Why All Who Are Lost ends where it does…

Or How I Turned One Book into Three!

When I decided to publish the Ashmore’s Folly story, I faced a problem: The story wasn’t even finished, and it was almost half a million words. My estimate was that it would end up being about 600,000 words — far too long for any traditional publisher these days, and too long for a reader to take a chance on. Pricing would scare readers off. Not to mention that I needed to get the first and second parts of the story out there so that I would have the gun at my head to finish the third. (I’m a terrible procrastinator.)

How did I know where to stop the first story? The second book? What creative decisions went into making Meg’s discovery the last chapter in All Who Are Lost? Why does All That Lies Broken end on a cliffhanger?

I am sorry to say that the Muses did not help (although listening to Muse probably did). I did approach this all along as one big story and not a series. The difference? The In Death books are a series. While character and narrative threads tie the books together, each story is self-contained. One big story? You need not look any further than Outlander. Imagine starting with Drums of Autumn or The Fiery Cross without ever reading Outlander. The stories in those books won’t make sense unless you start from the beginning. For that matter, some of the events in Dragonfly in Amber won’t resonate unless you know what happened between Jamie and Black Jack in Outlander. This is a story that you cannot read out of order. The In Death books? Of course you can read in any order you like. You might wonder at a reference to something that happened in another book, and if you start with one of the more recent books you won’t understand the anguish Eve went through over her childhood, but by and large you can read each story by itself.

I knew my story was one big arc, but it had to be divided up. For that, I used the idea of the three-act structure. Each book would be an act in a play, and each book would have three parts. This is a well-used structure that feels familiar and comfortable to readers. I’ve actually read some reviews of other books on Amazon where people complained that a story should have been a trilogy instead of five books. Three feels comfortable to readers; five does not. Strangely enough, seven is also a comfortable number (Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, even the structure of Tolkien).

So now I had to divide the story into a trilogy. How?

I read some warnings about never ending on a cliffhanger because readers don’t like them, and making sure that you end in a good place, and some other pieces of good advice that I’ve already forgotten. Then I thought — I like cliffhangers. I don’t mind leaving the characters in an uncertain position. I didn’t even scream when Diana Gabaldon left us in mid-conversation at the end of An Echo in the Bone (for three years!). I decided to do what felt right for the story and use whatever means worked, and to hell with the rules.

Tools? Excel worked.

That’s right. I created a spreadsheet, did a word count on each chapter, and (with the eventual goal of 600K words) roughly balanced the story into three parts. Once I had a word count down, I started looking at the character and narrative arcs. I wanted the first book to end with Richard and Laura sort of together, each accepting that they are now a couple. Richard in particular had to be brought along from his initial reluctance, and it’s at Monticello that he tells her that they are “well and truly caught.” I actually thought about ending the first book there, except that it left a piece of Diana’s story dangling to the second book. I wanted to get the back story of the Ashmore marriage out of the way before Book 2 so that everyone can stop concentrating on what happened then and start worrying about what is happening now.

So I shifted the last chapter about the Ashmore marriage to the first book. Then I had to decide: did it go before or after the Monticello chapter? In fact, the placement of some of Diana’s chapters gave me a great deal of trouble as I tried to figure out the optimum narrative flow. I finally decided that, even though the last Diana chapter does not put either Richard or Diana in the best light, it should come after Richard and Laura talk in the Monticello summerhouse. I used the argument prosecutors use when they have a witness with a less than sterling past: Bring out the bad in direct, because it dilutes the impact when the defense brings it up later. (Thanks to the late great Vincent Bugliosi for that idea!) Richard does say that, in the last big fight he and Diana had, neither one of them had ever behaved so badly in their lives, so when Diana remembers their last fight, the impact of some of his unforgivable comments is diluted by his prior admission to Laura. Placing the last Diana chapter after Monticello allowed me to place the penultimate Diana chapter (the discovery) before Monticello, so that the reader gets Diana’s version of the Francie affair first (putting Richard in a bad light), and then Richard gets to tell his side of the story. So you know that he has accepted responsibility for what he did and that he feels a great deal of shame over it, but — I hope — you don’t hate him for it.

Still, ending All Who Are Lost on Diana’s declaration of War on Mr. Perfect didn’t feel right. The next chapter up was Lucy’s meeting with Diana in the coffee shop, and that was definitely not the place to end the book. So I looked at the timeline and tried to decide when and where Meg discovers the truth of her parentage, and I realized that it had to occur sometime on the weekend that Richard and Laura spend together. I pulled some narrative I had already written for the next two books, wrote the “missing moment” of Meg’s discovery, and created Chapter 24. Since Meg is also an important character whose actions affect the future plot line, I thought it important to give some insight into what makes her tick.

The other consideration was the character growth of both Richard and Laura from the beginning through Monticello. As the story opens, Richard is a reserved man who keeps everything about his personal life to himself. He does not “kiss and tell.” He has never kissed and told. But Laura and the reader still need to hear his side of the Francie affair, and he has to come to a place where he feels comfortable enough, and is willing to take the chance, to tell her (and us) what had happened. We all know a lot more about Richard after Monticello, and we now know that this was a big turning point in his life. He screwed up, big time. But it led to a spiritual awakening on his part and, eventually, Francie ended up making him a better man. He was a self-righteous prig when he was younger; he did sit on his moral high horse with Diana. Francie brought him down a peg, and he’s a better man for his monumental moral failing.

He’s also been in stasis most of his adult life, as far as women go. He’s had a few relationships, but while he cared for the women, he kept them at arm’s length. This man has kept his emotions and passion in a deep freeze. By the end of All Who Are Lost, he is partially defrosted (the rest will occur halfway through All That Lies Broken), and he is at least open to a relationship with Laura.

Laura has also been in stasis. She stayed in a marriage with a man she never loved enough until it ended for them both. She has consistently put the welfare of her daughter before her own. Cam wanted to keep Laura to himself, and she let him to the point where she has never learned how to exist on her own. As the book progresses, Laura begins to grow up and out. She lives by herself for the first time in her life. She makes decisions. She stands up to Richard (as Diana said, where would Laura get the nerve to fight with him?). She stands up to Lucy, an even scarier prospect! She admits her feelings to him — not only her love for him, but her fury against him for Francie. She finally allows herself to remember what she did to him at Ash Marine. And, at Monticello, after getting so jealous of Francie’s memory that she makes a complete fool of herself, she realizes that she isn’t her seventeen-year-old self anymore. She doesn’t have to be jealous of a girl, because she is a woman. The boy Richard had been is not enough for her now; she wants the man with the nicked soul and banged-up heart. She still hasn’t told him the truth of what she did — we have two-thirds of the story to go — but Laura is now on an emotional par with Richard.  She is ready to deal with the man as a woman.

At the beginning of the story, Laura still sees Richard through the prism of a childhood crush: she refers to him several times as Prince Charming, she thinks of him as the prince of her childhood, she is nervous and horrified that he might know her feelings about him. That’s infatuation. By the end of the first book, she is meeting him as an adult woman, an equal. She no longer sees him as a fairy tale prince; she sees the lonely soul who has stumbled and fallen and picked himself up. She sees him as a man.

So All Who Are Lost ends with Richard and Laura in a better place than where they started off and Meg learning the truth about who she really is. We can now launch into the events of All That Lies Broken.

Whew! This is a long post! More later on how I assembled All That Lies Broken.

Read More

What’s in a Title?

One of the hardest decisions I had to make in writing the Ashmore’s Folly Trilogy was one of the most important:

What in the heck was I going to call this thing? Or things, once I broke it into three?

Ashmore’s Folly

The Ashmore’s Folly part was easy. It had been Brandon’s Folly to me for a long time, and indeed, that was a title on the shortlist when it was still all one long story. (Why Brandon? Because Richard was Richard Brandon for years and years, until someone pointed out that it was one letter off Richard Branson, who couldn’t be more different from my Richard). Not only is Richard’s folly with Francie a prime mover in this story, but I had in mind a grand architectural folly as well. So Ashmore’s Folly came naturally.

Here are some of the titles I assigned to the one long story over the years, in no particular order:

  • To Lay a Ghost (from a comment Richard makes to Laura after their first night together). I liked the double meaning, as she thought of herself as a “ghost of a girl” and you get rid of a ghost by laying it…Need I explain?
  • Cat Seen by Candlelight (long ago title, from a scene that no longer exists). Now that I think about it, Richard gazing at Laura through a window as she brushes her hair was too reminiscent of the Highlander that Frank sees watching Claire in the beginning of Outlander, which I hadn’t even read at the time. Also, it seems stalkerish, even though Laura was in Richard’s bedroom as he watched her through the window. Stupid title anyway!
  • Bring My Sister Home (also long ago). As someone said, it sounded like a child abuse survivor novel.
  • My Sister’s Husband. Descriptive and to the point, but no. Just no.
  • Blood Between Us, Love. I really liked this one, a phrase from Christina Rossetti. It survives as a chapter title. However, I didn’t think it quite captured the emotions in the story, and it could just as easily fit a vampire novel.
  • Across the Years. This is actually an old title. It did not, however, really convey everything I needed it to convey. It does survive as part of a recurrent phrase about time and tide and years, which could not destroy the bond between these two people who met as children.
  • Woe to You, Sister. This one, a phrase from a folk song, survives as a chapter title in the third book. It fits the chapter perfectly. Book title? It would have been a disaster.
  • Remnants of a Late Afternoon. Another title I really liked, but too long, and it mires them in the past. It does survive as the title for Part III in the first book.
  • Dominic’s Daughters. I came close to using this one, as the dynamic among the sisters is core to the story. But I felt that it sidelined Richard, who is half of the story.
  • Brandon’s Folly. I changed Richard’s last name anyway, for the reason detailed above. Why not call the story that? Because this is a story about both Laura and Richard, and not just the mistake Richard made as a much younger man.
  • Laughed Among the Ashes. This survives as a phrase in a pivotal scene in the first book.

Once I decided to split the story into its three natural sections (I will discuss how I made the split in another post), I then had to come up with not one but three titles. The trend for trilogies is to tie the titles together with a word or phrase (think of Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades Freed). So I started playing with ideas. Since this trilogy is really one long story in which the hero comes out of stasis and the heroine journeys to become the woman she was always meant to be, I explored words that suggested the hero’s journey. “The Journey Home” was already a chapter title in the first book, and it fit that chapter so well that I did not think it belonged on the entire book. And then, for some reason, the word “all” came into mind.

One of my favorite songs from a musical is from Kismet: “And This is My Beloved.” The lyrics, “All that can stir, all that can stun, all that’s for the heart’s lifting” kept running through my mind, as if the universe were saying, “Listen up here!” I could imagine Laura singing that song with all the love she had felt across the years for Richard. So I listened. And I decided that “All” should be the unifying word in the trilogy titles.

All Who Are Lost

I wanted the theme of loss. Some of the characters are living half-lives, unable to move beyond self-inflicted losses. Ironically, as well, the character who is the most successful in worldly terms thinks of herself as a “loser” and has come to accept that as her fate.

I also wanted to convey the idea of wandering, as I felt that more than one character was wandering aimlessly through life. And then — even though I really don’t care for Tolkien — it put me in mind of his phrase: Not all who wander are lost.

But, in the first part of my story, those who wander through their lives are lost. Richard loses his parents in Chapter 1 and now stands alone, the last of his blood. Laura loses her father in Chapter 2, she lost her mother soon after birth, and she has long since lost the sister closest to her. Chapter 3 brings a shocking loss. Then there are the lost souls: Julie, certainly, and Diana as well. Francie is long since lost. Meg loses her identity, her sense of her place in her family.

Richard and Laura are lost as well, both trapped in static existences, successful in their public lives but unable to move beyond the terrible mistakes each made when they were young.

In fact, of the major characters, the only one who is not lost is Lucy Maitland.

All That Lies Broken

This was the easiest. In an important scene, Lucy says that “something always gets broken.” A lot breaks in this book — loyalties, family, property. By the end of Book 2, an entire artificial existence, carefully constructed by a master strategist who could not escape his own destiny, breaks wide open.

All That Burns the Dark

As this title is still tentative, I will add to this discussion later. Suffice it to say that “fire” and “burning” are thematic, as Laura goes through a trial by fire (a crucible, so to speak). The Catholic idea of purgatory lies very much beneath the surface.


Read More