Monday, August 1, 2011


Dear Readers,

Please join me in celebrating the release of Eddie's War with author Carol Saller. This book will be a special treasure for many of you, because it's historical fiction set in the USA Heartland from 1934-1944. I have a copy setting on my desk to giveaway!  I LOVE this book! 

In this post, Carol shares from the heart about her long journey to publication--I know it will touch your heart the way it did mine! Congratulations, Carol! 

Carol Saller

Bio: Carol Fisher Saller copyedits scholarly books at the University of Chicago Press and is the editor of the Chicago Manual of Style’s online Q&A. In the past she has worked as an editor of children’s books and has published several books for children in addition to a book for adults, The Subversive Copy Editor . You can read more about Carol and Eddie's War at

Review Clip of Eddie's War

Eddie’s War
 “A poignant look at boyhood before and during the long years of World War II.... Much more an emotionally resonant coming-of-age tale than a war story, this will be an easy sell for those seeking a quick, excellent read.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

The Writing Journey

Clara, thank you—I’m so happy to be here today! It’s the official publication date of Eddie’s War, nearly eight (yep) years after I began writing it.

I know it seems ridiculous that such a slender novel could take so long to write. I once calculated that I averaged eleven and a half words per day (not including the time I took off to write another book). Although I’m happy with the outcome, I wouldn’t recommend my method to anyone else, and I certainly don’t plan to use it again myself! In fact, that’s what I’d like to share here—one way not to write a book.

Let me explain first that the book consists of seventy-six scenes narrated by Eddie from 1934 to 1944, and they’re written in a spare kind of prose, in short lines like this:

Duck Hunting
Hunkered in the duck blind,
trying to keep still,
broken reeds
poking through my jacket,
I squirmed.
Long fingers
like barn nails
gripped my neck:
Grampa Rob.

That’s the shortest scene, and it leans toward a poetry style. Most of the scenes are quite a bit longer and read more like regular prose. Here’s the beginning of one:

The Gossips
“Edward Carl, don’t dawdle.”
Grama Lucy gripped my elbow
and lifted
till I was on the tips of my toes
as she hustled us down Main Street.
I wasn’t dawdling,
just trying to read the headlines
of Official Detective
in the five-and-dime window.

(It continues for seventy-three more lines.)

So here’s the main way I made trouble for myself: I wrote the scenes in no particular order, as they popped into my head. They weren’t told in the first person, because I had no main character. I also had no plot, and—for the first four years—no real dramatic tension. That is, for four years I just continued to compile my little vignettes about the townspeople of Ellisville without giving any of the characters difficulties. I wanted to get them into trouble. I just wasn’t able to put them there. Maybe because I’m a mother.

In 2009 I came back to the project after putting it down for a couple of years to write another book, and at that point I nearly decided it was hopeless. All I had was a jumbled mess, like a drawer full of quilt squares that didn’t fit together. Because the historical farming facts and the inspiration for a few of the scenes were drawn from family history, the book was very close to my heart. Feeling that it probably wasn’t publishable, I considered just throwing it all together and printing out copies for my family.

But I decided to make one last try and applied for a spot in one of Stephen Roxburgh’s novel-writing workshops at Boyds Mills. And a miracle happened: Stephen read through my mess, and in the first thirty-minute one-on-one session, he completely sorted me out. He gave me two books to read for inspiration (An Na’s A Step from Heaven, which I had read once before, and Steven Herrick’s By the River, which was new to me), and he encouraged me to simply keep doing what I was doing.

“You have a handful of pearls,” he said, “but it’s not anywhere close to being a necklace.” Still, he somehow had confidence that if I just kept adding pearls, things would start to happen. Over the weekend he gave me assignments: “Write a sentence telling something about Eddie we don’t already know.” That helped me identify Eddie as the main character. Or “Introduce a new character in the fewest words possible.” That ended up being the one about duck hunting with Grampa Rob: I wrote it in forty-eight words; Stephen took a pencil and in about twenty seconds reduced it to twenty-eight and moved the words “Grampa Rob” to the end of the piece. The brilliance of that editing just blew me away! And it also clued me in on how to trim and hone the pieces myself.

I went away with instructions to write a scene a day for a month and see what happened. I didn’t manage to work that fast, but I definitely did more than eleven and a half words a day, and Stephen proved to be right: I began to see connections, threads, developments in my vignettes. I was able to arrange them in an order that made sense. I made a flowchart to see where the holes were, and started filling them in. The character of Grampa Rob introduced drama. On my own, I promoted Sarah’s character in importance to add romance and humor.

I’ll stop there, because I really hope people will read the book to see the end result! I think it’s a minor miracle that a coherent book could have come together out of such a tangle. Next time, though, the first thing I’ll do is outline a plot.

This is actually the first time I’ve spoken publicly about my struggle writing Eddie’s War, so, Clara thanks for the opportunity!

Ah, Carol, thank you for sharing such a personal journey. I know it strikes a chord with a whole bunch of us!

Dear Friends,
Please take a moment to stop by and congratulate Carol on the Book Birthday of Eddie's War. Don't forget to visit Carol here:  Thank you so much for joining us!


  1. I have read a number of articles regarding the proper way to write a book. This is the first one that instucted me how not to proceed with one. When I wrote Hardsrabble Hill, I did it the same way I put together the kids bikes at Christmas. I tried to muddle through on my own, and then I read the instructions. Apparently, I did the whole thing wrong. I didn't write a outline. I didn't do any character studies. And I didn't identify the narrator; which, I guess, is a huge no-no. I didn't even write the book I intended to write. I just put a girl on a shore and wondered what she would do. I wrote it on the porch; looking at that shore, and the story just wrote itself. I couldn't get it published (because I did it all wrong), but I self-published. I've sold 150 in a year. I've had nothing but good reviews, and one lady wrote and said that when she is in a pickle, she will ask herself, "What would Adele do?". Not bad for a guy who got it wrong.

  2. Wow! What a wonderful story of how the pearls became a necklace. And don't knock this procedure - it produced something wonderful!

  3. Jeff, Thanks for stopping by to share your personal writing journey! Best wishes to you with your current title and with your future projects!

  4. Claudia dear, a necklace of pearls is like a strand of good friends just waiting to be connected, isn't it? Thanks for all your book pearls,too!

  5. I know Carol, but had never heard this full story before today! All writing is different and this story may have needed this tangled web to become what it did. I can't wait to read it!

  6. Hi Shannon, Thanks for your thoughtful comment and for joining us on Carol's Book Birthday!

  7. I'll be looking for your book. What a story! Congrats!

  8. Thanks for joining the BOOK CELEBRATION, Stephanie! Carol's story is inspiring, isn't it?

  9. "So here’s the main way I made trouble for myself: I wrote the scenes in no particular order, as they popped into my head." YES! That's me, me, me.

    Carol, I could jump through my screen and hug you! That is exactly where I am. I have all these puzzle pieces I'm trying to fit together. Thank you, Clara, for hosting. And Carol, your snippets are beautiful. Looking forward to what sounds like a great read.

  10. Kristin, Your heartfelt comment brought tears to my eyes! Write on!

  11. Carol, I was there with you at Stephen's workshop in '09 (1 of the 4). I watched you struggle with your insecurities & witnessed the true birth of your book. I'm so glad to see the results you achieved from that. Best of luck with it. Can't wait to read it.
    Kathy Cannon Wiechman

  12. Hi Kathy, I'm thrilled that you and Carol are connected through the Highlights Foundation Workshop! That is so cool. Thanks for sharing that and for celebrating Carol's book birthday with us!

  13. This was a fascinating account of the construction and deconstruction of a novel.

    Carol--Thanks for allowing us to get inside your head. Breaking down the writing process for others to study is always interesting.

    And Clara--Thank you for sharing Carol with the rest of us. It's incredibly powerful when a tangled mess gets unknotted and becomes something beautiful when it's born...

  14. Sioux, What a beautiful and thoughtful comment! Thank you so much. Carol's words offer us so much solace and encouragement!

  15. Clara, you have such amazing and thoughtful readers--I'm blown away by the comments. Kathy, it's so great to meet you again here!

    It's interesting that some of the rest of you have found yourselves working in the same way. If you can take the pieces and start putting them together, maybe you'll find it's really the best method for you.

    If you get stuck, a workshop might help. Writing groups, too--my own group had a huge influence on the shaping of my book. I have over 20,000 emails in my Writing Group folder!

    I guess it takes a village of one kind or other to write a book.

  16. Carol--Your BOOK BIRTHDAY has also become a celebration of the writing community!Isn't that exciting?

  17. Indeed! It's one of the privileges of living in the age we do, that writers can commune so easily. The image of a writer suffering in isolation belongs to the romantic past.

  18. Carol, Congratulations and Happy Book Birthday to you! Your book journey was very interesting. Thank you for sharing. I am so happy you were able to get all the parts working together as a whole. I can't wait to read it!

  19. Hi Lorrie, Thank you for joining the BOOK BIRTHDAY! It is great when the parts come together as a whole!

  20. Sent by JOYCE HOSTETTER--"Loved hearing your journey. In some ways I am doing the same thing. Writing lots of vignettes in no particular order for a story that is still taking shape. So I am thinking about this a lot. So glad you could work with Stephen Roxburgh. I haven't attended one of his workshops but he was my publisher for a short while so I know what a great soul he is. I really do want to read Eddie's War. I want to win it too. So Clara dear, enter me into the contest, please."

  21. Dear Joyce, I cut and pasted your comment for you. I'm so sorry to learn that you aren't able to post comments on a lot of blogs. But THANK YOU SO MUCH for letting me know about your distressing dilemma. I've missed you!

  22. This writing process of yours is fascinating to me, and I love the line about the pearls and the necklace. Congratulations on your success! :) I love to hear stories like yours.


  23. Margo, Thanks so much for joining the Celebration for Carol!

  24. I really enjoyed this blog post. It was wonderful to see how it all came together. I also love the line about the pearls and the necklace and your style of writing.

  25. Here's a huge pat on the back, Carol. Since I'm a fan of historical fiction this one is a definite buy.

  26. Carol, what a great story to share. I'm sure many of us can relate. It took me nine years to finish my book--going on ten with revisions. A string of pearls, however it comes together, is a thing to be celebrated. Congrats!

  27. Thank you Janet, C.Lee, and Alina for joining Carol's special book celebration!

    Alina, Thank you for sharing about your own writing journey and string of pearls!

  28. I'm neither a writer nor an editor, but as Carol's little sis, I want to join everyone in jumping in to say, "Happy Birthday!" It's been a privilege (Really, Sis) to hear some of the groans of labor pains over the past eight years, and now it's a joy to know that "that there baby is done born."