James D. McCallister

author of the Edgewater Chronicles

FORGING AHEAD: 2012 Fiction Recap and New Year’s Goals

With a number of awards and advancement opportunities coming my way, 2012 landed for this humble independent writer as a creative and professional benchmark: As a now-agented author with a new small press novel in print and another extremely commercial MS resting on publisher’s row hard drives, the possibility is strong that I’ll soon land a Big Six contract for DOGS OF PARSONS HOLLOW. Not a bad way to start 2013.

With so many wonderful other potentialities flowing from that possible event, it’s not hard to know where much of my energies and efforts will be (eventually) directed. Nothing’s for certain, however, and it can always go wrong, so there’s no resting on laurels and wishing for miracles, only more of the hard but fulfilling work that led to all the current successes.

A brief recap: I entered the prior frame coming out of what I term a ‘woodshed’ period in which I sought to refine my skills and voice from what I can now call my early writing successes of 2006-2009, which included a couple of short story awards and an independent press novel that by the standards of such publications has sold very well.

KH Trunk

One of the few stories I sent out during this time also scored a second SC Fiction Project honor, and along with teaching an introductory fiction workshop at Midlands Technical College, this served to keep my literary light shining in a strongly public manner—I ended up as a featured author at the 2011 SC Book Festival, essentially representing the rest of the winners on a panel and in the program.

As 2012 dawned, however, I knew that to move forward I would have to hunker down and not only continue to revise and refine worthy older material (including my first two unpublished novels) as well as continue to write new stories (which translated into LET THE GLORY PASS AWAY and MIRIAM MULLINS), but I’d also need to get back into the swing of sending out completed pieces and adding to the rejection slip pile—it’s the only way to get where you need to be, and by now I view them all as stepping stones rather than obstacles, so nothing to fear.

Rather than go straight to literary journals and magazines, however, I sought to build additional professional cred with a series of contest entries—the entry fees can pile up, yes, but at the very least the money is going to support the industry in which I’m trying to work, and to support the dwindling number of publications paying writers of short literary fiction.

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As prior blog entries have noted, a number of these efforts scored excellent career benchmarks, including by the end of the year being signed with an agency and having a commercial MS being shopped to the Big Six, which along with my second small press novel coming to publication made for a can’t-beat-it year of success. Each small step is so crucial in building an actual career as a novelist that to have had one of the biggest occur only two months ago is still sinking in, still settling and playing out, and will continue to do so for some time. The path is a bright and shining one, but as of yet no less mysterious as to its ultimate destination.

On a creative level, however, no matter what new professional successes occur, the course of 2013 is planned and prepared and clear: the year is already underway with one holdover project and the first of the tasks on the schedule-proper, the first revision of LET THE GLORY PASS AWAY, the new novel written last summer and since then sitting and marinating and awaiting its turn back in the sun. After three days of work, I’m pleased to report that I’m already 50 pages into this revision, and when compared to equivalent first drafts of prior efforts, the material reads like a dream, so much better than I could have hoped for—the honing of those skills during my woodshed period has obviously paid off. Not only that, but it’s a fun and amusing story, so much lighter than many of my other efforts, which can have something of a fatalistic and melancholic cast. This novel has those elements, but it’s my hope that they will sneak up on readers—I’ve characterized this book as a ‘literary Woody Allen movie,’ and like his deft juggling of comedy and pathos in films like Crimes and Misdemeanors, I’m hoping to present a true comedy-drama that inspires amusement, but also resonates.

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As for the other project, it’s a screenplay adaptation of DOGS OF PARSONS HOLLOW, the book currently being shopped by Corvisiero Literary. Screenplays haven’t been on my radar for many years, but neither have they strayed far from my creative heart, and so to be adapting one of my own books is real thrill, but not an unfamiliar one: I did win a SC Writer’s Workshop/Carrie McCray Literary award for my 2008 partial adaptation of King’s Highway, and may in fact finally finish that one after I get a draft of DOGS squared away. That story has terrific film potential, and if there’s a deal to be made, by all means lets see if we can throw in my own adaptation as part of the package—’oh, look! It’s already done’ can’t hurt matters.

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Speaking of screenplays, THE PROGNOSTICATORS is ready to be sent around to its own series of contests, which seems the right way to get my feet wet in submitting screenplays. At some point I will discuss with agent her thoughts on how best to proceed along this avenue, but as with my short story successes, perhaps competitions are the way to get some early traction and street cred.

On the short story front, I finished the year by revising quite a few old pieces, submitting 15 unique stories to various journals, and lastly assembling THE NIGHT I PRAYED TO ELVIS, a collection of linked stories concerning the childhood, adolescent, and adult progress of two characters, Lucy ‘Sissy’ Latham and her big brother Timmy. Other than a quick polish to make sure there’s correct continuity among the various stories (after beginning as standalone pieces, a couple were re-purposed into Sissy or Timmy tales), this fresh MS is ready to be submitted, and represents a good candidate for a round of contest entries geared to such collections.

As for late autumn round of submissions, a couple have come back already, which is to be expected, and may happen for all 15 that went out (18 now, as the three rejects have already been re-submitted to other places). January and February represents a time in my writing cycle to compose and revise, but this year I’ll be keeping an eye on deadlines and submitting more work than I did during this time last year, in which I was deep into the revision of Fellow Traveler and later MANSION OF HIGH GHOSTS, a MS that looms as the next big potential piece to be shopped, a subject for an upcoming post; so, too, is the state of MIRIAM MULLINS and my intentions for this most-recently completed project, a 50,000 word New Adult novel that I hope will represent a new track in my writing, one perhaps calling for the debut of a nom de plume.

As this week progresses, I’ll be hoping for signups and that my Winter 2013 fiction class at MTC will go on, but on Tuesday I’ll be heading to New York to attend a Saturday Evening Post event for its current Fiction Award winners, do some other personal- and business-business, and in general for my wife and I to enjoy a couple of days in the city—it’s been since mid-2010 that we last visited, a long time for these normally once- or twice-yearly visitors.

Speaking of New York, for all the years my wife Jenn and I have come to the city on other business (we own a retail store called Loose Lucy’s), I’ve always told her that one day I’d be returning as a working, professional writer with an agent shopping a book to publisher’s row…and lo and behold, the moment is upon us! If that’s not a wondrous and inspiring way to return to New York, and to start a new writing year, I’d like to know what would be.

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About dmac

James D. McCallister is a South Carolina author of novels, short stories, and creative nonfiction. His latest novel Let the Glory Pass Away releases in January 2017.

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