Combining and splitting decisions

As someone who naturally and deliberately writes my adult books at saga length, I’ve developed a very keen sense of when a book’s length is justified by the story vs. when it’s just an overwritten sprawl (coughtheinvisiblebridgecough). I’ve also developed a strong sense of when a long story needs split up into multiple books or volumes.

On the flip side, when it comes to my Atlantic City books, I’ve found several places where these short books need combined, since they lead right into one another instead of feeling like true self-contained stories within a series.

                          

As I’ve discussed many times, I still feel I made the right decision in putting out And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away and And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth as two distinct books. The most perfect ending opened up, and I was able to turn the rest of the source material into a second book about Jakob and Rachel’s first proper year of marriage and Jakob’s first year in America. Each book truly has its own focus, and wouldn’t feel the same if it were just one long book with an uninterrupted story.

Granted, I was trying for traditional publishing at the time and was aware the first book had reached the uppermost limits for both YA and historical, at a bit over 120K. The second book also has a much more New Adult feel and a number of sex scenes, in comparison to the fade to black on the wedding night scene in the first book. But Fate obviously compelled me to make the right decision about how to present this story.

                        

I was also originally trying for traditional publication with Little Ragdoll, and was shocked to discover how frowned-upon sagas are nowadays, esp. from first-time authors and in YA. At the time, I hadn’t yet realised this is truly an adult book that just happens to feature young people in the leading roles. In other words, a Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story like Great Expectations and Little Women.

Thus, I began querying it and submitting pages as a pretended trilogy, and came up with query letters and synopses for all three books (Parts I and II, Part III, Part IV and the Epilogue). However, I soon came to feel dirty and like a huge fraud for diluting my vision and intention. I always meant it as one long, continuous story, not split up three ways. And while Part IV does read the most like its own standalone book, it also only makes sense and feels right as the conclusion of everything that came before. Adicia finally has no choice but to act instead of passively being acted upon, and emerges from that ordeal a much stronger person than anyone, least of all she herself, ever saw her as.

When it came to Swan, I was always very firm about this story being one entire book. It would make no sense to put out Parts I and II as two different books when so much is still up in the air at the conclusion of Part I. The only thing resolved (for the moment) is that Lyuba and Ivan are finally engaged. I also wrote The Twelfth Time as its sequel, not the third book in the family saga.

Plus, the title has significance for the entire book, and appears in the final line.

People at Absolute Write really got on my hide about the length (330K) and tried to convince me to make it into a series or two books. They also thought it was a historical romance instead of a novel that just happens to prominently feature a love story. One person got really offended when he read a blog post I wrote explaining and defending my wordcount and genre, accusing me of being oppositional and not taking anyone’s advice.

Yeah, it’s almost like writers know their own stories far better than random Internet strangers obsessed with “the rules”! Hist-fic is also traditionally very long, with 120K being the bare minimum for a story spanning many years and with a large ensemble cast.

                         

                         

Dark Forest ended up so long, way past my initial guesstimate of 500K, I had to put it out as one book in four volumes. It perfectly worked out so each part read like its own story, with a focus on different characters and storylines. Of course they all lead into one another, but there’s no sense of ending in media res.

I’ll do the same for Dream Deferred, which also ballooned up way past my conservative guesstimate of 300K. Even after cutting aborted storylines that don’t belong there, it’ll still be extremely long. Thankfully, this book too will feel natural in four volumes instead of forcibly chopped up.

Ultimately, it comes down to gut feelings and your own creative vision. Would this work as a single very long book, one book published in several volumes, or two or more separate books? And would a few novella-length books feel stronger if they were combined into one longer volume?

IWSG—June odds and sods

InsecureWritersSupportGroupIt’s time for another meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The first Wednesday of each month, we share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

For how long do you shelve your first draft, before reading it and re-drafting? Is this dependent on your writing experience and the number of stories/books under your belt?

The books I wrote on MacWriteII, ClarisWorks, and AppleWorks were inaccessible to me for up to a decade, due to being either stuck on obsolete file formats on disks or on an older desktop I didn’t bring over all the files from. Obviously, I finally learnt how to convert and open all those file types.

The ones created or saved in MacWriteII have/had a lot of bizarre formatting issues caused by data migration; e.g., floating chunks of text that belong elsewhere in the document and need to be C&Ped back together in their proper order (often breaking off in the middle of words or sentences!), gibberish at the beginning, words I taught the ’93 Mac’s spellcheck, text from files on other disks, symbols in the middle of words, repeated letters, huge indents. That needed addressed before I could even begin editing and assigning them places in my long queue.


As I’ve said many times, it was a blessing in disguise that the original files of Little Ragdoll were held hostage for so many years. There was no way I could’ve salvaged even a halfway decent story by writing around this Grimms’ fairytale on acid. I needed a complete rewrite from scratch and memory, though I kept the same general outline.

Being away from a story for 5–10 years provides one with a whole new set of eyes. Now, I like to wait at least a few months before diving back in. When we begin editing and revising too soon, we’re often blind to mistakes both big and small.

I learnt a big lesson from my mad dash to the finish with And Aleksey Lived in 2018. Since there was almost no time between the day I wrote the last word in the final appendix and the release date, I had to fly through with proofreading. A lot of little errors also turned up in the first printed edition, which I thankfully was able to correct for free.

I’m doing JuNoWriMo for I believe the sixth year, though I’m not hopeful of reaching 50K. All part of the joy of being stuck in a home not my own, with the local libraries still not open to more than brief browsing, and in an open concept house that makes privacy all but impossible. </extreme sarcasm>

I’ll be using June to work on my radical rewrite of the book formerly known as The Very Last, start my new alternative history, and do my final proof-check of the third edition of Little Ragdoll. I also count blog posts as creative non-fiction.

After daydreaming about this for at least 20 years, I’ve finally begun the process of applying to make aliyah (move to Israel). I came up with a lot of stupid excuses and reasons to postpone it, and even let my now-ex talk me out of it. Unfortunately, I’ve aged out of a lot of great opportunities, like work-study programs and volunteering on most kibbutzim.

I’ll be discussing this much more in future posts. If all goes well and I’m approved, I should be there by next summer. Though I used to want to live in Haifa, my dream city now is Tiberias in the Lower Galilee.

In response to the awful events of May, I’ve changed my Twitter display name to my Hebrew name, Chana Esther Dafna.

What are your summer writing plans?

WeWriWa—Justine’s stocking

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

My Christmas snippets this year come from my long-hiatused WIP Justine Grown Up, the third book in my contemporary historical family saga of the Troy family. It’s set from 1979–84, and is a modern retelling of sorts of Margaret Sydney’s 1897 book Phronsie Pepper.

Baby sister Justine is now a college student and dating longtime family friend David Ryan, but her many older siblings and David’s older sister Deirdre can’t stop thinking of her as a little girl. They also can’t understand the almost-five-year age difference between Justine and David has now leveled off.

It’s Christmas 1979, and the Troys and Ryans are shaking out the contents of their stockings after unwrapping presents.

Justine shakes out a huge green, red, and white candy cane, multiple types of chocolate, a bag of jellybeans, a bag of gumdrops, a bag of candied fruit slices, and several small wrapped packages. She saves the one from David for last and first unwraps the other three. She finds dangly pineapple earrings from Aoife, a fancy pen from Adicia, and a snowflake pin from Lucine.

“Would you like to open your last gift now?” David asks.

“What exactly have you given my baby sister?” Adicia asks. “This better not be the most expensive gift of all.”

Justine finds a medium-blue teardrop-shaped gemstone on a delicate silver necklace. “This is so pretty! What did I do to deserve this?”

“Just by being such a nice girl,” David says with a big smile.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow.

“It’s aquamarine, the modern March birthstone. The ancient birthstones, bloodstone and jasper, seemed a bit mismatched for fine jewelry. Would you like me to fasten it on you?”

“Sure.” Justine holds up her hair. Her body tingles at feeling his hands on the back of her neck.

“Did you see the note under it?”

“You wrote a note too?” Deirdre asks. “This better not be as creepy as the note from András.”

“My note is only meant for Justine’s eyes. Don’t you have a wife to occupy yourself with? You’ve never been so concerned with my relationships before.”

Synopsis for Justine Grown Up:

Justine’s jealous feelings at the birth of Julie’s first child are quickly turned around when she reconnects with David, now twenty-five and a Ph.D. student. Unfortunately, her older siblings and their friends have a hard time seeing her, after years of being the precious family baby, as a grownup woman who’s old enough for marriage, motherhood, and moving out with her new family. But then, when her young nieces become Duranies, an unexpected opportunity opens up for Justine to finally prove once and for all to her family that she’s a responsible, capable, mature adult.

WeWriWa—Why Emeline prefers George

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

Since today is George Harrison’s 19th Jahrzeit (death anniversary), I’m sharing something from Chapter 17 of Little Ragdoll, “Letters to and from Lucine and Emeline.” In autumn 1964, youngest Troy sisters Ernestine, Adicia, and Justine write to their closest older sisters, who left home young to escape their toxic parents. Eighteen-year-old Lucine is now at Hunter College, and 16-year-old Emeline is attending an uptown boarding school on full scholarship.

Near the end of her letter, Emeline explains why George is her favorite Beatle.

To answer Ernestine’s question, yes, I do like The Beatles (and I can’t believe she’s old enough to have celebrity crushes!). Maybe I’m a little too old for them, but it’s not like I’m one of those screaming young girls who’s only thinking about how cute they are and can’t hear them singing or playing their instruments. Liking somebody’s music has nothing to do with how cute they are, though it does help if someone is good-looking in addition to talented.

My favorite is George. I guess it’s because he’s the baby of the group, and it makes me think of my own dear little sisters and how the baby of a family needs special mothering, love, and protection. Is it a good or a bad thing I feel such a strong mothering instinct at only sixteen? Besides, I know how it feels to be pegged ‘the quiet one.’ That label sticks, and people sometimes don’t expect much of you since they think you’re not talkative. But boy, will I prove to anyone who thinks I’m just another quiet, bookish girl that still waters can run deep when I go into the world and make something of myself!

WeWriWa—Thanksgiving food for the littlest guests

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

This year’s Thanksgiving excerpts come from Chapter 4, “Thanksgiving 1959,” of Little Ragdoll. Set from 1959–74, it takes protagonist Adicia Troy from age five to twenty. Here, Adicia and her four closest sisters have gone to dinner at the Bowery Mission with their surrogate mother Sarah, a live-in nanny and maid whom their black-hearted blood mother barely pays.

They’ve just been served a mouth-watering Thanksgiving feast, and Adicia can’t help thinking about how the rest of her family is missing out. 

                       

Her parents and brothers don’t know what they’re missing, though she does feel sorry for Allen. He probably would come to eat with them, but feels an illogical need to appease their parents and go along with their lifestyle. Emeline says Allen’s a Gemini, the astrological sign of the twins, Pollux and Castor. One of the common characteristics associated with Gemini is acting like two different people, a pull in two different directions.

Adicia doesn’t understand some of these things Emeline knows so much about from all her prolific reading, but she does know she feels very sorry for Allen, stuck in the tenement with their horrible parents and the insufferable Tommy. Mrs. Troy didn’t have to be so rude and mean to him just because he dared to ask for some turkey meat. Adicia hopes Tommy eats so much of that leftover turkey from the garbage that he chokes.

Sarah is holding Justine on her lap and feeding her a bottle of Enfamil when one of the mission volunteers brings more food. The volunteer squeezes Justine’s little hand and smiles down at her. Justine’s blue eyes light up at the extra attention.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow.

“If you’d like, we can bring some baby food to your little girl. We have food even for the littlest guests who come to our tables. You don’t want to only drink baby formula on a big holiday, do you, sweetie?”

Sarah doesn’t correct her. As it is, the four middle girls are fellow brunettes, and she goes out with them more than their own parents.

“Our baby’s named Justine Anastasie,” Ernestine volunteers proudly. “Our dad’s French, so we all got at least one French name. She’s gonna be nine months old next week, since she was born on March second. March to December equals nine months.”

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