Sunday, April 4, 2010

From Idea to Novel

By Mike Long

A lot of people have asked why a stockbroker in South Carolina would chose to write fiction about Texans in the Civil War. Well, OK, two people asked, and only one of them really cared, but it still forced me to think about the question.

The catalyst for my novel, No Good Like It Is, was an article on Terry’s Texas Rangers in Blackpowder Annual Magazine from Dixie Gun Works. Doing more research, I learned that the Rangers performed both the first and the final cavalry charges of the Army of Tennessee, and tried to stop the slaughter of Negro prisoners at Fort Pillow. I was hooked.

The story came together quickly. I put a couple of fictional characters into the Eighth Texas Cavalry, took them through the war in Book One, and followed their trip home in Book Two. Sort of like Butch and Sundance enroute to Cold Mountain.

The draft took about six months to finish. It drove me. Made my wife and office partners crazy. I’d wake up at 2 AM and have to get up and write; next day, made everyone listen to what I wrote. I don’t type; I hired a medical transcription service to get my scribbling from my legal pads into the computer.

In the two years after that I polished it and tried to get it published, or at least agented. I did everything backwards. I wrote the novel, then bought “How-to” books and joined our workshop, but I might have never finished it had I done it the other way around.

I’ve had almost no luck with agents or publishers. As a novice, you find that agents send you form-letter rejections (unless you’ve already published something), and publishers don’t even respond unless you have an agent (and have published something). Most traditional publishers won’t even accept a query except from an agent. They’re swamped. What a great system.

The exception for me was an acquisition editor at Oklahoma University Press who read the whole manuscript. He explained why he couldn’t accept it, and then encouraged me to try several other publishers by name, even gave me some contacts, and said he thought the work should be published. Nicest rejection I’ve ever received.

If you ever wake up and want to be a writer of Western fiction, roll over and go back to sleep. If that doesn’t work, add a heavy dose of history and change your genre to Historical Fiction. Or join the Western Writers Association and network through them. You can also sell your un-published book through Kindle. Trust me – the folks in Manhattan have never heard of Lonesome Dove, Open Range, 3:10 To Yuma, Last Stand At Saber River, Appaloosa, Broken Trail, Hondo, Valdez Is Coming, Hombre, Will Penny, The Missouri Breaks. They might know the authors.

So, read, write for fun, enter contests, join a writers’ group, get an editor, go to book festivals, research, keep your day job. Forget about Manhattan. It’s a figment of our imagination.

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