HISTORY OF THE NOVEL (part 2)

Publishing, finally publishing

Fast-forward to March 2006. I was working a dead-end temp job (which wasn't bad, but not exactly inspiring, either) and rather unhappy--the highlight of my week was watching Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy, which took up exactly two hours of the one hundred sixty-eight-hour week. My dad phoned me and said, out of the blue, "What would it take to self-publish that book?" I thought about it, and said, "Well, let's find out." If he had suggested this a year earlier, I would have said no way--self publishing tends to be a dead end for most books. But I figured, It's dead anyway. Let's do this.

I found iUniverse online and really liked their package, so I signed up for it. I sent the book in for an evaluation, and their editors sent me a very shrewd critique of the book. They didn't like it. I thought about what they said and decided to do a major rewrite. I told the editors I would be done at the end of August (2006).

By the end of August, I had rewritten all of the "Jennifer part," as I call it, and hadn't touched the "Henry part." (This "Jennifer part" is mostly the same as what you read now.) But I had a problem with the Henry part.

Spoilers ahead. Not big ones--I'm trying to stay vague--but if you don't want to know anything at all about the plot, don't read this next part.

Rhythm-wise, it didn't work. I had written Jennifer's story in one solid block, and then she goes to the store and meets Henry and he sits her down to tell her his story. The problem was, we've reached a bit of a crisis/climax, and to have, then, thirty pages of someone else's story, starting from zero, totally killed momentum. So I shortened Henry's story dramatically and made it into more of a conversation. This worked, as far as the rhythm was concerned, but didn't really work for the plot. Jennifer has made a major, major, traumatic decision, and it's changed by a 10-minute conversation? She's psychotic. Hmm.

I puzzled over that, and then fortuitously read a book that juggled three stories simultaneously. It was three pages of story A, four pages of story B, and then two pages of story C, then start over again (changing exact number of pages). I really tried to put this out of my head, because I knew that if I wanted to follow that format I would have to do a whole lot more work. It was already November 2006, way past the August deadline. But I couldn't shake this thought. It literally woke me up in the middle of the night (not that that's hard, not with an insomniac) at least four times. I decided to do it.

First I needed to flesh out Henry a great deal more. There simply weren't enough details about his life to splice into Jennifer's story; it would be twenty pages of Jennifer, then five of Henry, then twenty again. So I did a lot of research about immigration and life for immigrants in the '60s and '70s in New York, and then started to write again.

After I had a decent arc for Henry, it was time to splice. I did it in two different ways: the first had longer chunks for both characters, and in the second they were considerably shorter. I stuck with the second. This took me through April 2007.

In the middle of this, I had my Manhattan Screenwriters' Group read my manuscript. This is an absolutely vital component of what my book has become. (They suggested shorter chunks, for one thing.) Even though three of the writers focus on screenplays, (two are novelists as well) they all had incredibly valuable insight into Jennifer's character and things I needed to flesh out, suggestions as to how to deepen the plot and scenes, make people more engaging, and draw the reader in more. Rewrites based on their suggestions took almost two months.

Publishing, finally ACTUALLY publishing

I turned in the manuscript June 1 and felt...oh, so empty. It was a loss. There was nothing to work on anymore. And I was tired. I cannot express how tired I was. I took naps after work every night the following week--a total no-no for insomniacs--and mourned my loss. But that lasted only about 10 days. After ten days I thought, "You mean I'm really done? I can go on and start new projects?" That is a joyous feeling. The copy-edit came back two weeks later, and I took another two weeks to revise (and add in one last, crucial scene) and then it was done. Then it was really done. Hopefully there will be more "History of the Book" to come ...

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