Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Troubles of Writing The Troubles of Johnny Cannon, Part 2: Willie Parkins

This is a continuation of a series I'm writing giving some special features and behind the scenes looks at the process I took to write The Troubles of Johnny Cannon. Part 1 was about discovering Johnny Cannon.

One of my favorite characters in the book (and, from what I've heard, a lot of people's favorite character) is Willie Parkins, the preacher's kid and Johnny's best friend. And now, thanks to the magic that is the cover to the sequel, The Struggles of Johnny Cannon, (now available for pre-order, by the way) I can give you his picture!

Willie Parkins, everybody!

Okay, as you might remember from Part 1 of this series, the story that became The Troubles of Johnny Cannon went through a LOT of revisions and rewrites. One of the many aspects that was added in the later versions that was an obvious improvement was Willie and his family, because Willie wasn't in the original story. He was missing.

Yeah, I wasn't the smartest writer at the beginning.
See, originally Johnny went off to Washington, DC to become a member of the top secret super-kid organization. So I didn't spend a lot of time fleshing out the people in Cullman. However, based on feedback I got from some people, I eventually added more to the story. And one thing I added was the idea that Johnny was banned from the Cullman Little League team. And so I had him get recruited by the preacher's kid to join the black team instead. And, since the kid needed a name, I named him Willie Parkins.
I did a word search. Willie was in this version of the story a total of six times.
So in this version, Willie served one real purpose, and that was to get Johnny to the baseball game, which was when he would get called to go to Washington.

And, thankfully, that version of the story didn't sit well with anybody.


Back to the old drawing board with the story, and also with this character that I could sense needed a bigger role overall. 

I rewrote the story again and added an extra scene at the end where Willie informed Johnny that they'd named the team after him and that the Colony Cannons had won the local baseball championship. And the whole time, I wished that I could figure out a bigger part for Willie to play.

And, thankfully, my agent informed me that this version of the book was even worse than the last.

So, my third time down at the drawing board, I wrote the first draft of the story that you've (hopefully) all read. As I was writing the first chapter, I needed to have Pa send Johnny to ask the neighbor if she'd mind cooking dinner. Now, my original plan was for it to be an old lady or something. But then, as I was typing, I absentmindedly had Pa ask Johnny to go fetch "Mrs. Parkins."

I stopped and stared at the screen.

THIS WAS IT!!! This was the bigger role for Willie Parkins! Willie was Johnny's neighbor. Of course he was. And Willie wouldn't be too happy with Johnny taking Mrs. Parkins away from their dinner to go cook for the Cannons.

As I wrote that chapter, everything clicked. The chemistry between Johnny and Willie on paper was too perfect. I literally felt like I had accidentally stumbled across a gold mine.

Later I wrote that he walked with a crutch, and that too felt like destiny.

Plus, as I wrote this final version of the story, I found a way to incorporate one of the characters from the earlier versions that I was the most sad about losing. Mercury, who had been a mysterious super-kid in Washington, now became a story that Willie was writing.

When I wrote the last line of the book, I couldn't believe there had ever been a version of the story that hadn't had Willie in it. In a lot of ways, The Troubles of Johnny Cannon is just as much about his story as it is Johnny's.

And, without giving any spoilers, I'm happy to say that The Struggles of Johnny Cannon is even MORE of that dynamic.

I can't wait for you to read it.

Go pre-order The Struggles of Johnny Cannon!

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