This is the time of year I hate living in my beloved South. The heat and humidity is daunting to say the least. I become a whiner of the worst kind and want to hibernate in the nice cool confines of air conditioning. Yet, there is a part of me that needs the fresh air, the sunlight, the sounds of the birds floating in the open windows. So, I am at battle. I rise early on most mornings when the world is only beginning to stir and the sun isn’t streaking through the gathering of trees we have behind our house. I open the windows to the gray blanket of light. Dayclean is what the Geechee call it. The space between the shadows of night and the first rays of sun. I love this time of day so much I used this saying at the beginning of my second novel, The Storycatcher. A novel, now, I often want to shove to the side, forget about entirely. Why, you ask, would an author want to forget one of her published works?
One of the happiest days—not counting wedding and childbirth—in a fiction writer’s life is when a contract for her first novel is delivered to her door. The second happiest day is signing the contract for her second novel. For me this was the external affirmation that I was indeed a novelist. But, here I have to back up just a little.
When my first novel sold to a New York publisher, I was in awe of the whole process. My editor was the best, and our work together produced an award-winning body of work. So, what happened to cause me to want to hide my second book? Just as my first novel, Ghost On Black Mountain, was about to be released, my wonderful editor took a job at another big New York publishing house, working under her dream boss. My experience with her had been magical, to say the least, and the book did very well considering publicity stopped with her leaving. Let me interject here that an author always has to be their own publicist no matter what publisher they have. And most of Ghost On Black Mountain’s success was due to my sheer determination to get my baby out into the world.
I was assigned a new editor for The Storycatcher, who happened to be my former editor’s assistant. I didn’t have a problem with this because I thought she was hungry to make her mark on the publishing business and so was I. We were a good fit, or so I thought. The first sign of challenges came with an assignment to write a novella about Sapelo Island—one of Georgia’s barrier islands that is part The Storycatcher’s setting. I was to do this in thirty days; an inhuman deadline for me. Instead of voicing this, I wrote my novella, originally titled The Death Bell. It would later be renamed Lowcountry Spirit by my editor to play on the love of lowcounty fiction. The only problem with this strategy was my book was nothing like this genre. Did I voice this? No. What did I know? I was only the writer; the nobody from Georgia. This New York, big house editor had to know more than me. Right? I have to say that Lowcountry Spirit is some of the best work I’ve created, and I’m thankful for the experience and for its existence. I did turn the work in by the month deadline, tired and bleary-eyed.
Then I received the edits for The Storycatcher—originally named Barren Soul but changed by publisher due to the title being too negative. Wow, were they different from my former editor’s way of doing things. The book was too long at 110 thousand words; I needed to keep it between 80 and 90 thousand. The editor insisted we drastically cut one of the main character’s story. So Maude Tuggle, my granny woman, became a secondary character. My gut said this was hurting the book. Don’t get me wrong, I’m open—sometimes too open—to editing and paring down to make the prose tight and at its best. But this felt wrong for the story. Again, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t listen to that little internal voice that knows these things. The last blow to the book was the request to change a major plot line. In the original story, Faith Dobbins has a split personality due to trauma. My editor changed it to spirit possession. (I’m being vague in case readers out there haven’t read their copy yet). Yes, I write about ghosts, but my ghosts are low key, no possessions for them. It seemed we were crossing a line of no return, a much darker line, but I did what was asked. When I reworked the book to suit the editor’s vision, I lost mine.
I actually have many readers tell me they loved The Storycatcher. I cringe. I also have many readers say there was something missing in the book. Yep, the essence of part of the story I attempted to tell. When I finished The Storycatcher and it was published, I was no longer under any obligation to remain with this publisher. I knew I needed a change, and I knew this editor wouldn’t want the new book and would want to change it drastically. I had learned the hard way not to allow this.
I took a deep breath and tried something new. Mercer University Press is now my home for my Black Mountain Series. The new novel, Where The Souls Go, will be released September 1, 2015. Early readers say I’m back on track, that something wonderful happened between the not-so-great second novel and this third. This makes me jump up and down, even in this hot humid air. Mercer University allowed me to tell my story. Did they edit, yes they did because editing is an art and oh so important to delivering a powerful book. I also mourn for the real second novel, Barren Soul, later to become The Storycatcher. Had the readers received this book, would they have loved it like Ghost On Black Mountain and Where The Souls Go? I don’t know. I will probably never know.
The sun is up and has washed away the gray light of dayclean. I will close the windows soon and turn on my air conditioning so I can put the finishing touches on my new novel, also to be published by Mercer University in 2016. My story has a happy ending, but there were times when I didn’t think I would ever write again. My advice: follow that little voice. Most of the time it knows what it’s talking about. And don’t be afraid to question an editor. I have learned that good editors are open to discussion and want to know what the author thinks.
Ann Hite is the author of two novels and a novella. Her debut novel, Ghost On Black Mountain, became
a Townsend Prize Finalist and won Georgia Author of the Year in 2012. She is an active board member of the Georgia Writers Association. Ann lives in Marietta, Georgia. Learn more about her at www.annhite.wordpress.com.