Amazing Grace – Changes in the project and the evolution of a novel

The serialized novel Amazing Grace that I’m publishing here grew out of a walk through the cemetery in my hometown. I grew up in a small town called Sharon, SC. Actually, I grew up outside of Sharon, in a rural area called Bullock Creek, but Sharon was the nearest post office and elementary school, so that’s close enough for government work. In Sharon there’s an old Presbyterian Church, dating back to the late 1700s, and the entire front row of the cemetery, with just a few notable exceptions, has my last name on the stones. Most of the folks buried in that front row that don’t share a name with me, still share a lineage.

My people have been there for a long time. My mother is buried there, my brother-in-law is buried there, my infant nephew, my uncle, my cousin Marion (remember the Bubba story Rest High on that Mountain? That’s where the name came from.) Marion’s parents, my paternal grandparents, my Uncle Erskine, who survived the Battle of the Bulge and received the Silver Star for bravery. There’s also a three-sided monument in the cemetery tracing my people back to England and a bunch of the ancestors that are not buried there.

I’m invested in that little town, to say the least. I was walking through the cemetery one afternoon, visiting Wayne (my brother-in-law), Uncle Ed, and Mama, when I got a sentence stuck in my head. “I walk through the cemetery, with the ghosts of my people swirling around my feet.”

I wrote poetry for years, and I recognize a good line when I see it. That’s a good line. But it felt like more than a poem to me. My sister Bonnie has been after me for years to write a book about our family, to share some of the stories that we’ve created over the years with the world. That may never happen, at least not when I have to look at these people over Thanksgiving dinner, but this felt like it could be something kinda like that.

So I talked about it with my mom. She didn’t answer, because unlike Lila Grace Carter, dead people don’t talk back to me. Like Lila Grace, and honestly like every Southerner I know, I do talk to dead people. I talk to dead people all the damn time. I ask my mom for advice. I tell my brother-in-law that he’s a dick for dying young. I tell my uncle he’s an asshole for killing himself. I talk to dead friends, and ask them to look out for one another. I ask Aunt Julia and Uncle Erskine to keep an eye on folks for me. It’s a thing. I do it, and I bet if you scratch beneath the surface of most Southerners, especially folks who grew up in small towns or in the country, you’ll find a one-sided necromancer.

As I sat there on the tombstone in the next row over, facing Mama (sorry, I know it’s a little irreverent, but I’ve always been of the impression that if people didn’t want us to sit on tombstones, they wouldn’t make them ass height), I decided that I would write the story of my family, and the story of my small town. So that’s what Amazing Grace has become. Lila Grace Carter is a big chunk of my mother. She’s a strong woman, unafraid to jump right in and do what she thinks needs doing. She doesn’t always look before she leaps, and that sometimes causes trouble for her, and she’s got a wicked tongue.

My mother was all of those things. She did not, as far as I know, believe in the supernatural outside of the Bible or communicate with dead people. There are other people in the book that are real as well. The Dead Old Ladies’ Detective Agency is even named after my mother and her two best friends, Helen “Tot” Good and Faye Russell (who was born a Comer). Miss Tot died last year, but Miss Faye is still kicking and feisty as hell. The three of them for a long time did in fact make up the Western York County grapevine. Anytime anything happened in Bullock Creek, Hickory Grove, or Sharon, one of the three of them knew about it and passed the word along to the other.

There are two big changes I’ll be making moving forward with the book. One is the name, and the other is location. Not the name of the book, though. I like Amazing Grace, and it lends itself to more “Grace” book titles if I decide this won’t be a stand-alone. I expect if I do write another book in this world that the Dead Old Ladies Detective Agency is going to have a larger role, because they have turned into one of those small ideas that are just fun as hell, and deserve a little more space to breathe and run than they have in this project. But the author’s name is going to change.

I’ve written a ton of books under my real name, but this is a book of a totally different style and flavor, and I’d like a chance to reach a different audience. That audience might be put off by looking at the also-bought recommendations on Amazon and seeing a bunch of horror novels. Or maybe not. But it hurts me not at all to publish this project under a pseudonym, and if I decide I don’t like it, I can always rebrand it as my own later. It’s not going to be any kind of secret, and I’m pretty sure the name I’m using will be JG Wyatt, which is my two initials and my mother’s maiden name. I’m not locked into that yet, but about 75%.

The other thing I’m going to change is fictionalizing the geography. I initially set the book in a fictional version of Lockhart, SC. Which is fine, I know Lockhart fairly well, and can write that part of the country. But the town I’ve been using in my head for the map has been Sharon, with a fair bit of York tossed in for good measure. So I need to just make it a fictional town so that I’m not confusing anyone who is actually from those towns and reads the book. That also means that I need to change the references to John D. Long Lake in the book, and take out the references to the Susan Smith murders that happened there.

This is what happens as you write a book. Things change. Some great ideas pop up and need to be expanded, so you either find room to grow them in that book or put them on the list of other books you want to write when you get time. Some ideas that seem great turn out to be untenable, so they get cut, or manipulated, or just flat out deleted. I’m not one of those writers who saves every word I’ve written and sometimes pulls things out of mothballs later. I don’t have the recall or organizational system for that. So I’ll just go through and rewrite it.

And I can do that, because as yet, no one has paid me any money for this book. I’m giving it away as it evolves, as an experiment. So I can continue to experiment and do whatever the hell I want with it. And I will. I’m having a lot of fun with this book, and I hope y’all are too.

Oh yeah, and the old folks that are the featured images for most of the posts about this book? They’re my parents. Most of these shots are taken at weddings of family members, and the pic of my mom in the teal jacket is one of my favorite pictures of her. The pic of my dad in the tux this week is absolutely my favorite picture I’ve ever taken of him.

I’ll probably pop back in once in a while to tell y’all about other stuff with this book. Right now I’ve published nine chapters, and I’ve written 20, with at least ten more to go. I think this book feels like it’s going to be about 75K, or just a little longer than the last Black Knight book.

Thanks for stopping by. See y’all later.

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One thought on “Amazing Grace – Changes in the project and the evolution of a novel

  1. One thing I enjoy about your books is the references to real places that I know. It helps make the story more real for me. I read several southern authors for that same reason.

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