Monday, May 16, 2011

How I Wrote a Novel and Found a Publisher at Age 17

                                                       Written by Daniel Philbin
For 206 Kingston Street, I came up with character ideas first.  Several years before writing the story, I created a character named Jude who runs away from home. In this original story, he was still going to meet this girl named Leslie who picked him up on the side of the road, but he was also going to be framed for a crime. After writing fifty pages or so, I put the story on the shelf for a while, then stole Jude and Leslie (and the scene when they meet) for a creative writing class. I struggled to think of what would happen to them once they met. From the older story, I knew that Jude would get a ride with Leslie, but only after a lot of debate did I decide that Leslie would suggest a place for Jude to stay. This is where the “:haunted” shop came in. The rest of the story, everything about the murder, and Edgar Ross’s correspondence with Annabel, just evolved as I wrote my way through the story. I kept thinking of ideas, then realizing mistakes, and fixing them until I arrived at the end. In fact, I didn’t even know how it was going to end until I wrote it, and even then, I kept returning to it like an indecisive perfectionist. 
This story was unusual as far as the process went. I didn’t use an outline or do really any planning at all, though I did experiment with different ideas I had.  However, usually I start with a character or two, followed by a problem that this character or characters must resolve, or escape from. I then write my way out of it, either using an outline first, or by simply delving into the writing. Sometimes I know several points in my story, specific scenes as “landmarks.” Reaching these scenes and filling in the space between them makes up the story. But each story I write is completely different. Sometimes I begin with a point I want to make, and think of how best to make that point. Other times I come up with a plot idea I love and think of characters to fit it. I think stories with which I think of the characters first tend to work out the best, however. I would recommend writing a lot and experimenting with different ways of starting.

Daniel Philbin began writing 206 Kingston Street for a college creative writing class
when he was seventeen. He is currently studying English at Truman State University, in

Available at:

Pages: 72
ISBN: 978-1-926931-51-7
Price: $3.50
Warning: Contains moderate violence
Jude Evans, a rebellious teenager, runs away from his abusive parents and takes the bus to Philadelphia to start a life of his own. With no job, no money and nowhere to stay, Jude is relieved when he gets a ride with Leslie Diaz, a friendly, talkative girl his own age. She tells him of a place he can stay: an abandoned shop whose owners disappeared over twenty years ago. But the shop was never abandoned. Behind a locked door, Jude and Leslie discover the library of a spiritualist philosopher, Edgar Ross, and letters between him and an Annabel Castou. Jude wonders why these letters sit in a drawer in an abandoned shop; and wonders why the library is locked from the inside; and wonders what happened to Edgar Ross, Annabel, and the shop owners.
Finding clues: a woman crying in the night, a trapdoor leading to the attic, a journal telling of Annabel’s death, Jude and Leslie stumble upon a twenty-year-old murder.
Along the way, Jude searches for the meaning of life, of death, and of love.
After awhile, he returned the chair to the desk. He opened the drawer again and picked up the old journal he had seen there earlier. He glanced at the door, crossed to the armchairs, and sat in one of them. He held the journal in his hands for a moment, worry and fear battling curiosity before he finally lifted the cover.
April 18th, 1988
She is dead. I am at a total loss. There is nothing left for me. I have sat in my study for three days, her last letter clutched in my hand, a jewel I would lose otherwise. How much time passed between that letter and her death?
Jude nodded. Leslie seemed to be right. He did love the woman he was writing to. She was dead.
I could not survive without my belief in an afterlife and the hope that she has gone somewhere far better than this painful earth.
Jude thought he heard a noise and glanced up at the door in panic. Nothing. The wind howled outside. Perhaps a rat had scurried across the attic floor. That was all. With his legs and arms tense, he continued to read.
It was all their fault. The Gray family had been late to something. Annabel had never been one for caution and stepped out into the street. Ironic how people’s lives cross at odd moments, for odd reasons. Ironic that, had the Gray’s not been late, had they prepared only slightly earlier, or Annabel hadn’t happened to be stepping out into the street at that instant, everything would be different. Annabel would still be alive. She would still be alive, and I would not have contemplated driving a knife into my chest. I wish I had, at the very least told her how I felt about her. But it was too late. Oh, what I would give only to see her again, for her to come back, if I could change the course of events life has thrown at us.
Why did the name, Gray, sound familiar? After thinking about it for a moment, Jude gave up and turned the page over, his fingers trembling. Would anything written in here help him discover why this place was abandoned, or why these things were in this room, or why the door was locked from the inside?
April 30th, 1988
Perhaps she was right; I spend too much time in my books, wondering about meaning in life, and answers to so many enigmas. Perhaps I wonder too much about death. But perhaps not. All the people I have ever asked have told me they have wondered about death, but, have they really? If they have, why are atheists content that their loved ones fade away forever and Christians content to wait for years before seeing them in a different place? Not a month has gone by since her death, and I can hardly bear it. How does one who has truly loved refrain from going mad once their loved one has passed into the great, undiscovered country, the land of mist?
Jude sat up straight. He heard the noise again. Could that simply be from the rats? He jumped to his feet, hurried back to the desk, dropped the book in the drawer, and closed it again. He stuck the key back in the lock and hurried out into the hall. He paused, listening intently. He heard creaking from the floor below and shut the door, his heart pounding. He hurried to the edge of the stairs and peered down. He heard footsteps crossing the room. He clicked the hall light off and backed into shadows.
He tried to breathe silently. He heard the footsteps start up the stairs. He stepped back again, hearing the floorboards creak. He paused, listening. The footsteps came up the stairs.
He hurried into the room with the furnace and behind the wall. He pressed his back against the cold plaster, placing a hand over his mouth to quiet his breathing.
There was a pause followed by a small click, and a beam of light spilled into the room. Jude peered cautiously out into the hall. There was Mr. Ross, with his back to Jude, though he looked smaller, more lithe, and kept his head down as though trying to hide his face. He slid paper under the door, and pushed a long wire into the keyhole. A clank followed, and the man stooped down, pulling the paper out with the key, which he stuck in the lock and turned.
Jude ducked back into his room, holding his breath. He hoped he had left everything in the order he had found them. He heard the door close and then only the wind against the rattling windowpanes.


Susanne Drazic said...

I enjoyed learning how the story came about. Daniel, thanks for sharing the excerpt. I definitely have to get this one.

Wendy said...

You handle suspence very well. I enjoyed delving into the journal.
It was interesting to hear how you allowed your ideas to simmer, first, and then evolve into your story. I can see why you found a publisher at such a young age. You are a mature writer.