Let Me Tell You About My Novel...

... because it is, as of this morning, now OFFICIALLY a novel. I've been holding myself to SFWA standards, which put the threshold for a novel at 40,000 words. I normally write my blog posts first thing in the morning and then open my manuscript, but when I woke up today I had 39,300 words, and I did not want to write this post with 700 words to go. So with a little early morning gumption, I got the thing up to 40,500 by lunch. That's a novel.

I've been holding off a bit on putting a lot of details out there about this project because, well, for one it's a really challenging, kind of scary project. But for another, I really wanted it to be official. I've been treasuring every mini-achievement I can -- every 10,000 words, every 1,000 word day, the first 150 pages in Courier 12 -- but I still wanted to wait to actually have a novel before I really started talking about it. Below the cut you'll find out just what it is I've been working on this whole time. Come on. Check it out.

This is, of course, a partial manuscript and a first draft, so everything here is subject to change. That said, here's what I got.

I got an elevator pitch: "Think The Sound of Thunder meets Their Eyes Were Watching God. A time travel adventure set in rural Florida that asks the questions 'What if you actually could prevent a hurricane by stepping on a butterfly? And what if that power belonged to a little girl whose anger at the world was too big for her body?'"

I got some jacket copy for you: "When young Mary Hesper looks up at the sky, she doesn't see what everyone else does. She sees colors swirling on the wind that can show her when it is going to rain, and how much rain there is going to be. And when she looks at the flapping of a butterfly's wings, she sees where the colors and the weather come from. Made fun of for being ugly by the children around her and meaner to the people around her than she wants to be for reasons she doesn't understand, eight-year-old Mary is already angry at the world before the deadly 1928 Lake Okeechobee Hurricane takes her community by surprise and rips her life apart. But Mary has an ability she is about to unlock, a power that could change everything...."

I got titles. I don't know exactly what this book is going to be called, but I know some good titles that have presented themselves based on what I've written so far:

  1. My Many Bodies
  2. The Many Bodies of Mary Hesper
  3. These False Joys of Time
  4. A Lot of Water
  5. The Butterfly Book

I like all of these titles for different reasons. The first one feels the most true to me for reasons that might spoil a little too much to get into now, and the second one says the same thing in a way that sounds less right but more salable. The third is a reference to a poem by Phyllis Wheatley, which features in the story. The fourth is a rough translation of the Hitchiti word Okeechobee, where the novel starts, and doesn't do a bad job of describing how much water a hurricane brings with it. The last is a reference to a book written by William Jacob Holland, a real life lepidopterist who appears in my novel in a highly fictionalized form. We'll see what sticks as I go, or what else comes up.

I got challenges:

I've said before how this is not an easy manuscript to write. Originally, it was going to be a sort of reality-bending is-it-or-isn't-it short story told from the perspective of an older gentleman with an apparent delusional disorder, in the area of maybe 6,000 words. Well, so much for that. What I found when I started writing was that my narrator was an elderly black woman with no delusions to speak of. I wasn't sure about doing this, as I have, pretty much, zero shared experience with the kind of character she needed to be. She's in her 90's. She's black. She grew up in Florida. She does not speak the same kind of English I do. But the more research I did about hurricanes in the Unites States, and understood better and better how much more damage natural disasters do to underrepresented groups, the more I realized she was the right character for this story, and I could screw off if I wasn't going to give it to her. If anybody was going to have the power and incentive to bend time itself to her will, it was going to be a woman of color like Mary Hesper. So I've been writing her story in her voice, as well as I can. I'm doing my best to understand, respect, and use the grammar Mary would use. I'm doing my best to represent her anger, and her pain, and her joy when she has it. My best is often not good enough, and I'm doing my best to keep that in mind as I write. This first draft is going to need a lot of work to overcome my limitations…

… which is a problem I'll take on when I finish the first draft and start my revisions. I'm at least halfway there now, and I can call it a novel officially for the first time, too.

I'll probably drink a beer or something to celebrate.