It's been quite an incubation. The idea for this story first came to me nearly 30 years (yes, you read that right) when I was working in the public information office at the University of Arkansas. This was during the Arkansas sesquicentennial year, and all the newspapers I was scanning for articles about the university had interesting features about the state's history, including a number of family histories. I thought it would be fun to write a story about pioneers like the people in some of those newspaper stories, so I sketched out a couple of characters. The character of John David McKellar (his name was also stolen from the newspaper) might or might not have been inspired by the good-looking doctoral student living in the apartment above my sister's apartment, whom I might or might not have been trying to meet.....
That's as far as it went for a long, long time. Then one night as I was driving my children home after some school event, I was listening to Irish music on the CD player and thought, "Hey, I think I'd like to try writing that story." So I started. Approximately 270,000 words and two years later, I had a finished draft. That's when the real work began. For the next seven years, I revised and edited until the book is now down to less than half its original word count. I threw away about 65 percent of the original manuscript (and that's probably a good thing!).
During this time, I also submitted to several editors and agents, not a lot, because I was trying to be smart about who might be interested in historical fiction with a love story. Although no one was interested, I got several polite and helpful rejection letters, which helped in reshaping the book into its final form. I also owe thanks to a number of friends for their reading early drafts of the manuscript and giving key comments: Christopher Moss was ever so encouraging in the early stages; Susan Burden Parks gave me the idea to play up the "little mule" theme; Mary Schaffer pointed out that the middle of the manuscript wandered off the plot path into no man's land; Nancy Dane gave me the business advice that made me quit procrastinating and take the final step to self-publish rather than to keep holding out for a traditional publisher. I especially want to thank my sister (the one with the good-looking neighbor) for being such a great "first reader"; she was always ready to talk "book," and if this book has any basis in realism at all, it's because she would ask the perfect questions to make me think more deeply about what was really happening in the story.
I also want to thank everyone who read the book and gave me feedback along the way, but there are a few readers who said things that gave great encouragement. I was really afraid to let my mother read the book because, you know, there are a few people who cuss and drink and stuff.....but she has always been a very strong advocate for the book and even shared it with a number of ladies at her church. Maggie Taylor Ashburn confirmed that the characters hit the mark when she said she hoped to find her own John David someday (and I believe she did, and she married him last summer). Diane Walters said that after she finished the book, she went back to re-read her favorite parts, something every writer loves to hear. And my most recent reader and proofreader, my daughter, made my writer heart happy, happy, happy when she said (in her enthusiastic teen-aged way), "I nearly cried twice."
The final thanks go to my husband, who has teased me a lot (a whole lot!) about writing a romance but has also been supportive of my dream of writing and has tolerated dust bunnies under the furniture for ten years. (Not the same dust bunnies - I have vacuumed a few times in the past ten years!) My sister's cute neighbor made a good start for John David, but I'm pretty sure a lot of how the character developed is thanks to the husband I got. And that's definitely a good thing.