by C. Hope Clark
Along the way, protagonist Callie Jean Morgan has suffered much in losing her profession as a detective, her husband, a child . . . then she relocates to Edisto unemployed, widowed, with one teenage child left to raise.
She drinks. She has panic attacks. Through books one and two, the reader sees her slowly heal, slowly rebuilding her life, and she does it through crime solving, a talent she vowed never to return to because of what it cost her before. However, she’s damn good at it. Book two even ends on a great, positive note.
I was then faced with where to take her in book three.
The Longer the Series, the Most Complex and Difficult the Arc
That’s the issue with a series . . . the series character arc. It’s a longer term journey than the book character arc, and the longer the series, the more complex and difficult that arc.
So when I returned Callie to her profession, only on Edisto Beach where policing ought to be a piece of cake, I make deadly things happen not only to her as police chief but also as a person. When all should be almost back to right in her life, I shake it up again. Only this time, I dared take a couple of turns, with some daring twists, that made me hold my breath when I sent it to the publisher.
The publisher LOVED it. I’ve been watching reviews and comments with baited breath. When you mess too much with beloved characters, some readers take issue with it. So this book was a step up in my writing effort . . . and I think it worked based upon the reviews.
Character and Writer Get Sick at the Same Time…Creepy!
The character became sick about a third through the book, and worsened as the plot thickened. Pneumonia from events in the opening chapter.
Funny thing is, I had a bad chest cold at the time . . . and it refused to leave for weeks. The sicker Callie got, the worse my ailment hung on. I found that immensely weird and almost creepy.
Some nights I hacked my head off as Callie likewise fought to catch her breath. Secondly, I debated on the climactic scene. Debated hard. I didn’t want to write it, then I did. It felt too extreme. Then when I committed to the plot direction, I cried like a baby for several nights while piecing it together.
It touched me that deeply. Enough that I almost tossed the last third of the book to start over with a different outcome.
It was an exhausting book to write, even though it was 20,000 words lighter than my previous book, at the request of my publisher. My mysteries tend to run 110,000 words, and they wanted me to cut that a bit.
Gobs of Self-Doubt, but I’m Not Allowed Not to Finish
I write slowly, so the depression and second-guessing dragged out for months.
Yes there was gobs of self-doubt. I stayed tired, but then I stayed sick, too. But I never think I might not finish. I’ve never had that thought.
Writing is my business, my profession, so I have to report to work and do the tasks that comes with the job. It sounds like an over-simplified description, but that’s how I see it. A job that obligates me to report to work on a daily basis.
I’m not allowed not to finish. I’ll quit writing when they put me in the ground, or my brain quits functioning right in which case I’ll probably write some great fantasy tales!
The Biggest Triumph: Writing the Last Two Chapters
[The biggest triumph was] when I wrote the last two chapters . . . when all that strife I’d experienced taking all those chances seemed to come together into a poignant ending and a wonderful little last twist.
I was so proud of myself. I caught myself almost trembling.
Then when my three beta readers told me they boo-hooed while editing, I almost did a high-five with myself.
This Book Showed Me I Should Take More Chances in My Writing
This book showed I should take more chances in my writing, demand more of my characters, and dare to test side treks in the plotting of a story.
I did become stronger as a writer. Much stronger.
Review after review says this is my best book out of the six I’ve written, which sends cool chills through me. It was as if I’d climbed another rung on the ladder and didn’t see it coming until I was there.
Funny, because I had the most doubt about this book than the others. When I handed it in to the publisher, I just knew the magic was gone and this was my worst book.
Truth was, I’d grown, moved up into a new realm and hadn’t realized that all the discomfort I’d experienced was growing pains.
The Choice to be More Daring Resonates with Me Still
[Would you say writing is a spiritual practice for you?]
My first instinct is to say no, because I’m fairly methodical and linear in my writing.
However, like occurred with Echoes of Edisto, when I take chances and try something new, mastering it is very spiritual for me.
There are two chapters in Echoes that still make me cry when I read them. As many times as I wrote, edited, rewrote, and edited again, each and every time I teared up.
The remembrance of that growth, that choice to be more daring, resonates with me still. If that isn’t spiritual writing, I don’t know what is.
Worry: My Talent is Spent and I’m Faking It Now
Adrift on Edisto is book four in the series, and I’m 14 chapters into it, which is about half the story. And yes, as always, I’m worried that my talent is spent and that I’m faking it now.
Funny how I go through that with each book. I don’t want to be that author who can’t write another decent book after the first, second or third, but I keep waiting for the well to run dry.
I started this story with the residual emotions Callie experienced in Echoes, and those were some pretty deep, dark feelings. I couldn’t open Adrift with her being back to right, could I?
I have people begging now to see what happens to Callie in book four after all that happened in book three. Also, I have to be careful about the murders and mysteries I create on tiny Edisto Beach. I can’t have serial killers showing up every summer and expect the stories to be realistic. I’m stretching the imagination with the murders I’ve covered thus far. Each book needs to own a unique crime twist, and it gets more challenging with each book.
So once again, I’m taking a chance going in another direction, fingers crossed that making new choices will thrill readers, not alienate them.
Funny how writers are their own worst enemies, isn’t it?
(Read more about Hope on her previous Writing and Wellness post.)
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C. Hope Clark has written six novels in two series, with her latest and greatest being Echoes of Edisto, the third in the Edisto Island Mysteries. Mystery excites her as both reader and writer, and she hopes to continue as both until she takes her last breath.
Hope is also founder of FundsforWriters, chosen by Writer’s Digest Magazine for its 101 Best Websites for Writers, with a newsletter that reaches 35,000 readers.
She lives on the banks of Lake Murray in central South Carolina, when she isn’t strolling along the surf at Edisto Beach.
Echoes of Edisto: Book Three in the series. Edisto Island is a paradise where people escape from the mainstream world. Yet for newly sworn-in Edisto Police Chief Callie Jean Morgan, the trouble has just begun . . .
When a rookie officer drowns in a freak crash in the marsh, Callie’s instincts tell her it wasn’t an accident. As suspects and clues mount, Callie’s outlandish mother complicates the investigation, and Callie’s long-time friendship with Officer Mike Seabrook takes a turn toward something new—but is shadowed by the unsolved mystery of his wife’s death. Everyone’s past rises to the surface, entangling with death that cuts to the bone.