Joyce Hostetter, my fellow Talking Story partner and my inspiration for writing historical fiction. Although Joyce hadn’t signed a contract for it, she had already spent two years writing it. I finished reading it with tears in my eyes and thought that it was close to being ready to be sent to the publisher.
I was wrong.
Joyce has a proclivity for serious subjects. In two of her previous books, Blue and Comfort, she writes about a girl who loses a little brother to polio, contracts polio herself, and then recuperates at Warm Springs, Georgia. In a third book, Healing Water, she tells the story of a Hawaiian boy whose life is devastated by leprosy.
Now, Joyce takes on another serious topic: a young man who follows his Mennonite beliefs and becomes a conscientious objector (CO) during World War II. For over a year he serves in a mental hospital becoming a part of a group who successfully lobbies to get the horrendous conditions in the hospital alleviated.
Working from memoirs, letters, and interviews with conscientious objectors who worked in a variety of mental hospitals, Joyce incorporated details of how they worked to instigate change in these institutions. Their attitudes towards their work and compassion towards their patients deeply influenced this story and her fictional character’s motivations.
Joyce has skillfully woven together her CO’s story along with the story of Kelsey, his granddaughter, who decides to tell his story for her senior project. After I read the rough draft in February, Joyce decided to tell the contemporary story line in the form of a blog, in which Kelsey reflects on personal dilemmas related to modern day wars. This added layers and layers of details which then needed to be integrated into the story
Intertwining the two stories and time periods was part of Joyce’s challenge. After several months had passed when she thought it would be ready to send, I asked her how she would knew when the manuscript would be “done.” She replied, “I think there’s always room for improvement. But right now, I just see missing elements. I’m trying to make sure themes, characters, and subplots are evenly woven throughout the story. And tweaking of course. There’s always that obsession over the perfect word choice.”
Finally, months after she had hoped to submit the manuscript, Joyce finished tweaking word choices, cleaned up her bibliography, (which she accumulates as she writes,) and mailed her story to her editor.
I try not to feel overwhelmed by the amount of work and tweaking that Joyce put into her manuscript. I try not to think of the mountains of work and time and revisions that are in front of me as I push through a rough draft of my first novel.
I try to think of the day that someone will take a picture like this of me—kissing Half-Truths goodbye and getting ready to mail it to a publisher.
I try to just write.
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