Every first Wednesday of the month, members of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group share worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears.
For those of you who missed Monday’s post, my long-delayed second volume about Jakob DeJonghe and Rachel Roggenfelder is scheduled to release on Saturday, 4 June. That date was chosen because it’s the date Jaap and Rachel reunite after 13 months apart (Erev Shavuot 1946). The title was taken from a line in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 (which Jakob reads to Rachel while she’s in labor in the penultimate chapter). The first volume’s title came from a line in Sonnet 145, so I thought it’d be fitting to use Shakespearean symbolism again.
Shakespeare was truly a writer for all time, the kind of writer I aspire to be remembered as. Though he very much wrote about people and concerns of his own time, the deeper meanings and the way he used words have resonated across time and cultures. I always think of the Akira Kurosawa films Ran and Throne of Blood as prime exhibits in how Shakespeare’s stories can seamlessly adapt to a much different cultural milieu.
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Jakob thinks coming to America and reuniting with his beautiful Rachel is a dream come true, but he soon realizes America’s streets aren’t lined with gold and that people who don’t quite fit in aren’t always treated very nicely. As he’s struggling to adjust to life in America, Rachel struggles with insecurities over how her husband is little more than a stranger. And just when it seems her heart is no longer in turmoil, a new struggle arises—finding a midwife in a country where hospital birth has become the norm. Her search for a midwife isn’t helped by the conformist young wives’ social club she’s been roped into joining, full of women who already look down on her for keeping her surname, wanting to go to college, and enjoying sex.
I own the fact that my writing style may strike some folks as old-fashioned or impersonal. I know third-person omniscient is very out of fashion in North America these days, so much so many folks genuinely don’t recognize what it is and assume I’m writing as a character, not about a character.
We all make decisions about how much information to directly state vs. force the reader to infer, just as we sometimes have to condense the non-essential events of a longer period of time into a wraparound narrative segment. I personally enjoy filling in the blanks in my own head, instead of always being told exactly how someone shivers in the cold or speaks after getting devastating news. It’s the same way everyone imagines the non-intertitle dialogue in silent films differently, based on our own experiences, personalities, and tastes.
Other folks can write long-drawn-out emotional reactions very effortlessly. The short-lived third version of the opening page of my first Max book was like nails on a chalkboard when I reread it. I hated it so much. It felt gross, pretentious, awkward, corny, silly, forced, fake, because that’s not my natural writing style at all.