James D. McCallister

author of the Edgewater County series

DIXIANA Update: Research Phase Underway

DIXIANA, otherwise known around these parts as Novel 2013, is still chugging along, and now stands at 166,000 words; hitting 170 today or tomorrow.

What’s next? Three major ‘books’ within the overall structure of eight sub-books and an epilogue (already done and in place) remain to be written. What this means, I think, is that the first draft will most certainly come in at over 200k. With future e-book publishing options including that of separate novellas and a final ‘omnibus’ edition now possible, I remain undaunted by the overall length of this story of the modern American south.

It’s like this: The first draft of any novel has to be what it will be, and for all I know, the final version could be significantly shorter. Any path to traditional publication will require such tightening, but for now, the words must flow and fall where they may, and to whatever number these pages and scenes eventually accumulate.

For those following along, however, that’s probably all old news. The real update here has much more to do with the fact that the pace of new pages has declined from the furious peaks during my writing retreats of May and June to a more normal 1500-2000 words a frame. This has occurred not for lack of inspiration, but rather to allow for some deep research into a number of story elements, including (but not limited to):

—the history of ‘hillbilly’ a/k/a country music

—post-reconstruction small town South Carolina

—1930s textile industry strikes

—SC alcohol and other ‘blue’ laws

—mid-century honkytonk culture

—West Virginia coal mining culture

—SC ghost towns (Ellenton, Hamburg, etc)

—assorted WW2 bits

—post-war North Dakota farming culture

—post-war SC small town life (some of which I lived in the 60s and 70s, key eras in the book)

Dixana Depot

And a few other more esoteric topics. As the writer-narrator of last year’s novel, LET THE GLORY PASS AWAY, put it in that manuscript, “Ah, research—the amber womb of research.”

A caveat: A writer may get lost bobbing around in that nurturing environment of knowledge-absorption, though, so it’s critical alongside all this info gathering to keep the daily pages coming as well. And to not lose sight of the deadline, which I’ve imposed for no good reason other than to have one—a writer without a deadline will procrastinate. At least this writer will, anyway, and with six weeks left before mine, the pages must flow.

In any case, it’s a wonderful feeling knowing that my most ambitious manuscript yet is not only coming along, but even as it’s being composed the work is growing in breadth, theme, and emotional gravitas. In the 13 years I’ve been actively writing stories and novels, no matter where the process leaves me at the end of the summer, I can say with certainty that so far DIXIANA has easily been the most fun and fulfillment I’ve ever had in pursuing this artistic end of mine.

So, here in the third month of writing DIXIANA, the characters live and breathe and write themselves, and day by day, the blessed and crucial Xs accumulate. A good feeling, this, for a writer who already feels at the top of his game. Onward.

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.

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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