Getting to ‘The End’ . . . over and over again

Three years ago, I listened in shock to my new agent telling me that Random House had not only just bought my first novel, Keeping the House, they’d also bought my second novel. I was thrilled. I was confused. But I’ve only written the one. They do that? “It can be about whatever you want it to be,” my agent told me. “They just really love your writing.”

She might as well have been my fairy godmother.

I cut back to eight hours a week at my bookstore job. I’d spent three years writing and rewriting Keeping the House, but now, I’d be working nearly full-time on my new novel, which seemed to suggest I’d be able to get it done in—a year? Maybe two? Besides, I’d already done some research and character development, plus written a detailed outline and three chapters.

When I sent the material to my agent, though, she didn’t think it showed promise. So I scrapped it and spent the next few months working on a different idea, ultimately writing a 23-page proposal for a novel that, much like Keeping the House, would span 50 years and two world wars. My agent loved it; my editor did not.

I was more panicked than disappointed. Was I ever going to come up with something Random House would like? Was the fact that I’d managed to write Keeping the House just a fluke?

To my relief, my editor loved my next idea, which concerned a group of women working as welders at a World War II shipyard and the farmhouse that would become the center of a feud among them.

Next came the false starts—about six of them. There were the1969 scenes featuring an inquisitive photographer stranded by car trouble near the farmhouse; the first-person chapters about a girl growing up there in the 1930s; the chapters about characters who just weren’t yet who they were meant to be. Six months into the process, I went to my semiannual retreat with my writing buddy, Lara Zielin, armed with a chart of my many characters’ stories and relationships. “I just can’t figure out how to fit them all together, or even where to start,” I said, hoping she could help me clarify. She looked with wide eyes at the multicolored chart, the notes scribbled at every angle, and said, “I have no idea.”

Read the rest of The Loft Literary Center’s article here.

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