Who Said What When

📅 October 28, 2020

Dream an impossible dream, set to work, watch it materialize, see it just beyond your grasp… almost within reach…falter…demand of yourself what you think you’re doing, and conclude if you could realize your aspiration “just this once,” then you will be satisfied.  

Only to find when the dream arrives, you find it so extraordinary you want to start all over and do it again.

That’s what happened after my first book was published and in my hands.

I should explain here that I never even remotely entertained the notion of seeking out an agent or a publisher. I simply didn’t want to take time to go the traditional route, when publishing independently with Kindle Direct Press was well within reach.

Beyond that, I had been to many a seminar where I learned some well-known authors had abandoned traditional publishing in order to enjoy more direct control of every aspect of their content, cover, and royalties.

By the time I was ready to send my first book to print, I had been to enough conferences, meetings, and seminars that I had figured out things as I went and knew how to go about publishing.

As a veteran teacher with decades in the classroom, I had access to a wide array of former students, and knew someone who had the skill to help me with all the steps and elements involved in publishing a book. In some cases, those “someone’s” referred me to someone else.

So I assembled a team: formatter, cover artist, videographer for book previews on the website, website designer.

And then the first book arrived. What a feeling—actually holding my own book with my name on the cover—in my hand. I still look at it (and its siblings) on my shelf and sometimes still cannot believe it.

Though the first book ended happily…both the story itself and my experience writing it…I was not finished…not by a long shot. I don’t know that I ever consciously said, “I have more to say. Agnes has a lot more trouble to get into.”

But having once entered the Magnolia Arms, I wasn’t ready to leave.

And neither was Agnes.

Neither, according to what I’ve heard, are my readers.

So on to Road to Briarwood.

When I started Trevorode the Defender back in 1998, I hadn’t given a conscious thought to narrator, first person or third. I simply started writing and that’s what ended up on the page.

First person narration has the benefit of tugging on the reader a little more directly than third person. It has its drawbacks. The narrator often has to repeat some plot point to another character who doesn’t know what happened, when the reader already does. And the author can only explore the inner life of one character and that is the narrator.

I ended up trying to balance “scene” with “summary”—a principle I learned from The Art of Reading, the course I mentioned last week.

It is commonly advised: readers like “white space” on the page; i.e. they prefer dialogue and lots of it to “summary,” or blocks of print.

But sometimes it is necessary to summarize. For instance, if Agnes needed to repeat an event to another character, rather than proceed through “She said, he said,” I would write, for example: “I told Flossie how I had…” or “I explained how Elinor…”

By the time I got to Part III, Tea at Kimball Pines, I wanted to see what it was like to write in third person and explore the thoughts of all the characters.

The main character was Pinetta Fraleigh and most of the story was focused on her and seen through her eyes.

However, I was still able to spend a great deal of time in Agnes’ mind, because she had so many challenges to face, as well as the inner life of Vesper Kimball. The conclusion of her particular story took me completely by surprise and was such a joy to write.  

By the time I finished this book, I realized Ivy Leigh Ransom (Hampton by now) was the only character whose backstory I had not told, and I felt compelled to do so.

Ivy Leigh is another character who took me by surprise. In the early days of Trevorode, she was jaded and snide. But as I wrote her and she began to evolve and mature (me, too), she became wiser and more maternal, though still no-nonsense.

Truth be told: Much as I love Agnes and always will, Ivy Leigh is my favorite character.

By now: I wanted to try something completely new…to me—using a narrator to tell another character’s story, my pattern being Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby. Enter Babs Allgrove whom I would task with telling Ivy Leigh’s story.

Babs, by the way, was actually supposed to be in Tea at Kimball Pines. When Pinetta hears of her father’s heart attack and goes home for the funeral, she was to meet “Babs Allgrove” on the train. But the scene was not workable and Babs was extraneous and “ended up on the cutting room floor.”

Waiting to be center stage in The Moores, the Merriers.

Again first person was the only way to go. So I switched back for Part IV.

Forever wanting to stretch and challenge myself, I have navigated back to third person for Lawson Payne.

“A writer’s work is never done.”

I hope.

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Holly Bebernitz

Native Texan Holly Bebernitz moved to Jacksonville, Florida in 1967. After thirty years of teaching speech, English, and history on the secondary and college levels, she retired from classroom teaching to become a full-time grandmother. The change in schedule allowed the time needed to complete the novel she had begun writing in 1998. When Trevorode the Defender was published in March 2013, the author realized the story of the Magnolia Arms was not yet complete.