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What a Newly Published Author Learns

“Evocative” is the word of choice on the back cover of a novel or in a book review. The reader senses mystery, depth of feeling, swell of remembrance, conflicts that raise emotion. A good word for the novel I wrote, but famous writers have seen that word used about their novels too. Even though you may not have paid attention—I didn’t—to those reviews and covers when choosing your next book to read, as a new author I value that adjective.

“An evocative first novel from C.J. Noonan that begins in the rough, early 20th century Sierra Nevada outpost of Truckee, California. It chronicles the tumultuous growing-up years of five children during the California woman’s rights movement and closes with the startling understandings of a good woman’s life, lived long.”

You can’t help it. Novels are both fiction and memoir. The House on Harrigan’s Hill characters, called “animated, no wooden, lifeless personalities…” from one reader’s brief Amazon review, are based on people I knew. The events happened, told to my sister and me many times by our grandmother as we grew up--but not as the novel fictionalizes them. Settings in the book come from places I knew in Sacramento, the Sierra Nevada, and Truckee. Beloved objects in the story were selected from antiques still on display at my house.

First time novelists are urged to block out a careful sequence of action that builds to a climax and resolves the conflicts in a denouement. They are told to spend time making character outlines. And some writers do. On the other hand, I kept writing and new ideas rolled out of my mind as the sequence developed. True, I moved sections around and rewrote as a new angle came to mind. True, I spent time thinking about what was going on in the character’s head to make them act a certain way. And had to go back and revise the fictional character. I remembered that the real “Mama” was a fountain of poems, lines from Shakespeare and the Bible, so I molded that character to include those traits. Why not? Believe me, she is unique.

At workshops, on the internet, and from friends the advice was “get a reader.” The college writing professor friend who read the novel through many drafts was help beyond compare. She refers to me as one of her successful “mentees.” How lucky I was!

A writing group is a must. A different pair of eyes reading the same chapter you’ve struggled over for weeks suddenly gives you the insight to the problem you couldn’t resolve. Thanks to whoever thought of writing groups long ago.

The House on Harrigan’s Hill took four and a half years to write, rewrite, and rewrite again. Oh yes, I took vacations, worked on senate and presidential elections, wrote short stories and weekly posts to my education blog, attended the many plays offered in the Bay Area, and generally lived my life. But, the novel was always in my head, day and night.

It was most frustrating that agents and publishers did not immediately see a sure winner in the evocative novel set in early 20th century California, filled with an abundance of lively characters living during social and economic upheaval high in the Sierra, and climaxing after the election that gave California women the right to vote.

And finally it was published. My next incarnation appeared. I was a teacher of children and adults, then a writer, and now a book promoter. A jack-of-all-trades. -original post May 2011

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