published, vanity-published, and small press-published, all of which resulted in mediocre sales.

But I'm working on a novel again. I'll self-publish through CreateSpace, which at least won't cost me anything even if it isn't a legit publishing credit.

Since 2007, I've had 20,000 words of what was supposed to be a YA novel taking up space on my hard drive. Originally the story was called What the Dog Told Me, and was about a rural teenaged girl in 1972 whose ability to communicate with animals sets her apart from others but helps her solve a crime. I submitted the first few pages to a panel at a writing conference in 2008 and was told YA readers don't care about the early 70s and my characters were stereotypes. I abandoned the project.

A few years ago, I started working on the idea again. This time titled If Only We Listen, the novel was about an animal communicator whose mystery-solving experience in the 70s echoed what she was doing now. It was a disaster because the first chapter pretty much gave away what had happened in the 70s. So I abandoned it again.

But a few things happened in the last year or so that made me give the doomed novel another try. I became interested in genealogy and learned a lot about my family's migration through Virginia—some stayed in one place, but others moved on. A DNA test revealed that I was a lot more Irish than I'd thought. And, thanks to the Internet and a Facebook genealogy group, I found out a lot about the mysterious death of my great-aunt in 1911. A cousin said I should make that aunt's story into a book. While it wasn't enough for a book, it was good for several scenes in a book, though. And the plot of my  abandoned novel took on some new dimensions.

 Them That Go, told from the viewpoint of a seventeen-year-old girl with a special gift, is an Appalachian novel about a secret revealed, a mystery solved, and a life forever changed. I'm within a  thousand words or so of having it finished. Maybe.

To get the feel of the setting, I immersed myself in Appalachian culture. I'd enjoyed reading Janice Holt Giles's books back in the 80s and revisited them. Two of the books below were about her moving to a ridge in Kentucky and eventually building a house.

One thing I didn't want to do was have regional dialect so phonetically spelled that it would be difficult to read. I also didn't want a series of apostrophes marking dropped gs in -ing endings.  (I once enjoyed Giles's Piney Ridge books, but now I find the creative spellings and the plethora of apostrophes to be a distraction.)

So—what I did was use diction and rhythm to recreate Appalachian speech. Sharyn McCrumb does this effectively in her ballad novels. The Songcatcher is an excellent example of using Appalachian speech that enhances the story instead of distracting the reader. I re-read the book, which is a doggone good story as well as an example of effective dialect..

I also re-read Jesse Stuart's The Thread that Runs So True, again for speech but also for Appalachian culture. I read several Irish fairy tales that people of Irish descent might have known.

While I do my writing on the iMac (and sometimes on the MacBook), my notes are scribbled on paper.

I did put a few things I needed to remember about my characters in the computer. Then I scribbled more notes on my print-out.

Keeping track of what happened when is a lot easier with a printed-out 1972-73 calendar.

Every so often, I print out some pages to help me see where the story needs more development. And I scribble in more notes. Then I make corrections on the computer.

I don't just write straight through until I'm done. I need to make the earlier parts as good as I can get it before I move on. The beginning is the foundation; you can't build a good house on a bad foundation. I also need to know the ending—my ending chapter this go-round was the beginning chapter of my second try.

I've done a lot of research on this version to get details right. And I had a few pre-readers look at what I had to see if I was on the right track. Meanwhile, I'll keep on writing. My plans are to have Them That Go published in early 2016.

You can take a look at the beginning here.



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