James D. McCallister

author of the Edgewater County series

MIRIAM MULLINS: Literary Crossover Fiction in Beta-Reader Stage

Backstory:

A number of years ago I began a YA I called VISUAL PURPLE, in which an emotionally disturbed young woman, Courtleigh, 25, pretends for a variety of reasons to be 15 again—she interacts with actual teenagers, has a love affair, and through her actions engenders tragedy, violence, and her own downfall. During a few hot weeks in the summer of 2008 I got the tone and voice of this character down quickly, and wrote 80 pages or so. For a variety of my own reasons, however, I soon set the project aside and moved on to DOGS OF PARSONS HOLLOW.

VP had been an experiment; it’s the only novel I’ve tried to compose in longhand, in a trusty Moleskine notebook filled with a scribbly scrawl created at the tables of my favorite coffee shop, the late, lamented Adriana’s, and still-kicking Irish pub, Delaney’s. Later, I’d spend quite a number of hours attempting to decipher and transcribe my chapters into a proper Pages file; thus endeth the handwritten experiment, not since repeated.

 

MM handwritten

Flash forward to late 2012: after signing with an agent and with projects finished, in various stages of being finished, and/or percolating, by year’s end I felt powerful and inspired enough to return to the now-entitled MIRIAM MULLINS, the name Courtleigh adopts for herself in her age 15 persona. I read through, made corrections on the conceptual level as well as conducted a pretty thorough close-edit, and in a kind of authorial fever dream composed an additional hundred pages, completing a draft on the 30th of December, 2012. My second new novel of the year!

Needless to say, I felt breathless with excitement at having gotten through another long form MS, my seventh overall, in the course of one calendar frame. Whatever the merits of MM, this represented another new personal best, and in a year already chock full of them, that felt pretty damn good.

Illustrator-drawing-typewriter

What did I really have, though? As some of the details of the story were decidedly explicit—no, not by the standards of the most extreme material even in my own work, but certainly a shade more intense than a typical YA—I suddenly felt as if I couldn’t categorize it as I had previously.

Little did I realize that a category had recently emerged called (alternately) New Adult (NA) or ‘crossover’ fiction, i. e., books and stories designed for older teen readers going into the early and mid 20s (yes, I’m slow to the party). Eureka! MIRIAM MULLINS, I says to myself I says, seems to fit into this category like a key into a lock.

So, here in the season of what-now, what’s the status of this so-called NA or crossover literary novel? An exciting stage—the 50,000 word MS (a short one) has been distributed to about a half-dozen trusted beta readers, but it’s in a state I’ve never before attempted with one of my novels: in its latter pages this truly represents a first draft, to the point that, except in bits and pieces, I haven’t even read through what I wrote!

This may seem a courageous act on my part, but part of becoming a successful writer is learning to lose as much self consciousness as possible, to not concern oneself with a sense of ‘revealing’ as much as ‘sharing’ work, and viewing feedback either way as a good response—there’s nothing more useful to a writer than constructive criticism. Fresh eyes reveal truths hidden from the author himself, who is too close to the work to see clearly its actual face.

With all that in mind, and the month of January devoted to revising LET THE GLORY PASS AWAY, I figured I’d let MM sneak out a bit, even in a semi-rough form, to see if it plays. Who knows? Maybe it doesn’t, and will require a few, or more than a few, drafts and revisions to put into a truly publishable state. In any case, hearing now from beta readers whether the central storyline, character, voice, and literary conceit all work stands is a necessary step in determining if my years of thinking about MIRIAM MULLINS will have paid off.

NOTES:

Courtleigh/Miriam’s story takes place over a hot couple of weeks in August, 1995, in her rundown neighborhood in West Columbia, and in familiar ‘Edgewater County’ universe locale of the Old Market, which local readers will recognize as my familiar haunt and home of Five Points (they say write what you know, after all). After losing her late adolescence and young adulthood to caring for a mother suffering from an unspecified, chronic wasting disease of some sort, her death precipitates a mental break in Courtleigh, which results in her transformation into ‘Miriam,’ (her middle name) and ‘Mullins,’ taken from a highway sign on a happy and innocent childhood trip to the beach. This, in the time of Before: before her drunk daddy took and left them both; before her Momma got sick, and she left school to take care of her, because who else was there for dirt-poor rednecks like them? Who to care? No one, that’s who. No one but Courtleigh. No one even cared that she’d dropped out of high school at 15.

In the Old Market, ‘Miriam’ rapidly loses herself in fantasy romances with shopkeepers and teen boys alike; she’s befriended, the only friends, she’s ever had, by two scruffy, scabby punk rock kids, but it’s the gentle hippie boy playing guitar outside the coffee shop, Jason Leigh Fordham, who most attracts her interest. She doesn’t know punk rock and she doesn’t know the Grateful Dead, but Jason is the most beautiful boy she has ever seen, and feels drawn and meant to be with him.

When she returns to her stifling, awful house of death—it still smells of her mother’s final, dying days—Miriam/Courtleigh makes a terrible discovery, the arrival of a person she never expected to see again: her wicked father, come to collect what he believes is insurance money from his wife’s death. Courtleigh is terrified of him, but Miriam is not: she’s angry, very angry. And what she does next might just mean that Courtleigh will have to stay Miriam forever.

How it fits in with my other novels: MIRIAM MULLINS is set formally in the ‘dmac universe’ that includes Edgewater County, my slightly fictionalized Columbia, with its Old Market and Southeastern University, and other familiar and consistent elements like changed street names—it’s my little sandbox, this place that’s familiar yet not, which makes it easier to craft fiction from the land of my birth and life.

While this is the first of my novels to not feature at least a major scene or sequence set in Edgewater County proper (Miriam and another character do pass through there on the freeway), a key moment ties chillingly in with a scene from my unpublished literary epic MANSION OF HIGH GHOSTS in a manner that attentive readers of both books will appreciate.

Another tie-in is that one of the supporting characters, a clerk in a skateboard shop on whom Miriam develops an unrequited crush, will serve as the protagonist of SHOPKEEP, a memoir/novel I plan to write in 2014, and inspired by my years working my day job as the co-owner of this mom & pop hippie shop in Five Points. So, MIRIAM is her own girl in many ways, but she still fits snugly into the overall firmament of my fictional universe. As I get feedback from beta readers, I’ll update this post and document the process of finalizing this short, but intense, literary novel.

Delaney's

Delaney’s Irish Pub, where many pages of MM were written c.2008

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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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