Everything Novel: Three Authors Share Edits Made to their Latest Novels  

Last month at DeadDarlings, we were lucky enough to speak with three authors who’ve recently had new novels released. You can read the full interviews with Jenna Blum, Julia Fine, and Rebecca Makkai on our site, but we thought it would be fun for us to share what edits they took on before publishing their latest work. 

 

 

Jenna Blum, best-selling author and Grub Instructor

Jenna Blum, a 20-year Grub Street teacher and New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us (Harcourt, 2002) and The Stormchasers (Dutton, 2010), has just published her third novel, The Lost Family (Harper, 2018). Already it has been heaped with starred reviews from Publishers WeeklyLibrary Journal and more. The Boston Globe calls it ‘wrenching and chilling.’ Told in three sections, the book begins in New York with the life of Peter, a survivor of Auschwitz who lost his wife and twin daughters to the Nazis. He buries his grief in his restaurant and looks to start a new life by marrying June—the subject of the second section. The marriage is miserable but produces their daughter Elsbeth, the focus of the third section. Each character is haunted by Peter’s dead family even though he refused to talk about them. The tiny scraps that do come to light are so slim it’s hard to believe they take up as much room as they do—but that is Jenna’s incredible strength. The focus is not on what Peter endured, but on what his family must live through afterwards.

 

Q: What was the biggest editorial change you made while editing The Lost Family?

Originally, Peter’s story was set in 1945, because this is where I had left his character in a novella I wrote for a post-war anthology called Grand Central. In that novella, Peter is fired from his job as a busboy at the Oyster Bar because of his tattoo, and he wanders disconsolately through the terminal trying to get up the nerve to kill himself and join his beloved wife and daughters, whom he lost during the war. That was how the novella ended (mind you, the anthology was subtitled “Original Stories of Love and Reunion,” and readers were like, Who the hell wrote THIS story?). Everywhere I went on tour with Grand Central, readers asked what happened to Peter, so I thought his 1945 experience the natural jumping-off point. But my agent pointed out to me one day that Peter was a bit of a sad sack (you have to imagine this being said to me in a French accent, which imbues everything she says, brilliant anyway, with a great authority). “Why don’t we meet him when he’s had a little more time in the U.S., is a little more successful? Give him a sexy era.” So I switched Peter’s section to 1965–which pleased me greatly because then each section of the novel was set ten years apart, and I am a great fan of symmetry. Plus, 1965.

 

 

Julia Fine, Author of What Should Be Wild

Julia Fine’s debut novel What Should Be Wild, (Harper, 2018) is a modern gothic fairy tale, animated with toppled tropes and dark, unexpected secrets. The novel follows Maisie, a young girl cursed with the power to give and take life with a touch. As Maisie comes of age, she must search within herself, dig into her family’s dark history, and venture into the mysterious forest behind her home to understand the nature of her curse and who she is. Fine reclaims the classic fairy tale forest and populates it with bold female characters, all of whom add to the evolving conversation of what it means to be a woman and a feminist. What Should Be Wild has been named to several book lists, including the Chicago Review of Books’ The Best Books of 2018 So Far, and has received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. The San Francisco Chronicle calls Fine a “formidable new talent.”

 

Q: There are two distinct worlds in What Should Be Wild: inside the forest and outside the forest. The rules, the movement of time, even your language changes as you shift between worlds. As a writer, was it challenging to move back and forth?

Jumping between the two different parts of the book wasn’t especially difficult while writing, but structuring and pacing was a challenge. I knew that I wanted each of the fables Maisie hears growing up to correspond to a different Blakely woman’s story, and I churned out both fables and backstories relatively quickly. The issue was then deciding how and when to show the reader what was going on in the forest, how much one-to-one correspondence we needed between the women and what was happening to Maisie, and where to include the historical scenes. An early draft of the book had all the Blakely backstories at the beginning, before we meet the black-eyed girl. My editor at Harper—the phenomenal Erin Wicks—felt we’d get more out of the backstories if readers had already met the Blakely women in the forest. This meant totally restructuring the forest scenes, writing new ones, and grappling with how to introduce seven women over the course of a few paragraphs.

 

 

Rebbecca Makkai, author of four novels and Pushcart winner for short fiction 

Rebecca Makkai's latest novel, The Great Believers (Viking, 2018) has been heaped with praise and starred reviews, and for good reason. It is a page-turning, heartbreak of a novel that lays bare the devastating impact of the AIDS epidemic at its height and in its aftermath. At its core are two intertwined stories. The first is set in Chicago and focuses on Yale and his live-in lover, Charlie, in the second half of the ‘80s. The second is set in Paris and focuses on Fiona thirty years later, a woman still dealing with the havoc AIDS wreaked, killing her brother and most of their shared friends. Both stories expertly re-create the fear, profound sadness and prejudice that roiled the gay community then and still lingers today. Rebecca is the Chicago-based author of the novels The Great BelieversThe Hundred-Year House (Windmill, 2015), and The Borrower (Penguin, 2012), as well as the short story collection Music for Wartime (Viking, 2016). Her short fiction won a 2017 Pushcart Prize, and was chosen for The Best American Short Stories for four consecutive years (2008-2011).

 

Q: What was the biggest editorial change you made to The Great Believers?

The Fiona sections weren’t there at first (I added them after I’d written about 150 pages of the way in with just Yale’s narrative) but I feel like I’ve talked about this ad nauseam, and if people are very curious, they can find a lot of other interviews where I discuss it. I’ll go instead with the second biggest change, which is that in Nora’s story, Ranko Novak wasn’t originally there. It was going to be Modigliani with whom she’d had a major affair, and she was all wrapped up in the drama surrounding his death and the suicide of his common-law wife. Again, this was a change that came about as I was still writing, but I changed it fairly late in the draft and then had to go back and do a lot of rewriting. It became important to me that Nora’s great lost love was an unknown, and it was also important that he fought in the war—two things that weren’t true of Modigliani. I have a bit of a crush on Modigliani, so it was hard to make the change, but he’s still in the book in a different role.

 

 

 Want the full story? Head to DeadDarlings.com for these interviews and more!

About the Author

Dead Darlings is devoted to celebrating the novel, from the process of creation through revision, promotion and publication. The authors, alumni from GrubStreet Boston’s Novel Incubator, have gathered to provide support for all novelists: aspiring, developing or successful. Writing is best when it has the support of a community, when novelists share their experiences.

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