New York Times  Bestselling Author

The Midwife has her Say

TMC story board and meI turned in The Midwife’s Confession, my May 2011 book,  about a month ago and then waited a few weeks to hear what my editor thought about it. That’s always a nerve-wracking time.  A writer’s career is full of waiting to hear what other  people think — agents, editors, reviewers, and most importantly, readers.

I finally heard from my editor, and although she loved the book, she had some ideas. She always does, and they’re invariably good ones. Her idea regarding TMC was particularly good. The midwife, Noelle, is central to the story, of course, but she remains quite a mystery to the reader because she is not a point of view character. My editor’s suggestion (suggestion being an under-exaggeration of her feelings on the subject!) was to give Noelle more of a presence in the story. That should be easy, right? Just add one more point of view? Well, it would be easy if only Noelle didn’t kill herself in the first scene.

So I’ve been spending some time trying to figure out how to give Noelle more of a presence. I thought about the fourth book I wrote, Keeper of the Light*, in which Annie O’Neill dies in chapter one yet is undeniably the central character of the story. She had no point of view, but I made sure the reader knew her very well through the eyes of the other characters. Maybe I could make Noelle more central to the story through the eyes of others as I did with Annie? That wasn’t good enough for my editor, though. She really wanted Noelle’s voice in the story.

Then I thought about Kate in Secret Lives**. Kate is also dead in the beginning of the book, but she becomes a central character through her journal. Could I give Noelle a diary, perhaps? While it worked beautifully in Kate’s case, I thought it would have felt too contrived in Noelle’s.

Finally, I bit the bullet and did the only thing possible: I’m giving Noelle a point of view through her own chapters as I–and the reader–dig back into her past. As her creator, I knew her intriguing past and what led up to her confession,  but now the reader will get to be intrigued along with me.  As I write, I can’t believe I didn’t think of giving Noelle a more powerful presence myself. Sometimes we’re too close to our stories to see what’s obvious. This is what a good editor is all about. 

So now, it’s back to the storyboard (inspired in its current three act form above by my writing bud, Alexandra Sokoloff.) Changing a novel always reminds me of my days as a family therapist. When you change one part of the family system, it changes everything else. It’s no different with a story. To make room for Noelle’s voice, I first needed to cut some other threads and subplots. If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time, you might remember there were four Galloway Girls in The Midwife’s Confession–four women who lived together in the Galloway Dormitory at UNC-Wilmington. Well, now there are only two. I’m still in the process of killing the extraneous two off (figuratively speaking). Frankly, they were not serving nearly as good a purpose as Noelle’s story is going to serve. Yet it always hurts a little to cut off the heads of people you’ve nurtured and gotten to know, even if they are getting in the way.

At the same time as I’m ditching those subplots, I’m developing Noelle’s backstory. She’s in third person because I need to make some concession to the fact that she’s dead. I’m enjoying getting to know her even better. I’ve always liked her and now I like her more. Of course, she’s going to do something not very likeable eventually. Will I be able to keep the sympathy flowing for her? I can’t wait to find out!

* Keeper of the Light will be reissued in 2011

** Secret Lives is now available as an e-book for Kindle and all other e-readers.

31 Comments

  1. Brenda on July 11, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    who can forget Annie
    Diane I wonder this. did your editor advise you on the ending of Lies?
    OR did you do the ending and your editor suggested no changes? the ending of this novel seems to be giving many readers something to talk about

  2. Brenda on July 11, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    How long will it take to change this novel?????

  3. Margo on July 12, 2010 at 7:53 am

    Omigosh Diane!…it almost sounds like you’re having to rewrite the entire book!…Even tho I don’t know much about the story I do like the idea of Noelle having more of a voice…if she is a central character it will be good to know more about her…Brenda’s right, who can forget Annie.
    I loved how she was so ‘real’ and her presence remained throughout the entire trilogy…at least in my eyes she did.
    Why are you not keeping 4 Galloway girls?

  4. Diane Chamberlain on July 12, 2010 at 7:54 am

    Brenda, I had a different editor for LIES, since my “regular” editor was on maternity leave. Although there were suggestions she made for LIES that I worked with, none of them had to do with the ending. I think she was as comfy with it as I was. Who knew it would start a firestorm??

    I need to finish revisions on The Midwife’s Confession by the end of the month because I have to get to work on the next one. Already way behind!

  5. Margo on July 12, 2010 at 8:00 am

    P.S….Diane, you look absolutely darling in this pic!…even with all the revisions you’re still smiling…I think you love a challenge (-O:

  6. clicia Tremblay on July 12, 2010 at 8:05 am

    Wow!!! this is so great to read about a book “in the writing”. I love it!! Can I go back and read your entries for “TLWT”? would love to!!
    So, this book is going to start with a bang to? when can we pre-order and what do we have to do for an ARC?? Do you want my husband?? he is so sweet, potty-trained and all.. you will hardly notice he is there, only when you have to collect his dirty dishes from late-night snacking!!:)

    I am a newbie at your blog and a pretty recent addition to your readership since I just started reading literary a few weeks ago- can’t seem to stop…the pile of dirty dishes/laundry is proof…should I send you a photo?? LOL. I have all your available print/ebooks thus far.

    I have such a tender spot for “Keeper” and Annie bc it was my first book by you and I stayed the whole night, all night reading it, could not put it down- same ever since with the other books I’ve read. I have so much dark circles under my eyes that I need to paint it white…forget concealer!!LOL Love it!!

    I can’t forget Annie and don’t want to…what a larger-than-life character..I’ve begged you for a prequel bc I just want to hear more from/about her…you know, you miss a character, like you miss an old friend and sometimes you just want to visit with them!!

    Good luck!! and no, I did not throw my copy of ‘TLWT’ across the floor?? Are you kidding me?? I read it on ebook and like my Kindle too much!!!hahhaaa I LOVE, LOVE “TLWT”, I am just a slow “adjuster”, that is all..hahaa

  7. clicia Tremblay on July 12, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    Diane, is the style or technique that you are talking about to bring Noelle “alive” so to speak, something like what Alice Seabold did with “THe Lovely Bones” or Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” ? Very challenging bt fun too.
    Can’t wait to read it!!

  8. Brenda on July 12, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Both of those books unique. I am intrigued also and seems to me that it is almost like wring another book.anyway you could send a dirty draft earlier next time and let the editor advise? I admit I would not like tailing such drastic suggestions but when my students do not want my advice when they do the dirty draft I tell them that I am the teacher or instructor.

  9. Brenda on July 12, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    Just finished WHERE THE RIVER ENDS by Charles Martin
    this one and the Mountain one are books one can’t put down and great for bookclubs

  10. clicia Tremblay on July 12, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    Indeed they are Brenda. You know, I’ve been thinking about this whole notion of giving “voice” to the dead and it took me back to my early years as a reader. I am originally from Brazil, having been a bookworm since birth, I grew up reading Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa, Isabel Allende. Latin American Lit. is filled with the “magical realism” in which ghosts, spirits and the dead are featured prominantly in novels. One of the most well-known- an funny – novels of all time is “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands” by the great, late Brazilian writer Jorge Amado in which the dead husband of this sultry, sexy cook, takes up residence in her house and bed after she remarries.
    It may not be what you have in mind Diane!!LOL, bt recently I read a touching novel called “One Small Thing” by Jessica Barksdale Inclan about a man, whose wife is battling infertility, who finds out that he has a 10-yr-old son whom he had no knowledge and whom he has to care for since the mother passed away from a drug overdose. The father used to be involved in drugs and had a deep relationship with this woman bt had not since her since he walked out on her, unbeknown to him that she was pregnant. Anyway, the novel is about the adjustments that the family has to make, bt at one point, the man starts “seeing” the boy’s mother. It is not an apparition so much, bt she is featured as a character who talks- only to him- and has quite an interesting voice and her presence is very important to the story. The author said that she had to give voice to the dead mother. So, I find that interesting when I read the story.

  11. clicia Tremblay on July 12, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    One last thing…this whole conversation brought to mind as well this great book- again, may have nothing to do with what you are talking about Diane- bt it is a great book with some incredible twists- it is more a political thriller, love story, hard to describe- bt one character in particular….:)

    Waking the Dead by Scott Spencer – they made a movie based on the book with Jennifer Connoly, really good too.

  12. Margo on July 13, 2010 at 7:47 am

    Brenda, thank you for recommending the Martin books…I bought THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US last week and have ordered WHERE THE RIVER ENDS. (-O:

  13. Diane Chamberlain on July 13, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Yes, this is like rewriting the whole book, but I’m loving adding pieces to the puzzle of the story. I need to make a revelation chart as I did with Keeper of the Light regarding who-knows-what-when, both the characters and the readers. It’s getting confusing!

    That was also the issue with the 4 Galloway Girls, Margo. Too many stories going on if I develop Noelle to a greater extent, and since they all have children and spouses, too many characters to keep track of. As I was writing the book, I recall Brenda saying something about a book she was reading with too many characters to keep track of and thought “uh oh.” Indeed, my editor had a problem with that, so off with their heads!

  14. Diane Chamberlain on July 13, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Clio, you can always read back in the blog to see the development of TLWT or any other book I’ve written in the past few years. Including how The Midwife’s Confession got off to a false start–agony.

  15. Brenda on July 13, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Diane, One of the reason I love the Martin books is because there are few characters–main ones I mean. The plot and the descriptions are fantastic too. Abbie. I love her. she is memorable just like Annie

  16. Brenda on July 13, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    I have not taken the opportunity to tell yup how excited I am about this new book of yours. I am so intrigued that one of the main characters is deceased. I am also excited about your new book that we have heard nothing about. One book just out with another one to be finished by the end of May and another one in the works. I would be nuts. Good thing you have that condo for stress. After I return home and go to my daughter in Indy I am going to go away for a week either at the beach or the mountains. have ordered about eight books to take with me. Hope you get a vacation soon. I also hope that some of the bloggers get back on soon. I miss Krysia and Denise and Gina and others.

  17. Brenda on July 13, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Okay let us all face it that I will continue to work on improving my Ipad skills. It is obvious why I do know testing on my phone. I type too fast

  18. Diane Chamberlain on July 13, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    “know testing”? LOL. “no texting,” right? You’re so funny.
    yeah, I am going a little nuts. What else is new? I’m writing the most interesting chapter (to me anyway) from Noelle’s point of view today. Really, this is fun. Wish I had about two extra months to play with it instead of just a few weeks, though.

  19. Brenda on July 13, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    So so funny from a teacher who tests so much and knows that no means no. You amaze me that you are having fun making the changes I remember a couple of years ago all the changes on the MAster’s projects
    Not fun. You have more energy than most folks. I will be home soon and although I love my laptop I adore this ipad

  20. clicia Tremblay on July 13, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    Diane, did I understand it correctly that you are dealing with 3 books at once? Wow!! Very impressive. It is like dealing with 3 children. I have 2 and it is hard to keep up.
    I am curious as to the new cover for “Keeper”. I have the old cover, I guess. I was drawn to the new cover for “THe Shadow Wife’- lovely photo- until you told that was “Cypress Point”. Got my hardcover from the library today and liked the photo too. The thing I like about books- as opposed to ebook bt I love both- is that is nice to look at the jacket, check the author’s photo, read a blurb about them, the acknowledgments and dedications. I like that.
    I’ve gone back a bit on your blog about “TLWT” bt have not found the entries yet.
    I did find an entry in which you said something about “To Kill a Mockingbird” – I guess in relation to character description-and how Harper Lee did not need to tell us that Atticus was not a racist. I love that book and just a piece on NPR today about its 50th anniversary.
    As for having too many character in a book or their inter-relations, I must say that I am easily confused!! LOL. I don’t know, maybe it is bc I read fast, bt sometimes I need to re-read passages in order to understand the plot and connect points. I actually re-read the blurb for “Cypress Point” in order to understand what the book was about for too many angles were mentioned.
    I once started a book, a couple of years back, a romantic thriller – a thick book- that I was very excited to read- by an author I like a lot- bc the story, partially, takes place in Eastern Europe- Prague and Budapets, places I’ve visited, bt there were so many characters, so many inter-relations and so much going on – all sort of obscure characters with enigmatic names and pasts – it was about a heist or something, that I felt like I had to outline them in a spreadsheet. So, I set the book aside bc my attention span was lacking at that time to follow the plot. I will give it a try though.

  21. Brenda on July 14, 2010 at 8:20 am

    Book covers-my pet peeve…Black covers and when one tries to read the inside information, it is difficult…Dark covers are horrible…I read so much and when I do not deal with this, I am a happy camper. Just a little thing but I always read the information about the story and about the author. Now for a positive: I love it when there are questions and answers with the author. Why this name? Character? Location?

  22. Diane Chamberlain on July 14, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Clio “only” dealing with 2 books at once, and really I’ve put the next book aside to finish up The Midwife’s Confession. It’s too hard to split my thinking between two books at once. I get confused too!

  23. clicia Tremblay on July 16, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    Two book do seem more manageable Diane, though it must involve a great deal of separation and organization on your part as to not mix up characters and plots. Do you give each other their separate time/attention or do your multi-task? I’ve discovered that I am really bad at multi-tasking :), does not work for me!!
    I have not had a chance to look through your back logs, so I am still a bit lost as to what your new book is about, bt sounds intriguing and I guess I will wait until it is out. As I said before, I am easily confused.
    Annie has been mentioned here a few times. I really liked though I was not sure how I felt about her at first. Mind you that she is still fresh on my mind since I read “Keeper” recently. Of course, given her dimension and impact on all the other characters’ lives, I wish I could have had more of an insight on her, from her. You get glimpses from the certain characters, especially one of the last scenes in “Her Mother’s Shadow”. So, I still think she is worthy of a prequel, though you’ve said that you are done “torturing” the O’Neils…so on some levels, I had to fill my own interpretation of her. It is soo much harder to come to terms with something when someone you’re close to or have an antagonistic relationship with dies before things can get sorted out..in life, we not get a chance to sort much out anyway, so maybe is meant to be open-ended and out there…maybe “closure” like beauty is in the eyes of the beholder…maybe, in literature, part of the appeal, the allure, is a veil of mystery!!:)

  24. […] Yes, all of you who are trying to write a book and believe that once you’ve typed The End you’ll have a publishable novel, you are 99 times out of 100, wrong. You have to do it again until you get it right. I think I now have TMC almost right. Because I made some huge and dramatic changes to the story, I know my editor will want some tweaking, so there will be a draft #9, no doubt about it. But here’s the good news: I loved the story before, and now I love it even more. Lots more. I also love my editor for zeroing in on exactly what the story needed, and that was more from the midwife herself, as I mentioned a few blog posts ago. […]

  25. allena tapia on July 11, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Diane- maybe a long shot, but stumbled on your blog after reading Midwife’s Confession. Am going nuts as I am confused about what it was on Noelles computer that finally made her “bite the bullet” so to speak. Something pushed her after so many years of living with her secret. What was it? It couldn’t have been Grace’s email? Was it the bone marrow drive? ??? What did she read there?

    • Diane Chamberlain on July 11, 2011 at 4:24 pm

      You aren’t alone in your confusion! I should have been clearer. She saw the article that named Anna director of the Missing Children’s Center. Hope that hasn’t kept you up at night!!

      Diane

      • allena on October 31, 2011 at 10:09 am

        🙂 Thank you! Found your answer just now as I was Googling myself. Loved the story.

      • Melinda on May 14, 2014 at 8:58 pm

        I loved this book! I was just wondering what about that article made her decide to take her life. Anna had been working at the Center before. Why was being named the director the tipping point for Noelle? Or was it just another reminder for Noelle about what she had done? I’ve just been wondering about that…

        • Diane Chamberlain on May 14, 2014 at 10:28 pm

          Yes, I saw it as the straw that broke the camel’s back for Noelle.

  26. […] and fellow writer, Alexandra Sokoloff, to the blog. I use Alex’s wonderful writing tips when structuring my books and I’m grateful to her for sharing them so generously. Welcome, […]

  27. […] always used a storyboard, but ever since getting to know Alexandra Sokoloff, I’ve used a board with the three-act structure that’s Alex’s baby. It’s made structuring a novel a thing of beauty. With […]

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