The Hattie’s War manuscript began with a series of letters written between Hattie and her uncle Bryon. Day one was April 11, 2020, at 3:10 pm. How do I know this? Google Docs and the reversion history feature.
Here is the opening of the first letter:
Letter From Byron #1
My Dearest Niece Hattie,
I received a letter from your mother a short few days ago. She tells me you are doing very well in school and have been a big help to her around the house. Good for you on both counts, school is important even for a young girl like you. I hope you will forgive your old uncle for not sending a card for your birthday….
I wrote off and on over the next few months. By the first week of August, I had 8 letter exchanges, 16 letters in all. I knew the story would center around these letters. They would serve as the foundation of a storyline. Yet, more important, the letters helped flesh out Hattie and Bryon. How they spoke. What they thought. What their daily lives were like. How they related to each other. Looking back, the letters were an easy and non-threatening way to start. I wasn’t writing a “book”, I was only writing letters!
Shortly after starting the letters, I wrote a blog post called: The Daughter He Never Knew. The story created for that blog post became the opening scene of the book. It’s a funny encounter at school between Hattie and Arthur, the boy she would eventually marry. Arthur tries to grab the small chalkboard she has been drawing on and accidentally gets hit in the head with it. Right from the top, we have a pretty good idea of Hattie’s personality and demeanor. In the first few pages, we come to know the young girl who will take us with her on her journey.
By the first week of October, I had a first draft done of 20,000 words. That wasn’t a lot but seemed adequate in keeping with the genre I thought I was writing for, young adults (YA). My writing process was not by- the-book by any means. I had to see it laid out. How the words fit with the graphics I envisioned.
So, as I was writing, I started laying out the book in Adobe InDesign, complete with graphics. Sometimes I even wrote in InDesign and then had to remember to bring the text into my Google Docs manuscript. I missed stuff in the process. I wouldn’t advise this method, but it worked for me. I had to discover how the text and graphics interacted. It may have slowed me down a little but it was great fun and a challenge. The challenge was finding graphics that helped tell the story too. From what I’ve been told by my beta-readers, the book is visually compelling.
The writing was effortless. I knew what I wanted to say. Building a world around Hattie, complete with other characters, just seemed to happen. I never felt stuck, at a dead end. Never paralyzed by writer’s block. I shared the first draft with a few people with good responses. In fact, one reader was shocked to learn that Hattie’s and Bryon’s letters were not real but fiction. I was confident I had something good, but I also knew I needed a professional editor involved.
Enter Reedsy.com. I stumbled on the Reedsy website. Wow, what a brilliant and useful resource for writers of all genres based in the UK. Free to join, within an hour or so I was able to sort through editors in the YA genre, pick 5 (the max), and send each of them an introduction, and a short sample of the manuscript. Reedsy is set up to allow independent/self-employed publishing professions (editors, designers, proofreaders, illustrators, etc) to bid on proposals from writers like me. Within the 24 hours, one editor turned me down. A second responded with a lukewarm reply. Then came the “Lady from Texas”, Jessica.
Thank you so much for contacting me! This is a really interesting project, particularly the laborious research you took to trace your roots and craft an engaging tale through Hattie’s point of view. You really found a wonderful angle! Hattie is a compelling character full of voice with a goal and many obstacles. Bryon’s story is intriguing as well.
Jessica gave me a very reasonable bid for editing the first draft (Reedsy handles everything and in turn adds 10% to the bill) and we were off and running on November 9th. Jessica is a published author living in Austin, TX. She writes for YA and younger audiences. One of the first things she told me was Hattie’s War was a “middle grade” (MG) book. Middle-grade books are written for ages 8-12. What distinguishes MG from YA is the subject matter and the way it is handled. For instance, romance usually involves innocent courting behaviors, holding hands, and such. Whereas in YA, romantic encounters may be more graphic and involved. Violence and adult themes can be explored in MG but always carefully. The best-known middle-grade books are the Harry Potter series. As we know from Harry Potter, things can get intense and complicated in MG, and of course, can be engaging to readers of all ages.
Jessica and I hit it off right away. She was enthusiastic and informative, sharing lots of additional book-related information with me. But, most of all she was prompt, always quick to reply to my messages (all done via Reedsy website). I value promptness above almost everything else. Jessica told me it would take 2-5 weeks to get her editorial feedback back to me. She was finished on the 19th, ten days later. And what feedback it was!
It has been absolute pleasure spending time in Hattie’s world—thank you… You’ve crafted a dynamic story full of heart! Voice is one of those illusive story elements that agents and publishers look for in a story, and HATTIE’S WAR is full of it! While details can be added and dialogue finessed, etc., what you shared is solid and engaging.
Her main editorial direction: “show” instead of “tell”. Use dialogue to tell the story, rather than summarizing a conversation or situation. Let the characters speak, tell their story. Other feedback included providing more detail in specific scenes, creating chapters and titles, creating more tension in Arthur and Hattie relationship, and making sure to always keep Hattie the focus.
The flood gates opened. I immediately got to work. Some mornings I was at my desk at 4:00 am. In ten days I had an additional 12,000 words (probably more since I removed the non-fiction Civil War information sections), created new characters, new scenes, and gave more depth to the already existing characters. I followed her direction to the letter, I “showed”. Again, the writing was effortless, it just flowed out of me. Ten days later I had the second draft back to her. The speed, extent, and quality of my re-write blew her mind.
Before she returned her editorial feedback on the second draft she wrote me this note:
Here is what I have to say about your overall revision: Stupefacente!
Stupefacente means “astonishing” in Italian. I use the Italian word in the manuscript when Hattie’s Italian art teacher responds to her artwork saying: Stupefacente!
All I can say about working with the Lady from Texas… Stupefacente!