May 13, 2020

What’s a Writer to Do?

Ane Mulligan    @AneMulligan

I had the location. I had the story. But the setting had a strange effect on my writing. The tale turned dark. I don’t write dark fiction. I write uplifting stories. Easy reads. I write about friendships. And I write with humor.

So how did the darkness seep in? Apparently, it was a combination of my knowledge of the characters’ backstory and the location. And I was stuck in a bog, unable to move forward. The story was kicking my derriere.

I finally came to the realization I wasn’t just on the wrong track, I was going in a direction my readers wouldn’t follow. Hold onto your hats, boys—I tossed out 30,000+ words. One mighty stroke of the delete key and it was gone.

Once I got past that hyperventilation-inducing event, the next thing I had to do was start over.

On Goose Island became On Sugar Hill.

I liked the original basic premise, the what-if of this story. I kept that, but I changed the setting. I moved it away from the low country, where superstition and drama flourish. I also changed the characters’ names. Names are important. Names produce images and feelings. If I kept the original ones, they would continue to evoke dark feelings. Only one remained, and that one I could change her personality without any problems.

Next, I had to give up the dark secret to a secondary character’s affliction. I liked the affliction, so I kept that, deciding that it simply was—a fact. I never give a reason for it. After all, the story opens in 1929. That character, a quirky aunt, was born in 1885. They didn’t have the medical knowledge to know the cause of many disorders, nor the expertise to fix them.

I began to write. I discovered the changes I made were the right ones. The characters revealed their stories to me, and I found some new threads to weave through. Was it easy now? No. Nothing worth reading is written easily. It takes brainstorming, rewriting, rethinking. It takes sweat and tears. And if you kick a cabinet in frustration, it even takes a little blood.

I have a research conundrum. My setting is Sugar Hill, Georgia. Sugar Hill was a militia district from the Late Unpleasantness. It was not a town or city. It didn’t incorporate until 1939. All official town history begins then. There’s not a lot written about it prior to that. I had to go to another nearby town, Buford, GA, that includes some of the early Sugar Hill history. But most of my research has been talking to long-time residents.

I have always written fictional towns for that very reason. I can place a building where I want it and no one can tell me it wasn’t there. This time, I can’t. In some cases, history isn’t clear about who owned a certain store at that time or what it was called. A book on Buford history has a long list of who bought the drug store when, but for some reason the years I’m looking at are missing.

After finding most of the people who were over the age of ten in 1929 and would remember the local history I need (like was there a general store within five miles) have passed away or are too ill to talk with me. And so, I’ve had to take literary license and mention it in my author’s note.

Sometimes you do what you gotta do.

In High Cotton, available for preorder now, releases August 3rd.

On Sugar Hill will release in 2021

By the Sweet Gum is in the storyboarding stages. 

Ane Mulligan has been a voracious reader ever since her mom instilled within her a love of reading at age three, escaping into worlds otherwise unknown. But when Ane saw PETER PAN on stage, she was struck with a fever from which she never recovered—stage fever. She submerged herself in drama through high school and college. One day, her two loves collided, and a bestselling, award-winning novelist emerged. She lives in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband and a rascally Rottweiler. Find Ane on her website, Amazon Author page, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and The Write Conversation.


  1. You know an author has courage when they can toss 30,000+ words of a story and start over. Thank you Ane, for sharing this with us. I know it helps all of us to know that it is okay to start over. Can't wait to read the book. Thank you for your post.

  2. Thanks, Susan. It was definitely hard, but the story was stalled. It wasn't going anywhere. We need to remain true to what we write and to our voices.

  3. I have also used a fictional town in my books. I love it because I can assign names to streets or parks that are meaningful within the context of the story. I can even give the town an ambience of its own.

    1. Same here! THat's another reason On Sugar Hill was hard to write. I'll go back to another fictional town in my next one, but the mayor of Sugar Hill is always after me to write a story about our sweet city. :) With encouragement like that, what's a gal to do?

  4. I'm still hyperventilating for you over those 30K! But you're right--a writer's gotta do what a writer's gotta do! Good for you!

  5. Thanks, Pat. I still get an eerie feeling over that. But it's made me stronger and more observant as I write.