I’m over the moon with the company WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD is keeping this summer! Thank you The Bitter Southerner for adding WPTG to your great summer reads list!
For a writer, each and every novel is an ongoing process from conception of the vague idea until the deadline pries it from our rigidly revising fingers. Along the way new possibilities bloom, surprise characters appear (yes, surprise even to the author), unforeseen forks appear in the story’s road, and sometimes the entire theme of the book becomes defined in a way far from our original thought. For example, the concept for Whistling Past the Graveyard began as a child in jeopardy story, told from multiple points of view. I wasn’t more than two chapters into it when Starla’s character began to evolve and the story changed into a period coming of age, search for maternal love story fueled by the segregated South and Starla’s fiery personality. Her voice was so strong and unique, the possibility of multiple points of view was taken off the table entirely. (Now I do know there are writers out there whose process does not work in this way, they have things planned and solid in their minds from the instant they type Chapter 1. To those disciplined and skilled writers, I applaud you!) For me, it’s a journey with unforeseen pitfalls and newly discovered treasures–and occasionally a road that requires a bridge built from popsicle sticks and Elmer’s glue before the journey can continue on.
Very often there are details that came along with our original idea that we love for their insight, we adore for their brilliance and uniqueness. We just cannot give them up. NO MATTER WHAT. Think of a wide-eyed, starving stray puppy you take home, bathe, feed and accept into your heart even though it gnaws your furniture, poops on your carpet and costs thousands of dollars in veterinary expenses–yeah, it’s that kind of attachment. No matter how the story has evolved and the place where that original idea was to go has changed from a round hole to cubic box, we just keep trying to shoehorn, hammer and wedge them in there. Almost always to our own detriment–sadly we know this, but continue on anyway.
Recently one of my writer friends had this issue in a way that totally encapsulates the problem we writers face with our own stubborn creativity. It had to do with the bees.
Her story is filled with great character conflict, mystery, love and betrayal. As all of her books, it’s brilliant and deals with a complicated cast of characters and two intertwining plots. In the beginning, she’d planned on a bee-sting allergy to off one of the characters. It really was a great idea. However as the book evolved during the writing process, the motivations changed, as did a few of the characters. And really, the whole death-by-bee-sting just became absurdly unworkable. And still, each time we talked, she was trying to get that swarm of bees to do the dirty work. Logically she knew it had to change. That to leave the bees in would make the scene far off the mark on so many levels. And yet … the bees.
You see, I use my friend’s work because as a critique partner, it’s so much easier to see the forest and not just the trees … or bees, as it were. I have no attachment to these bees. It’s easy for me to jettison them from the story entirely. When I comes to my own work, I rely on my critique partners to hammer some sense into me when I become obsessive (which is usually four to five times per book).
As for my critique partner? In the end, reason won and the bees were toast. But I think she might still shed a tear or two at night over what could have been.
With great excitement and gratitude I announce that Whistling Past the Graveyard was awarded the 2014 SIBA Award for Fiction. I can’t thank the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance enough for this honor, and for all of the support they’ve collectively given this book. When I learned that WPTG had been selected as a finalist, I was over the moon. The other five finalists were truly amazing books, written by wonderfully talented authors. I didn’t dare hope. But dreams apparently do come true!
WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD is Target’s February Book Pick!
Every American knows that horrible date. For me, sitting in Mrs. Purvis’s 2nd grade classroom in a building built in the 1880s, the news was baffling. I don’t recall many of the details of that afternoon, except for the stunned and saddened adults, those people who were counted on to understand everything, now didn’t seem understand at all.
My life consisted of learning cursive, wondering why girls couldn’t wear pants to school on cold days, riding my bicycle, dealing with my little sister, adoring my older brother and playing with my friends. I probably wouldn’t have been aware of the President as a person, rather than just the idea of the office, if he hadn’t had little kids. Their pictures were always on the news and in LIFE magazine. Those kids made him real. A dad. And suddenly he was dead.
I think we never truly empathize with others until something makes them understandable and relatable in our own personal world. A dad was dead. That I could comprehend. That I could imagine. What if my dad went to work one day and never came home? I think in some small way, that day, that dawning understanding of others’ loss contributed to my ability to create believable fictional characters. That was the first time I crawled under another person’s skin…Caroline Kennedy. A girl whose daddy won’t come home.
The television, normally off during the daytime hours in our house, stayed on. My mother made me sit and watch it all. The Sunday procession from the White House to the Capitol, Caroline and her mother kneeling beside that flag draped casket, Monday’s long slow procession from the Capitol to the cathedral and then again after the service to Arlington cemetery. Whenever I got restless, she reminded me, this was history being played out right in front of me. History she hoped would never be repeated. It was important I watch the entire thing.
The thing that struck me was the silence. How could a street filled with chest-to-back, shoulder-to-shoulder people be so quiet? Nothing but drum beats and horse hooves. The other thing, of course, was the image of two children whose lives would never be the same.
It’s an honor to be nominated! Cliche, yes, but also true. Whistling Past the Graveyard has been nominated in the Historical Fiction category long with Amy Tan, Colum McCann, Philipp Meyer, Kate Atkinson and more. Big names, to be sure, so Whistling Past the Graveyard is sure to be a long shot.
But if you loved Starla and want her to move to the next round, Vote for Whistling Past the Graveyard in the 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards!
An honor to be nominated, indeed!
First round ends November 9, so vote soon!
No, it’s not naughty…although our motto is “Show me your nitties.” It has nothing to do with a hobby, or craft. It’s not like Costco—although it is exclusive and has limited membership. No photo ID required.
It began on a dark and stormy night…oh, no, not that. But it did begin years and years ago, when three unknown and unpublished writers were honing their craft in isolation. And then [hallelujah chorus here] they found one another on the Internet…back in the day when only the oddly-fascinated-with-technology had Internet friends. Actually, only two of us, Karen White and I, met in an Internet writers’ group. Karen and Wendy Wax met through a writer’s organization in the real world, so I guess you could say Wendy and Karen’s origins were more normal for the times—oh those long years ago.
Karen and I critiqued via the Internet for a year before we actually met in person and dispelled our families worries that we were each talking to some strange dude in his mother’s basement and not a bonafide lady writer. Actually, I figured that if it was some odd dude in his mother’s basement, he was a heck of a writer and I was sticking with him as a critique partner.
Karen was the bridge that brought the three of us together.
We go on retreat. We brainstorm. We share insight. We vent. We offer suggestions. We talk one another off the literary ledge.
It was a kinder and gentler process in the beginning, centered entirely around the compliment sandwich. “I really liked ABC, but I felt you could have expanded on DEF, gone deeper in GHI, and I loved what you did with JKL.” It really took a lot of typing. As time progressed, and the published books accumulated, this was streamlined. “Where’s the motivation?” “I just can’t see this character doing this—like ever.” “Shouldn’t we see this in action?” “Not so fast, Norma! Did you really think I wouldn’t notice you glossed over this?” Yes, we still compliment the gems…but with an emoticon smilie face. No need to waste words.
And then there are the nitties. Not major character issues. Not plot problems. Not the big things that need to be discussed in an email and worked out. But all of those little things we note in “track changes.” The tiny things that must be addressed: typos, grammar, incoherent sentences, wrong character name—yeah, it happens. The phrase “nitties on the pages” usually concludes every email.
And so, The Nittie Club.
Although I feel we’ve enhanced one another’s work, the most valuable thing we share is a great bond of friendship. No nitties on those pages.
Oh, yeah, there’s a secondary function of the Nittie Club. Writing a novel is a long, emotional haul. Sometimes we need a cheerleader. Sometimes we need a gentle nudge. And sometimes we need a muse with a gun (as depicted on the back of our club t-shirts).
Yeah, we’re all that and more.