On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, I share my notes about writing and revising my debut novel, ANYA'S WAR. I journaled about process during the several years before the novel's publication date (February 2011). Here is an entry from September 2009:
I’ve decided to undergo another global rewrite of ANYA'S WAR 25 days before final revisions are due to my editor, Liz Szabla of Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan. I am in seculsion for a week in my studio and have spent two of the seven days dusting, vacuuming and rearranging all the drawers in the kitchen. The spice drawer was most challenging. I twisted the cap off the glass jars and smelled each spice to gauge freshness. I forgot to lighten my inhale when I opened the finely ground black pepper jar. I am sneezing in groups of four every half hour. I hand washed the lids and put the bottles in the dishwasher. Hopefully I won’t clog the filter with the scraps of paper label. My housemate, Delia will be happy to transfer her plastic sandwich bags full of fresh oregano, mustard seeds, cinnamon sticks and pizza seasoning into clean bottles.
I’ve decided to rip the manuscript apart again—for the fifth time in eighteen years. I’m having second thoughts (actually hundredth thoughts) about historical fiction. At 50, Karen Cushman, Newbury Medal winner for CATHERINE, ME BIRDY, launched her career with that book. She resisted sitting down and putting her thoughts on paper because she heard again and again that “history is not popular with young people.” But she focused on her main character Catherine, wrote her into the situations, and that’s where her plot grew from. Cushman calls her books “sweet, good and true.”
As I revise, I will focus on Anya. I will arm her with characteristics and an irresistible personality, with a goal/desire that my readers can relate to, with problems that are believable and readers will feel empathy toward. Readers will fall in love with Anya, will be mesmerized by her world—an exotic place that Anya herself is discovering. My readers will turn the page because they must know what happens next, they are routing for Anya, they feel protective of her and want to make sure she overcomes the antagonists: her mother, the clique at school, and the Japanese. I will describe Anya’s emotions in a detailed, visceral way so that readers can connect with her.