For the past few months, I’ve been making the promotional rounds for my second novel, The Ones We Trust. I’ve been talking to readers and touring on blogs, and one of the questions I keep getting is, how was writing this story different than writing the first one? My answer is always the same: Um, how much time have you got?
I wrote the very first words for The Ones We Trust six years ago, all the way back in 2009. It was my very first attempt at a novel, and like most first novels, it wasn’t pretty. The characters were cliché, the conflict was uninspired, the dialogue was stilted and the writing was cringe-worthy. If there was a story in there, it was buried under all the wrong words—words even a newbie like me could tell were complete crap. When I was done, I closed the file, shoved it in a box under my bed, and chalked the experience up as practice.
I took everything I’d learned from that first failed attempt and wrote The Last Breath—the story that ultimately landed me an agent and a book deal. But when it came time to move on to book number three, The Ones We Trust wouldn’t leave me alone. Fix me, it kept whispering to me from under the bed. I have a story to tell.
So I pulled it out, dusted it off, and went back to work. I rewrote it, then rewrote it again and again (and again). I fixed the tone and the voice, matured my characters, deepened backstory to intensify the conflict. I added a subplot and a whole cast of new characters. I killed my darlings more times than I care to count. I lost a lot of sleep and I shed a lot of tears.
How many words did I waste? A million, at least. It took me that many to drill down to the very essence of the book—the slain soldier’s story. Though we never actually meet him on the page, The Ones We Trust is built around what, exactly, happened to him on the battlefield. This plotline was the crux of every single rewrite, a red thread, leading the way. It’s where, as soon as I got out of my own way, I found my story.
We writers talk a lot about stories that demand to be told, about the ones that grab us by the guts and won’t let go. For me, The Ones We Trust was one of them. For six years, those characters lived in my head, dominating my days and filling my dreams with mini movie clips of their next scenes. My method of wrangling them to the ground (did I mention it took me six years?) is not one I’d advise or ever hope to repeat.
But like all great trials, it makes the successes—in my case, seeing my firstborn up there on the shelves—that much sweeter.
What do you think, WITS readers? Do you have a dust-bunny book with some gold dust on it?
Kimberly Belle grew up in Eastern Tennessee, in a small town nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians. A graduate of Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, Kimberly lived for over a decade in the Netherlands and has worked in marketing and fundraising for various nonprofits. She’s the author of two novels, THE LAST BREATH and THE ONES WE TRUST (August 2015). She divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.
Keep up with Kimberly on Facebook (www.facebook.com/KimberlyBelleBooks), Twitter (@KimberlySBelle), Instagram (@KimberlySBelle) and Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/KimberlyBelle). For more about Kimberly and her books, please visit her website, www.kimberlybellebooks.