I’m so delighted to welcome Diane Kane to my blog today. Diane epitomizes the perseverance authors need to create and publish their works. In her essay, she discusses the long journey involved in completing I Never Called Him Pa.
A Novel Undertaking
by Diane Kane
How long does it take to write a novel? For me, it took precisely sixty-one years and two months. Sixty years of thinking about it, two months of writing it, and one long agonizing year of edits and rewrites. Was it all worth it? You bet!
When I was five years old, my grandfather worked on the B&M railroad and told me tales about the hobos in boxcars. I never forgot those stories.
Sixty years later, when I saw a call for submissions from Red Penguin Press for a collection of historical fiction stories, I remembered a story I had written and filed away.
“Ernest Lived” was 15,000 words about a black hobo who called the boxcars his home. He and other hobos often did chores for a widow raising her young grandson while the train stopped near their farm for water. When Ernest’s health began to fail, the grandmother took him in so he wouldn’t spend his final days in a boxcar.
Not only was my short story chosen to be included in the anthology, it won the title spot! Ernest Lived and other historical short stories was published in 2020. The editor said everyone in his office felt it was an extraordinary story. I knew what my debut novel would be.
Stephen King said, “A good novelist does not create events, he watches them happen and then writes down what he sees.”
This could not have been more true for me.
I was writing about a period when I was barely alive, in a state I had never set foot in, and with people from backgrounds I knew little about. They told me their stories while the ghosts of Jules Verne and Arthur Conon Doyle screamed in my head, “Be damned with write what you know!”
The 15,000-word short story with limited characters and a single plot grew into an 82,000-word novel with multi-dimensional characters and subplots. I needed to change the title to avoid confusion, and a little voice in my head whispered, I Never Called Him Pa.
At the end of two months, I took a deep breath. I did it! But that was the easy part.
You don’t need to write what you know, but with historical fiction, you had best write what you have thoroughly researched! Since my novel included diverse characters of different racial and religious backgrounds and sexual preferences, I sought the input of a dozen beta readers from all walks of life. I took it all in and made the necessary adjustments.
But something strange started happening. The people I needed began to appear without calling. Carl Sagan said, “Books are proof that humans can create magic.” I’m a believer.
One day, I took a break from writing to answer a request on Facebook from an event coordinator. She asked for authors to read to her seniors via Zoom since it was during the pandemic. After I read from my short story book, Flash in the Can, the women asked what I was working on now.
I answered, “A novel set in Northern Illinois.”
“We live in Northern Illinois!” they informed me.
I hadn’t thought to ask! One woman pre-read the manuscript and said the town sounded like her hometown of Mendota, Illinois. When I looked up Mendota, I found the name is Lokata Indian for crossing paths. This just happened to be one of my themes!
In the short story “Ernest Lived,” I describe Ernest’s illness as Palsy. In the novel, I wanted to get deeper into what ailed him. I remembered an interview on a California radio show about my children’s book, Don Gateau the Three-Legged Cat. I listened to the person interviewed the day before to get a sense of the show. That person was Farron Dozier, a veteran who became ill while serving in the Army. He was finally diagnosed with Sickle Cell Trait. Since then, he has dedicated his life to educating other black soldiers about the disease and trait. I contacted Farron, who graciously read all the parts of my manuscript that dealt with the illness and approved them.
Throughout the writing, there was a word that kept haunting me. The word was hobo. I pitched my novel idea at a few writer’s conferences and always got the same reaction, “I won’t touch a book with the word hobo.”
So, in the end, as I put together my query letters to agents, I went through my manuscript and changed the word hobo to travelers and wondered if this word would pass.
As I waited impatiently for replies, I was in limbo, so I picked up a book that appeared to me out of the blue, called The Last Professional by Ed Davis. It was a book about hobos! Ed Davis used the word unapologetically. In his youth, Ed Davis spent some time as a hobo. He rode the rails with the best and the last of the professional hobos.
Our stories are decades apart, and the setting entirely different, but the story’s heart hit home. I reached out to Ed, and he answered. He told me to write the word hobo with honor and give them their due. So, I confidently changed the word travelers back to hobos. I threw out the idea of ever finding a traditional publisher, and I Never Called Him Pa was independently born.
Still, I had my doubts. I called my dear friend Catherine Reed, a ninety-one-year-old black woman pastor and poet. Catherine had been my unwavering cheerleader since the first draft of the short story.
“Catherine, what will people think of me writing a story about a black hobo?”
Catherine’s faith spoke volumes. “Diane, God gave you this story, and he wants you to share it.”
I couldn’t argue with that.
Take a journey you will never forget in I Never Called Him Pa.
Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online stores.
Ask for it at your local bookstore or library.
Find me on Facebook @PageofPossibilities and online at www.WriteofPossibilities.com
Author Diane Kane’s fiction and nonfiction short stories appear in numerous anthologies. She is a founding member of Quabbin Quills, a nonprofit organization helping authors and students. Kane is the publisher and co-author of Flash in the Can Number One (2018) and Number Two (2020), books of short stories. She also writes public interest articles for magazines and newspapers.
Kane’s first children’s book, Don Gateau the Three-Legged Cat of Seborga (2020), is available in English, Spanish, French, and Italian and won the Purple Dragonfly Award for Caring/Making a Difference. Her second children’s book, Brayden the Brave Goes to the Hospital (April 2021), was endorsed by the Boston Children’s Hospital. Kane’s debut novel, I Never Called Him Pa (March 2023), won cover finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards. She is working on her next novel when the voices in her head tell her what to write.
I Never Called Him Pa: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1735460486
Don Gateau the Three-Legged Cat: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732397341
Flash in the Can Number One: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732397309
Flash in the Can Number Two: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732397392
Brayden the Brave goes to the Hospital: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1735460451