Food For Thought

What’s Whey’n On Your Mind?

So you’ve all heard of Build-A-Bear. But have you heard of Build-A-Book?

I haven’t either. But that’s what the last 2 years of my life has revolved around (the last 17 actually, but who’s counting when it comes to writing fiction?).

In 2017, I signed a multi-book contract with Scarsdale Publishing and life took a turn. I was no longer working on the Winds of Fire series alone. I had a team of editors—yes, editorS!! who brainstormed, questioned, by-passed solutions and brought up cross-references when needed. They had my back—not just one book—but a series, and for that I’m forever grateful.

Until now, Book 1 was completed project which had been re-written, revised and edited to death—my death, that is. The book was ready to serve, like milk in a tetrapak or gallon-size bottle—whatever you prefer. At least I thought the book was ready to serve. All the characters were in place, the plot moved along nicely and all the GMC’s (Goals, Motivations, Conflicts) were neatly aligned and threaded in the fabric of story. I figured at the most the book needed a little more. But when I was told to bring in more backstory, layer the layers (already layered), change the story-skeleton and add new chapters to the book, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It reminded me of making pineapple sandesh (an Indian summer sweet)!

I didn’t just have to rewrite the story to improve flow, sentences, syntax, etc. I had to tear down the book, page by page and rebuild it all over. AGAIN.

I wanted to pull every strand of hair from my scalp and scream. Who wouldn’t after spending the last 15 or so years trying to put one story together (comprising of 3 books). I’d also spent the years improving my craft, technique, writing and learning the tools of the trade. Now I had to dig deeper, flesh out the characters more and understand the depths of their motivations—well, you can imagine what I was thinking – any cuss words come to mind?

Like a true professional writer, I sucked up my anger in one long deep breath (and many small ones) and began the tearing process, like splitting milk into its 2 components, curds and whey. Here’s how: pour some milk in a pan, leave it to boil and when the liquid reaches boiling point, squeeze in some lemon juice or some citric acid, mix with a spoon and watch the solid separate from the liquid. Then sieve the mix through a fine-mesh colander and tie up the soft, white cheese in a cheese cloth. Hang the cheese cloth (containing the solid white cheese) and allow the remaining liquid (whey) to drain away. This solid is also known in Indian cooking as paneer. It’s really not a pretty picture – explains why I don’t have one!

Let’s just say I reached my boiling point pretty quick and spent an enormous amount of time ripping book 1 to pieces. Curds and whey, hows and whys all over the gas stove. What a sight! I had to skin gut and flesh the book dry. I stuck more pins and needles in my characters until they bled fiercely on the page. At the end, I couldn’t see anything clearly. It was one huge bloody mess. How I cleaned that gas stove is another story for another day.

So I returned to the skeleton of book 1, took lots of shallow and deep breaths and rewrote chapter 1 on a blank sheet of paper. I built the foundation again. It was like draining a can of pineapple rings, making sure all extra fluff the story marinated in, the liquid, was gone and I left the pineapple slices on a paper towel to dry.  Because this was a huge rebuilding process, I submitted 2 chapters at a time to my publisher. If my hands-on editor saw any mistakes, she got back to me and I fixed the issues before moving ahead.

The next stage involved discussing the events of book 1, the characters’ motivations, splitting and adding new chapters and how these additions would tie in with future books in the series. This part of the process felt like folding and kneading in sugar and saffron into the paneer, (remember the solid Indian cheesy part of the milk) to make a sweet fragrant layer known as sandesh. I then scooped some sandesh and rolled it into a tube (like playing with very sticky playdoh). I laid one tube of sandesh on a slice of pineapple, flattened it gently with the tips of my fingers and aligned this layer to the shape of the pineapple.

The fun part came next. I sprinkled crushed cardamom powder and crushed bits of saffron on the sandesh and popped them in the fridge to cool. *If you wrap cellophane or Gladwrap on the pineapple platter by the way you’re bound to lose what you sprinkled, so keep it open and allow the fragrance to float in your refrigerator!*

OK, you’re asking…so how does this connect with re-building book 1?

Because I knew the details of the series I could sprinkle Easter Eggs / Macguffins / Seeds—whatever you’d like to call them. The more I brainstormed with my editorS, the more seeds I could plant in book 1. I found more connections between the books and wove in more plots and subplots—a very sweet experience indeed! It was so exciting, l felt like I was wrapping Christmas presents and couldn’t wait to stash them under the tree for a reader to unravel on the big day!

Twelve hours later, voila! Dessert is served! When I see what I’ve done so far, I’m amazed and take even more pride in the book. What I learned is simple: without a strong foundation, the structure won’t hold.

Have you completed a project that you had to crush and re-build from scratch? What did that experience involve and how did you feel at the end?