The Main Character
I was sitting at my kitchen table when I found myself envisioning a woman standing on an island in the middle of Hell, searching for the soul of her dead husband. My first manuscript, Black Roses, was still a chapter or two away from being finished, but I had to jot this idea down in my notebook. I finished Black Roses, and then set to work on my new novel.
Coming up with the heroine was the easiest part of creating this story. I named her Amanda Thorne and drummed up a description of her appearance in my mind. Her backstory went through several revisions. The first draft involved her trying to cope after her husband’s suicide. It was depressing as hell. Worse, it was boring.
My final draft of her backstory, which became the basis of the first chapter, involved her waking up in front of her husband’s grave. Her husband, Joel, is screaming at her. “You put me here! I’m going to kill you!”
He had almost succeeded in killing her when she visited her mother’s grave inside that cemetery several months before. She was six and a half months pregnant at the time and lost her son. Her father had been responsible for Joel’s murder, but she hid this from the police, who considered her the prime suspect.
Is Joel’s ghost drawing her out to his grave while she is asleep, or has she lost her mind? That’s the question that I wanted to plant inside my reader’s minds. Joel’s family isn’t helping her, especially the mother, who insists that Amanda hound the police to search for her son’s killer. The final straw was the day her sister-in-law gives birth to a son. Amanda decides that she has had enough of them and the sleepwalking and flees San Jose, California for good.
Imagine pulling over to the side of the road for the night, thinking that you’re going to wake up in the same place, only to wake up as you’re driving along a foreign stretch of road and having no idea how long you’ve been driving in your sleep. I don’t know if that has happened to anybody, but I thought it would give Amanda a great jolt.
I’ve done quite a bit of reading about clairvoyants and discovered an interesting twist. The majority of the clairvoyants I’ve read about became aware of their abilities when they were young children. However, there are a few cases where trauma induces clairvoyant ability.
While Amanda had always been able to find missing items for her friends, she had never experienced seeing ghosts. She was raised by an atheist father, so she didn’t believe in an afterlife, much less ghosts. I thought this would be a good personal struggle.
Originally, I had called this place Hell’s Corner because the theme of the story involved black magic and a cult. Plus, the setting is in rural Arizona. Several months into the story, I nixed the idea because it wasn’t working. For one, I was working with up to six points of view, which caused the story to fragment. I decided to change this into a ghost story and the town’s name to Prosperity. This change fit very well with Amanda’s clairvoyance, so it stuck.
Haunted places are ripe with history, so I kept asking myself what would be a good reason why this town is teeming with ghosts. I’ve always had a morbid fascination with world disasters, such as the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. There are very few personal accounts from survivors of this disease. Researchers have commented about this numerous times, speculating that the disease was so horrifying that people simply wanted to forget about it once it passed.
Those comments stirred my imagination about the psychological aspects of facing this type of virus. Then I began to think about the antagonist’s role in the story. Eventually, I wrote a novella about Prosperity’s backstory, entitled God’s Last Twilight, which chronicled a murderous love obsession before and during this pandemic.
Because of this backstory, Prosperity wound up having two antagonists: the original one who wanted to be avenged for his murder and the second, who had used the pandemic as the perfect cover-up for her murderous love obsession.
While writing and rewriting this story numerous times, I researched the different avenues of publishing. My first choice was the traditional route. In the beginning, I had the fantasy that Prosperity was going to be listed on The New York Times bestseller list. This fantasy was crushed when an established author said to me, “Getting your book traditionally published is akin to winning the Lotto.”
Translation: It’s not going to happen.
I was so upset that I almost gave up writing on the spot. The next morning, I returned to my computer and began writing. I had already sent a query to two New York literary agencies before I had received the reality check from that author. So it was no surprise when I received one-line rejection slips from both agencies.
By this time, I was researching the print-on-demand (POD) industry. I didn’t like what I saw. Most of the books listed on these websites had pitiful covers and a poorly written synopsis. I ordered a copy of A Certain Slant of Light, by Chandler McGrew because his was the only synopsis that hooked me. The book’s cover didn’t match the theme of his story at all. It was a paranormal thriller that involved a young girl who was trapped between Heaven and Hell after she took her life. The story was great, but it wasn’t edited.
After I wrote my review on Amazon, McGrew contacted me via email to thank me. I responded back to him with questions about his experience with the POD. He wrote back to me and told me how he had sent a copy of his published book along with his manuscript to a major publisher. This earned him a 4-book publishing deal. His testimony gave me some hope, but I knew that I would have to write an exceptional story if I had any chance of breaking into the traditional arena the same way he did.
I was still struggling with plot and character issues at the time. As I worked through subsequent drafts, I researched the self-publishing option and found it to be more expensive than POD. However, after reading the long list of famous authors who had originally self-published their books, I became determined to publish Prosperity one way or the other.
My focus returned to the POD market for the next five years, although I wasn’t happy to read the horror stories from writers who had decided to go that route. These writers often lost thousands of dollars in production costs. If that wasn’t bad enough, they found out that these publishers had locked them out of their rights so they couldn’t publish their books anywhere else. After hearing these stories, I decided never to sign up with any of these companies.
Then I began hearing complaints from writers who had managed to land traditional publishing contracts, only to back out of them when the publisher failed to publish their books for a variety of reasons. A couple of these writers were relatives. After learning about what they went through, I decided that traditional publishing wasn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
I kept waiting and watching for something better to come along. That something finally came in 2004, when Bob Young launched Lulu.com. While Lulu uses POD technology, its target audience is self-publishers, which was perfect for a control freak like me.
2004 was a pivotal year for me because not only did I discover a cost-effective way to publish my book, but I also discovered blogging. Blogging proved to be a very effective marketing tool because I was able to network with my potential readers and build friendships with them over the course of three years.
I’m hopeful that 2008 will be an equally pivotal year. Thanks to the Internet and its evolving technology, the playing field for debut authors has opened wide.
About the Author
Deborah Woehr is a writer, designer, and problogger who lives in San Jose, California with her husband and two children. She earned her A.S. in Computer Graphics in 1993 and began writing in 1997, publishing one short story and several articles. Currently, she is a freelance writer for Syntagma Media. In 2006, she edited and published the 2006 Writer’s Blog Anthology, a collection of essays and poems written by bloggers. Her novel, Prosperity, will be available on Amazon in February. For more information about her books, please visit her website at http://www.deborahwoehr.com/blog/