WANA: We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.
When I first heard Bobbie Gentry sing "Ode to Billie Joe," I immediately fell in love with her voice, but for some reason I missed "Fancy" when she recorded it in 1970. The first time I recall hearing it was when Reba McEntyre's version came out in 1990.
Normally, I don't care for songs I can't sing along with, and this one moves too fast for me, but I loved it from the first time I heard it. I had just begun writing novels about that time—you'll probably never be exposed to my first couple of attempts—and I started thinking about taking the words of the song, changing the era from modern to the Civil War, and writing a novel about it.
When I originally wrote it, Fancy's mother made her a red dress, just as in the song, and gave it to her just before she died, telling her to be nice to the men and they'd take care of her. Along the way, she gave up prostitution and began earning her living by playing poker, but the prostitution part always bothered me.
Somewhere along the way—and I've written this story so many times I don't remember when I decided this—I changed it and let her take up poker, which she had learned from her father, without ever going through the prostitute stage. When I did this, I like the story much better, but it still had problems.
Geographically, it moves from Alabama to Seattle with numerous stops along the way, and chronologically, it goes from 1861 until around 1876 or so. Everything I read or heard about novel-writing said a good novel had to have AN antagonist to move the story along. Try as I might, I couldn't figure out how to have a single antagonist start off in Northern Alabama in 1861 and interfere with Fancy's life and plans across a 2500 mile stretch covering 15 years or so of her life.
A couple of years ago, I gave up on this story. In fact, I gave up on novel-writing. I'd been turned down by so many agents and publishers, I decided I didn't want to fight that battle any longer.
Then, a year or so ago, my friend Jillian Dodd and I were having coffee together, and she started talking about how well her self-published book That Boy was doing. I still thought self-publishing was an ego thing for writers who didn't care whether or not their books sold, but she opened my eyes that morning.
A week or two later I mentioned to her that I thought Fancy would work as a series of novella and that in that way I could get around the distance and time problems. She had read one of my versions of the book and was somewhat familiar with the story, and she immediately started telling me that's exactly what I should do. I didn't realize there was a market for novellas, but she assured me there was.
At that point I was already working on my devotional, Heaven Sent, but as soon as I finished it I started working on Fancy.
Volume 1, simply titled Fancy, went on the market in August. Volume 2 - Fancy: The Search - just went on the market. Volume 3 is in editing now, and I'm about 25% of the way through Volume 4.
Following in an excerpt from Fancy - Volume 1:
Clara Faye “Fancy” Greene stopped for a moment to wipe her brow. She pulled her hat off to fan herself with it, revealing a head full of rich, thick red hair. She’d helped her father with the plowing for several years, but he’d always take the reins back from her after a few minutes.
Now that he was gone to help the army defend the Confederate States of America, it was all on her fourteen year-old shoulders to run the farm and see to her four year-old sister Darlene Danielle, whom she called Danni. She couldn't afford to stop her work.
She stared up at the deep blue sky, uncluttered by cloud. The sun beat down on her like fire from heaven, causing sweat to pour from every pore in her body.
Although the war had only broken out a month ago and her father had only been gone for three weeks, it seemed like eternity. She knew she had to get the cotton planted soon or it would be too late, so she worked from dawn til dusk in the field, stopping only to share a lunch with Danni, who played nearby. After lunch she warned Danni as she had several times before not to mess up the seeds she’d planted.
As she looked beyond the plowhorses, she saw two men in the distance, sitting their horses and watching her. Pastures and woods abutted her land on three sides, but these men sat between her farm and that of her neighbor, Sylvester Fochs. Everyone called him Sly, and she'd always figured it was a name he deserved. She couldn't tell whether he was one of the men or not at that distance, but she dismissed them from her mind to concentrate on the plowing at hand.
* * * * *
Sylvester “Sly” Fochs sat patiently watching Fancy follow her plow back and forth across the field, his foreman at his side. “Good land there.” He swept his hand across the vista. “Make a nice addition to my place.”
He'd had his eyes on the Greene farm ever since he settled nearby. He'd already bought up all the good farmland in the area, and this farm represented his only avenue of expansion. The land around him in other directions was too rough for farming and had been left in pastures and woods.
The foreman nodded. “Sure would. Too bad you couldn’t get Tom Greene to sell it to you before he left.”
Fochs jerked his head around. “Who told you he didn’t sell it to me?”
“Well, I thought you . . .”
“Don’t think.” The boss sounded angry. “You’re not paid to think. You’re paid to run my farm for me.”
Fochs realized he was being a bit hard on the man. “See that house over there?” He pointed to the Greenes’ home.
“Yeah. Old Tom build a nice place for himself. Not near as big as yourn, but nice.”
“Yep.” Fochs nodded. “It is a nice place. Maybe I’ll let you move into it when I get the place.”
Used to living in a bunkhouse with the rest of the hands, the foreman perked up with immediate interest. “You mean you really did buy the place?”
“I ain’t sayin’ I did or I didn’t.” He turned his horse’s head. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
-----------------------------------David N. Walker is a Christian husband, father and grandfather, a grounded pilot, a would-be Nashville star, and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years as a health insurance agent. Most of that career was spent in Texas, but for a few years he traveled many other states.
He started writing about 20 years ago and has been a member and leader in several writers' groups. Two of his books, the devotional Heaven Sent and the novella Fancy, are now available in paperback and in Kindle and Nook formats.
David is currently working on a series of novellas taking over where Fancy leaves off early in the Civil War and following her life over a period of the next twenty years or so. Fancy: The Search - Vol 2 is now out, and others will follow every couple of months or so.
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