Yesterday saw the conclusion of my longest serial so far, ‘The Homestead’.
Spanning a period from 1864 until 1957, as you might imagine this took a great deal of careful research. Set in America, a country I have never visited, it included the Civil War, The Wild West, The Cattle Ranch explosion, The Oil Boom, and both world wars.
Not only that, it featured numerous real people, alongside my own cast of fictional characters. And they included Conferderate veterans, northerners from New York State, Native Americans, former slaves, as well as a gambler from Louisiana. I had to consider their accents, phrases, speech patterns, life experiences, and aspirations, getting that all across to the readers as best as I could.
And remembering that 65% of my readers are Americans, I had to make sure to be as accurate as possible.
This saga presented me with many problems, some of which were geographical. How long does it take to travel from Virginia to Kansas in a wagon pulled by two horses? And in 1865, with no major roads, only trails? How far is is from Topeka to Wichita? How long can horses pull a wagon before needing water?
What is the range of a hunting rifle? One loaded through the muzzle, and discharged by use of a percussion cap. When did a railroad arrive in Kansas? And when did that get to Wichita? How long did Wyatt Earp work as a policeman in that city, and why did he leave?
Every paragraph presented a research problem, most of which were fortunately solved through the wonders of Google Search. I can only imagine how hard it was to write a piece like this before the Internet, having to use contmporary writing as a source, and physically travelling to view the archives of newspapers in the western states.
Over such a long period, dates are also a problem. How old was Phin in 1890? If Julian was born when his mother was 35 years old, what year was that? Two full pages of notes, and a lot of subtraction and additon were required to keep an accurate track of events. The research took as long as writing each episode, and developed its own form of ‘reference library’ on those notebook pages.
As the writer, it was an immensely satisfying experience, and something of an achievement. But as a blogger, it was disappointing. After so much work, this serial proved to be the least attractive to readers. Rareley getting more than 50 views for each episode, and never exceeding 60 on the best day, total views amounted to around 2,600. Considering the 48 episodes, that was my least read serial so far. Comments were low as well, restricted to much the same core of regular readers every day.
There were times during this serial when I seriously thought about abandoning fiction completely, and wondered if I had any skill at it whatsoever.
But I continued to write it, because I love the daily discipline of writing a serial.
From episode 36, two thirds of the way through the story, there was a ‘time jump’ combined with a new ‘narrator’ who entered unannounced. This sudden change of scene proved to be too much for some readers, and at least 10 people abandoned the serial, going by the by the daily views.
I feel that warrants some explanation.
The story was based on a photo seen on Maggie’s blog. https://fromcavewalls.wordpress.com/about-this-blog/
Like my photo-prompt short stories, this was a serial prompted by an idea after seeing a photo, and that photo appeared at the head of each episode. It is dated ‘Sep 57’, and shows a house. So my story started in my head in 1957, and was worked back 93 years to get to the start in a circular fashion. In my mind, there was no ‘time jump’. But I knew that might confuse readers, so did my best to issue a few warnings in the comments.
There was also a possible ‘secret’ in the life of the main character. I had an idea that readers would expect that to be revealed, pehaps anticipating a last minute twist. But that would have been contrived and unrealistic, so I did not succumb to inventing a solution to that secret.
As usual, I would like to express my sincere thanks to everyone who read this serial, and especially those who read every single episode. With a word count of around 800-900 words every day, for 48 episodes, that is a huge ask of anyone. And we were still in the throes of a pandemic, as well as including the approach to Christmas, followed by New Year.
Thank you all. That means a great deal to me, more than you know. Thanks also to everyone who shared parts on social media, took the time to leave regular comments and likes, and a few who also reblogged some parts.
The complete story will be available soon, in one very long blog post. I hope that still works for those of you who like to read the whole thing as one long story.
Another serial will undoubtedly follow in due course, afte a short rest.
Best wishes to everyone, Pete.