May 6, 2016

Dirt Roads

By Robert Bailey

In rural north Alabama and southern Tennessee where I spent the majority of my childhood, it isn’t unusual to be riding down a highway and see a dirt road leading off to a house or a barn.  Occasionally, you’ll see a patch of dirt that leads to a destination that can’t be seen from the highway.  In those instances, you won’t know where the road goes unless you turn…   

When writing the first draft of a novel, every author is different in how they approach the process of getting from “once upon a time…” to “The End.”  

For me, I start with a situation:  legendary law professor returns to courtroom after forty years of teaching to help a former student, i.e. The Professor, or five year old African American boy witnesses the Ku Klux Klan brutally murder his father and vows to bring the killers to justice, i.e. Between Black and WhiteThen I think about how I want the story to begin and end. The beginning of the story is the setup for the situation I have imagined, so it is fairly clear in my mind. The ending is a bit murkier; I have a general idea of how I want the story to conclude, but I want to give my characters wiggle room to change the ending if they see fit.  I also want to allow myself the freedom to take a few “dirt roads” along the way. 

Once I have the beginning and ending, I write the story as it comes into my head, typing a few notes in bold and all caps at the end of a session for where I want the story to go the next day.  With the first draft, I don’t outline—I just make things up as I go, never losing sight of the ending I have in mind.  Along the way, I will typically venture into some areas of plot or character that aren’t exactly on the way to my destination.  These are what I call “dirt roads.”  Many times, these dirt roads end up being cut from the final draft.  However, sometimes they lead to magic.

The best example of a magical dirt road for me is the “Musso” character in The Professor.  When I began the novel, I just wanted Tom to have a bulldog.  I had no idea that Musso would play a pivotal role in the plot.  But when I got to the part of the story where Tom has to decide whether to practice law again, I took a dirt road that led to Musso doing something that still makes me cry when I read it.  

Writing the first draft of a novel is a scary journey.  There are times when I know exactly where I’m going and others where I don’t have a clue.  And, at least for me, there are always a few dirt roads…  ___________________________________________________________________ 

Robert Bailey is the author of Between Black and White released March 2016 by Thomas & Mercer. His debut novel, The Professor, won the 2014 Beverly Hills Book Award for legal thriller of the year and was an Amazon bestseller, spending several weeks at #1 in the legal thriller category. Robert Bailey was born in Huntsville, Alabama, the son of a builder and a schoolteacher. From the time he could walk, he's loved stories, especially those about Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant and his beloved Alabama Crimson Tide football team. Robert obtained a Bachelor of Arts in History from Davidson College in North Carolina. Law School at the University of Alabama followed, where Robert made Law Review, competed on the school's trial team and managed to watch every home football game. For the past thirteen years, he's been a civil defense trial lawyer in his hometown of Huntsville. He's married to the incomparable Dixie Bailey and they have two boys and a little girl. When Robert's not writing, practicing law or being a parent, he enjoys playing golf, watching Alabama football and coaching his sons' little league baseball teams. He lives in Huntsville, Ala., where he practices law with the firm of Lanier Ford Shaver & Payne. He can be found at his website FaceBook and on Twitter

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