Discover more from Hiram Falls -- A Serial Novel
Exhilaration of finishing the 4th draft
A major milestone is reached, though I have much work ahead.
With ‘Hiram Falls News’ I will update you on my progress with the novel, Hiram Falls, and, once finished, I’ll alert you with news and events, discussion groups and other places and other formats to experience the book.
I’ve done it. Today, I completed the fourth draft of my novel, Hiram Falls. I am exhilarated. I like it. It’s getting there.
I changed the ending. Twice.
I found a quote for the prologue:
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” — William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun.
I changed the beginning. Twice. (And I still don’t like it.)
I cut a lot. I added a shitload. It still came out 26,000 words less than Draft 1, a respectable 110,000 words. I made a ‘ghost’ one of the main characters; (He talks to crows.) he’s the thread to other characters. I’ve un-resolved the ending of one storyline. I resolved another that had been unresolved. I dumped a couple of characters, but added several others.
I understand the story better now. The stories. The characters. I can now tell you what the novel is in less than 15 words: Hiram Falls is about a small rural town which discovers answers to unrealized questions.
One of my readers for the first draft, an Abenaki woman who’s let me represent part of her story in one of the characters, asked me if there would be a sequel. She explained: “You haven’t told me what’s going to happen to all the people hurt by your villain.” A different perspective. Why I love outside readers. And why I spent more time telling the story of one of the victims in this draft.
I am indebted to so many people in getting this far.
I have a core group of five people — diverse in their backgrounds and skills and ages — who’ve been with me from the beginning. They have encouraged me, affirmed my efforts, given me added motivation. I have five readers of this draft — two new folks to replace two in the core group who are stacked up right now.
I am indebted to others: To the director of a non-profit media company who will be helping me with the audio version. To the stage director who five years ago asked me to write stories about the book’s characters to present to live audiences. To the man who sent me a check for $5,000. To another who deposits $100 a week in my bank. Just to cover my expenses, take that worry away. Just to make it all possible.
To the retired doc who has been my visa to trust with the Abenaki in Franklin County, VT. To the Abenaki elders who’ve told me stories and took me one day to some of their sacred places, including the cave my ghost lives in.
“We don’t call them ghosts; we call them ancestors.” And when I told the elder it was weird that the cave bears a startling resemblance to the one in my early draft, he replied: “Nothing weird about it; the ancestors are speaking to you.” He smiled.
I’m indebted to Julia Kent whose magnificent cello has been with me almost every moment I have been writing. She has become my musical muse; I loop her music and listen to it only when I write. She and I have communicated and talked about the relationship of music and words, of the power of music to spark creativity.
But now I must wait for my readers’ reactions and suggestions. The characters recede in my mind, but not without a fight. They’re anxious as to what comes next. “Really?” I say to them.
This recent draft has been a lesson on the importance of isolation. I contracted a nasty bout of bronchitis and so was banished to the basement where I wrote undisturbed for five days straight. Without distractions my brain could wrap itself around the entire story, the entire book and changes and tweaks and fixes came more easily.
It is startling to me that this all began 23 years ago when, as a newspaper editor, I was given the transcript of a diary someone found at the bottom of a box of books they’d bought at a yard sale. It was handmade, leather cover, written in the delicate hand (quill and ink) of an 18-year-old girl in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont in 1894, daily entries about a life of drear. It began with this:
January 1, 1894. 4 degrees. Cloudy.
Today was the day for Uncle Lyman’s and my trial but it was again postponed. The menfolk went to town anyways. Oh dear me, oh dear me. How can I bear it all?
I did not know what to do with it. But I was curious. And I researched. And I found people knowledgeable of that time. And some of the stories were even darker than the diary. So I set it aside.
Five years ago, I returned to it and wrote a fictionalized version of it — a more palatable vision — and it was presented on stage in seven shows. Hearing my own words presented was thrilling, the audience reactions and affirmations even more so.
I began writing yearly stories about new characters. The town began to take shape. The stories began to take shape.
In early 2019, I began the novel bringing life to a cliché — ‘Retired guy writes novel in basement.’ My first 25,000 words were dreadful, a discovery I made early one morning, a winter’s morning just before dawn. I did a John-Steinbeck. He once wrote, on yellow legal pads, a 620-page novel about which no one knows; then he burned it. I merely selected the file and pressed ‘Delete.’ And it disappeared. Completely. Utterly. And for six months I did nothing.
In December, I gained a sense of purpose — I would publish online; I would put together a team to help. And so the novel has gone, is going, will go. More drafts ahead, I am sure. A deadline of spring 2023.
And along the way, I’ve learned these things:
We need a sense of purpose; modern book publishing is intimidating and discouraging. Self-publishing, with help and (eventually) professional editing, online is a viable alternative.
All of us are looking for the answer but, actually, we need to know what to ask.
If it ain’t fun, don’t do it. I’ve had a blast. Most challenging and exciting project I’ve ever had.
For all of you who made it this far, I was taught, by a wily editor in my early days of journalism, that the news pyramid is full of shit, and it’s good to give your most engaged readers a nugget at the end. A reward. Here are a couple:
The book is about a small rural town with secrets. Yes. But it also is a town that has questions it doesn’t yet realize, and answers it can’t quite see. But as the owl tells the ghost in my story, “Don’t try so hard. It will come. It will come.”
While it is set in a fictitious town in Vermont it really is about any small, rural community in this country with all its glory and weirdness and cruelty and joy, it’s humor and its hardship.
But it is a Vermont story in this sense: When I was offered a job in Vermont in the late ‘90s, I called a friend who grew up in Vermont, a woman, and asked her what she liked best about the state. She hesitated, “Oh, it’s the women. Strong women. And they are so much stronger than the men.” She had hesitated, of course, because she didn’t want to appear rude.
So my characters reflect that. All of that. Though the men have great strength, too. Just not in the usual way.
I can’t wait to finish it. Oh, wait, I have. For the moment. For the next few weeks. And then I will go back and see what the characters have been up to. What changes my team is suggesting.
Does anything that I’ve written resonate with you?
Are there things you’d like to know more about?
I’d love to hear your comments.