James D. McCallister

author of the Edgewater County series

DIXIANA Darlings

Now in the midst of Writing Retreat 2013 Redux, thanks to my benefactor we again find the Southern novelist secluded, sequestered, and in the midst of writing his most ambitious piece yet, DIXIANA. Here’s a report from the secure, undisclosed location designated as Hilltop North.

To give everyone a sense of the pace of the work, here’s a Facebook post I made yesterday—it’d been one of the biggest workdays yet on the current WIP, my eighth novel and next-to-last in the Edgewater County literary universe, but I simply couldn’t stop:

Nothing says commitment like hitting page 420 and not pausing for a break.

But when you’re driven, and in the zone, and piling up words, you must serve the muse well by pressing onward, even after a long and productive day—when the characters are speaking to you, you must listen, and transcribe. You can push too hard, though, and as the sun began to drop behind the distant turquoise, indeed smoky mountains, I stopped for the night, my mind reeling with ideas and scenes and whispered bits of dialogue. More than all this, however, I had direction and certitude that all the narrative seeds I’ve planted are beginning to take hold in a demonstrably profound manner. Heavenly.

I use the 'Don't Break the Chain' method, courtesy an interview I heard with comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The Xs become little taskmasters. They will not be ignored. I started DIXIANA on May 1.

I use the ‘Don’t Break the Chain’ method, courtesy an interview I heard with comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The Xs become little taskmasters. They will not be ignored. I started DIXIANA on May 1, taking a break only to go and promote FELLOW TRAVELER at the SC Book Festival.

The additional good news in all this, and there’s quite a bit, is that it feels as though I’ve crested the peak in terms of page count. Sure, I know this novel is starting to sound long, but this time we have ourselves a pretty big canvas character-wise, and for the climax to have the intended affect, almost all of these characters will need room to grow, breath, and reveal themselves to us before their threads all come together in a major set piece on the town green in Tillman Falls. My entire career is leading to that scene, and earlier this year when I figured out in detail what needed to occur and how it would all unfold in that climatic sequence, I knew I was ready to finally sit down and compose a draft of this long-planned project.

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By the lamp is a dried Reishi mushroom that’s accompanied my meditation on this trip.

Sure, at 116,000 words (as of this morning, June 16) this manuscript’s already a beast, but what else is it? At 700 pages MANSION OF HIGH GHOSTS, with its three troubled POV protagonists, at times feels to me a touch  overstuffed, so what do I go and do but concoct in DIXIANA, which can be considered a direct sequel to MOHG*, a more complex, intertwining narrative with (at least) eight POV characters, two of whom essentially have mini-novellas within the book. I did mention it was ambitious, at least by my standards as an emerging novelist still working toward a personal best moment, one that I believe is underway in the creation of this manuscript. Good times.

And anyway… it’s a first draft. Why worry about length? Darlings will have to be killed.

Furthermore, any writer worth his salt knows the real magic will happen when you have a completed text in hand to begin revising. By that time, after the first draft has been allowed to sit and marinate for a couple of months (or longer), the darlings in need of killing will present themselves accordingly, and a closer-to-final text will begin to emerge. Maybe a few of those characters and threads won’t make the final cut. No way to know until we one day arrive at that point.

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If all that sounds like a pep talk to keep me going rather than inform my readers, it is, in a sense, but I start the day today not merely having piled up pages, but as of yesterday also having a much firmer grasp on the overall structure and pace of the story, when a number of new ideas made existing threads and relationships among some of the more isolated characters from the nominal protagonists click into place. Part 1 of this novel is now called ‘The Web That Has No Weaver’ (an ode to a character’s interest in Chinese medicine), and it’s a fitting title: the web that’s being spun feels as though it’s a product of my mind, yet influenced by a universal, cosmic guidance that is ever-present, yet never present—can you sense I’m a Taoist, yet?

So, DIXIANA is percolating and simmering and all those cooking metaphors. The draft is building to a place and status of completion. The retreat will only last a couple more days this time, but the program is underway, the goals are set, other completed and polished manuscripts are being read at very high levels, and I could not be in a better position to continue the realization of my lifelong dream to leave behind a little shelf of Southern literary novels. Yesterday, at the apex of the day’s 30+ page outfit, I felt not as a person grinding through work, but a vessel through which ideas, words, images, and voices flowed like water through a hose. Magic is in play. DIXIANA is in a state of becoming, and its author is glowing inside. More on this new manuscript, and other news, as it develops.

Rainbow's end down that highway.

Rainbow’s end down that highway.

*Ideally, LET THE GLORY PASS AWAY would serve as an additional lead-in to DIXIANA, though it is not necessary. All three can also stand independently from one another. It’s my ambition that readers will one day be able to discover how these manuscripts, as well as the forthcoming Novel 2014, a/k/a WANDO, have been designed to fit and flow together, both on a narrative as well as thematic level. 

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About dmac

James D. McCallister is a South Carolina author of novels, short stories, and creative nonfiction. His latest book, a story collection called The Year They Canceled Christmas, releases in November 2017.

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