Monday, July 16, 2012

Be Careful What You Put Under Your Bed

Be Careful What You Put Under Your Bed

Every novelist has a novel in the drawer, under the bed in a trunk, or  in the attic. So, I’m no different, not special at all. But I do have a story. Doesn’t every southern girl? See, this is how my packed away novel broke free and found the light of day. Thank goodness it did.

Like most want-to-be authors, I had a perfect plan. I would write the most beautiful, intelligent novel, and the publishing world would go gaga. And so I set about and did just that. The sentences of this epic story were long and poetic. The scenes were full of vivid details.

I finished the said novel and began to search out an agent. I was fully convinced they would fight over me. My book was that good. Two months later, even though I had several requests to read the whole manuscript, no one wanted my masterpiece.

Around this time my husband took me on a trip to my beloved North Carolina Mountains. He declared I needed a rest from all the angst over the novel. That’s what we called it; like somehow this work had morphed into a monster of my own making. THE NOVEL.

The trip was just what I needed. Relaxation, nature, and in the small town where we were staying, a reunion festival to spark my inspiration. A small valley sent back in time to the Great Depression. Now I knew all about the Depression. NO I’M NOT OLD ENOUGH. But I was raised by my grandmother and the Great Depression came to dinner with us each and every night. My chest tingled and it was as if I’d come home after a long time away.

I went home and went back to worrying over ‘the novel’. There were six rejection emails in my inbox. That night as I cooked supper two sentences shot through my mind.

“Mama warned me against marrying Hobbs Pritchard. She saw my future in her tea leaves: death.”

The character revealed so much about herself in those two sentences. Her name was Nellie, and I knew—just like all us women—she would ignore her mama’s warning and marry this Hobbs guy.

Sounds great, and you would have thought I would embrace this creative Godsend. But I didn’t. See I couldn’t understand how anyone would ever love a uneducated mountain girl. She was backward and obviously dumb since she was going to marry this guy. Her voice would not allow me to write my beautiful, intelligent sentences. So, I fought her off. (That’s a whole other essay on embracing your own writing voice.)

But Nellie would not shut up. Finally after three days of fighting off the urge to write down her story, I collapsed at my writing desk and did just that. Now she would shut up. And she did. But another character by the name of Oshie Conner popped up and here we went.

Meanwhile ‘the novel’ still hadn’t attracted an agent. But there was hope. An upcoming writers conference offered its participants a critique by a real live agent if one paid an extra five dollars and sent in the first five pages of their novel. Perfect.

Now understand I kept the short story manuscript under the bed in a one of the containers one stores winter clothes. It was my idea that no one would ever love my Black Mountain characters.

Here I have to stop and remind readers of my work of the ghosts and what they accomplish in my book and stories. If those ghosts put their minds to something, they pull it off.

I had every intention of sending the first five pages of ‘the novel’. I had them in my hand. Then I dropped to my knees, pulled out the container, and grabbed the first five pages of the short story manuscript. I mailed them in a complete daze. To this day, I still wonder if Nellie isn’t a real spirit.

My story ends this way: said agent called me before the writing conference and requested the whole first draft of Black Mountain stories. By the time I attended the conference I was her client and working on a new novel. Bet you can’t guess what it was called.

Ghost On Black Mountain was bought by Gallery Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) in 2010, and ‘the novel’ took its rightful place in the container under the bed.

The moral to this story? Never try to hide from your writing voice. It’ll hunt you down and take matters in its own hands. Thank goodness.  

Good Writing


  1. What a great story. I love Nellie's voice, and I can't wait to read about her. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Great story, Ann! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Love reading this, Ann.