For years I thought I had a solid draft of the second Yeshiva Girl book tucked away, just waiting for the first book to be published so I could neaten it up and publish it soon after. But last year, when I opened the file on my computer and looked at the draft, I was underwhelmed. It was a mess. There were at least three competing versions of the story running around, all incomplete. I had added to, and revised, the file over the years without remembering most of what I’d done.
Reading through what I had, finally, I realized that I was still undecided about where the book should even be set, in time or space. Parts were set in high school, parts were set in college, parts were set in Izzy’s grandparents’ house, and parts were set in a skating rink.
One of the dangers of writing autobiographical fiction is that it’s hard to know which details from real life to keep, and which ones to change. The second Yeshiva Girl book will have to be even less memoir than book one, because I made such a point of giving Izzy a soft place to land in book one, something I didn’t have in real life.
I want Izzy to have a better life than I’ve had, with love and children and professional success, but I don’t want to downplay the impacts of trauma, because I know better. I want to find a way to let Izzy struggle, so that other survivors can be validated and recognize their own struggle in hers. I want people to know that child abuse, of every kind, leaves deep scars, and that expecting victims to recover on their own, without support, is unrealistic. That’s just not how humans work. But, I still want Izzy to have a happier life than I’ve had. That’s why I gave her a living grandfather, even though my own grandfather died when I was eight years old. And I want to play that out for her, how having that safe place at age sixteen makes a difference in her life, but also, I want to show that it won’t be a magical cure either.
It feels like there are at least ten ways to write the second book, and I almost need to write out all ten in order to feel like I’ve done the work and gotten as much as I need to get out of the process of writing it. In the end, that’s what I did with the first book. I was satisfied with what was on the page because I’d had the chance to write, and delete, every other possible version of the story.
One of the decisions I have to make is about using flashbacks. I have been told, too many times, about the danger of telling stories in flashback. I had a fiction teacher in graduate school who was fierce about the things we shouldn’t use in our writing. Like, no dreams, no flashbacks, and no stories about girls getting their periods.
I really think the second Yeshiva Girl book would benefit from flashbacks, so that I can set the book further in the future without losing good details from the in-between years. And I want to use dreams. I have found dreams to be incredibly vivid in their ability to show how things feel.
Also, for my own wish fulfillment, I want Izzy’s father to go to jail, or die, or get some fair comeuppance, because my real father did not. I joke that God sent at least ten plagues his way, but none of them worked. The fact is that he has never acknowledged his guilt, or responsibility, for anything.
It’s these endless inner conflicts that keep getting in my way, but they are also the reason why I need to write this book in the first place. I’m just not sure how to speed up the work, so that I’ll still have time to write everything else I need to write before I run out of energy. Or time.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.
Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?
So many people read fiction to be able to escape from their problems. What if you didn’t have to worry about making so many points in your book? What would happen if you just started writing without all of that and made it interesting and just see what happened? Maybe you would surprise yourself? 🙂
God bends over whoever reflects the Light of Truth!
Half the universe will conspire against, and a half in favor.
Have Faith, because the One Who did Win, Reigns;
And He will love you and defend you!
“Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.”
Maybe there is some comeuppance in missing out on being a true loving giving person. How sad to be alive and to not know these things. Or as John Prine sang, “some humans ain’t human”.
That’s actually beautiful! Thank you!
to love is to give oneself!
I can relate to having 10 different ways for how to tell my story. Also, my heart goes out to you. I pray that as you work through how to tell your story, that you also find healing.
You’re going to be super busy in the days ahead. You’ll get there in the end.
Thank you! I hope so!
I hope that you stop struggling soon. I am so looking forward to that next book! 🙂
Best wishes, Pete.
I agree. You have to do Izzy justice. And dreams are vivid encounters with the truth. Recently I dreamt I found a pair of new red shoes, still in their box. I loved them on sight. As I opened the box one turned white. I was so disappointed but took them out anyway. When I put them on they both became white! Crazy, right? But I know what it meant. Let Izzy tell her story.
That’s awesome! Thank you!
I’m not a writer but I love that you have all these ideas in your head. So much better than sitting down and not being able to think of one thing. You will get this, Rachel. You have something to tell us every Saturday evening, without fail. You will get this.
Thank you! I hope you’re right!
Write what you feel, make it what you KNOW it NEEDS to be. Peace, Rachel.
You’re most welcome!
I’m glad to hear you are working on the sequel. I wish I had some advice but all I can say is I’ll read it when it’s published.
Thank you so much!
Yes, I totally understand about your struggles with t he 2nd book! Me too, and this next one would be my 7th book, and it’s still driving me crazy!! I wanted to write another cookbook,but so far I just have recipes, (40!) but no clear theme, and thiscauses me stress! it’s boring with just recipes, even with a paragraph or two before the recipe; it’s a big struggle. I want to incorpporate some memoir, but too, not rrepeat myself. Hard stuff. All writing is difficult, no matter which one. But ,as a famous writiter once said,write sh..” I can’t remember who said that!! Good luck!
Ha! Thank you!
A second book would be great, and I understand your desire for Izzy’s father to meet justice. And since you are the author you can choose whatever literary methods you wish and create the ending you want.
I just finished reading Yeshiva Girl and couldn’t put it down! I’ll put a review on Amazon and Goodreads. Now a second book? I’m looking forward to it. As for the rules about flashbacks and dreams, there is also a rule that you can break rules. Whatever works. I know you’ll figure it out. Your sequel may be better yet.
Thank you so much!!!
Best of luck! You have chosen to write in a difficult genre, though many writers infuse their own difficult experiences into their stories.
I completely relate about the book writing and trying to find files and remembering where I last left off. And I think you ahould send him to jail! Creeps like that deserve consequences!
Wouldn’t that be awesome?!!
I’ve read many books in which flashbacks have been effective. If it were me, I would try it out to see if it works.
I will! Thank you!
No flashbacks. No dreams. Why not? You can write whatever you want, anyway you want. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Go with your gut.
You are a brilliant writer. Trust yourself, your sequel is going to be amazing.
Thank you so much!
Don’t let anyone, not even a teacher, tell you what to or not to write. Follow your heart and trust your instincts.
Thank you! I will try!
Reading this was timely for me because I have just published a blog post myself about biographical writing. I have experienced similar conflicts, because what I want to write for my own satisfaction may not “follow the rules” or appeal to readers. Perhaps you could write a “first edition” of your next book just for yourself, then – if necessary – a “second edition” adapted for the marketplace?
That makes sense. Thank you!
I like this idea! That’s basically what I am doing right now, as I’m getting near the end of a very rough first draft of my memoir.
It will come to you. Just keep looking at that little Happy Girl face! Shes so cute!
Just go with your instinct and work your way through all the options. You’ll know which is the best.
I recently read Snow in August which has a fair amount of back-and-forth and I found it effective. Have you read it?
I’ll look for it. Thank you!
I agree with the comments that you must follow your heart on how you want this story told. Even if the story is not completely true to your reality, your experiences are very real and will come through in the way they are supposed to in this novel. Your story is very meaningful and I am so thankful that you are writing it down.:).
Thank you so much!
Write out all ten in order to get that feeling! Writing can be therapy, and I think you will figure it out. Good luck! ❤
Are there going to be dogs in the second book? I vote for dogs.
Dogs make everything better!
What I’ve been told about flashbacks (in a creative writing class) is that the difficulty is the ‘getting back to the here and now’ of the story, from the flashback. All you have to do is be careful.
Also, sometimes it helps me phrase things better when I read them aloud to myself…
My suggestion would be to write it the way that feels the most natural and satisfying to you. You don’t have to make any points for others, you simply need to tell this story the best way you can. It’s part autobiographical, but remember that the real joy of fiction is that you get to decide how things turn out this time….
My input: Yes, use flashbacks – they reveal the fulcrum of your pain. Love this post, Rachel!
Each book offers new challenges – truth has a way of getting complicated in real life.
Write your truth wherever it takes you.
I will try! Thank you!
It’s your book, don’t let one teacher’s opinion keep you from writing it the way you want. J. K. Rowling used dreams and a manor of flashbacks in magical visits to the past and look how successful her books were.
I never thought of that! Thank you!
Well, the process is a big part of the fun. Be as creative as you want! 🙂
I will try! Thank you!
I guess I want to know if that is the next book for you to write. I would remain open to the possibility that something else is in the background. Perhaps a book for kids about the healing power of a dog.
Very insightful! Part of the problem has been trying to decide which projects to work on first, and why.
I actually had fun last night imagining the book for kids using dogs(yours of course)to heal from distressing situations.
Don’t worry, Rachel. You have the time to write your way to the story you want to tell the way you want to tell it. If it’s anything like the first Yeshiva Girl, it’ll be awesome.
Thank you so much!
Hello Rachel, I think you’re an awesome writer! I believe we are our own worst critics. Personally, it takes me many many attempts to write one paragraph about me, how tough can that be.
If you do decide to write a children’s book about the healing power of dogs (as a break from the novel) Charlie (airport therapy dog) and I would love to promote that one.
In the sequel let Izzy do something unexpected, out of character.
I just really want to read it even more now. And you’ll do an amazing job, I know you will
I finished your book last week on kindle. I found it fascinating. The setting of Izzy coming of age was a perfect place to tell the story. I really liked the way you just told bits and pieces of Izzy’s story as the book progressed. I found the story very sad and if this is your own experience I am sorry that you had to go through it. Keep writing.
Thank you so much!
You are welcome!
Do read my new post and tell me what you think.
I love flashbacks, and wrote my first novel in a series of them, lol. One of my beta readers (my harshest but best critic) told me to dump them but I refused. Honestly, they were my favorite chapters to write. In fact, I think the sequel will have them, too. 😉
That’s inspiring! Thank you!
The rules for writing are good and serve a purpose – but never feel chained to them if your story needs to use flashbacks or dreams to get out. God bless you. I’m so sorry you landed in such a hard place, as did I. My father paid with his life eventually, but not until after he had sexually abused my two younger sisters as well. How I wish he had gone to prison – but God is the greatest Judge and his punishment is everlasting.
I’m so sorry it took so long for your father to see consequences. It always takes too long.
I also struggle with how to structure the story I want to write. But I want to encourage you – your instincts about what works with your story trump the general advice. You write so well that I think you’ll have a feeling about it’s suitability when you get it down in black and white. Need a beta reader?
Rachel, are you in a writing group? The feedback from fellow writers is invaluable. I meet once a month with a diverse group that writes poetry, plays, novels, non-fiction, autobiographies, etc. They will see the solutions for places where I’m stuck with my own writing – or let me know when I’m on the right track. What you’re experiencing right now is an annoying but absolutely essential part to the writing process. Keep with it! The Muse will reward you!
When you put your work away for a while and return later, then you see your mistakes. Don’t give up.
Exactly: “child abuse, of every kind, leaves deep scars, and that expecting victims to recover on their own, without support, is unrealistic.”
For the same reasons, I am trying to mold my WiP to show those points, while making it a sufficiently entertaining story, divorcing it from myself by making the protag. a man.
The world needs to here this. Never give up.
Thank you! And good luck with your work!
Thank you. L’Shannah Tovah Tichtevti