A Novel Story: how Past Suspicion came to be
by Therese Heckenkamp
Once upon a time (but May 1999, to be exact), Past Suspicion was merely
a vague idea simmering in my mind, an idea about a young woman who entangles herself in a deceitful situation that could spell her doom.
May 13, the idea simmered over. I put pen to paper and released a torrent of recollections by Robin Finley, a teen burdened by a terrible past. She dominated the story from the beginning, demanding that it be told in her voice. While many things about the story changed through the long revision process, one thing remained constant: Robin tells her story, the way she wants to tell it.
I wrote the first draft over the summer, finishing September 1, the day before I began college at the University of Wisconsin Waukesha. Though Past Suspicion is definitely a work of fiction, I can honestly say I “lived” my story that summer. Many events and details from real life worked their way into the story, such as a Memorial Day parade, a graveyard visit, thunderstorms and power outages, and even some things as tame as baking and gardening. Whatever I experienced, I wondered how it might color the story and texturize the plot.
Wherever I went, the story was with me — if not physically in my hands, at least in my mind. The manuscript traveled with me around home so I could write in the comfort of my living room, outside in the sun, or in bed. I even took it on vacation, writing in the car, in the north woods, and by the lake. (Don’t tell my dad that those pen marks on the car seat are from me!)
Ideas kept me awake at night, and I would jump out of bed to jot down notes. (It was quite a puzzle trying to decipher the scrawl the next morning!) The night I wrote the climax, I don’t know how I finally tore myself away from the action to go to bed.
Interestingly, Past Suspicion began as a short story, but grew with possibilities, twisting and turning in directions that were as surprising to me as I hope they are for readers. I simply wrote the kind of story I wanted to read.
Enjoyable as the writing was, it was work, too. Thinking and imagining and translating ideas onto paper to remain true to your vision, yet in a manner others can relate to, takes time and effort.
During my college years, I returned to the manuscript when time permitted (which wasn’t as often as I’d have liked), to try to perfect and prepare it for submitting to publishers. During an honors class in creative writing, I received helpful input from my writing professor, Dr. Margaret Rozga, as well as another student.
Of course, my sisters, being the target young adult age at the time, were an ideal reading audience to try the story out on. They pointed out weaknesses in the original manuscript which I, with my all too familiar eye, just couldn’t see after so many readings.
I will always marvel at the process of how a writer dreams up a story, takes it and ultimately shapes it into something unique that others want to read. Even now I keep the Trapper folder containing the original loose-leaf manuscript pages and messy notes that eventually became Past Suspicion. It’s a testament to hard work and now, with publication, a dream come true. The battered folder is split to bursting — as I felt my head would have, if I hadn’t released the story by writing!