All writers work differently, but we all come to a point where we’re ready to start something brand-new -- something that seems to have spontaneously generated in our minds within the past year, something we have no prior experiences with and is not of the species that can be described thus: “I’ve always wanted to write about that so I’ll store my ideas for years until I get around to it.”
I have reached that point with a novel I’m, for now, calling Teshuvah. Teshuvah is the Hebrew word for repentance and also connected to the idea of return. For a year or two I’ve been fascinated with the return of the Jews to the land that was promised them by God millennia ago, and that began in earnest in 1882 with Russian and Romanian Jewish pioneers. Do you remember in Fiddler on the Roof how the matchmaker Yente decided to go to Palestine when the Jews were forced to leave Anatevka? That was 1905. Anyway, a story took hold of my heart of a Jewish girl who’s part of one of the first groups to return to make the desert land of Palestine blossom with fruit again.
So, since this idea is so fresh, it’s got a lot of maturing yet, at least in the realm of research. I know some things about my subject but not nearly enough -- I’m not discouraged, though, because I enjoy the process of learning. For example, I’m quite familiar with Jewish names, but I haven’t studied Romanian Jews much, so I was unsure of what names they used. This week I dove into books and the internet for a while and emerged successful, because I found a name for one of my more important characters: Eleazar Mandelbaum. At last one of these characters that are already nicely forming has a handle … and that’s a very satisfying feeling.
Now, this story is still in such an early stage that even the few things I’ve told you may change. But I thought a post about a novel’s initial germination would be interesting, not just a flashback but as something that’s happening right now.
It’s been a few years since I’ve started a novel from scratch. Do you have any thoughts or tips about starting out a longer work?