The desire that morphed into a dream (see previous post) brought along with it the kernel of an idea for a novel. My favorite novels at the time were sweeping historical sagas, and one of my all time favorite books was Gone With the Wind. So it wasn’t a surprise that the idea was set in the South before and during the Civil War. While that kernel was getting ready to pop, I continued my reading habit, devouring novels one after the other.
And then came that fateful day, that fateful book. It was A-W-F-U-L!! It was cardboard. The characters were wooden. And so I spoke the infamous words that have launched a number of writing careers: “If she can get published, I can get published.”
Well, let me tell you. That statement reveals total ignorance. When we say those words, we have no clue how hard it is to write a “real” book. Writing for fun and writing a novel for publication are two different things. A novel needs interesting characters who readers can identify with. A novel needs a plot. A novel needs good pacing. A novel needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. And none of those things happen without effort.
But I spoke them, and within a few weeks I knew I had to put my money where my mouth was, as the cliche goes. So in March 1981, I took a yellow legal pad and a pen and I wrote the opening line of what would become my first novel: Morning burst upon the fields of Spring Haven with bright sunshine and blue skies.
Here’s one thing I have learned since 1981: We must always write our best if we are serious about a writing career, but we can only write the best book we are capable of at the time.
I poured myself into that story. I bought a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style to brush up on my grammar. I bought Civil War research books and immersed myself in them. I read books on manuscript format and plotting and characterization. And I wrote. Lying in bed at night after my kids were asleep, I wrote my novel on yellow pads. The next day at work, I would type the manuscript on the office IBM Selectric during lunch hours and coffee breaks. I turned my imagination loose in a whole new way.
I finished the book eight months later. Now what?