Collaborating with a Ghost . . .

Second Son, A Novel of the Deep South, is not my book. It’s my uncle’s book, one he finished in 1964, and never got to see published. It tells the story of Towanna Whitaker, a poor white southern boy born into the 1938 cotton fields of Sunflower County, Mississippi, who longs for more. Uncle Willis left the manuscript to my mother, along with a box of notes and a request that she make the changes needed to get it published someday. He passed away in 1992, the book still unpublished.

Being a smart woman, Mom packed up the manuscript and sent it to me, along with Uncle Willis’s notes and the letter he wrote giving her permission to make “all necessary changes,” and asked me to take the project on. Being a smart daughter, I demurred and said I’d get back to her. From time to time, she’d bring up “The Book.” Finally, I began to study the thing and report back to her. Yes, I’d read the manuscript. Yes, I understood the changes the publisher had recommended. Bottom line? The publisher had wanted him to cut 610 pages of historical, southern fiction down to 320 pages. In 1964.

For a family man who wrote long-hand and paid a typist to convert his story into readable text, it must have seemed an insurmountable task. Hence, his request to my mom, which she passed on to me. In 2014, with a demanding, full-time career of my own, I could barely find time to do the laundry, let alone work on someone else’s book. If only I had the time! But Mom wasn’t getting any younger.

Soon I found myself ghostwriting for a ghost. Somewhere along the way, I’d fallen in love with my uncle’s story about a young man’s struggle to overcome poverty, prejudice, abuse, and heartbreak to find his best, first destiny. Three years later, I’d pounded it down from 160,000 to 126,000 words. Still too long for the commercial fiction market, but not too long for a very personal and private family edition.

A friend helped me convert the manuscript into a book format, and I found a wonderful book cover at I ordered a private printing, just enough for Mom and our immediate family, and gave the book to Mom for Christmas. She was thrilled. My sisters were thrilled. They also wanted to know when the commercial version would be available. No good deed goes unpunished. Ever.

I decided creating a commercial version of the story was karma for my many sins. It took another year, but the manuscript is now down to less than 98,000 words. I’ve posted an excerpt from the first chapter in Books and Snippets. I’m also working on a sequel, Southern Woman, which continues the Whitaker family saga into the next chapter of their lives.

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