The first version of APPLE OF MY EYE was written a long time ago. Seriously, I think it’s been more than 10 years. It had a different title, different plot, heck it was even a different genre. I submitted the original manuscript to a handful of agents and one of them was kind enough to give me feedback. I don’t remember everything he said, but he included a letter grade so that I knew where I stood in the grand scheme of quality. He gave me a B-. Ugh.
Coming from an agent who sees thousands of manuscripts each year, maybe that wasn’t too bad, but to me it said one thing – not good enough. I knew I’d need an A+ to get representation, yet alone publication.
I dried my tears, put the manuscript on the shelf, studied the agent’s comments closely, and moved onto another story. My mind traveled back to that last project, but with time came clarity. I knew that as it was, it would never make it. There were just too many flaws and the plot as a whole wasn’t as plausible as it needed to be. I filed the idea permanently. Well, most of it.
More time passed and with every project I attempted to start, I found myself going back to APPLE OF MY EYE (then titled BEYOND THE BRINK). I thought of different ways I could rework it, but none of them grabbed me like they should. After giving it enough thought, I realized that it wasn’t the story nagging at me, it was one key element – the setting.
The story takes place in the small, southern Ohio town of Jackson, a place from my childhood. When I was growing up my family moved several times and no place grew on me quite this little town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Picture lush rolling hills, friendly welcoming faces, and a festival that seemed to draw the support of the whole community.
I admit, my impressions may be skewed by the fact that I was child at the time, but it seemed that everything in the town revolved around its annual Apple Festival. I remember the hours my mom spent making pies (which were sold in a booth to support the school I attended, just like in the book), my school constructing a float, and the thrill of riding on that float in the festival parade. I remember spending long days roaming the blocked-off streets of Jackson, playing carnival games, waiting for my turn on the rides, and bingeing on carnival food. I remember masses lining the streets to watch the parade and the need to get there early to claim a section of sidewalk.
The festival went on for almost a full week and still continues every September. The build up to it gave a feeling similar to an impending Christmas morning, but when the carnival rolled out of town and the booths were torn down for the year, a sense of emptiness smothered the town. We couldn’t wait until it was time to start it all over again the next year.
I was 14 years old when I moved away from Jackson, but no other place from my past has quite the same hold on me. I felt this incredible pull to bring those memories to life and what better way than through fiction? Maybe my original manuscript needed to be scrapped, but that too-important-to-me setting still held promise. I constructed an entirely new plot, eliminated a slew of characters, and created several replacements. I was on my way. BEYOND THE BRINK was dead, but APPLE OF MY EYE was very much alive.
Of course, the story is entirely fictional and truth be told, so is much of the setting. Street names are fake, any businesses or buildings mentioned were constructed only in my mind, and no characters or situations bear any resemblance to real life people. Still, the idea for APPLE OF MY EYE was born entirely from a setting close to my heart.
Despite being a work of pure fiction, some bits of reality are often a great addition and you’ll find that I was careful to preserve a few details in the book.
What are those details and how are they used in the story? Check back next week to find out!