Tuesday, May 21, 2013

WRITING a Book Series By Rita Karnopp

Have you considered writing a book series but the mere idea made you run in the other direction?  Book series are very popular – and there are good reasons.  The reader becomes invested in the characters and they don’t want the story to end.  Or, we are truly interested in finding out what happened to our characters years later.

When I came up with an idea to write about the Gypsies during WWII, I decided to name it Tango of Death (Tango de Fung).  When I proposed the book to my publisher, she asked if I could do a trilogy.  What?  Three books?  Uh, you always say ‘yes’ when asked such a question by your publisher.  But now the plot I’d been tossing around in my mind for over ten years had to change.  Could I write a trilogy?  It sounded like a daunting task.

I created a story involving gypsies, partisans and Jews.  Hmmm . . . how would I connect them? It didn’t take me long to consider writing about three sisters and creating a separate story for each.  I came up with Gypsy Spirit, Partisan Heart, and Jewish Soul.  I loved the titles and the concept.  Since I’m visual I was thrilled my published gave me my covers – what an inspiration they were.

I approached the series like any other book; a combination of characters, settings and plots.

There were certain absolutes.  All three books would take place in Poland and Germany during 1943 and involve the holocaust.  I didn’t want it to be the ‘same-old’ . . . so I painstakingly researched for those bits of information that were new.  I watched documentaries and read exhaustively.  The dress, vehicles, music, food, and even slang had to be 1940s.

I knew I wanted to ‘sparingly’ use Polish, German, Roma, Yiddish, and of course English as the main language.  It would be tricky to give the flavor of all these languages and still make sure the reader knew what was being said.

A sense of place was vital and I wanted nothing to do with sensationalizing, I wanted everything to sound, smell, feel, taste, and look 1940s Poland and Germany.  City names and layout had to be authentic as did rivers and bridges.

Even more serious, I used infamous Nazi officers and partisans and had to be careful not to place them in my story where they couldn’t have been during the timeframe. They couldn’t have ten children in my book if they didn’t have ten children in history.  I wanted to kill one of the Nazi officers, then remembered he didn’t die for five more years. 

I had to account for the terrain and how long it would take to reach certain destinations.  Vehicles and roads were different than they are now, and horseback or wagon timeframes had to be taken into account.

In book #1, Gypsy Spirit, I set the scene and introduced the sisters.  I developed a way for them to be separated . . . and an agreed meeting place for after the war (if they survived). Then Zilka took the story away . . .

In book #2, Partisan Heart, I had to create a way for the sister who ran off with her love to join the partisans, struggle with her conscious, go back to her kumpania, only to find all her people dead.  Vanya became tightly involved with the partisans and the Nazi infiltration of the Polish underground.

By book #3, Jewish Soul, the reader can only hope the third sister, Mayla, has fared better, safe with their mother and grandmother in Switzerland, or is she.  Will they ever be to together again?  Book three must tie all the loose-ends and develop an ending that will satisfy the reader – and even keep them thinking about all three girls long after they close the cover.

Hints for a series:  Keep a separate three-by-five notebook for each book.  Jot down all information you want to address in each book.  Some information comes to you during book one, two or even planning in book three.  You might have to foreshadow in your earlier books . . . that is why planning . . . at least the skeleton of all three stories should happen before starting page one of book one.

Keep an ‘electronic’ file called ‘notes’ for each separate book.  I never take time to hand-write notes if I can copy and paste them into an electronic file.  I might jot a written reminder in my notebook to cross-reference my electronic notes, but I keep it all until the final words are written.

I work on my hard-drive.  Save your work several times a day.  But, at the end of the day – I always save the same work out to a flash drive.  If you’ve ever lost a day’s work … or more (which I have) . . .  you’ll never let it happen to you again!

It’s strange – but nothing has been more satisfying as writing my trilogy, Tango of Death.  If you read book #1, Gypsy Spirit, and were upset when they closed the door to the gas chamber – don’t give up hope – if you’ve read Gypsy Spirit and Partisan Heart – and are upset when those heavy doors start closing – dong’ give up faith  . . . book three, Jewish Soul, has more twists and turns . . . and creates incredible tense situations, and - - - if you’ve hung in there . . . ‘satisfaction’ for the reader . . . and my Gypsy girls.

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