For the past few weeks, I didn’t get a whole lot of substantial work done on either of my WIPs. I got a lot of great progress done on my second volume about Jakob and Rachel, but then felt the spark going out. To avoid forcing it when I just wasn’t feeling it, I went back to Justine Grown Up and got a good bit of ground covered in the chapter I’d been working on when I put that project on hiatus.
During that time, I decided to split what I’d planned as one chapter into two. I just felt it would be too long of a chapter, even by my standards, and so will leave Justine’s sexual debut (on her 21st birthday), and the sexy events in the weeks leading up to it, for its own separate chapter. (As I’ve said, I HATE the archaic, sexist, heterocentric, passive, misleading term “losing your virginity,” but that’s a subject for another post.)
Now I’m back to Jakob and Rachel’s story, which I’m hoping will only take a few weeks if I really concentrate. Then back to Justine, and perhaps I’ll be free to start my third Russian novel by the fall. That’ll need all my undivided time and attention, seeing as how I’m predicting it’s going to be the longest one yet, at least 450,000 words.
I’m rather offended at the feedback I got at a contest I recently took part in, not because the agents weren’t interested in the projects, but because they insinuated that I don’t know how to write a well-researched historical. Couldn’t be further from the truth. You can’t know from a six-line pitch what the contents of a book are like and how much research and time went into creating it!
Their biggest issues seemed to be that they didn’t like my characters’ names (which I always make sure are historically and linguistically accurate; you’ll never catch me, for example, using a name like Katelyn or Caden on someone born in the 1920s!) and that it wasn’t a common occurrence to escape from a death train. Yeah, well, some people DID jump from the trains. I’ve read Shoah memoirs where that happened, and heard accounts from survivors and about survivors who witnessed that or did it themselves.
Jakob jumps because he’s determined to fight back and be master of his own destiny, just like the Maccabees, in spite of everyone around him thinking it won’t get that bad. Without his escape, and his resulting injury, the story wouldn’t be the same. That’s a pivotal event, the event that occurs at roughly the midway point, the event that helps to change his destiny. If you want to talk inaccurate depictions of the Shoah, let’s talk about Roberto Benigni’s awful Life Is Beautiful, which makes the Shoah look like Ernest Goes to a Concentration-Camp!
I always make sure I get historical details and facts right. I was rather bad at that in my earliest days, and I would never want to be thought of as someone who doesn’t do the research. It’s bad enough there have been certain YA historicals recently that read like history lite, what with characters devoid of their era’s prevailing social and moral attitudes and stories that read like Gossip Girl in period clothes. Oh well, now I know who not to query. (And btw, who cares if you use the terms Holland and The Netherlands interchangeably? Doesn’t everyone understand they’re one and the same outside of Holland? Even Dutch people themselves often say Holland when speaking English!)
As for The Very First, it is what it is, just a sweet, simple, quiet story about two young girls and the interesting cast of characters who make up their unusual neighborhood in 1938. I’ve never purported it to be anything but a quiet, more literary, story about growth, change, and development, as Sparky learns how to be an American without compromising her Judaism, and Cinni learns there’s more than one way to be a real American. And yes, Katherine might not have been a common name for a European Jewish girl in that era, but she’s, you know, GERMAN. From a place where most people felt like they were Germans first, and so had more non-religious names than people in, say, Poland or Romania.
I did get a partial request from another agent based on one of the contests I took part in recently, so it just goes to show that what some agents dismiss or misjudge can be considered worthwhile by other agents.
Other progress reports: