Development of the Story, and Lessons Learned

This section may be of interest to others who have attempted, or who are attempting, or who are thinking about attempting, to write a first novel.

Before beginning to write my story, I had come up with a basic concept for the plot. It would center on an historical tragedy, the school explosion that was witnessed by my mother in 1937, and would involve one man's loss, leaving, return and redemption. In the summer of 1997 I finally sat down and wrote the text in the right column.

I wrote a couple of more pages. I looked at it and said to myself: This is no good. So I gave up. I saved the file, but quit thinking about writing the novel. For a while.

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Walter Robertson dreamed of moving west.

Not that a man couldn't make a living in the little farm town of Winona, Mississippi, but Walter had abilities that other men lacked, and with those abilities went a certain ambition and a drive to better himself. He knew mules and could handle a team as well as any man in the county. Working with tools came naturally to him, and he could fix a wagon, build a shed, lay a water line, and fine-tune a cranky boiler. Yes, other men could do many of these things, but Walter had another talent: he understood finance. His father had taught him how to balance the books of the family's drayage business, and Walter came to understand how money was made, and lost. And with that understanding came a restlessness and a longing for independence. Walter wanted to work his own business.