In honor of NaNoWriMo last November, the Iredell County Public Library that I work for in North Carolina partnered with Mitchell Community College to create the first ever community novel. We created a group of writers who were patrons and staff of the library, and students and staff from the college. We organized our thoughts, constructed a vague outline for what we wanted to accomplish in the book, and then, chapter by chapter, each person wrote the story. To many people this sounded strange. “Is it an anthology?” was the main question we received when we told people about the project. I suppose it made sense to assume we were constructing a collection of short stories written by different authors. Instead, we chose the challenge of writing a full, complete novel with each chapter being written by a different person. Each character was created by the author of that chapter, and no one knew where the plot would turn next until it was written.
I can tell you right now, as co-coordinator of this project, this will NOT happen in our next novel. While I loved the idea of having each person write a chapter, there was too much confusion about where the book was heading, and it wasn’t until the two weeks before we sent the book for printing that we really came up with a solid conclusion. This will be much more organized in the next book. But the wonderful thing about this project is that it was our FIRST and it was successful. I am so proud of this book, and more importantly, what it stands for. This book encompasses community purpose and togetherness. It displays teamwork and collective learning. Were there mistakes? Sure, but even the most seasoned authors make mistakes. Were there things I would like to plan differently for next time? Of course, but that is the whole purpose of this project. There was a wide age range of participants, and that alone proves that you’re never too old to learn something. We had published authors and novices involved, which proved that anyone can accomplish something when they set their mind to it.
So what was the book about, you may want to know. The synopsis was simple enough; we wanted to keep the story local to entice library patrons and students at the college to feel invested in the story. We changed the name of the town, but anyone with a basic knowledge of Statesville, North Carolina can understand where the book takes place. The setting is the old Playhouse Theatre (which has long since been torn down) in the early 1980s. The protagonist is a young girl who was born and raised in the town, but left for New York City to pursue a career in film. When she arrives back home to settle the estate of her parents who died in a car accident, she discovers she inherited the Playhouse Theatre. The main character and her sister then embark on an emotional journey to learn more about each other, appreciate the importance of family, and embrace a sense of community neither of them have felt before. The story takes some unexpected turns, visits from mysterious people of the past, and hopefully, conveys an essential message to the readers.
For our first book, I must say I am quite proud. Copies of the book, Renovations, are available for purchase through Amazon here, and the royalties of the online sales will go the Iredell Friends of the Library in support of our next project, which we hope to make annual. The book will be available for purchase and officially launched on Friday March, 25 at the Doris Betts Literary Festival at Mitchell Community College where the authors will also be signing copies. For people who are local and can pick up a copy in the library, copies will be available at a discounted rate with your library card and 100% of those sales will go toward the project.
Please share this post because I think more libraries and communities should participate in these types of projects. The library in Topeka, Kansas is in their fifth year of their community novels and are a huge success. Communities need people, and people need communities. This book is positive proof of the power of that union, and I cannot wait to lead the next project.