Carole Estby Dagg 2K11

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Carole Estby Dagg debuts with THE YEAR WE WERE FAMOUS

Introduced first in 2007, debut children’s authors have formed a cooperative effort to market their books. I featured Revision Stories from the Classes of 2k8 and 2k9 and this feature returns this year with the Class of 2k11.

Guest post by Carole Estby Dagg

Big Picture Revision


The Year We Were Famous came out on April 4, 2011, fifteen years after my first rejection on it. The publishing world calls it my debut novel, but it is not my first book. I have written the same story at least a dozen different ways over those fifteen years: as non-fiction, fiction, daughter’s point of view, mother’s point of view, in third person, first person, sassy voice, restrained voice, as an episodic adventure story, as a mother-daughter story, and in various combinations of all of the preceding.

I thought I had an adventure story. After all, my main characters, Clara Estby and her mother, Helga, had walked from Washington State to New York City back in 1896. They had been caught in snow-storms, lost in the Snake River Lava Fields without food or water; they had been assaulted by a highwayman, camped out with Indians, visited president-elect William McKinley and his wife in their home…wasn’t that a tale of adventure?

Two-Page Rejection

Nine years into writing and rejections, one editor took the time to write a two-page rejection letter. She told me I didn’t just have an adventure story, I had a coming-of-age story. I flailed around with it for a year and got nowhere. I still had a book that was edging toward 400 pages and had no focus. Understandably, that editor rejected my resubmission.

My acquiring editor at Clarion suggested making a worksheet listing each major scene and providing columns for the external journey (where my characters were in space and time, and what happened to them) major plot points (where my characters were in the narrative arc), and the interior journey (how events affected them). If a scene didn’t advance the plot or character as well as describing what was happening to my characters, the scene had to go.

Looking at one page at a time, though, I had a hard time applying my editor’s advice. Luckily, it was during this process that I took Darcy Pattison’s novel revision class and applied a combination of her shrunken manuscript and novel inventory techniques. (See her book for details.)

On my shrunken manuscript, I marked passages with strong emotion, conflict, and action in different colors and circled passages that were the most essential for the narrative and emotional arcs. Looking at my hundreds of pages spread out on the floor, I didn’t even have to read the words; I just looked for color. Where there was only black and white, I had nothing but expendable external action. Those passages had to be ramped up to include emotion and conflict or deleted.

It still wasn’t easy. But once I’d pruned 250 pages of deadwood I had more than an episodic adventure story; I had the story of a young woman coming into her own.

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8 Comments
  • Carrie Harris
    April 25, 2011

    This story awes me. Especially after reading the exciting, delightful final product!

  • Angie
    April 25, 2011

    Thanks for the great tips, Carole. You certainly succeeded in crafting a moving coming-of-age story.

  • Alissa Grosso
    April 25, 2011

    Carole, you are obviously a master of revision! I’m sure writing the story in so many different ways gave you the ability to finally write a perfect final version.

  • Tess Hilmo
    April 25, 2011

    This is a wonderful reminder that persistence pays off! That, and being willing to listen to the good advice we get along the way. It is a journey to publication and Carole deserves every accolade this amazing novel is getting!

  • Caroline Starr Rose
    April 25, 2011

    Carole, I’m impressed by your tenacity and that editor’s detailed rejection. I know she saw in you and in your book something worth giving her time in the midst of her hectic schedule.

    So glad you stuck with it!

  • Kiki Hamilton
    April 25, 2011

    Carole, I love your story of perseverance – not so different than your great-Aunt. I think revision is the hardest part of the writing process and it’s interesting to hear what worked for you. Clearly, your efforts paid off because TYWWF is an endearing and fascinating story!

  • Amy Fellner Dominy
    April 25, 2011

    What a great revision story…well, not great for Carole maybe, but her perseverance is so inspiring. And she found the story within her story–amazing! Looking forward to reading this book.

  • Bettina Restrepo
    April 26, 2011

    I understand how it is to re-write a book a million different ways.

    But, TYWWF moves incredibly fast and I found myself holding my breathe – unable to put it down until I knew what happened.

    Carole tells an amazing story!