Now comes the hard part
After finishing the interviews and research, my next step in writing was to develop a chronology; then came flow, character, tone, and atmosphere. I needed help with the ambiance and was open to constructive criticism on any aspect of the book. Fortunately, some of my friends are award-winning authors. Every person I shared the manuscript with made suggestions that improved the story. The knowledge I gained through their ideas and criticisms were more valuable than a college course.
Help from the pros
Kenny Kieser, an outdoor and western writer who has won numerous awards, helped create emotion and presence throughout my story. Kent Hayes, whose books were turned into Hallmark Hall of Fame movies, suggested I give names rather than titles to government officials. I originally made the communist government the villain and used only nondescript titles for authorities, such as policeman. Kent said using only titles would cause readers to see a government as bad, but not as villainous. When I asked Cornel he remembered the government officials’ names, which added authenticity, credibility, and the effect I wanted.
I hired an amazing editor, Deb Johnson. In the book I acknowledged her as my angel. She made sure the voice was correct and consistent, helped with the flow, and improved the descriptive flavor of the book. She developed a style sheet which included a glossary of correct spellings of characters’ names and who they were, places, government agencies, and non-English words. Wow! Why didn’t I think of doing something like that from the start? I will from now on. She also included words that needed some explanation and words I used inconsistently. For example, the word communism, which some writers always capitalize. After my research, I chose to capitalize communism only when it was used as an official name, such as Communist Party.
Family dogs and jailed for reading
Dr. Andy Cline, a journalism professor at Missouri State University, suggested I take out anything that didn’t move the story forward. I had been hanging on to information from Cornel I didn’t want to lose. When I realized I could put that information on my website, I felt free to cut and it significantly improved the flow of the story.
I continued to rewrite and fine tune. I knew the beginning sixty pages were the most critical and I probably rewrote those pages more than seventy-five times.
Cornel reviewed the manuscript in progress and corrected anything that wasn’t representative. Three years into the book’s development, Cornel moved to Florida and I moved to Missouri. Three times I flew to Florida and worked with him for a solid week each time refining the book. Over dinner, Cornel would say something like “Did I not tell you …,” or “Where is the story about …,” and I would say, “You never mentioned it.” I had to rewrite the first one-third of the book when he told me what communists did to his dogs, a story with tremendous emotional impact. I couldn’t simply add the story of the dogs; I had to bring the dogs into the beginning and make them part of the family.
The story of police throwing Cornel into jail for reading Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea was one of the last added to the book. Fortunately, it didn’t take a lot of rewriting of other chapters to meld with this new one.
The finish line in sight
I decided to set up my own publishing company, Soaring Reader Press, which meant I had to pay professionals to design, layout, print, and distribute. I chose Litho Printers & Bindery, Cassville, Missouri for design, layout, and printing, and Lightening Source for distribution. I had the book reviewed by five more people including my niece Kaeli West who is an award-winning writer. Their suggestions caused me to rewrite the beginning and tighten up some passages.
After I received PDFs of the formatted pages, I found minor errors, mostly punctuations, which I corrected and then went to press. Finally, after seven years, I held the finished book in my hands.
Sharon Rushton is an award-winning writer, documentary filmmaker, and conservationist. No Paved Road to Freedom was selected as the Book of the Month for February 2012 by the Military Writers Society of America (MWRSA). In its annual awards, MWRSA presented the book a Bronze Medal. In November 2012, Stars and Flags Book Awards gave the book a Gold Medal.
Sharon may be reached at www.nopavedroadtofreedom.com.
Images courtesy Sharon Rushton.
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