Please welcome back Yona Zeldis McDonough, the award-winning author of seven novels, twenty-seven books for children and numerous essays, articles, and short stories; her latest novel is The House on Primrose Pond. Yona is also the editor of two anthologies and the Fiction Editor of Lilith Magazine. She makes her home in Brooklyn, New York.
I’ve always been intrigued by the novel-within-the-novel format but had never attempted it in one of my own books. The idea gnawed at me though and when I found an opportunity where I thought it would work, I jumped at it.
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Juggling Act: Writing a Novel Within a Novel
In my latest novel, my protagonist Susannah is a writer of historical fiction. The other central character is her neighbor, a widow in her seventies—yet this story line and conflict between characters did not feel like enough to me. So I turned to New Hampshire history for inspiration—the story is set in a lakeside cabin in that state–and after some digging around, I came upon the story of Ruth Blay, who, in 1768, was the last woman hanged in the state. Her crime? Concealing the birth of an illegitimate child. As soon as I read this, I knew I had to incorporate it into the novel, and I “gave” my protagonist Ruth’s story to tell.
As I wrote, I soon found that Susannah and I were embarked on the same journey: how to bring this story to life, and what would be the best way to tell it. I had several concerns as I dealt with this historical material: where to place it within the larger novel, how much to use at any one time, how closely I should stick to the actual facts, and how much poetic license I could allow myself. I also wanted to establish a thematic connection between the two story lines. [Read more…]