I’ve had several beta readers, those first people who have read the novel, ask me how I came up with the premise of the story. So, this blog entry will explain some of it and also relate my creative approach to writing.
I deplore any form of discrimination, and I used this as the basis of my story. I wanted to do a story about a young person who is forced to walk in another person’s shoes and experience discrimination and reactions from people that he would not have normally experienced. I chose a young person who had decided to say he was gay when he actually wasn’t. So, the story began being formulated in my mind. Now, I had to make a decision on which directions I was going to take the story. It could have easily been a comedy. I actually enjoy writing comedies. And it could have been a slice of life story that could have actually happened. But for an added twist, because I enjoy reading about supernatural, and because it is a very popular genre, I decided I would be open about having a supernatural element to the story. The premise began coming together. I should point out here that the year I chose that the book took place was 1995 and 1996. The reason for this is that I did not grow up in an era when everybody had cellphones and young people were in constant communication with their friends, so it would have been that much more difficult for me to write about how these people communicated with each other on a daily basis. Therefore, I arbitrarily took it back to pre-internet days and this worked out to my advantage for several reasons as I’ll mention a little further down.
It is about a senior in high school, Taylor, who desperately wants to do something more with his life than what his dying southern textile town has to offer. While he is no superstar student, he makes decent grades and has been accepted to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but because of family circumstance, it is unlikely that he will be able to go unless he has some outside financial help. He seeks out a financial and scholarship counselor at UNC and learns about a scholarship for gay and lesbian students that pays for everything and includes a monthly stipend. By the way, surprising to some people, there are many of these types of scholarships. After much deliberation wrestling with his conscience, he lies stating on a signed document that he is gay and he is awarded the scholarship. He immediately is faced with discrimination in his own hometown. One of the advantages I referenced above, is that in 1995, prejudice against gays was much more pronounced than it is today. This was three years before Matthew Shepherd, a gay student, was beaten, tortured and left to die hanging on a fence. So, choosing this time period, made the story more effective. Huge advances have been made in the last twenty years for acceptance of gays and gay rights, but there is still great prejudice and a lot more progress needs to be made. As an added twist, to make his travails even worse, he awakens the wrath of the long dead benefactor of the scholarship.
So, the story began developing, and with the scholarship in hand, Taylor is now financially able to go to Carolina, but of course his troubles don’t end there. He still has a ghost that is harassing him. From here, I bring in a group of people, students and others who all each provide something different for Taylor, insight and knowledge, and also provide the necessary background to move the story along.
Once into about a fourth of the book, I realized that to really give the ghost some depth, rather than just having him as some ominous creature from the past, I would have to develop his character in some way. I chose to do some flashbacks to the time when he lived, when he was a student at UNC. This way I could begin showing who he is, what happened to him and why he is still an unsettled spirit. Fortuitously, by choosing the date of my book as 1995, it worked out that a good flash back time ended up being 1927, the pinnacle of the roaring twenties, a time of immense change and discovery, a time of optimism and a time of much conflict within our society. This would all prove to be great fodder for a good story. Soon, small subplots began emerging showing that some regressive attitudes and beliefs by a certain segments of society seem never to progress or change.
After months and months of writing, I had the skeleton to my book. There were holes that needed to be filled. There were characters that I had developed, but were left hanging. Nothing happened to them. There were subplots that needed to be strengthened. This meant a lot of rewriting and the writing of additional chapters. There was one chapter I just kept putting off, but eventually got it done, and yet I still didn’t like it. But it was necessary to have this chapter to give some dimension to a particular character. In developing this chapter, I also took this opportunity to make this character’s growth coincide with the theme of the book.
The book up to this point had the working title of “The Scholarship” which I liked to a certain degree, but I also felt was weak. Even with this title, I started handing the book off to some beta readers. The first ones were close friends who read a lot. Immediately, I got good responses from these people and then gradually sought out more readers, asking them for feedback. It is strange to me that many said they would give feedback, but only come up with comments like they really enjoyed it or it was hard to put down. It wasn’t a lot of information, but it did tell me there were no confusing or inconsistent elements that needed to be addressed.
Now, I started serious editing, rewriting chapters, condensing as best I could. At the same time, I began asking myself what this book was really about. I knew this would affect what I ultimately ended up calling the novel. It was now time to come up with the final title. I listed the main theme and corollary sub-themes in a document, then underneath, began listing all the titles I could come up with and how they would fit in with the theme. I came up with 41 different titles. I narrowed down the list, then sat on it a few days. My preference for book titles in the past had always been a one word title like, “Scholarship.” The reason in my mind was that when you are walking through an airport, you can easily see a title of a book someone is reading if it is one word, in big letters, which practically covers the entire front of the book. It’s like a mini billboard advertising the book. But for some unknown reason, I was now drawn toward an action title, one that had a verb and an object in it. Somehow when reviewing the themes and the list, I came up with the last two titles that met these specifications, “Looking For Pluck,” and “Finding Pluck”. This certainly was one of those “aha!” moments, a moment when I realized not only would this work, but by doing some minor rewrites, I could make the novel that much better. It would now directly fit in with the theme of the book. “Finding Pluck” was It. But first, I would have to write one more chapter to complete the meaning of this. After that was done, I was confident enough about the book, that I could query literary agents.