This year, I did something really outrageous. I submitted a story for Bouchercon’s anthology, Blood on the Bayou. A winning story was supposed to “evoke the feeling of the bayou” although it didn’t have to be set in the bayou. Which was good because this girl has never been in a bayou. I couldn’t describe it to you if I tried. Not without sounding fake.
So after a bit of pondering, I came up with an idea. My short story protagonist would be from the bayou and currently living in Pittsburgh (I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for 20 years – I better be able to describe that!). And what do people – at least a lot of them (in my experience) – think of when you say “bayou”? Voodoo. Yeah, I could work with this. I started to write.
When I was done, I had a perfectly serviceable little story. Beginning, middle, end and what I hoped was a nice twist. I started revising. I Googled stuff. There was something missing, I felt it. But I couldn’t say what it was.
In a brilliant stroke of good luck, my friend Ramona DeFelice Long, did a three-part blog series on the bayou (being from the area, you see). She talked about geography, people, sayings, food, settings. It was phenomenal. I mined the heck out of those blog posts. I set about revising the story again, using what I’d learned. And finally, I felt that magic click that told me everything was right.
The basic story remained the same. Same characters, same plot, same ending, same twist. But I’d found the thing that had been missing, the thing those blog posts provided.
Those little, seemingly insignificant bits – a phrase here, a fact there, a geographic reference, a food placed just so – brought that story to life. Suddenly, my protagonist, Violette Lemaire, wasn’t just some girl from Louisiana living in Pittsburgh. She had depth, feeling, authenticity.
She had texture.
And I’m absolutely thrilled to say that on May 8, I got a magical email. My story had been accepted. What had been a wild idea, a swing for the fences, had happened.
And I’m convinced it was because of texture.
As you read this, I’m in New Orleans and it’s the first day of Bouchercon. I’m sure it’s wild. On Saturday, I’ll get to sit with all the other anthology authors (some of them way more distinguished than I am) and sign Blood on the Bayou. I have no idea how much time I’ll have to reply to comments before Sunday, but I’ll try – and if I don’t get to do so before Sunday, I hope you’ll forgive me. In the meantime, let the good times roll!