Finishing Dad’s Novel: A Family Affair

My husband Stephen hated half-done jobs. He couldn’t stand an unfinished to-do list. His big project for 2011: Completing his novel, Stuart Brannon’s Final Shot.

When he passed away June 9, 2011, our sons said, “Let’s finish that book.”

Can a committee write a novel?
Steve’s editor gave us a four-month extension and the project became a family affair.

The boys have their dad’s creativity and wit. I would write and they would provide their father’s input. I soon discovered the value of their feedback and encouragement. I couldn’t have done it without them.

The same, but vastly different

Stephen A. Bly

Steve left us 7,000 words, a synopsis, and a few character names. We read his sample chapters and surmised that the story read more like a mystery than a western.

While the book needed to resonate like a Stephen Bly novel and resemble the early titles in the Stuart Brannon series, this story was different. Brannon’s older and he’s struggling to fit into the 20th Century, while grappling with the game of golf for a charity tournament.

We immersed ourselves in the originals and scanned others of Stephen’s novels for Brannon mentions. I scoured Steve’s resources to ground myself in the Western world he knew so well. I also skimmed fiction writing books and printed excerpts for our sons.

Key decisions
We focused the novel’s main theme of fighting for justice, truth, and mercy.

We met weekly to brainstorm and critique. Spirited discussions stirred debate as we worked toward consensus.

We assigned topics to research, then roughed out random scenes. Next we drafted an outline, including important plot points and scenes.

We strove to include as much of Steve’s writing as we could.

To help keep the constant additions straight, I used a different color type each week that turned the manuscript into a rainbow. Our key challenge was to keep the story’s timeline straight.

Details and deadlines
I took a trip to Oregon to discover what Steve knew and we didn’t. This added much needed color and revealed critical mistakes.

Our deadline loomed as we aimed for 75,000 words. I struggled to eke out 2,000 words a day. When Aaron devised an adventure scene and Mike produced the golf tourney and poker game settings, I knew we had enough to hit the target word count.

In fact, we exceeded our goal and had to delete scenes and characters that didn’t move the plot. During the last hours of the last days we were frantic to get it perfect.

At 10:36 a.m. on November 1, 2011, Mike emailed me, “Well? Are you ready to push ‘send’?”

And I was.

Stuart Brannon’s Final Shot will be available Thursday. See our review on that day.

Janet Chester Bly has authored 30 books, 18 with her Christy Award winning husband. Titles include The Hidden West Series, The Carson City Chronicles, Hope Lives Here, and The Heart of a Runaway. She resides 4,200 feet above sea level on the Idaho Nez Perce Indian Reservation and has three married sons, Russell, Michael, and Aaron.


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