The Million-word Book

I love historical fiction, reading it and writing it. (See my bookstore page for two novels set in the 20th century.) Historicals can safely be fat books; I mean the grounding necessary in any novel where the world needs to be explained to the reader adds weight. Stories springing from currency can be thin, gliding down a runway like a model. But there’s little more satisfying than a doorstop-sized tome soaking wet with the atmosphere of another century.

This introduction is intended to bring me around to the critical turn I have reached in my third historical, also set in the 20th century. Having reached a penultimate climax at 100,000 words, I am temporarily flummoxed. This is a decision point. Do I accept the job or turn down the offer? Do I ask my crush to the dance or do I keep silent? Do I hit “send” and away goes the offensive email or do I mouse it to the trash?

In group therapy long ago, my biggest struggle was risk. I likened it to standing on a high dive board, or the doorway of an airplane with my parachute on my back. We were encouraged to say how we felt, be honest. I find that in most situations regarding sharing an honest feeling never goes well. It’s good to be honest when confronted with the dilemma of keeping the 100 dollars in the wallet one found or finding the owner to return it. It’s good to be honest when confessing to a lie or a theft. But I’m not sure that honesty in feeling is always necessary. It hurts. It hurts the person to whom I reveal how I really feel, and it hurts me to know I’ve hurt someone else.

I used to read my tarot cards regularly, looking for a sign that what I am doing—writing—will bring me fortune and fame. That too was a long ago when immaturity had me believing that fame and fortune would make me happy forever. The cards always eerily came up with the same answer. You are risk adversive. If you don’t take more risks—pitch that agent, strike up a friendship with that author, make a connection with another writer’s connections—you’ll never achieve fortune and fame.

I haven’t done a tarot reading for years. If I do one today asking the same question, I’ll get the same answer. The internal editor wins again.

Thus the battle continues. The clear outcome of my dilemma is to make the next leg of my fictional historical journey into Book Two.

I love a good series. Successful indie authors I know and workshops I have attended with those successful authors aver that readers love a series and will buy more of your books if you promise one. A series can be structured using various elements, ranging from following a sympathetic sleuth through a series of mysteries to eagerly racing through an epic story linked by cliff-hangers. I am guilty of a big indie-writer no-no. Two of my young adult novels end on cliff-hangers, but I haven’t finished the sequential books. (Can we call this the George R.R. Martin syndrome?)

I hadn’t planned this particula fictional creation to be this long, but I am grappling with bigger themes than the love triangle angle: post-war after-effects, Japanese American internment, prejudice, and drug addiction. All of this is background for the poignant efforts of England and the United States to revive an iconic breed of dog directly after World War II.

So, once I reached my 100,000th word in Book 1, I saw a big turning point had been written into the narrative, and so I had to move the setting and characters from California to England. The story, I knew, could not be adequately told without the British perspective, necessary in so many ways. So, I have started Book 2.

This is a risk, and a first, for me. The biggest is the time and research needed—research is the easy part, because I love it. Time, however, devoted to this work, takes me away from getting out something fast to post for sale, since it’s, um, been a while. At least I have a respectable and high-mark example to follow: Connie Willis’s two-book opus Blackout and All Clear, big, fat, delicious time travel books deeply embedded in the world of wartime Britain.

Wish me luck!

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The Million-word Book — 1 Comment

  1. Clean up those first 100K words and get that book out ASAP while researching the 2nd 100K. A year’s separation between two big books isn’t too long. Go for the gusto!