Janet Chester Bly
My husband, Stephen Bly, hated half-done jobs. He couldn’t stand a ‘to do’ list without immediate action. One big project for 2011: complete his novel, Stuart Brannon: The Final Shot.
When he passed away on June 9th, 2011, my sons said to me, “Let’s finish that book.”
The idea grew. They had their dad’s creativity and wit. They’d impart their father’s input. I also discovered the value of their feedback and encouragement. I couldn’t do it without them.
The editor gave us a four-month extension. This incomplete project became a family affair.
Can a committee write a novel? We had the passion to find out.
Steve left us 7,000 words, a synopsis and some character names. We read over his sample chapters.
“It reads more like a mystery than a western,” we four surmised.
This book must resonate like a Stephen Bly novel and resemble the early Stuart Brannon Series. Yet, this story’s different. Brannon’s older. He struggles to fit into the 20th Century. He also grapples with the game of golf on behalf of a celebrity charity tournament.
We immersed ourselves in the original series. We scanned other Stephen Bly novels for Brannon mentions. I scoured Steve’s resources for a basic grounding in the western world he knew so well. I also skimmed our fiction writing books for tips and printed out excerpts for the sons.
We focused our main theme on fighting for justice, truth and mercy.
We met weekly to brainstorm and critique. We started with a cluster diagram of all the known factors. Spirited discussions stirred debate as well as consensus.
We assigned each other research topics, then talked through and roughed out random scenes. We drafted an outline and plot points to give direction for which scenes to create next.
We tried to include as much of Steve’s writings as we could.
To keep the constant additions discernable, I used a different color type each week that turned into a rainbow manuscript. Even with this trick and the outline, the key challenge was to keep the story’s timeline straight.
Then I took a trip to Oregon, to discover and experience what Steve knew and we didn’t. This added much needed color and revealed critical mistakes.
The deadline loomed as we aimed for 75,000 words. I struggled to eek out 2,000 words daily. When Aaron devised an adventure scene and Mike produced the golf tourney and poker game settings, I knew we’d hit the target count.
After we exceeded our goal, we deleted scenes and characters that didn’t move the plot. The last days and hours were frantic with attempts to get it as perfect as possible.
At 10:36 a.m. on November 1st, 2011, son Mike emailed me, “Well? Ready to push ‘send’?
At 11:46 a.m., I did.
We finished Steve’s last undone task.
Janet Chester Bly has published 30 nonfiction and fiction books, 18 she co-authored with Christy Award winner Stephen Bly. Titles include The Hidden West Series, The Carson City Chronicles, Hope Lives Here, and The Heart of a Runaway. She resides in Winchester, Idaho. Her 3 married sons, Russell, Michael & Aaron, live down the mountain in Lewiston with their families.