James D. McCallister

author of the Edgewater County series

STATE OF THE PROJECTS Spring 2014

Here’s an updated rundown on my various unpublished manuscripts.

MANSION OF HIGH GHOSTS—As we know from this wonderful news back in July, 2013, MoHG, as my original literary epic is known ’round these parts, is under consideration for publication from Story River Books as part of the second slate of titles from this exciting new fiction imprint at the University of South Carolina Press. (UPDATE, May 19: This still holds true! I have heard new news, however, in that external peer review on the MS is coming back positive. Good stuff.) The current slate of 11 titles will take them through all of next year, it sounds like. But we’re in the mix.

In other words, we’re a long way from a presumptive publication—Fall of 2015 at the earliest, more likely Spring of 2016—but knowing that the piece is passing hurdles at my alma mater’s new fiction imprint, one that’s been started under the aegis of South Carolina’s bestselling literary favorite son and personal influence Pat Conroy, leaves me with the a feeling of satisfaction that dovetails nicely with having gotten DIXIANA, as it happens a quasi-sequel to MoHG, out of my head and onto the page.

MoHG took a long time, fifteen months to write the first draft (May 2004—July 2005), and that came in at a disastrous 270,000 words. This was much much MUCH too long for the particular story and theme at hand.

Through innumerable revisions and drafts and changes, in 2012 I finally got the story, tone, length (160k—still long, as USC editor Jonathan Haupt noted to me with a sly grin), and overall impact of the novel ‘right.’

Or, at least as right as it seemed I could. It can always be better. If chosen for publication, I’m eager to work with the press on making this the best book we can.

The Logline: A grief-stricken, end-stage alcoholic, Devin Rucker, returns home to South Carolina to confront the past that includes his domineering Southern matriarch of a mommy, his unfulfilled, betrayed younger sister, Creedence, and an old college friend, Billy, who we’ll find resides at the root of the Rucker siblings’ various problems. What no one knows, however, is that Billy, besides being guilty of his past betrayals to both Devin and Creedence, also happens to be a serial rapist and murderer, a fact that Billy himself doesn’t seem to realize—he only seems to know that ‘accidents’ sometimes occur with women. It’d almost happened with Devin’s old college girlfriend Libby. And it could happen again, only this time with Creedence, who has decided to respond to his entreaties to embark upon an impetuous and charged affair.

DIXIANA—From May 1 to August 21 April 23, ‘Novel 2013-14’ consumed my life, mind, and soul: with this sprawling first second draft now ‘in the can,’ as they say in the moviemaking world, DIXIANA represents the culmination of my entire writing journey.

What will sound ridiculous to you all is the length of this so-called second draft, which in truth is really the first truly complete draft, with all storylines fully realized. If you thought that first draft of MoHG sounded bloated, try a whopping 400,000 words/1500 pages.

Seriously.

Like I said, I know, I know. But already some of you are way ahead on this, and are thinking multiple books. So, of course I have restructured and forced myself to think of this as three novels in a series, now, instead of one massive Wolfeian doorstop that I expect people to swallow whole.

And, worth noting but obvious to my fellow writers reading along, I’ll be looking to tighten and shorten throughout the editing process that I have planned for the next calendar year. Yep. A year to write the thing, then a year to edit this draft into shape for submission, or simply beta readers. This is a long haul game. Unless you’ve done it, you don’t know. Roth says he spends three years on the big novels like American Pastoral before they go out to his inner circle of first readers. These mo-fos take time.

  • The Logline: Troubled by marital woes and a midlife sense of emptiness, well-off smoothie king Roy Earl Pettus inherits his grandfather’s iconic honkytonk The Dixiana, and in a fit of hubris seizes the opportunity to envision remaking the dying Southern small town into his own modernized, moneyed image. Despite his good intentions, Roy runs into opposition from the local organized crime syndicate as well as the Edgewater Ladies’ Munificence Society, a neighborhood association that he finds are the true holders of the reigns of power in Tillman Falls.

But truthfully, dear readers, this is the main story, but it is one of a large tapestry I’ve woven across nearly a dozen major characters. To give you a sense of this, here is a glimpse of the TOC for Book 1, which is simply known as DIXIANA (vol. 2 and 3 will have subtitles that I’ll reveal much much farther along in the process, and perhaps only in the run up to publication one day):

DIXIANA

Part One, Pages 1–282

One: Roy E. Pettus

Two: Gaston Bundrick and Rabbit Pettus

Three: Button Sykes

Four: Roy

Five: Gaston

Six: Creedence

Seven: Roy and Trudy

Eight: Manny Theodore

Nine: Christy Beaudock and His Daddy

Ten: Roy Earl and Runelle

Eleven: Jasper Glasscock

Twelve: Creedence

Thirteen:  Manny

Fourteen: Roy Earl

Fifteen: Reynolds ‘Rabbit’ Pettus

. . . and that’s just part one of book one. A complex, sprawling beast that covers the years 1933 to present day in my little fictional South Carolina county. I’m awfully excited to be able to say that I’m working day by day on this wonderful dream project of mine.

Draft one, meet your big brother, draft two.

Draft one, meet your big brother, draft two.

DOGS OF PARSONS HOLLOW—A year and a half after the thrill of being signed by an agent to represent this particular manuscript, the project was requested, read, and rejected by no fewer than seven editors, all at Big Six publishing imprints, with one submission still alive as of this writing, at least theoretically, at Penguin. Not a bad run, even if DOGS never sees big-ticket publication, and much about which to be proud. All of the credit for taking this project as far as it got goes to agent Michelle Johnson, working at both Corvisiero Literary and Inklings Lit during the submission period, a class act all the way.

Time will tell if DOGS sells, ends up self- or small-press published, or lies fallow until I give it another revision with some of the rejection criticisms in mind. I don’t take the rejections personally—DOGS is what it is, and these pieces can always be better.

UPDATE, May 19, 2014: In talking with the editor of a small press yesterday, and remembering the many many complementary beta reader reports on this MS, I’ve decided to shop it anew to some independent presses. The first such submission was made yesterday. While we continue to let the MoHG experience ripen, perhaps DOGS will turn out to be novel three in print. Or, with new notes, a stronger MS to shop! All good.

  • The Logline: Bereaved mom Randi Margrave relocates from the city to rural Edgewater County, SC, to recover from the death of her son, but when she discovers she’s moved in next to the Macons, a family of backwoods dogfighters, Randi chooses to risk all she has left, even her own life, in freeing the abused pit bulls of Parsons Hollow.

LET THE GLORY PASS AWAYNow out on submission, LTGPA is a mainstream/literary dramedy set in contemporary Columbia, SC, and inspired by our city’s recent arts scene renaissance. The novel found itself on the ‘Shortlist for Finalist’ list in the 2013 Faulkner-Wisdom competition, so I feel good about its overall status and readiness for further submissions, including to Columbia’s Muddy Ford Press, who did such a good job with Fellow Traveler.

The latest draft, which is about 10-15 35-40 pages shorter than the Faulkner-Wisdom version, tightens up the story considerably by removing several sloppily resolved narrative threads involving side characters. I can’t help but feel that this much improved LTGPA might well have made it to finalist status.

First written in 2012 and completed through a half-dozen eight major revisions, this novel represents the shortest interval yet from inception to completed first draft, the polar opposite of DIXIANA’s long gestation. LTGPA’s sort of a novel-of-the-moment, so I feel a modicum of urgency in seeing it come to publication. For the moment, however, I have decided to let this MS sit idle while I pursue the other projects above.

  • The Logline: Aging Southern novelist Cort Beauchamp, a stodgy, reclusive fussbudget reeling from past tragedies, a failed marriage, and the unrealized ambition of writing a historical novel about the burning of Columbia, is recruited to persuade an even more reclusive and reluctant local rock musician into accepting a downtown monument to the glory of his superstar recording career. The task proves additionally problematic when the musician unexpectedly falls for Cort’s new girlfriend, Marcy, an ambitious but middle-aged singer-songwriter longing for a last shot at stardom. 

KUNK—A memoirish, mainstream, 80,000 word novel perhaps best considered as an 80s-set companion piece to my 70s tribute, the coming-of-age saga King’s Highway. Inspired by my time making films in the USC Media Arts program, KUNK occupies a special place in my heart, but I don’t currently have plans to shop it. Every writer needs one in the trunk, right?

Having said that, KUNK ties in nicely with all the other Edgewater County books, and seems to set up this nameless narrator (UPDATE: this is now established at the end of the latest polish) as an important figure in the coming history of Tillman Falls, SC, that will be told in the new novel. That I don’t really have a character name for this guy, or any intentions to continue his particular story as part of DIXIANA, exists as a possible anomaly in the Edgewater County tapestry I’ve created. This character, now named ‘Porter Bucknam,’ has a critical primary scene in DIXIANA, fully linking the two books.

  • The Logline: A nameless narrator recalls his season of collegiate creativity writing scripts and making films under the influence of the streetwise, late-blooming college student Levon Kunkle, a time in which our hero’s biggest mistake seems to have been competing for the affections of his dream girl Camille with the one rival he dared not challenge: Kunk. 

MIRIAM MULLINS—The least finished of all current novel-length manuscripts, the comparatively brief (<60k words) New Adult or Crossover Fiction piece needs a good solid revision, mainly in its second half, which is much ‘younger’ than the first half, which had lain in the drawer for a couple of years waiting to be finished. Besides a good solid revision for style and flow and whatnot, I know of at least one major plot turn that needs reconsideration, as well as the innumerable word-choice questions and decisions that come up as the revision process gets down to that level of attention.

The good news is that the first 12.5k words of this W-I-P scored a semi-finalist placement in the 2013 Faulkner-Wisdom comp. Not too bad for young, yearning to be younger ‘Miriam.’

UPDATE: Okay, this is going to sound wild, but I have now identified this MS as the work of one of the characters within DIXIANA, my beloved Button Sykes. With the writing of a framing device I’ve already plotted, this could be a subsequent volume one day in the DIXIANA saga . . . as could KUNK. And, of course, LTGPA. Sneaky little novel series coming together, here!

  • The Logline: Mousy and emotionally stunted Courtleigh, who at 25 and following the death of her forever-ailing mother is broke and dumb and at loose ends, makes the terrible decision to take advantage of her youthful appearance by pretending to be ‘Miriam’, 15, and reliving her lost teen years. When her no-good, drunk father shows up to collect the life insurance money, however, Courtleigh commits an act—murder—that could mean she’ll have to stay Miriam Mullins forever.

So, that’s where we stand on the various unpublished novels here in lovely Autumn 2013 Spring 2014.

In addition to those novel length projects, two story collections have been sequenced and sent out to a few competitions (UPDATE: rejections all around, no finishes), and described in a pair of posts from back in the spring. Click here for the details on PATTERNS OF RECOGNITION, and here for THE NIGHT I PRAYED TO ELVIS, either of which would make for another solid small-press publication to add to my growing bookshelf.

Thanks for slogging through this detailed update.

Retreat Blog Post 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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