James D. McCallister

author of the Edgewater County series

DIXIANA Downslope

DIXIANA . . . a novel of Edgewater County, of word counts and pages, scenes and characters, voices and plotlines.

Since May 1, when I began writing the first draft, this enormous piece of fiction has been the top project for me, the exclusive project, in fact. And coming up on the second full week of August, I can say that a workable draft is almost, almost in hand.

But before I began writing DIXIANA proper, as we may now think of it, the idea grew and progressed through a number of titles, primary plotlines, and an actual first crack a few years ago that ran to just over 30,000 words—its gestation has taken place, in reality, over a looong period, one stretching back over twenty of the sun-cycles your species calls years.

In those days, 1990 or 91, I’d been a media archivist, one still thinking and tinkering with becoming a writer. One day I came up with the notion of writing an epic small town novel with a prodigal son figure, intergenerational conflict, and southern humor and flavor. I sketched out a pudgy good old boy character named Roy Earl Pettus as its protagonist; I wanted it more than anything else to be amusing—a comedy, in fact, more than a literary drama. I made notes. Probably wrote a scene or two. But that was about it, except for occasionally thinking about the idea, and letting it develop bit by bit over, oh, you know, two decades.

Right: I never dreamed it’d be this long before I wrote the book. But hey, apparently I needed to write seven others first.

In any case, as of tonight the manuscript in question, long intended to be my ‘great American novel’ and statement of the dying of the light, so to speak, in a small South Carolina town, stands at 237,000 words/880 pages. That’s under 20,000 words from having a draft.

I think. All-but there.

Whatever DIXIANA is at the end of the next week or so, it’ll be called ‘complete.’ More or less. Soup to nuts. Whole bit. Eight mini-books, novellas, really, and an epilogue. Close enough.

Will it need work? Hah. Of course. Ungodly, unimaginable amounts of fine-tuning, cutting, pasting, fixing, cutting some more, compressing, expanding, admiring, detracting, wooing, hiding from, and finally getting put to bed, one day, once and for all.

A wonderful recent blog post by my friend and fellow author Erika Marks said it well regarding first drafts:

Just get to the The End.

First drafts are uncouth things, messy things, often filled with gaps and wrong words—even wrong scenes!—but you must let them be just that: rough and messy. Because here’s the thing, my dears: No one is looking!! So go for it!

Well, one thing this scribe can say with confidence is that I have truly ‘gone for it’ with the creation of the primary text of Novel 2013. Being this-close to saying that I’ve brought into reality what had been only a dream, one that’s carried me through the writing of so many other projects, and the living of so many other lives besides that of the working writer I’ve now become, feels especially sweet and gratifying.

A more detailed wrap-up on the process and construction of this manuscript will be published after I do in fact have that first draft in hand. Until then, it’s back to the grind, and the checklist of scenes left to write in DIXIANA.

Dixiana Depot 2

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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