Category: editing

A writer must carefully balance foreshadowing. Too much and it feels manipulative. Too little and the reader feels disoriented. Either way the reader is pulled out of the book and a writer never wants that to happen.
The foreshadowing is there…perhaps when reading the book again someday you will find what on first reading eluded you. 

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There are multi-year college level courses to answer this question. But I’ll try to give you a brief answer. 1. First you need a good idea and some ability with language. 2. Then you need to dedicate time each day to writing and revising your idea until slowly it evolves into a marketable manuscript. 3. Finally you need a publisher who believes in your book as much as you do. The publisher does the work of actually publishing your book for you and distributing it. It’s hard work, it’s collaborative work, it’s joyous work, it’s heartbreaking work; it’s exhausting, consuming, and the odds against making any kind of profit are unimaginably high, but if you have a bit of grit, a love of language, a familiarity with story shapes, a story to tell, and a fair measure of luck, you might be fortunate enough to publish a book some day. Good luck!


In the mid-1990s, after a snow storm on Mother’s Day, I decided I’d had enough of Vermont weather and began, with my husband, to explore other areas where the living might be a bit easier. One of our stops, Boone, North Carolina, held great promise. But in the end I realized, despite late season snows, Vermont really was my true home. Though I didn’t move to Boone, I wrote a book about it, a story about a boy and his father. That book, alas, was never completed, but a secondary character from the manuscript refused to remain in a file drawer. That character’s name was Justus Faulstich and she became the hero you know in JUST JUICE.

imagesIt is not easy to understand life on the Aleutians without spending an extended period of time there. I was fortunate to have Ray Hudson as a consultant. Ray taught on the Aleutian Islands for 30 years; he knows the people and culture well. Even with extensive research I got many things wrong in my first drafts. I am ever grateful to Ray for helping me see where I’d misunderstood and misinterpreted my sources and how I might more accurately portray the people of the Aleutian Islands.

photograph of Ray Hudson from the Prairie Home Companion website

imagesphoto by Ria Novosti

Because I had decided to use the epistolary format to tell Rifka’s story, I needed, within the internal logic of the book, to provide her with the means to write. She would not have had access to writing paper, nor the luxury to carry that paper with her. She also would have been unable to send letters. Rifka’s entries to her cousin were more self-soothing/interior explorations than a real attempt at correspondence. So, I decided to give Rifka a book to travel with. My Aunt Lucy remembered that she had carried books with her though she couldn’t remember the titles. Giving Rifka a book helped to expand the reader’s understanding of her character, as well as providing a vehicle in which she could record her tale. After doing a bit of research, I felt Pushkin, whose poetry I knew only in passing, seemed the best option…his work would have been in print and it’s possible Rifka’s family, particularly her cousins, might have had a copy of it. At that point I began dedicatedly studying Pushkin’s body of work. After going through it the first time, I combed through it again, this time with Rifka’s journey in mind. I recorded sheets and sheets of quotes and excerpts from Pushkin’s verse and ultimately matched up a brief selection of his poetry with each chapter of my book, using the Pushkin quotes to prepare the reader for what was to occur next in Rifka’s story.

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I attempted to start this book many times with no success. I would bring a first chapter to my writing group, read it, then throw it away. I probably drafted seven or eight first chapters. Part of the challenge was converting the impressions and memories of an eighty year old woman back to the sensibilities of the child she had been. Another part of the challenge was separating the woman I knew from the fiction I wished to create. But possibly the hardest challenge was simply finding the voice. One night, after several frustrating months of disappointing false starts, I posed a question to myself before going to sleep…How can I capture this girl’s voice? In the morning, in the shower, it came to me…letters. Once I put Dear Tovah at the top of the page, everything began to fall into place.

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DSC05364Generally, I research for approximately a year before writing the first word. Once I’ve front-loaded enough information on the time period to have a working grasp of it, I write a quick and skeletal initial draft. In the second year of a book’s creation I revise, revise, revise, filling in the gaps in the narrative, smoothing the connective tissue, obsessively inserting and deleting words, sentences, entire paragraphs, pages, and chapters. Along the way I show drafts to colleagues, and then to an editor. After each outside reader gets back to me with a critique, I rewrite again. It is not uncommon for me to go through twenty or more drafts of a book before it enters into production. And even when the book is in galleys, I still feel compelled to make changes, to tighten, to find the perfect word to replace one that isn’t quite precise enough.

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road trip with kate to arizona 2016lc 033When I’m researching I am filling myself with the events of the historical period and those events clearly leave a mark on the work…the birth of quintuplets in Canada, for instance, or the eruption of a volcano, or the discovery of dinosaur bones. But events happening in the contemporary world of the writer might have an impact on the events woven into the author’s book, as well. In the case of OUT OF THE DUST, I honestly can’t remember current events entering the landscape of the story. There would, of course, be values, knowledge, and experience of the living writer seeping into the decisions he/she makes in designing the story. But Big Picture contemporary events might be difficult, in many cases, to transpose and weave into an historical setting without jarring the reader. Even if the writer deftly altered contemporary events to fit into the historical setting, I think in many cases there would be less of an organic flow than the writer might desire. Certainly, while I was writing SAFEKEEPING, a novel set in the near future, many events happening in the world at the time of the writing were integrated into the story. Perhaps contemporary fiction is more apt to be colored by what is going on in the greater world of the writer, while historical fiction is less likely to be overtly influenced by the author’s world.

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In part the characters in WITNESS grew out of the research. I needed certain characters to carry the different aspects and angles of the story I wanted to tell. Here’s the fun part. When I began to build my characters I took inspiration from a book of symbolism. I opened the book to the section on animals and assigned an animal profile to each character. By the time the book went through its final revisions, the vestiges of that animal phase had mostly vanished, but you can still see traces in certain names and personality traits.

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Join a writing group (either on-line or around a real table–or both). Travel, when you can, to writing conferences where you will meet interested (and interesting) fellow writers, editors and agents. Perhaps you will make a connection at a conference that will lead to an invitation to submit your work. Make note of the houses publishing books you admire. Consider how your work might fit with those publishers’ lists. Let editors know why you would like to work specifically with them. And keep writing! If you spend all of your creative energy waiting to hear from editors you will miss the opportunity to perhaps generate something even more exciting and polished than your present project. So get to work on your next manuscript while your first one is out to market. I wish you all the best of luck in your quest.