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HANGIN’ DAY & A Publishing Journey
As writers, you understand that when someone says, “Tell me about your book.”, it’s a complex question. Not only do our books have inexplainable parts such as themes, plots twists, and glorious characters, the finished manuscript can go on a long and complicated journey on its own.
This is true about my book HANGIN’ DAY (title number four). This story has evolved into book #1 of my new middle grade mystery-adventure series, TROUBLE IN TEXAS. This manuscript has a long history. If publishing journeys bore you, I understand that your time is precious. For you, I’ll say keep writing and keep moving forward. Don’t ask why, just write it.
If you’re interested in the story behind the story…
The main character came to me in a dream, in part because of a question from my then elementary aged son. I saw a tough, skinny young girl with dark curly hair staring at a hangman’s platform. My son was studying westward expansion at the time and had asked about lawmen and hanging criminals in the Wild West. (Dinner conversation with our boys has proved to be an invaluable source for filling up my idea journal. Need inspiration? Take a kid to dinner and put the cell phones away.)
The lawless frontier has fascinated countless generations, and sentencing outlaws to hang is a real and horrible part of U.S. history. Law abiding citizens didn’t want to wait weeks, or sometimes even months, for the lawman to pass through town, so they administered justice themselves most especially to horse thieves.
As a life-long fan of historical novels, I wanted to write a humorous tale set in frontier Texas, that would be heavy with details of the time period to address my son’s questions and with enough action to hold a kids attention. The book was written during lunch breaks over a year’s time, and after edits from my awesome WS6 group, I felt it was ready to submit to contests. The story won 2nd in a contest, and then it won a face-to-face meeting with an agent at an SCBWI Oklahoma conference. The 15 minute ‘prize’ meeting with that literary agent was invaluable. He totally got the premise and characters of my story. I worked on his suggested revisions.
The next year I approached the same agent at a conference. He didn’t remember my name, but when I mentioned the characters, he remembered my book. He asked to see the revisions I’d made. We corresponded over several months and together worked to polish it even more. One day he emailed me with a question: “what other stories are you working on?”. Within 30 minutes I had an offer for representation, and just like that I had a literary agent who was shopping my books with publishers in New York City! Working on edits with someone who has read hundreds more kid lit books than I and who knows more about story structure than I’ll ever learn in my lifetime was an unforgettable experience. His suggestions were spot on. The book was finally the best it could be and I had a new found confidence in my writing abilities.
Silver Belle was on her way! That was 2013, four years after the spark. I waited AND I kept writing Book 2 and Book 3 of this series, plus freelance and wrote a coming-of-age novel for young adults. Except my middle grade series set in the Texas frontier never found a home in traditional publishing, nor did any of my other novels that he shopped during that time. My entire body of work was sinking into a deep, dark hole.
In an effort to keep it real for you, I’ll share a portion of the feedback I got over the years relating to the TROUBLE IN TEXAS series.
1) An editor told me at a conference that country kids don’t read that much and that I’m wasting time writing stories about farms and ranches and the frontier. Nobody wants to read those kinds of stories any more. (Unfortunately, the historical market continues to be a hard sell in kid lit these days.)
2) The marketing department will never be able to sell this book because it has no wide appeal.
3) Would I consider making the town sheriff a werewolf?
4) An agent stated that this story is unbelievable. It would be impossible for a twelve-year-old girl to accomplish the things my character does. Obviously, this from someone unaware of the abilities and chores required of farm and ranch kids. Taking a moment to shed light on the rural lifestyle, I grew up in a small-town but spent summers on my grandparent’s farm. I drove my Pappy’s tractor in Junior High, and my kids were doctoring cows, mowing the lawn, and driving the backhoe by about the same age.
I respected and greatly appreciated those who took the time to provide critiques. I carefully considered their suggestions. One horrible day I realized that my style of story telling had no place in the mainstream world of children’s literature. I write frontier Texas, horse and buggy, and Wild West adventures. I’ve read those kinds of stories my whole life. The reality of popular culture boils down to this: how can a feisty group of mystery-solving frontier kids ever compete against world apocalypse? My target market of readers is not on a world wide scale, but selective and unique.
Even at this point, I didn’t stop writing. Would you? There are too many ideas in my head to quit now. Here I am, back to square one it seems, to sink or swim as an Indie Author. I’m tackling the publishing business in different ways, and seeking new opportunities to find readers.
It is my belief that stories choose the writer.
Stories grow wings and fly because of us and the words we write. The characters we create really do exist to breathe, laugh, cry, and have adventures. We can’t ignore them. I hope readers love this black horse named Sweet Fury and these rowdy frontier kids as much as I do. The commotion in my head will not quite down…their adventures continue, just waiting on the writer to supply the wings.
TROUBLE IN TEXAS Series ~ Historical Middle Grade Adventures
Hangin’ Day Book 1
The Great Train Caper Book 2
Murder in the Morning Book 3
Natalie Cline Bright is a blogger and author of the fun, historical western TROUBLE IN TEXAS series for middle grades, the nonfiction RESCUE ANIMAL series, and is currently working on an action-packed novel for young adults, WOLF’S WAR. Read about Natalie’s grandmother and her cherry salad recipe, recently selected for “THE WESTERN WRITERS OF AMERICA COOKBOOK: Favorite Recipes, Cooking Tips, and Writing Wisdom” (TwoDot Publishing, June 2017). Go to her website nataliebright.com for buy links.