I’m hoping to have finished the long-overdue radical rewrites and restructurings of all four books in my Atlantic City prequel series by the end of the summer. The Very Last, the third book (originally planned as the last, given the title), set in 1940, is up now. The new and improved title will be kept secret till the release.
The second draft came to 35,000 words, and I took out about 4,000 during preliminary scans before really setting to work in earnest. I got the first book from 38,000 to 64,000 and the second from 24,000 to 75,000, so I’m confident I’ll work that same magic all over again. Out of all four, TVL was the one I had the most fun writing, with the strongest storylines. I wrote the handwritten first draft when I was 17 and the not-much-changed second draft at 19.
Fixes I’ve made and am making include:
1. Cleaning up the stupid slang and Ozarkesque grammar. Always choose your characters’ speech carefully. Poor grammar makes sense for some characters, but it just sounds hickish and out of place on these people. Now, they only say “ain’t,” use double negatives, and say “them” instead of “those.” They don’t even talk like that 100% of the time.
2. Deleting pointless clutter which contributes nothing to the overall plot trajectory or even character development. My Atlantic City books are largely episodic, more about the journey through life, and character-centric. They’ll never be fast-paced and plot-centric. However, even a book which is deliberately constructed like that needs substance and structure.
3. Deleting a superfluous subplot. One of Dave’s older sisters, Liz, falls in love with R.R.’s oldest brother Butch, and starts this strange campaign to win his eye, become his girlfriend, and forever cure him of his skirt-chasing ways. So? This storyline continues in the fourth book, and Liz and Butch eventually marry. It’s not that it’s not interesting material, just that it doesn’t really contribute anything to the overall story. It’s not even ultimately connected to another storyline, the way the story of the Polish characters is.
4. Making up a new table of contents. This involved combining a number of chapters and deleting or renaming others.
5. Creating new chapters. These include chapters about the Portuguese World’s Fair (which the extended Polański family tours before sailing to America) and the New York World’s Fair, which Cinni’s father takes her to as a birthday present. Prior to touring the fair, Cinni has a pre-birthday treat in the form of Coney Island and the Long Island seashore.
6. Starting with the original third chapter, instead of the pointless clutter which opened the first two drafts. There’s a polio scare unusually early (I really couldn’t justify frogging the entire thing to move it to the more expected season), and Cinni is sent out of town with Sparky, Sam, Harry, and Max. They originally went to Colonie, NY, but now they’re sent to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
7. Expanding and fleshing-out the retained chapters.
8. Focusing on the main storylines and not zooming all over. It’s an election year, and the lines are tightly drawn between Democrats and Republicans as Cinni’s belovèd President Roosevelt runs for an unprecedented third term. Sam is at her all-time worst in this book, as she does and says things which are hateful and shocking even for her. Then Cinni’s father’s heart is getting weaker, though I won’t give away too much of that storyline. Finally, Cinni wins her longtime crush Barry as her boyfriend, though since there’s a religious difference, and a fair bit of an age difference, it has to stay secret.
9. Seriously toning down Kit and Jerry’s relationship. Yes, Kit is very precocious, and she never crosses the point of no return with her first boyfriend, but there are still a lot of details which make me seriously uncomfortable given her age, and how much older Jerry is. Even considering these books are part satire, not straight historical, I’ve had to tone down or outright remove a lot of things which I feel are inappropriate both for younger readers and the characters themselves.