I finished the first draft of The Reform Artists at 4:00 a.m. on a June morning in 2014, in the tiny town of Rochester, Vermont. Exuberant, I grabbed a cigar and a pack of matches and went down to the front stoop of my home, which fronted on the sleepy village green. I sat down on the porch's wooden steps under the pale glow of a solitary street lamp and enjoyed a long-anticipated victory smoke.
Little in life compares to the feeling of satisfaction that comes from finally putting the last period after the last word in the last sentence of your first full-length novel. And for me, this moment had been long in coming. Four years earlier, I thought I had completed the book. Back then, it was a fast-paced, breezy novella of just under 30,000 words in length. But something about the book felt unsettled and it continued to gnaw at me. In the ensuing months, I kept returning to it and to the idea that something was missing. While I had captured all of the major action that comprised the arc of the story, it turned out that more than half of what ultimately would fill the pages of the final manuscript was still kicking around in my head! This missing material first surfaced in the form of unanswered questions about the substance, context and details of the story. As I asked and answered these steadily emerging and persistent questions, wholly new characters, scenes and settings took shape in my mind and the book began acquiring a richer depth and texture. Characters became more multi-dimensional. Hidden feelings rose to the surface and found expression. And humor periodically began to poke in from the edges. The Reform Artists was finding its soul.
I'm glad I didn't stop returning to and working on the book because I believe the final manuscript that I completed that June morning has far more to offer than its predecessor.
When I wrote the novella version of The Reform Artists, I kept the story's outline entirely in my head. It was so simple and straightforward that, I reasoned, any further planning and preparation was completely unnecessary. We call authors who proceed in this free, unscripted manner, "pantsers," because they operate by the seat of their pants. Now, I outline every book and I prepare written notes for each chapter. I find the process to be far more efficient, effective and creative. I also actively challenge the material in advance with pertinent questions so that I don't, ever again, leave out anything important in the all-too natural rush to finish.
"Little in life compares to the feeling of satisfaction that comes from finally putting the last period after the last word in the last sentence of your first full-length novel."