A writer's tale of an historical fiction manuscript in progress and a few sacrifices
Updated: Sep 29
I've hit another milestone in writing my historical novel or hybrid fiction-nonfiction-memoire. Four Beta readers have it to read and provide feedback. By the end of next month, I’ll know what they think. This is the first time anyone but my mentor and I have seen or read it cover-to-cover.
My readers are the brave souls. Reading a raw manuscript isn’t like buying a new book. Giving unfiltered feedback may not be easy, either. They all know me – some well and some not so well. Theirs is a very generous gift.
I was giddy with excitement the day I made the drop at the post office. But it left me feeling nervous about what was to come. What if four people think it’s a terrible story?
Four days later, I had an email from Penny, my only non U.S. reader, besides my mentor. She read it in two sittings and wanted to know more. Her written feedback was helpful - better than I expected - and we’ll have a Zoom call soon. Interestingly, she got caught up in my characters and wanted to know what happened to them after the story ended. Mine is a story based on real people who were still alive at the end. Because of her suggestions, I’m adding a prologue.
There is no rest for the weary when it comes to writing a book. Now, I’m noodling with my synopsis, working on cover letters to possible publishers, and adding a few scenes for clarification. Once I get the other readers’ feedback, I’ll have a fair amount of clean up to do. But now I know I will finish.
It’s come a long way from the idea I discussed with my father more than 25 years ago, when I began reading and cataloging family letters and diaries. The actual writing only began two years ago after I took a course, The Hero’s Journey, and began to understand how a story actually comes together.
It's not the same book I originally thought I would write, but a better one. In the process I printed and recycled 6 reams (3,000 pieces) of paper, deleted 40,000 words from my first draft, spent more than 70 hours with my memoire writers group, invested more than 30 hours with my mentor on Zoom and in writing retreats in Venice and Croatia, ate 26 lunches with other writers, ghosted friends countless times, spent 22 hours in online courses, purchased 19 reference books, sorted more than 400 photographs, drank at least 4,500 cups of home brewed dark roast coffee, spent dozens of nights tossing and turning, logged countless hours frozen in front of a blank screen, read my manuscript cover to cover 4 times, researched online and in the library for more than 250 hours including going down many rabbit holes, scanned and read more than 1,000 family letters and pieces of ephemera (my sons were a huge help), gained and lost 15 pounds during the worst of it, wore out and replaced one desk chair, and wrote and discarded 26 titles without coming up with the perfect one.
I can’t wait to share the book with you. Below is a brief synopsis.
It's a hybrid fiction-nonfiction-memoire about Katherine Carpenter, a strong woman who grew up in an era when daughters were not educated but married off, women primarily worked only in the home, letters were the main form of long distance communication, men were intentionally paid more than women for the same job, women rarely had their own money or bank accounts, and, until 1920, women could not vote.
In college, she was stricken with crippling arthritis that became progressively worse with the stress of losing two parents and their home and leaving Florida to return to her Kentucky birthplace. Poised, serious, well dressed, demanding, a gracious hostess, an excellent communicator, and with a curious mind, she made a name for herself, despite her disease. She successfully executed a plan to get her sister married to the town’s most eligible bachelor. When her sister passed and their son was only six, Katherine lived in the house and raised him as her own.
Filled with compelling stories of love, madcap adventures, tragedy, war, and humorous small town antics, the book takes place in Florida and Kentucky during the first half of the twentieth century.