word craft


Story Behind the Story #69:
The End of the World and Beyond

From a writ­ers’ point of view, I have been blessed inso­far as I’ve nev­er real­ly been at a loss for ideas for my nov­els. That said, it has got­ten me into trou­ble because, in truth, they are good but some­times half-baked ideas. In my enthu­si­asm I pitch these ideas to pub­lish­ers, who grab hold. Then I have to give good lit­er­ary life to those ill-formed notions. So far, so good.

When I first sug­gest­ed my idea for the sto­ry of Oliv­er Cromwell Pitts (at that point unnamed) to my edi­tor at Algo­nquin, to the best of my rec­ol­lec­tion the basic idea was to tell the tale of a kid in ear­ly 18th Cen­tu­ry Eng­land who gets caught up in Britain’s hor­ren­dous legal sys­tem and is trans­port­ed (by way of pun­ish­ment) to the Amer­i­can colonies. This was accept­ed, with the pro­pos­al that I write a TWO-book sto­ry. You may learn of the evo­lu­tion of the book in the blog I post­ed here on Feb­ru­ary 27, 2018.

What I did not relate in that post­ing was a vital fact. Some­where in the course of writ­ing “Pitts 1,” as we came to call it, I got it into my head that this was to be a THREE book series. So, I sent in the first book, which end­ed (in that iter­a­tion) when Oliv­er dis­cov­ers his beloved sis­ter is a com­mon pickpocket.

In turn, the edi­tor kind­ly referred me to my con­tract, which I sure­ly had read and signed, that stat­ed quite clear­ly that this was to be a TWO-book project.

Did it mat­ter? Well yes. Speak­ing for myself, hav­ing writ­ten for many years, I have devel­oped an inner sense of how long a book needs to be, and there­by pace the text accord­ing­ly. I was brought up short that this book was, well, short. I need­ed it to be a fair bit longer. More­over, at that point I had not ful­ly thought out how this book should end.

Back to work.

To put it metaphor­i­cal­ly, it was as if I had decid­ed to climb a moun­tain, only to dis­cov­er (as I hiked) that the moun­tain had two sum­mits, the sec­ond one the real sum­mit, and much high­er. You get to the first sum­mit, breathe a sigh of relief and relax. Then you notice you haven’t tru­ly got­ten to the top. That’s com­mon enough here in the Rocky Moun­tains where I live, but not in my lit­er­ary life, where I work.

The End of the World and BeyondI got back to the book. It proved to have one big advan­tage. I now need­ed to think firm­ly how the sec­ond book’s plot would evolve. In this fash­ion book one and two were effec­tive­ly blend­ed. I think one might read the two books back-to-back, and not miss a beat. In fact, if a writer’s view is to be con­sid­ered, the full sto­ry of Oliv­er Cromwell Pit­t’s life (The Unex­pect­ed life of Oliv­er Cromwell Pitts, and The End of the World and Beyond), is much more enter­tain­ing to read, if you read them one right after the other.

And I should read my pub­lish­ing contracts—carefully.

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