Missing deadlines, shelving a manuscript, and getting back on track with The Mountain of Dempsey Molehill

It’s been almost four years to the day that I introduced the cast of my next middle grade novel, The Mountain of Dempsey Molehill.

I started writing the book in 2016, with plans to release it in 2018. I missed that deadline, but instead of tabling the project, I revised the game plan. I kept working on the first draft, revising the direction certain chapters took and fixing plot holes spotted by a workshopping group.

By summer 2019, I was a year past my initial deadline, but I had an updated draft. I enlisted Hannah Jones for the cover illustration and started working on the back end of independent publishing.

As I went about buying and registering ISBNs, setting up the metadata, and prepping the book’s layout, something still felt off. A voice in the back of my head nagged that the story wasn’t ready yet. Revisions were still needed. I felt growing pressure to release the book because I had been working on it for three years, but I couldn’t shake that nagging voice. I finally decided to postpone the release for a few more months. I would step away from the manuscript, look at it with fresh eyes, make any final adjustments, and then release it in early 2020.

Then 2020 … well, happened.

The COVID-19 pandemic turned my home and work life inside-out. The total disruption to routine, coupled with the fears and stress of a global health crisis, took a toll on my mental health for several months. Once life settled into a semblance of routine again, I had no desire or inspiration to finish Dempsey’s story. I pushed that book deep into a drawer and switched gears entirely. I dropped all children’s book projects and instead devoted the next two and a half years to an adult urban fantasy novel.

In January this year, I was sorting through papers in my home office when I found a printed proof of The Mountain of Dempsey Molehill. I started paging through it, and I finally realized what had felt off. The entire book is narrated by Dempsey, but we never really get to know him among the cast of colorful and crazy characters around him. The tone of the book was that of a distant observer, rather than someone who is up close and personal to the action and who would have reactions and emotions.

In a burst of inspiration, I rewrote the prologue and the first chapter in a week. I devised a grand plan of rewriting and revising one chapter a week, workshopping the new version by early summer, and releasing the book this fall.

Then life got in the way again. Overtime at the office and a kidney stone that required surgery pushed Dempsey off my radar for a few months.

By the time I could revisit the Molehills, my chapter-a-week schedule was tattered. It was demoralizing to realize that, once again, I would miss the book release deadline I imposed. It was almost tempting to shelve the manuscript again.


The thing is, I still believe in Dempsey’s story. I love the novel and want it to find its reader base beyond my writers group. Progress has been frustratingly slow at times, but at the end of the day I have to remind myself: Progress is progress. If all I’ve written in a week is a paragraph, that’s a paragraph more than I had last week. If a project sits on shelf for three months, there’s nothing to stop me from dusting it off and picking up where I left off.

In my case, postponing the project offered the chance to improve it. Missed deadlines gave me time to step away from the book and see it with fresh eyes. When The Mountain of Dempsey Molehill finally sees itself inked and bound, it will be a better version than its earlier self.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years working in the newspaper and magazine industry, a missed deadline can cause headaches and challenges to catch up. But never once, in the thousands of papers and publications I’ve helped produce, has a missed deadline resulted in the project failing to hit the stands. My teammates and I have said more than once, “It always comes together in the end.”

The Molehill family’s story has had long delays and missed deadlines by years, but I’ve pulled it off the shelf again and am fanning the dust out of the pages. Rewrites are underway. While I won’t commit to a 2023 release, I will commit to Dempsey’s story being told.

Hopefully it just won’t take another four years.

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