The seed of this story began in November of 1993, when my beautiful daughter was just five years old. At the time, we lived in St. Louis and there was a horrific murder of a little girl. It was a parent’s worst nightmare.
The news reports said that they had found her dead body in a remote wooded area chained to a tree. After nine days of suffering the kind of abuse that no human could possibly imagine, even in their worst nightmare, the brave young child died from exposure to the cold just a few hours before she was found. In spite of her horrific ordeal, she had had the courage to fight for her life until the very end. In my sad paternal heart, I believed that all she wanted was to get home to her mother and father. Her abductor, rapist and murderer, her demon, has never been caught. The 100-year-old Elizabeth Akers Allen quote I found for the beginning of the book was eerily apropos.
All I can remember was the feeling of absolute loss and sadness for her family. How could someone do something like that? How could they do that to a child? What if that had happened to my baby girl? How would I react? What would I do?
The answer was easy, it was as easy as taking one breath before the next (Chapter 15); my response was immediate and primal.
So I began to write ‘A Pane of Glass‘ fueled by those emotions; I still am. My early writing was clunky, heavy and heavily descriptive. I thought the writing was really great, but, truthfully, it really sucked. I could generate reams of pages to perfectly describe a particular scene, but by the time I got around to actually telling the story, most readers would have headed for the shredder. Then something happened: I put the project aside to raise my young family and focus on my fledgling career.
Fast-forward almost twenty-four years. I had become a successful architect, I had designed prisons working with corrections officers, law enforcement and prison management companies. I had learned to sail and sail well. I lived in a rural area ‘connected to the world by a single wire‘ (Chapter 26) and learned to work my land with a tractor that I had no idea at first how to operate. All of these earned nuggets from my lifetime would one day find their way into the story. And I can’t imagine the story without them.
Something else happened too. My little five-year-old girl had become a woman and she began to gently encourage me to finish my book, the book I had started about the nightmare of losing her. The crumbs of a good story were there and stuffed between the covers of a three-inch binder buried somewhere under the clutter on my desk.
So one long afternoon, my daughter (still my little girl) and I plastered over the walls and windows of my studio with note cards. We sequenced the chapters I had written and created place-holders for chapters we thought were needed for story coherence and good flow. We brought details current like the dominance of the internet in our lives and cell-phone cameras! I organized everything in a huge flow chart and connected the events to a timeline so they would happen logically and organically. Progress!
I did one other thing (beginning writers make note): I re-prioritize my life. Up at 4:15 each workday, I was able to put in 60-90 minutes of writing before my day job began and another hour over lunch and usually a few more in the evenings. I put in five to six hours in front of my keyboard on Saturdays and Sundays before taking up my chores in Hooterville. And one word after another, one sentence at a time, the book was finally finished.
But when I was almost done, I did a word-count: 146,000 words – crap. Too long. Follett can get away with it; Clancy does it all day long. What nuggets (or darlings as Stephen King would say) do I give up?
Check out my ‘Cutting Room Floor’ to see some examples of what didn’t make it into the final manuscript. I appreciate your interest in A Pane of Glass.
R. Byron Stockdale