Back in October when I got the idea to write The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood I had no idea it would turn into the project it has! I had such a good time writing it, and received such positive feedback on it, that I decided to write a second story that would include some of the same characters and the same setting. This resulted in a rather hilarious little story I called “Peeper Baumgratz and the Sister's Snowplow.” I let a couple friends read it and they said, “That's a riot, keep going.” So I am.
One of the most common complaints I get in reviews of my existing novelettes is that they should be longer. I struggle with this because on the one hand I think they are as long as they needed to be and if I made them longer they would have gotten dull and people would have complained about too much “filler.” On the other hand it is nice to think that people want to read more of your writing – every writer loves that. So, when a few reviews for Reluctant Belsnickel said it needed to be longer, I thought maybe not longer – maybe more. One of my favorite parts of writing fiction is creating a world – the world of a lake Erie waterfront town in the 60s, the world of a Massachusetts mill town and an abandoned convent in Maine, the world of a lavish estate on an island off the coast of New England. So, since I had already created the world of Marienstadt and Opelt's Wood, I decided to keep going with more stories.
This is sort of interesting because it is not at all like writing a novel. Each story stands alone but they have the commonality of place and characters. I've never written this way before but I'm really finding it both fascinating and challenging. As more stories emerge I have to go back and massage the existing ones but that's part of the fun, seeing who can show up where and what reinforces something already written or inspires something new.
One of the most interesting things to explore is the whole issue of secrets. As my readers know, I LOVE characters with secrets. To me they are the most exciting to develop. Oliver, in Reluctant Belsnickel, has a secret that forms the basis of that story. Then I wrote two more stories about secrets and now I'm working on another one. It occurs to me that in small communities where generations of people have known each other well, secrets are often important to the continuing social progression. People keep secrets for the good of the society. Then, as time goes by, and society shifts in its understanding secrets come to light and are either shocking or enlightening or both.
So, at present, I have the following stories in various stages of development, in addition to the Reluctant Belsnickel:
- The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: In which Titus Winter, the great-grandson of one of Marienstadt's most prominent businessmen, discovers the truth about his infamous ancestor thanks to a note found in a bottle hidden in the wall of the Town Hall.
- Peeper Baumgratz and the Sister's Snowplow: In which Chief of Police Henry Werner, with the help of Oliver Eberstark, hunts down a renegade and devises a plan to teach him a lesson.
- The Confession of Genny Franck: In which Father Nicholas Bauer is told the story of a secret one of the town's oldest residents has kept for 75 years.
- The Day the Viaduct Blew Down: In which Titus's former-barnstormer Great-uncle Mathias confesses to a stunt he was forbidden to perform but did anyway.
- The Great Dumpling War: In which Gretchen Fritz's Sunday afternoon quilting bee becomes a hotbed of dissent over the proper way to make dumplings.
- A Long Day's Journey into Light: In which Henry, Oliver and others spend a bitter winter night searching for Titus's elderly father causing Henry to recall a secret he has kept for the love of his life.
I have a few more ideas, too. This is a big challenge but also a huge amount of fun. What more can a writer ask for?
Thanks for reading.