…more or less. My senior year in high school. The movie Far and Away was coming out, and there was a short story contest for young writers. You had to write a story about immigrants coming to America.
I took up the challenge and wrote some terribly melodramatic piece about immigrants from Italy making a treacherous boat trip to America, where they just happened to be washed ashore onto Ellis Island after a storm. I actually submitted that story. I have since repented, and hope that any copies were destroyed along with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s marriage papers.
Afterward, I felt the urge to write something else. Something different. Thus was born “A Tear for Billy”, another terribly melodramatic piece set during the Great Depression that couldn’t decide if it wanted to be serious, mysterious, or something else. By the end, even I didn’t know what the big mystery was. What is important about that piece was the setting — a little country town called Newtonberg.
While “Billy” was beyond redemption (and believe me — I’ve tried to rewrite it several times over the years and continue to fail), Newtonberg grew in my imagination. New characters emerged. The town began to live and breathe, and I actually started to look forward to visiting it.
So, who came first? That’s easy: Philip Blakeney, known to readers and Newtonberg citizens as “Cap.” I will admit that Cap is one of the characters inspired by someone I know. He’s one of my favorite characters, actually, and I almost regret… well, it would spoil the story if I said anything here, but if you’ve read “Cap’n”, you probably know what I regret.
After that, the characters emerged in just about the same order they do in that story. Rick Murchison, Michael Baldridge, Emily… all of them appeared when they were mentioned, fully-formed characters. Some of them begged for their own story and I obliged. Some of those stories have yet to be released. Some are still unwritten. Some were written, but didn’t live up to their promise.
And then — I couldn’t write a thing. I went through a long dry period that lasted more than five years. I managed some blog entries, a couple of poems, but nothing substantial. I started a few stories and didn’t get beyond a few paragraphs. Still, I saved them because those paragraphs sometimes yielded new details about the people in Newtonberg, or Newtonberg itself.
Finally, about August of this year, my boss handed me a magazine article about eBooks. After reading it, I decided that I would finally do something with my stories. I’d previously toyed around with the idea of having one story a month to take the reader through a year in Newtonberg. The truth was, I didn’t have twelve stories I was happy enough with to make that a reality. I went through the stories again, and found five that I really liked. If I did one story for every two months, then I really only needed one more.
As luck would have it, my sister’s job was sending her to West Texas for a week to help train employees. I took some time off work to go along, since that would give me a hotel room to myself for most of the day. A quiet place where I could focus and write.
And it worked. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you rent a hotel room to write in, but if you can get a quiet place to yourself for 8-10 hours a day, by all means go for it.
I finished “Christmas in Newtonberg” after five days of outlining, writing, rewriting, and correcting the other stories to fit new details. And it was worth it.
Next up: how to publish your eBook without going insane….