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Heather McElhatton revels in her "Pretty Little Mistakes"

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Heather McElhatton points out how each chapter in her book "Pretty Little Mistakes" can lead to two possibilities depending on a reader's choice.
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

It's a rare novel that opens with instructions on how it should be read. But that's exactly how Heather McElhatton's "Pretty Little Mistakes" begins.

The directions tell a reader that at the end of each chapter there will be a choice. The choice determines which way the plot turns; for each option, McElhatton created a different next chapter. The instructions point out that "good" decisions might not necessarily be rewarded.  

"Pretty Little Mistakes" is called a do-over novel. It began with a real-life personal crisis. A few years ago McElhatton quit a full-time job at Minnesota Public Radio to go write a novel. She worked hard and did her research, even moving to a remote island off the coast of Georgia so she could learn the Gullah language.

Heather McElhatton
Heather McElhatton sits on the large piece of linoleum she used to work out the plot possibilities of her book "Pretty Little Mistakes."
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

She remembers "the cockroaches were as big as shoes." 

It took her six years to complete the book. Then publisher after publisher rejected it. They said it lacked commercial appeal. 

McElhatton told Minnesota Public Radio's Euan Kerr she was crushed, but then she grabbed a marker and got to work on what was to become her new novel.