I read something in a writing forum that caught my interest - the difficulty of condensing one's novel into a short descriptive paragraph. The author complained at how difficult it was.
Oh yeah! Been there. Done that.
Whether or get an idea and just start putting down the words or lay out a plot and create characters - that seems to be the easiest part of the author’s task.
I’m not belittling the process of editing, reviewing and revising. I don’t think anyone, not even the John Clanceys or Grishams or JK Rowling, can’t get it right the first time. We all spend hours going over and over our works, trying to polish them as best as possible. Like them, I don’t want my readers to lose the thread because of grammatical or spelling errors. So, I will endlessly go over each piece I write dozens of times to polish them to a mirror finish.
Then, the truly blood-sweating time comes; the paring it down into a few descriptive words or phrases to help readers decide whether or not it catches their attention. Whether it’s nonfiction, general fiction or works aimed at a special niche, the task is more than daunting - it’s downright scary!
Off to the drawing board. How am I gonna get this done?
Well, let’s start with the easy part - what genre is it in?
What kind of fiction? Historical.
What makes it special? How is it unique?
Hmmm. Let me think. First, it’s about founding the missions that became the background of California. Who was behind them and how was it done? I’ve spent hours upon hours researching this so I can write chapters on end on this subject. But, how to boil it down to a few words? Father Serra walks hundreds of miles to build the missions.
Swell! But, it is going to get someone interested in reading my book. And, what does it have to make it unique?
Young Englishman gets washed ashore on Baja California strand, is found by Indian boy and given sanctuary by Franciscan priests. He then meets and follows Father Serra through the barren countryside to found the first mission.
A note about this picture. Before the arrival of the friars, the Indians of California did not plant crops or even have domesticated animals to do this kind of work. They had dogs that, in time of famine, became additions to their cooking fires. While other Indians to the east did cultivate crops, they were done by hand and usually in river bottoms where the soil was easier to till. The friars provided them with a more dependable source of food with more bountiful yields.
As Mission San Diego de Alcalá is in the lower corner of this picture, they had to be mission Indians, although they lack the headband of white beads they wore to show their being protected by the church.
Recap. Key words. Father Serra. California Missions. Spanish. 18th Century. Wild Indians. Ships. Mountains. Deserts. Danger.
Fine. But, is it gonna catch anyone’s attention?
I come up with a whole number of versions but kinda like this the best:
From farm to Fo’csle to a far away land; the changes in Timothy Beadle’s fortunes have just begun. The young Englishman joins Spaniards led by Father Serra exploring hostile deserts and mountains, confronting naked savages to spread the Catholic faith and bring the Californias under their control.
Then, I begin to wonder if that’s enough and come up with this one:
Timothy Beadle’s father indentures him to a ship’s captain and he soon is in Mid-Atlantic on his way to the far northwestern shores of The New World. Padding the deck and climbing the rigging is exhilarating to the young English farm boy. The captain is a fair, God-fearing man who ensures Timothy also learns reading, writing and arithmetic. Strange islands and naked savages fill Timothy with curiosity and wonder.
Fate has more changes in store for Timothy. The ship sails for home with holds full of rich furs. But, a vicious cyclone hits, washes him overboard and Timothy ends up on the shores of Spanish California with a young Indian bending over him. After the village medicine woman treats him, Timothy’s taken before grey robed priests who welcome him. They even step in and offer sanctuary when a local official tries to imprison him as a pirate.
Jaime, the Indian boy, dreamed of Timothy’s arrival months before. Both sense the bond tying them together and they unite in an effort by Father Junipero Serra to expand the Catholic faith and Spain’s control of the Californias.
I’m still omitting things but - does this bring enough curiosity and excitement to sell?
I know I’ve got a target audience for it - and a pretty big one at that. Roman Catholics. Californians. Anyone living near one of the missions. And anyone else in the earliest days of California history, even explaining how their ancestors got there.
And, it’s only the first of three!
The Carpenter and the Sailor
El Marinero y el Carpintero
(A Tale of 18th Century California)
And to come:
(A story of Father Serra)
Father Serra’s Legacy
(The Missions that made California)
The friars often maintained a small garden like this set aside where they could pray.
Well, best sleep on it.