James D. McCallister

author of the Edgewater County series

Down to DOWN IN DIXIANA

It’s been some time now since I posted about my ongoing, two-year process of crafting a novel called DIXIANA, but that doesn’t mean the work has stalled. In fact, I haven’t posted because I’ve continued to plow through the revision of this life’s-work-grade project at a very satisfying pace.

DIXIANA lives . . . but even more so than many of you may realize. Here’s the lowdown.

Dixiana Depot 2

To recap, I began the actual writing of this particular piece on May 1, 2013, with an ultimate completion date in mind of April 30, 2015. That may sound like a daunting timeline, but it’s really not so long in the grand scheme of novel writing, particularly for a project of rather large scope, at least by the standards of my past manuscripts.

I completed the first draft of DIXIANA on August 21, 2013; back then, I still thought of this as one long novel (at the time, just over a thousand page manuscript) divided into nine parts. As I began the revision of this rather large piece of writing, I found, however, that many of the characters we follow deserved more in-depth stories, as well as the fact that the first draft simply wasn’t fully ‘there’ in a narrative sense.

As the second draft grew, I began to get a sinking feeling: this is going to be so long that it will be impossible to effectively shop.

So, as the work continued, I began to toy with the idea of turning the book into a trilogy, which sounds like a sop to current publishing trends and past successes. Fair enough. In truth, however, I had discovered that the nine mini-books could be effectively subdivided into three distinct novels that, taken as a whole, might still satisfy the overall narrative aims of the project while also capable of being massaged into not-quite standalone books, each with an internal structure that could be seen as a piece unto itself apart from the overall story arc.

At the completion of the second draft, which had grown by almost one-third from the first, we then saw the birth of DIXIANA, DIXIANA DARLING, and the now-underway revision of DOWN IN DIXIANA, the capper to all the story threads begun way back at the start of the first novel. One year after starting this work, I found myself not with one book, but three.

And it all felt very, very right. Since the spring of 2014, I’ve completed a thorough revision of the first two books in the series, and as of September 1 have embarked upon the much more intensive process of revising and rewriting the third.

So much has changed in the story since this spring, however, that so far I’ve found that DOWN IN DIXIANA, in its first segment at least, needs much more massaging of text to reflect changes that have come about during this season’s revision of the preceding material. It’s not a problem; it’s not an issue. But there are new pages to write in this one, many more than rewriting the first two books yielded. Simply too much has changed. The characters and their stories had grown along with the page count. The stakes are raised for many of them. It’s the way a novel should progress.

How long will the finished manuscript(s) eventually be? I’m still working with one master document that makes it much easier to adjust and make changes across the breadth of the entire piece, but in the end we’re looking at three long novels, each around 150,000 words. The DIXIANA Saga, as we may not call this overall ‘book,’ is a big bouncing baby boy.

What to keep in mind, however, is that once I complete the current revision of book three, I will be taking a hard look in the remaining months to my deadline about seeing what can be compressed or cut. I am no babe in the woods. I know how these page and word-counts must sound.

But you know what? I don’t care. This represents the scope of the project I always had in mind. It is the work I have spent my entire adult life building up to creating. This idea may not have started out as three separate novels, but I certainly always intended this to be a Thomas Wolfian-length piece of writing, and so that’s what in the end we will be left staring upon with barely concealed wonder (leaning, perhaps, toward madness).

Then the question becomes who my Max Perkins-style editor will one day be (besides my already over-taxed inner editor). The answer at this stage is anybody’s guess. It’s not the way the business tends to work anymore.

But hey, with MANSION OF HIGH GHOSTS impressive enough to still be in the running at Pat Conroy’s Story River Books (following a long, long wait to see how it all shakes out), and itself a long novel that ends with the promise of several of its characters continuing on into the world of DIXIANA, I feel that anything remains possible for how my career may go from this point.

In fact, if you’d told me when I sat down to start on DIXIANA in earnest that I would finish each of these drafts in the manner that I have, and that I’d be looking at a possible and prestigious publication of MoHG to boot, I probably would have doubted it all possible.

Or, perhaps I’ve never doubted myself in the least . . . and that’s how I’ve managed to pull this off this feat.

Early readers taking a peek at the first two books of the DIXIANA saga are coming back with high praise, as I have received on MoHG. Again, the sky feels like the limit for the future of my work. There’s no doubt at all that I have done what I set out to do, about which I kept on imagining and dreaming until the pages came into existence. No matter what happens from here, I rest easy knowing that my accomplishments are undeniable, actual, and real as the manuscripts stacked up all around me.

Another report will come upon the completion of this draft of DOWN IN DIXIANA, tentatively scheduled for November 1, with a drop-dead date of Thanksgiving, after which I will take a DIXIANA hiatus until early 2015. Onward!

Addendum: in the course of doing research, I came across a 1930 movie with the same title, one that I’d somehow missed along the way. A cornball, antebellum-set musical with very few surprises, terrible vaudeville-style jokes, amateurish acting, and some very questionable and decidedly non-PC material, Dixiana is quite a stagey, interesting, eye-rolling artifact of its time. I’m pleased to report that I’ve found a clever and appropriate way to work the real-world existence of this moive into the material of book three, however. For those brave enough to take a peek, it’s available on youtube, as well as for free streaming to Amazon Prime members. Enjoy!

Dixiana Movie Poster

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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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