The evolution of my novels, leading to Caroline’s Lighthouse publication

Humble beginnings: I have mentioned before that I started writing novels when I was 13. I hand-wrote them in pencil on notebook paper. (I have scanned them and saved them digitally now in addition to keeping the originals.) Between the ages of 13-15 (or 18 if you count the typing of the last novel) I wrote 7 book-length stories: Night and Day, When Does Life Begin?, Four Hearts, Jordan’s Sister, Just Taylor, One Shot, and Caroline’s Lighthouse.

As I look back at all of the stories, the first two are only salvageable if I part them out for dialogue or characters for other stories. (A polite way to say they are total crap and I watched way too much 90210 and Melrose Place-shows I was way too young to be watching-while writing them.) The third has a sweet story line, but needs a ton of work. The next three, however, have potential. Of those, two of them are about the same characters and will be combined for my next novel rewrite, Jordan’s Sister, which will be combined with Just Taylor. The story has been churning in my head and will be vastly different from the original draft, but will pull from a lot of the angst I captured at 14 to provide depth to the characters, who will be in their 20s in the rewrite. I estimate one year to complete the rewrite on that one. After that, I will work on One Shot and see what happens after that.

I chose to work on Caroline’s Lighthouse first because it was the best and last one I wrote, and therefore, needed the least amount of polishing to the story line. See the examples I chose below, which do not spoil the story:

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 7.48.20 PM
From the first draft, 1997.
Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 7.27.19 AM
From the final draft, 2016.

What’s going on? On Monday, August 29, 2016 I will be submitting my manuscript, Caroline’s Lighthouse, to Archway Publishing. Publishing a novel has been my dream since I was 13 years old. The story of Caroline has evolved over the course of the last 20 years. The timeline is looking good for this to be available for purchase by the end of the year. See the evolutionary timeline below:

First Draft: 1997
January 3, 1997: Idea for story/characters
February 1997: Worked on legend story, family history timeline
March 2, 1997: Began writing first draft
May 27, 1997: Finished writing first draft
Pages: 128 wide-ruled notebook paper, hand-written in pencil.
Word Count: Not known

Artwork: 1998
Created drawing of Bettencourt for high school art class assignment to be used on book cover. See end of post for picture.

Second Draft: 1999
January-May 1999: Typed rewrite based on original draft. Added brief epilogue to summarize characters’ lives after story.
Pages: 139 double-spaced, typed, Letter.
Word Count: 39,397

Third Draft (Screenplay): 2003
January-May 2003: Used as a screenplay project for college
Pages: 78 typed, Letter
Word Count: 12,999 words

The lost years 2003-2015:
Put away creative writing/poetry for thirteen years, but thought about it often.

Manuscript for publication: 2016
February 2016: Realized life is too short. What was I waiting for? Began rewrite of story. Pulled elements from all drafts, but added significant amount of new writing to the story.
July 2016: Completed rewrite, gave to test-readers, started blog.
August 27, 2016: Completed edits/proofing based on test-reader feedback.
Word Count: 52,628
Pages: 113 typed 1.15 spaced Letter or 223 typed 1.15 spaced set up for 5×8 paperback

Original vs. Final: What is the same? 

  1. The legend is the same as it was when I wrote the original draft, although a part of it that was revealed early in the first draft is kept secret until later in the story for the final draft.
  2. Many of the original conversations between the teenagers or their internal thoughts in the final draft were taken (but polished) from the first draft.
  3. The ending of the story is the same.

Original vs. Final: What is different? 

  1. A handful of unnecessary characters presented in the first draft were eliminated from the final draft.
  2. Descriptions of characters and surroundings are more detailed. Some is new writing, some is taken from screenplay set descriptions.
  3. The final draft contains more developed characters for the parents, mainly because I have aged twenty years and now identify with the parent characters.
  4. How the characters arrived at the ending is different.
  5. The epilogue is a much better summary of the events after the story.

About the novel: This novel was not ready for publication in its original form because it didn’t contain the depth and life experience it needed. All the original had was a good, but poorly polished story of teenage love and angst. Capturing the draft as a teenager and finishing it as an adult is what made this novel what it is today, complete—a labor of love, a polished piece of my heart and soul.

This is a young adult novel. My primary audience is girls age twelve and up. A dear friend told me recently that if my dreams seem possible, then they’re not big enough. If I could dream as big as the stars, I would love for this novel to become well-known and be turned into a movie someday.

BookcoverAbout the story (Marketing pitch): It’s been 150 years since heartbroken Caroline Marshall committed suicide at the Bettencourt Estate Lighthouse. Her boyfriend died the same way days later. In the years since then, people in the small town of Bettencourt, Virginia watch as the abandoned lighthouse glows every year on the anniversary of Caroline’s death. The estate is rumored to be the most haunted place in town.

In 1996, 15-year-old Caroline Douglas, named after the legendary ghost, visits the estate that has been in her mother’s family for generations.  She’s not there long before strange things start happening. With help from her family and her best friend, Bo, will she be able to solve the mystery before it’s too late?

-Brandi Easterling Collins

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