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I Began Hearing Voices

Last week I disclosed my dilemma in combining two short novels, A Southern Girl and Just a Dance, into the single story they cried out to be. The solution was neither painless, nor quick, nor even mine.

Dante famously warned at the gateway to his Inferno, “Abandon all hope, you who enter here,” and I had abandoned all hope of getting A Southern Girl published. But in 2012, I appeared with Pat Conroy at the Savannah Book Festival. Pat always draws a large crowd, and the crowd that day drew Jonathan Haupt, then acting director of the University of South Carolina Press (USCP), and today its director. The day following my presentation with Pat, Jonathan invited me to present at the S.C. Book Festival in May. I readily accepted.

In late February, a couple of weeks after Savannah, Pat asked me to accompany him to Virginia Military Institute, where he was scheduled to give a talk. During the seven hour car ride to Lexington, I mentioned the invitation from Jonathan and sounded Pat out on an idea that had perched on my shoulder a hundred miles back. Jonathan had mentioned that USCP rarely published fiction, but that it might consider fiction with some South Carolina nexus. I reminded Pat that A Southern Girl was largely set in Charleston, so maybe I should run the manuscript by Jonathan as an example of my work. “Maybe you should,” Pat agreed. So I did.

Jonathan not only expressed enthusiasm for the manuscript, but he also had a suggestion which solved the POV dilemma: tell the story through the eyes and voices of four narrators in what he described as a chain-of-custody narration. I liked that phrase, and I loved the idea. It required me to get into the minds of a Korean peasant, the birth mother, a nurse at the orphanage where the infant was housed, the adoptive mother, Elizabeth, and ultimately the adoptive father, Coleman. I spent months rewriting and editing, but with a new sense of purpose fueled by Jonathan’s encouragement. The satisfaction I felt when the MS was accepted for publication is difficult to describe, and more difficult to overstate.

In the way of long journeys, the one that began in 1993 with moving to Mexico, joining the writing group, and typing in “Prologue” at the top of the first page culminates in May 2014 with publication of A Southern Girl. But first I had to “kill one of my darlings,” to paraphrase the well-known (among writers) William Faulkner quote. That is the subject of next week’s blog.

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