It happened on Friday.
I got to thinking about a serial novel I was writing here on the blog a few years ago. It was actually early 2012 when I started, longer than I thought. The novel was called 70 Willow Street. I couldn’t even remember the name and it took some clever searching to find it! You can still read those chapters by clicking on the link.
I published a chapter every few weeks, but I abandoned it after Chapter 14 to pursue another project. Because of the timing, my guess is that project was Dickinstein.
On Friday, I decided to print a copy of the 14 chapters and give it a read. It’s about a boy named Cotter Paumans and his social worker trying to discover what happened to Cotter’s mom, Lillie Mae, after she was pulled from the river from an apparent drowning.
Cotter can communicate with the dead, and there’s an array of other creepy characters along the way. I really enjoyed creating these characters and building upon the mystery even though I never gave his social worker a name or even identified if they were male or female.
At the time, I remember I had no idea how the story would end. I was sort of letting those characters guide me. Even now, I’m not sure of an ending but rereading the chapters lit a spark in me and it’s time to find out.
My plan is to start over from the beginning. I’ll rewrite the current chapters or at least use them as a starting point. The current chapters are just under 30,000 words, a good start to a novel. I usually aim for 80,000 words as a minimum so 30K is about a third of a first draft for me, but I’m sure I’ll scrap most of it once I start rewriting.
My first big change is going to be the names of the characters and the setting. I had chosen the small town of Loxley, Alabama, but tend to like to write around settings that I know. I’ve never spent time in Alabama and have never been to Loxley. I remember I chose it because of the nearby river. The name of the river I mentioned earlier was Blackwater which is an actual river near the town of Loxley.
I like the name Blackwater though and a quick Google search helped me to discover there’s actually a town and river right here in Missouri called Blackwater! I’m kind of surprised I didn’t come across that back then. So it looks like I’ll be taking a road trip there soon and possibly changing the book’s setting to Missouri.
I also donn’t like the last name of the central character, nor his first name for that matter so he won’t be called Cotter Paumans anymore. As of this morning I’ve changed him to Parker Pierce, but I’m still not sure I like that either. I’ll also give his social worker a name and gender for the sake of clarity. Obscurity is important when building suspense and plot, but I think it is hard for a reader to connect with a character if they don’t know more about them.
I’m also probably going to change the title: 70 Willow Street. I like “Blackwater” as a title but a quick Amazon search will reveal that’s been used quite a bit. A well-known series called “Blackwater” is by the late Michael McDowell, an author I have read before and who is well known from the 80’s horror genre.
I’ve always liked sitting on a manuscript though and letting it age. I don’t know why. I wrote my novel, Are You Sitting Down?, from start to finish in 2007 but chose not to publish it until 3 years later. I’m not sure why other than I didn’t think that book deserved to be published. For this project, it’s just because I abandoned it to do something else but there’s the backbone of it waiting for me now 5 years later.
I also like the editing process. It’s smart (for me) to write something and step away from it for a while and then come back to it with fresh eyes. I’ve also written and published two other books since 2012. Going back and reading these 14 chapters now, I can tell I’m a better writer now, or I’ve gotten better since I first started it.
I use to rely heavy on adjectives and imagery. I really wanted the reader to get a sense of time and place the way I envisioned it. So I tend to write a bit poetic. Not so much now. I just want to tell a good story. And I think with writing mystery, it’s important to keep the story moving at a constant or fast pace. These chapters have a good pace, but they are a bit wordy in places. I’ll fix that too.
It’s too early to tell what will become of this. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now…I’m writing. And that is something I like and a place I like to be when I’m doing it. And it is indeed the scariest moment to sit down and create, but you have to start somewhere. Maybe that’s why I have all these starting points that I like to mull over for years at a time. I always have a place to come back to and I’m never starting fresh.
Scary moments averted.