I took my manuscript of The Biggest Cowboy in the World back from the publisher, meaning that it is no longer scheduled to be published.
Have you ever been working on something and have gotten a feeling that it wasn’t going well? That it had gotten too hard, or too complicated, or had somehow lost its way and you were struggling to get it back on track? I finally admitted that my novel didn’t feel right. Taking out 30,000 words was the first hint – I still haven’t understood how I wrote that much unneeded material without seeing how it obscured my basic story rather than enlightened it. Add to that another 6,000 words that I took out in the next pass and the hint was stronger that things weren’t right.
The novel is better for all that removal: cleaner, neater, more straight-to-the-point, and a simpler storyline. I even thought that the novel might have become suitable as a Young Adult book, which would have given it a definite genre and avoided labeling it as a Western.
That’s another hint of impending wrongness – I had suddenly changed who my target audience was, as well as avoiding my usual dislike for genre classifications.
I was begging the novel to do something that I hadn’t originally designed it for and the feeling of “begging” was the last hint needed for the story to be put into the proverbial drawer. I intent to return to it in the future; I like the extended saga of adventure and self-discovery, the character arc, the emotions, the setting, the movement, the characters, and the readability. There’s a lot of originality to it, good surprises and twists, and it makes for a good read. I believe that readers will like the tale once it’s told.
But it’s not ready. I need to step away.
I will tidy things up. I went to Texas last week and had a great time visiting the Goodnight Ranch outside of Amarillo, the Armstrong County Historical Museum in Claude, Fort Concho in San Angelo, the Caprock Canyonlands State Park outside of Turkey, and a great scenic drive through the Palo Duro Canyon country. All of these locations are pertinent to my story. From all that exposure, I found new information and expressions that will modify the manuscript, so I will make those changes before I put it away.
I also have a history consultant reviewing the manuscript for errors. I’m sure he’ll find something, and I will make those changes as well.
I will complete my file folder of printed excerpts from various books and articles concerning the Red River War, the Comanches, the school at Fort Sill, the timeline of the JA and Goodnight ranches, the history of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, Nellie Bly’s trip around the world, and other historical facts. I did not write a historical novel, but my descriptions need to be either accurate or reasonably authentic. When I return to rewriting, I don’t want to find myself puzzled by anything I’ve written.
My publisher, meanwhile, has dropped the book from the edit/cover/format/publish cycle. We hadn’t yet signed a contract, so canceling anything and/or paying a penalty is not a problem. I will pay for the efforts of my editor in reviewing the manuscript and making suggestions. The publishing house is happy with my decision; if I think my book is fatally flawed, they don’t want to be responsible for doing CPR.
After I do my housecleaning, I have two ideas that have been percolating for a year or so. I want to write a Mogi Franklin mystery that involves witchcraft in New Mexico from the 1700s to now; and I am very interested in the time period right after the end of World War II in Europe (Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia). I think there’s a story there, similar to the background in Teddy’s War.
Am I disappointed that my year-long effort is being put in the drawer? Yes. Am I discouraged? No. Am I hopeful? Yes. I think my plot, characters, settings, and drama are good. Letting everything sit for a while will make the story stronger when I do return to pick it up again.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.