In November, the Highlights Foundation hosted a dinner to celebrate my novel LIKE A RIVER (due to launch April 7, 2015). As I mingled through the attendees, the question I was repeatedly asked was “How long did it take you to write this book?”
That is not an easy question to answer.
The first spark of an idea entered my brain over twenty years ago when I first heard about the Sultana disaster. I was working on other novels at the time, but I did research on the Sultana and Andersonville Prison. I jotted down notes. I visited the site of the prison and the town of Andersonville. I visited Rome, Georgia, and was introduced to another place that would find its way into my book.
I mapped out a possible storyline and wrote a first chapter. I discarded that chapter, and went back to my other novels. Over the years, I wrote five or six first chapters and discarded them all.
Four and a half years before I finished the first draft, I took a rough synopsis and five chapters to a Highlights Foundation workshop with Rich Wallace. His advice caused me to add a new character and totally revamp my storyline. When I went home, I worked on other projects while I spent time figuring out how to proceed with my new storyline for LIKE A RIVER.
I honestly don’t remember at what point I put all those other projects aside and worked steadily on the novel, and that was an interesting part of the writing process. And even after I did, I still took time to go back and revise another novel and write several short stories. I also did preliminary research for a new novel. I usually work on more than one story at a time.
I have never gone back and tried to tally up the actual hours (or days or weeks or months) I devoted to LIKE A RIVER, but it has lived inside me for more than twenty years. I am thrilled that it will finally be published and in readers’ hands.
On Thanksgiving, we got together with numerous family members (as we do every year), and the subject of LIKE A RIVER came up. My nephew’s wife asked me, “How long did it take you to write the book?” Maybe I need to make a rough calculation for a quick answer.