Pat Wahler

Penning stories to savor.

Writing a Novel is Like a Giraffe Having a Calf

A few months ago, and with fingers crossed, I submitted a manuscript to a publisher in hopes they might consider taking it. I’d been playing with the story since 2010 – nearly seven years. Don’t misunderstand me, I love doing research and writing. But at some point, you have to finish what you start – and once a story is finished, wouldn’t it be nice if someone (other than your patient critique group) reads it? Even so, when I finally got the nerve to press the “send” button, I felt a little like a newbie actor must when trying out for the lead role in a play. Could they possibly pick me?

After waiting and sweating and chewing my fingernails to nubs, last week I heard from Amphorae Publishing Group. I’m thrilled to say, they offered me a contract for my novel, tentatively titled I Am Mrs. Jesse James.

Me putting my signature on the (undotted) line.

As soon as the terms were finalized, I jumped straight to social media. Publishing one little book isn’t such a big deal for the Stephen Kings among us. For me, it felt like an Academy Award nomination. So, I posted an announcement and said I’d write a blog post after the news had time to sink in.

Truth is, I’m not sure it’s sunk in even yet.

Maybe this has to do with the time and effort it takes to write a book. I’m not a speed-writer, especially when it comes to a work of historical fiction. To prepare for I Am Mrs. Jesse James, I’ve read more books, articles, newspaper clippings, maps, census reports, and opinion pieces on the James family and their nineteenth century world than I can count.

One may think, what’s the big deal? Review the research and get on with the story. Let me tell you what happens. After crafting a lovely little line about – for example – a ceramic bowl, fingers poise. Wait a minute? Did they have ceramic bowls in  1873? Then hours are lost to fact-checking ceramic bowls because there are tons of fascinating articles (with pictures!) on the history of ceramic bowls.  Then there’s the date you aren’t quite sure about, and need to verify, whereupon a brand new piece of information is discovered, requiring a previous chapter to be rewritten.

This is called chasing down a rabbit hole, and is a very effective way to lose time. I’ve really mastered the art of chasing down rabbit holes.

Here’s some of my material for this book. Sometimes locating a detail can be a tad challenging.

Further complicating matters, some sources were contradictory, and many pieces to the puzzle of Jesse James and his wife, Zee, were just plain missing. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. People who are on the run tend not to leave behind a helpful record of where they went, who they talked to, or what they did. So, I waded through the available material and brought to life Zee’s story based on what I learned about her.

After writing the first draft and revising it a bazillion times, off it went to my editor for her eagle eye to find any mistakes. Then I pored over the whole thing again. When I finally believed it to be ready, I sent the manuscript to the Amphorae Publishing Group – and here we are.

The contract is now complete, but guess what? I’m still revising, because there is one true statement about writing. Any work can always be made better.

You might say April the giraffe’s recent mind-numbing experience is similar to the work of a writer. It takes a long time to birth a book.

Watch for my book baby to be “born” sometime in mid-2018.  I hope you’re looking forward to the ride as much as I am.

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20 Comments

  1. Pat,
    Congratulations and all that other good stuff!
    May your birthing a new book be as easy as
    turning the pages of your favorite magazine.
    Linda and Astro

    • Pat Wahler

      April 27, 2017 at 5:14 pm

      Linda and Astro, thanks for the well wishes. I’d love to have an easy process!

  2. Oh, I am, Pat! And I have a tremendous amount of respect for those writers like you who tackle historical fiction because just when you think no one will know or care about something as small as a ceramic bowl–bam! You’ll get three emails from readers, blasting you for not doing your homework.

    Which is why I write either a. contemporary or b. fantasy fiction. I don’t mind making stuff up out of thin air or writing about what I sorta know, but all that running down facts? Checking them twice? MUCH too lazy for that! 🙂

    CanNOT wait to read all about Mrs. Jesse James!

    • Pat Wahler

      April 27, 2017 at 5:15 pm

      Cathy, I’m quite sure you chase down a few rabbit holes too. You are one of the truest writers I know!

  3. Oh, the rabbit holes! I was once trying to describe the smell in the air after a crack of lightning only to discover that the term “ozone” hadn’t been coined until about five years after my time period. I am so happy for you, Pat, and I can’t wait to read the finished product!

    • Pat Wahler

      April 27, 2017 at 5:16 pm

      Thanks, Sarah. I’m thoroughly enjoying your new release and looking forward to your next!

  4. I’m thrilled for you, Pat. Your success is very well deserved, and I can’t wait to read your novel. Research is fun, but it’s easy to get distracted. I admire your perseverance to take seven years for the finished project to come to fruition. I’m looking forward to your book launch and interviewing you on my blog! You are an inspiration to slow writers like me who plug along hoping one day to finish and get a contract with a first-class publisher like Amphorae. They only accept the best!

    • Pat Wahler

      April 27, 2017 at 5:21 pm

      Donna, you are so kind. It’s funny you mention persevere, as it’s the exact word I chose as my “resolution” for the new year.

      As far as being a slow writer, I wish my slow writing turned into the same lovely prose as I’ve seen from you.

  5. Linda O'Connell

    April 27, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    So happy for you about your new book. You are such an active writer. Oh yes, do I know about rabbit holes. Congratulations.

    • Pat Wahler

      April 27, 2017 at 5:24 pm

      Thanks, Linda, but I’d have to go a long, long way to become a more active writer than you. I think you submit more pieces in a month than I do in a year!

  6. Pat–I knew this was going to happen! Congratulations. I heard a small section at one of your critique sessions, and was impressed (and intrigued) after a tiny taste.

    Bravo. Your success is well-deserved.

    • Pat Wahler

      April 28, 2017 at 10:15 am

      Sioux, thanks for your thoughtful words. This has been such a long slow process that I really do feel as though its the pregnancy that’s never going to end!

  7. I can hardly wait to buy a copy and get it autographed.

  8. You can do anything my dear friend. Congrats!

    • Pat Wahler

      April 29, 2017 at 7:06 am

      Thanks, Sheree. You’re so sweet to take time out from your vacation of a lifetime to comment. Enjoy every minute!

  9. Congratulations, Pat! So happy for you and I can’t wait to read it, I know it will be great! I love the picture of the materials for the book you posted above, and can relate when you talk about looking for a particular fact because it drives me crazy when I can’t find the piece of information I was looking for that I know I just read!

    • Pat Wahler

      April 30, 2017 at 9:08 am

      Thanks, Mary. Finding that little thing I read a month ago is a challenge. How about doing a WOW post on organization? I could sure use some advice!

  10. Love this headline and congrats on your book. 😉 I know what you mean about historical fiction and each detail. It is exhausting. 🙂 This makes your accomplishment even that much more special.

    • Pat Wahler

      April 30, 2017 at 9:12 am

      Thanks, Margo. It is exhausting-but fascinating, too. Your publishing credits are impressive. I hope I can do half so well.

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