by Stacy | Dec 6, 2022 | Behind the Rewrite, Characters, Plot, Scene-Writing
Welcome to New York Times Bestselling Author Alina Adams, who is returning to the blog to share 5 changes she made to her latest book, My Mother’s Secret: A Novel of the Jewish Autonomous Region. Keep reading to get insight into Alina’s revising strategies on this intriguing historical fiction book, which is rooted in detailed research about a little known chapter of Soviet and Jewish history.
Change #1: The Beginning
The first draft of the book which became My Mother’s Secret: A Novel of the Jewish Autonomous Region opened with three chapters setting up the “present day” sequence—San Francisco, CA 1988. (When the bulk of the book takes place in the 1930s and 1940s, 1988 is “modern.”)
It introduced the heroine, Lena, her difficult relationship with her withholding mother, the death of her beloved father, her teenage daughter, and her controlling husband—as well as the man who would become a potential love interest in the future. The three chapters went into great detail about why Lena always felt unloved by her mother, and how her faltering marriage got to this state: Lena used to love that her husband made all of her decisions for her. It made her feel that he cared about her in a way that her mother did not. Now she feels smothered. Her husband’s not the one that changed; Lena is. She knows it and blames herself . . . but she still can’t help feeling like she wants out. It’s guilt about her daughter that’s making her stay.
However, the feedback I got was to get to the “good stuff”— the story of Lena’s mother and her desperate escape to Birobidzhan, the Jewish Autonomous Region on the border between Russia and China in the mid-1930s—faster.
So the original three chapters became a single prologue which, in the hardback version, now runs a tight 12 pages. I still hit all the main points, but much more compactly. You have to wait for Part Three to get the details. And learn how it all turns out.
Change #2: In the Name of the Father
The first lines of the book read: Lina Mirapolsky’s father was dying. Her husband was trying to get a discount on it.
The newly truncated prologue still opens with the death of Lena’s dad, and her surprise at the way her mother reacts to it.
In the first draft, Lena has always known that he’s her stepfather and adored him anyway.
In the rewrite, his cryptic, dying words send Lena on a hunt which reveals that the man who raised her wasn’t her biological father.
I initially deliberately avoided that, because it felt too cliched, but was ultimately convinced to put it in for the “wham” moment which closes out the prologue. Curious to hear what readers think!
Change #3: Straight Ahead
Part Two of My Mother’s Secret: A Novel of the Jewish Autonomous Region follows Lena’s mother, Regina, from the time a neighbor in her family’s Moscow communal apartment introduces 12-year-old Regina to the dream of Birobidzhan, getting her involved with the Yiddish-language newspaper she publishes as well as the historic figures committed to the cause of an independent Jewish homeland in the Soviet Union, until 18- year-old Regina is forced to flee Moscow to avoid being arrested along with her neighbor and all their compatriots.
In the original draft, the story is told chronologically. In the published version, we first meet Regina as she is fleeing, and the question of what she is fleeing from is left unanswered until much later in the story, when she is forced to confess all. The idea here is to set up suspense as to why Regina is on the run, what she is hiding, and her reasons for being so secretive with everyone she meets, including the man she starts to fall in love with.
Change #4: Slap, Slap, Kiss, Kiss
In my first pass, Regina’s initial meeting with her future love interest is full of antagonism. Regina smugly feels she knows what’s best for Birobidzhan because she’s read books about it better than Aaron, the man who has lived there for years. This leads to lots of witty banter—the kind I frankly, love to write. But it also made Regina come off as unlikable. (I was writing her as a know-it-all teen-ager who would eventually come to realize the error of her ways, wise up, mature, and admit her youthful folly. But I guess nobody wants to wait that long.)
Now, Regina is still cryptic with Aaron, but it’s because she has a secret she doesn’t want him to discover, and also because she is deliberately turned against him by a third party with his own agenda.
The pair still argues and banters, and I was even able to keep some of the same dialogue. But the context and motivation is different, making her less of a brat, and more of a scared kid.
Change #5: Where the Wind Takes You
My first idea for Regina’s story was to have it take place exclusively in Birobidzhan. The little-known history of the place, as well as the paranoid atmosphere—anyone could be arrested at any moment, everyone was always spying on their neighbors, loyalties were constantly shifting, and what was politically safe to say one day could, overnight, become treason—seemed ripe for gripping narrative possibilities.
But then, I decided to up the stakes. Historical fiction, especially featuring Jewish characters, has plundered every aspect of the Holocaust. There isn’t nearly as much written about what was happening at the same time in the Soviet Union.
The USSR lost over 24 million people in their “Great Patriotic War,” roughly half of them military, the other half civilian. The Russians then—as now—fight by throwing bodies at the enemy, treating them as disposable. And then there were the Nazi prisoner of war camps. Western powers were signatories to the Geneva convention. The Soviets were not. Even when they were kept in the same camp, American soldiers were treated much better than Soviet ones. (There’s a reason there were no Soviet prisoners having a goofy, fun time in Hogan’s Heroes.)
Once I did my research there, I decided to throw my heroes from the frying pan of Josef Stalin’s Great Terror into the fire of a Nazi POW camp.
After all, isn’t one aspect of compelling writing to make it seem like things can’t get any worse . . . and then make them get worse?
More About the Book
Buy it on Amazon
With his dying breath, Lena’s father asks his family a cryptic question: “You couldn’t tell, could you?” After his passing, Lena stumbles upon the answer that changes her life forever.
As her revolutionary neighbor mysteriously disappears during Josef Stalin’s Great Terror purges, 18-year-old Regina suspects that she’s the Kremlin’s next target. Under cover of the night, she flees from her parents’ communal apartment in 1930s Moscow to the 20th century’s first Jewish state, Birobidzhan, on the border between Russia and China. Once there, Regina has to grapple with her preconceived notions of socialism and Judaism while asking herself the eternal question: What do we owe each other? How can we best help one another? While she contends with these queries and struggles to help Birobidzhan establish itself, love and war are on the horizon.
Order on Amazon.
More About Alina
New York Times Bestselling Author Alina Adams draws on her own experiences as a Jewish refugee from Odessa, USSR as she provides readers a rare glimpse into the world’s first Jewish Autonomous Region. My Mother’s Secret is rooted in detailed research about a little known chapter of Soviet and Jewish history while exploring universal themes of identity, love, loss, war, and parenthood. Readers can expect a whirlwind journey as Regina finds herself and her courage within one of the century’s most tumultuous eras.
Alina is the author of soap-opera tie-ins, figure skating mysteries, and romance novels. She was born in Odessa, USSR and moved to the US with her family in 1977. She has covered figure skating for ABC, NBC, ESPN and Lifetime, and worked for the soap-operas As the World Turns, Guiding Light, All My Children, and One Life To Live. Her historical fiction novels, The Nesting Dolls (2020) and My Mother’s Secret: A Novel of the Jewish Autonomous Region are based on a combination of family history and rigorous research.
Read Alina’s previous Behind the Rewrite post, about her novel The Nesting Dolls, here.
Visit Alina around the web.
by Stacy | Feb 21, 2022 | Characters, Plot, Scene-Writing, Writing and Editing Resources
I’m sure you’ll enjoy this guest post on outlining from Rose Atkinson-Carter, a writer with Reedsy.
It’s one of the greatest debates in the #amwriting world: should you outline your novel before writing it, or should you pants it?
At the end of the day, the answer is simple: you should do whatever works best for you. That said, if you decide to give outlining a book a shot, stay alert. Outlining isn’t as clear-cut as copyrighting a book — there are many ways to go about it. And while it’s a process that works magic for many authors, there are still a number of pitfalls that you can fall into along the way.
So without further ado, here are the top five common mistakes that you should watch out for while outlining your own book.
1. Sticking too much to the outline
Many authors make the mistake of outlining their story, then thinking to themselves, “Well, now I have to follow this word-for-word for the rest of time.” But that couldn’t be further from the truth! As Captain Barbarossa in Pirates of the Caribbean says, “The outline is more like guidelines than actual rules.”
Which is to say, an outline exists to guide you to the end of your story — not to restrict you as you’re writing it. Things are always going to be different when you start writing. Scenes might be longer than you expect. Characters might be the complete opposite of what you expected. Writing is always an act of discovery, and sticking too much to an outline kills that creative process. Let your story breathe when it needs to.
2. Trying only one kind of outline
Like Jolly Ranchers, there are many flavors of outlines in the world — and any one of them could work for you, depending on what kind of a writing mood you’re in. For instance:
Do you have a jumbled mess of ideas in your head that might just come out to a story? You might want to try to mind map it first to organize all of your thoughts.
Do you already have a vague idea of your plot in mind, but don’t know how to flesh that out further? Then a beat sheet might be best for you.
Do you have a few key scenes in mind already? Then you might want to outline your story’s broad sequences —perhaps mapping it on the Three-Act structure — to get a sense of the overall arc of the story.
Trust me: there’s an outline for each writer out there. Just compare J.K. Rowling’s outlines to Joseph Heller’s! Their respective niches might have something to do with it: Harry Potter was, of course, published by YA publishers, meant to be read by a YA audience. As such, it was quite plot-oriented, which her outline reflects.
On the other hand, Joseph Heller’s outline for his literary fiction novel is much more character-focused. So don’t be afraid to branch out, depending on your genre. The most important thing is to keep experimenting to figure out which type of outline best suits your needs.
3. Neglecting the “big picture”
It’s easy to look at a completed outline and think that you have your entire story figured out. After all, you’ve got all of your scenes down on the page in front of you, haven’t you? Does that not a story make?
An outline might give you the skeleton of your book, easily affording you a bird’s eye view of all of your scenes at once. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve unlocked your themes yet—which is the heart of every story.
Themes and motifs most often emerge while you’re actually writing your book — that’s when you’ll start noticing patterns in the symbolism that you’re using and the messages that you’re conveying. Time and again, an author will only figure out what they’re trying to say only once they’ve finished the first draft. But if you’re outlining, never fear. As long as you keep this “big picture” top of mind while you’re constructing your scenes and sequences, then you’re already off to a running start.
4. Thinking of the outline as an extra step
If you ever find yourself thinking about your outline as a chore to get over with, or start to drag your feet whenever you return to your outline, stop. Drop your pencil. Turn to a blank page in your notebook. And just start writing your book.
You should think of the outline as the first step of your book, but the fun part is that it’s over whenever you want it to be over. You don’t necessarily need to plot out your entire story in order to have “officially” finished outlining. Even a broad sketch of your book’s arc is good enough to be your story’s guideposts in the future! After all, nobody’s grading your outline: it’s just a tool for you, so go along with it only as far as you need to.
So don’t feel compelled to outline every single nitty-gritty detail of your story. When you begin to see the outline as an extra step — not just the first — then that’s probably a sign that you’re ready to move on and start writing your book.
5. Spending too much time outlining
Last but not least, remember that an outline is not your be-all-end-all goal. It’s not the pot of gold at the rainbow. That should be your book. Not to mention that a first draft will always be subject to some rewriting anyway!
So don’t make the mistake that many authors make: spending so much time obsessing over their outline that they never get around to writing the actual book. There’s a point when outlining actually becomes counterproductive to your purposes because it’s stalling you from plunging ahead with your book.
Some authors find it difficult to move on from outlining because their outline has become too much of a safety net. Stepping out from that comfort zone to actually confront that blank page might be one scary leap, but take that leap with faith. Who knows? At the end of it, you might just emerge with a fully-formed book that’s ready to submit to publishers in the UK and all over the world — made all the better for the effort that you put into outlining it.
About the Author
Rose Atkinson-Carter is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with the world’s best self-publishing resources and professionals like editors, designers, and ghostwriters. She lives in London.
by Stacy | Nov 10, 2021 | Behind the Rewrite, Characters, Plot, Scene-Writing
Hi, my name is Maureen Fisher. As a guest blogger on Behind the Rewrite, I’m delighted to share my editing experience at Stacy Juba’s competent hands.
After reading Stacy’s 10-page edit summary of Deadly Thanksgiving (A Senior Sleuth Mystery – Book 2), I realized I’d committed some unforgivable sins as an author. Aaaaaack! I’m told my wails terrified dogs five blocks away. After the dogs and finally I quit howling, I proceeded to consume my body weight in chocolate accompanied by a vast quantity of red wine. I don’t recommend this combo.
Once I recovered, I re-read Stacy’s comments and—with great reluctance and eye rolling—I admitted that yeah, I had to make changes. Major changes.
All joking aside, Stacy Juba conducted what could have been a devastating edit with remarkable gentleness and compassion. Deadly Thanksgiving is now a stronger book, one I can be proud of.
These are my top five changes, none of which an author wants to hear.
Change #1: Unsympathetic Protagonist
As backstory, my main protagonist (Clara, a co-owner of Grizzly Gulch Guest Ranch), had indulged in a short but steamy affair involving Hawk (a Mountie and her love interest in Deadly Thanksgiving) before fleeing home, dumping him in a text message then ghosting him. At the beginning of the book, they re-connect when a group of guests arrives along with a corpse bungeed into a seat of their mini coach.
Stacy pointed out that it would be helpful if we knew earlier in the story why Clara took off on Hawk without saying goodbye. That way, the reader would understand her motivations. As it stood, the explanation of why she’d left came too late, allowing readers to form an unfavorable impression of her. Also, when she first meets him again, she came across as defensive and a bit antagonistic when he’d done nothing wrong. She was the one who just took off. No wonder he was upset.
No author ever wants to create an unsympathetic protagonist. It’s amazing how I hadn’t realized readers would not regard Clara with as much affection as I did. How could they? They’d only just met her.
My Solution: This was a vital, though relatively contained modification. Here is the final version in the scene where Hawk first confronts Clara about the breakup:
“How did you find me?” I asked.
‘I’ll explain later.” He removed his red Calgary Flames baseball cap and ran long fingers through his lovely dark hair threaded with more white strands than I remembered. He jammed his cap back on and took a deep breath. “I didn’t take you for a coward. A phone call warning me you’d dumped me and flown home, would also have been a nice touch.” His expression spoke of anger and something else, perhaps sadness.
Shame brought heat to my cheeks. Hawk had every right to be upset, but how could I admit I’d fallen in love with him and done the only thing I could think of to save myself from more heartache. I’d abandoned the unsettling thrill of romance in favor of safety, something that had been all too lacking during my traumatic childhood and painful marriage. Worse, like the coward I was, I’d broken the news in a polite text message containing an apology along with an assurance the fault was all mine, not his, because I was too damaged to conduct a normal relationship.
Although Hawk didn’t realize it, he was fortunate I’d stepped out of his life.
“How did you get assigned to this particular case?” I asked, side-stepping his very valid accusation of cowardice.
Change #2: Faulty Police Procedure
Stacy pointed out that the police procedure in Deadly Thanksgiving didn’t ring true. While it is a cozy mystery, not a police procedural, Hawk came across as unbelievable as a police officer (Mountie) even for a cozy. Although the initial death did not appear to be a murder, procedure would dictate that he interview all of these suspects individually, not just as a group. I couldn’t do that because the book is written in my heroine’s point of view (first person), and I wanted readers to meet the suspects during the questioning. Also, it wouldn’t be realistic for a Mountie to partner with civilians on a case in an undercover investigation, so Clara couldn’t be his accomplice—something, as the author, I wanted her to be. Additionally, he wouldn’t just be able to simply abandon his other law enforcement duties to work 24/7 on this one case.
My Solution: Instead of making Hawk a full-fledged Mountie, he became a retired Mountie and close friend of the officer-in-charge. That way, when several more attempted murders occur at Grizzly Gulch Guest Ranch, Hawk is able to pose as a family friend and move into one of the onsite guest suites to keep an eye on matters, essentially acting as an undercover agent. That way, it’s easy for him to participate in brainstorming sessions about the suspects, offer advice, and use his contacts to help move the investigation along.
Change #3: Heroine Needs to Do More Sleuthing, Less Deferring
Stacy gently pointed out that Clara doesn’t do much sleuthing other than talk to Hawk about what he’d found out through background checks and calling in favors. The investigation only moves forward because of his sleuthing. As the main protagonist, Clara should find out these things herself.
My Solution: Since Hawk was no longer the Mountie in charge, I was able to swap Clara in as an informal chief investigator. This was probably the most labor-intensive and complicated part of the rewrite as it affected most of the book. At the same time, I had to find alternative activities to keep both Hawk and the Mountie-in-charge busy while reflecting Clara’s expanded role.
Change #4: Sagging Middle
Stacy mentioned that after a crisis during goat yoga, it felt as if a lot of time was spent on appeasing one of the characters, which made the pacing lag. For a few chapters, not much was happening with the mystery.
My Solution: I chopped a couple of chapters, had Clara placate the aggrieved party with gifts and a heartfelt apology, nothing elaborate involving decisions, planning, and a dramatic execution, none of which moved the plot ahead.
Change #5: Climax is Too Predictable
Stacy said, and I quote, “I liked the twist … but again, we lost the whodunnit/puzzle aspect early in the third act.”
My Solution: Sorry, no spoilers. You must read Deadly Thanksgiving to find out how I solved it and kept the villain’s identity a secret until the last possible moment.
More About The Book
Buy it on Amazon.
“I had a number of laugh-out-loud moments and once actually, truly, spit out some tea.”
“So funny I almost had an accident. Laughed and laughed hysterically! Loved it! Absolutely fabulous!”
Hi, I’m Clara Foster, co-owner and event manager of Alberta’s Grizzly Gulch Guest Ranch. My two sisters and I inherited the place at an age when most sensible women contemplate retirement. No one ever called us sensible.
It has been an uphill struggle. Due to extensive damage from a rogue summer tornado, the only way to avoid foreclosure is to win a lucrative hospitality contest, and that requires multiple five-star reviews. Too bad the arrival of a mini-coach full of geriatric guests, one of them a corpse, threatens to derail our gala Thanksgiving event. Worse, the retired Mountie I dumped four months ago shows up seeking closure.
It soon is apparent (though not provable) that the deceased was murdered, and everyone on board the mini-coach has a motive. To compound matters, this is our second murder of the year. Our slogan might as well be, “Try Grizzly Gulch getaways; they’re to die for.” Our guests must never learn of another murder or we might as well kiss the contest goodbye and file for bankruptcy.
The only sensible solution is for me to join forces—and possibly a whole lot more—with my former flame to smoke out a killer while hiding the murder from our guests.
Tensions mount when several near-fatal “accidents” occur.
Action bounces from a perilous nature walk to an unfortunate goat yoga incident, a mechanical bull mishap, a savage cat, an electrical malfunction, and a staff medical crisis, all culminating in a Thanksgiving feast our guests will never forget.
Warning: This book may contain nuggets of naughty boomer humor.
More About Maureen
Among other things, Maureen is an author of funny & furry adventures & misadventures, guaranteed to tickle the funny bone, lift the spirits, & warm the heart! All her books contain characters you can relate to, an animal or two, and always tons of humor. As Charlie Chaplin once said, “A day without humor is a day wasted.”
Transplanted from Scotland to Canada at the tender age of seven, she’s a voracious reader, bridge player, yoga enthusiast, animal lover, seeker of personal and spiritual growth, pickleball enthusiast, and infrequent but avid gourmet cook. Most of all, she and her husband love to travel. She’s swum with sharks in the Galapagos, walked with Bushmen in the Serengeti, sampled lamb criadillas (don’t ask!!!) in Iguazu Falls, snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef, ridden an elephant in Thailand, watched the sun rise over Machu Picchu, and bounced from Johannesburg to Cape Town for 16 days on a bus called ‘Marula’.
Visit her on the web:
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