The evolution of a novel (3)

… or how East Rising Sun morphs into The Admiral’s Wife. I left off with my wonderful colleagues at Lake Union suggesting I weave a historical thread into the contemporary novel I set in Hong Kong. And you might recall that I was not exactly pleased 🙂

This little suggestion was tantamount to starting over. I fussed and fumed, muttering less than positive statements about my publisher. “They have no idea how difficult this is!” “Why did they encourage me to write this novel in the first place?” “I should throw it out and work on something else.” Mutter, mutter, mutter. My poor husband had to listen to all this and I’m grateful for his patience and encouragement.

After several days of paralysis an idea twigged. I scrolled through the WIP looking for something I’d written – a few throwaway lines about one of my characters’ family background.

Early in the nineteenth century, the Wen family fortune began with diamond mining in China then expanded to ship building and lucrative trading across Asia. In a move against the British, Patricia’s great-great-great-grandfather used his trading company, cleverly hidden behind several shell companies, to transport opium to Europe and Britain. That decision generated even more wealth.

Maybe this could lead somewhere. Thoughts swirled around. This could happen. No, that wouldn’t work. What about this? What about that? I kept mulling until something finally gelled.

I now had two story lines and a sense of how they would connect. The present day story featured two expat women: Patricia, a Chinese American, and Sara who was from Boston. The past storyline focused on Winifred, the admiral’s wife, who was British and had arrived in Hong Kong because her husband had been posted there. And of course, there was a connection between the two stories that would gradually emerge.

I discussed the general idea with my editor. She liked it and made several suggestions. She wanted roughly 75 pages and a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. I worked on it for several weeks – hardly did anything else. My agent reviewed it. I made changes. My agent reviewed it again. A few minor edits. Then we sent it off.

Wait, wait, wait. After a heads up from my agent, I received feedback from my Lake Union editor. The floor plummeted out from under me again – they weren’t going to take it. Didn’t think my writing was good enough. But, but, but.

To make matters worse, I then sent the same material off to a freelance editor I work with. She gave me the honest truth. Definitely not my best writing and there’s too many main characters. You should cut out one of them.

Bloody hell. Did I tell you writing is hard work?

So here’s where I am. The present day story features Patricia, my Chinese American character. She’s married. She and her husband have moved to Hong Kong to reunite with her parents and older brother. Having lived in the US her entire life, this new world is foreign and disorienting. The past story focuses on Winifred, the admiral’s wife. She’s moved to Hong Kong because of her husband’s naval career. She too finds the place foreign and disorienting. And there’s a mystery connecting the two timelines – hopefully a fascinating, dramatic connection.

The novel has taken shape. I’m excited about it and love my main characters. With any luck I’ll have the first draft completed by the end of March.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

A novel doesn’t write itself

A novel doesn’t write itself, I said to my mother the other day. Of course not, you say. But there’s more to this sentiment than the obvious. A novel needs its author to sit down almost every day and put words on the page, fingers to keyboard or whatever. And there are times when this is the last thing you want to do.

I write with an outline – I’m a planner not a seat-of-the-pantser. Each chapter has brief notes about the action that takes place, whose voice is in charge, the setting and, if necessary, a date or time. These days each chapter also has a note about the key plot point. In other words, I know where I’m going with the story and the major steps to get there.

And yet – inertia sets in. The brain doesn’t want to engage. The fingers are reluctant. My butt doesn’t want to sit in that ergonomically designed chair. For me, it’s almost a physical feeling.

When does this happen?

  • when I’ve just finished what I consider a great scene
  • when a scene isn’t working
  • when a character doesn’t want to cooperate – yes, they do that sometimes
  • when the writing feels like crap
  • when I think I’m making progress only to realize I’m less than half done

So you see, inertia can happen anytime. What’s the cure? Sorry folks, there’s no easy cure, no pill you can take, no mantra you can chant. You just have to get that butt back into the seat and keep going.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.