Lavender 8: What Is This Book About

At some point in every book, I have to step back and say, “Okay, what the hell is this book about?” Not “What is the plot of this book?” but “What ties everything in this book together?” And that’s what I did last night until I looked up and saw that it was 6:48 AM. I’m a little groggy. Plus, you know, the Drowning Jesus burned. But here’s what I did.

First I made a scene list. Usually I have about sixty to sixty-five scenes but this time I have forty. I may add one or two extra ones, but that’s about right since this book is about two-thirds as long as my third-person novels.

Then I went through and did a beat breakdown for each one, trying to figure out what each scene was about. As usual, for a lot of them there was no there there. Yet. I’ll have to dig into each one and figure out where the focus is, but I can do that.

Then I did a logline for each one:

1. Liz vs. Vince: She’s trying to get out of town but he stops her for speeding.
2. Liz vs. Patsy: She’s trying to get out of town but Patsy insists she stay; Willie backs her up with warnings about the car.
3. Liz vs. Molly: She’s trying to get out of town, but Molly convinces her to stay the night with diner food and the promise of a night at the local bar, just like old times.
4. Liz vs. Patsy/Anemone: She’s trying to get some work done, but Patsy sends the Porters to convince her to stay for the wedding, intercut with Anemone calling to tell her to leave (“Come to Chicago.”) Everybody wants a piece of her.
5. Liz vs. Mom: She’s trying to be a good daughter, but Mom lays the guilt on her. (Okay, she’s not trying that hard.)
6. Liz vs. ML: She’s trying to escape from family, but Aunt ML really lays the guilt on her.
7. Liz vs. Molly: Molly fills her in on what she’s missed. [ Weak scene; will probably get cut.]
8. Liz vs. Lavender: She’s trying to move the fitting along with so she can get to the bar, but Lavender is obsessing on details, micro-managing, fighting with her mom. (Conflict needs refocused on Liz.)
9. Liz vs. Vince: She’s trying to catch up with Molly so she can leave the next day, but he’s making her have second thoughts.

And so on. Liz’s goal throughout the book is to get the hell out of Birney. I’m good with that. It’s keeping the main plot and all the subplots hanging on that, spurred by that, complicated by that, that’s taking the time. Also her conflict has to deepen in each scene; that is, she just wants to get out of Birney in the first scene, but by the third one she should be having conflicting thought–it would be nice to spend some time with Molly, what could one night hurt?–and so on. Otherwise, the whole book is too one note.

Writing novels. Argh.

70 thoughts on “Lavender 8: What Is This Book About

  1. Yea, but what’s the book about? Getting out of Birney? So this is not the theme point, yet. Or, wait, now I have to go back. Home is the theme? Then Beauty is the next one? Do you have an original idea for this book, or one for the whole series?

    Sorry abou the wrath of God….

    1. Each book has a different theme which I won’t know about for sure until I finish it. The Girls know, and they keep secrets. But I’m pretty sure Lavender is about family, Pink is about beauty, Peaches is about food, and Yellow is about masks. I think. Lavender may be about the family you make/choose being more important than the family you’re born to, that the people you turn to when you’re in trouble are your real family while you can be up to your ass in biological family and be utterly alone. Or not.

  2. OK — my question was muddled. So “What the book is _about_” is different than the theme, and different than the plot? I did think the theme came later. Going back to your analogy at CherryCon, the visual piece, the Diamond of Ra, the Arc of the Covenenant — that will be Liz slaping the handcuffs of the murderer, right? And that’s plot. Theme is then family (or whatever the girls pick) So, is there a term for the thing that it’s about — the thing that’s tieing the book together? And, did I read right — it that getting our of Birney?
    I’m wrestling with this right now. Maybe I should just start writing. But I’m stewing.

    1. So, if Raiders’s plot is about getting the Arc, then the thing that ties it together is about Indy proving he can outsmart Belloch, and the theme is about faith versus stealing gods. Maybe??

  3. So if the book is about family, is the theme based on that topic? (what is the word used to describe what a book is about if it’s not the theme?)

  4. Well, there’s plot/story and then there’s meaning.

    Lavender is about Liz trying to get out of town, but that’s plot not theme. That’s her goal. Her goal isn’t inner peace or rejecting family or anything like that, she just wants to get the hell out of Birney and drive to Chicago where her job is.

    So when I said, “What is this book about?” it’s about Liz leaving town. The external plot.

    And then I think you ask, “Why does that matter?” or “What does it mean?” and you’re closer to theme. Because for Liz, Birney isn’t just a backwater or a place that’s boring, it represents constant failure and censure, a chorus of voices telling her she’s bad, delinquent, mean, stupid, and a general all around waste of space and air. A lot of that comes from her family, but it’s echoed in some of the power figures in town, so that Birney becomes an analog for family, the family you’re born into, the family you don’t choose. But in the week she’s back in town, she sees things at 33 that she couldn’t see at 18, and she finds people who support her and admire her, and she recognizes not only how dangerous that “bad family” can be but how smart she was to run fifteen years before, how she saved herself, something she’s always felt guilty about before, and how she can keep the family she makes during the book as a support and a comfort, and how she wants to support and comfort them.

    All of which should be expressed in one sentence. The Lajos Egri cheat sheet is

    _______________ leads to _______________

    So rejecting the family you’re born into and accepting the family you make leads to freedom and happiness?

    Too wordy.

    Opening yourself to connection with others leads to security and happiness?

    I’m still working on this, so I don’t have the sentence yet, but does that help?

      1. I gotta say that by reading arghink, i am continually amazed by the analysis you use to plot and pace. It’s been really helpful to me. Plus, I just finished the Cinderella Deal and it was AMAZING, love it, love Daisy, love the house, love it ALL.

  5. Well (and I could be wrong here) what about its the story of Liz’s perceptions of truth/reality being sharpened by experience, maturity and distance? I know that the mere thought of places and people can cause a person to seize up in fear, so learning to get beyond that earlier conviction represents strength and growth.

    Maybe. I could be totally off base here.

    1. Yep. She has to redefine her idea of what the town means to her in light of her experience since she left.
      Of course a lot of her perceptions were dead on, even at eighteen.

  6. I wish I could contribute something meaningful, or even ask an intelligent question, but all I can think is, “Wow. No wonder her books are so great.” I’ll take this and apply it to what I’ve been working on. I’ll probably have to throw everything away and start from scratch- again. That’s OK. I’m learning as I go, here. Thank you for all the insight.

    1. Actually, it’s more looking at what you’ve written and figuring out what you said. The theme/spine comes from the stuff you write, you don’t write to theme. So don’t throw anything out.

      1. I have to keep reminding myself of that, because sometimes I feel like all of my academic work makes me instinctively try to write novels backwards. Argh.

    1. Not necessarily. She supports and protects people she doesn’t want to have lunch with.
      What seems to be emerging as I write the book is that Liz was such a tough, defiant kid that she ended up handling everything, took the rap for things to shield other kids, coped with her mother’s drinking, etc. and that one of the reasons she left town before she graduated from high school was that she just had to get out from under all that responsibility and general weight of community/family. Then she comes back and people immediately lean on her again, but this time she’s 33, and she can see what’s going on and walk away from some of them, choose who she wants to help and connect to, so her environment isn’t as toxic. The family you choose–which in Liz’s case includes some of her real family–becomes not only the people she wants to protect but the people who step up and protect her when she’s in trouble.
      I’m still working through this.

  7. Redefining family leads to……..freedom? happiness? Maybe it could just be the two words – Redefining Family, or maybe it can be a stepping off point?

    1. Well, you’d need a verb.
      That is a theme can be
      “Crime doesn’t pay.’
      or it can be
      “Crime does pay.”
      but it can’t be
      It needs to be a statement (not a moral), the central truth of the book.

      “Going home frees you from the past.”
      “The family you make is your real family.”
      “Caring for people gives you power; caring about people gives them power.”

      Something like that.

      1. Redefining family defines the future.
        Refining the family brings about refinement.
        Forget it!!… I hate this fucking word! Oh sorry, that’s not very refined. Bad things happen when I don’t get enough sleep.

        1. “Real” family frees who you are meant to be; real family doesn’t chain you to what they need you to be.

  8. I remember taking a class were you taught this and I’ve used it ever since. My current Lajos Egri cheat sheet is almost the opposite to yours, Discovering family roots leads to happiness. Yours might be: Creating a new family leads to happiness. No?

  9. I like Robena’s formulation, because while rejecting the old family removes a source of pain, it doesn’t create happiness, while connecting with others does.

    This writing thing, it’s a lot like real work, isn’t it?

  10. WHAT?? No one told me writing was tragically like work. I’m going back to the beach bum plan. Besides the work Jenny puts in on her novels makes me feel inadequate. I am such a slacker.

    I’m going to take a nap now. Taking naps leads to a better frame of mind.

  11. It’s a certain personality type that always feels responsible for other people. I was just talking with a friend about her 5 yo, who won’t let her out of her sight because she feels that her mom needs her protection. She doesn’t, she hasn’t done anything to make her daughter think that, but there it is anyway.

    Maybe it’s more about maturity than family per se? that when you grow up you realize that some people just can’t be helped, some don’t need your help, and some say they do, but you and they are both better off if you step back.

    That you have a choice about who to spend your energy on. And you can’t save the world. Sometimes you have to let people save you instead.

  12. Office mate looking over my shoulder informs me I should have written “….this word and all its’ variations”. It’s true – everybody IS a critic.

  13. Who is Lajos Egri and why do you have his cheat sheet? Is there a test? Oh, no–I didn’t study!

    Yes, tragically, writing is a lot of work. Tell me again why we do it? No, really…

    How about “Altering our expectations of ourselves and others leads to happiness? Too wordy? Yeah. Sigh.

    (Except I’m watching it happen with Lucy, and it’s true.)

  14. Thank you so much for sharing this process here. I’m learning so much (while letting my eyes glaze over at possible spoilers – I’m planning on buying these books!).

    Just finished “Agnes and the Hitman” and I won’t shut up about. Told everyone everywhere in real and virtual life to read it, so I’ll go on about here too! Loved it!
    I think I missed a key plot point about the ending and there were so many twists and turns, I’m re-reading it . (I thought the treasure was at the bottom of the Blood…)

  15. I usually prefer your posts that are about nothing in particular, but I really enjoyed this one.
    Just curious Jenny. ‘Writing novels. Argh.’ If you did not write novels what would you do instead?

    1. Crochet, talk to the dogs, and take Light to Lowes to look at plants. “Daisies!” “No, babe, that’s coreopsis.” “Daisies!” “Coneflower.” “Daisies!” “Those are mums, honey.” “Daisies!” “Bingo, that’s a daisy.”
      Oh, and go bankrupt. I’m a good teacher with a valid Ohio teaching certificate, but that getting up before noon stuff is beyond me now.

  16. Jenny, I’m in awe at your talent when I read your books. I hope you keep them coming for a long, long time. On a different topic – do you garden? I see you know coreopsis vs. coneflower vs. daisy. I love to garden, even though it’s hard to find the time. When I look at plants I feel both serene and exhilarated.

    1. When I go into a nursery, all the plants scream because they know they’re going to die. But Light wanted a garden so besides tomatoes and peppers and marigolds to protect the tomatoes, she got to choose two flowering plants. She picked the most godawful magenta pink petunia, and it’s a wave petunia so it’s going to take over the whole back yard, and a good sturdy Shasta because her mother loves daisies. The coreopsis was for me. Coreopsis is pretty sturdy so it has a chance of both surviving my neglect and the awful clay soil here by the river. The variegated oregano I planted last year came back just fine, so I’m hoping for more success this year. Of course, oregano survives damn near anything. I’m death on lavender and rosemary.
      So mostly when I look at plants, I feel guilty.

      1. Read “The awful clay soil all over Ohio.” I swear, I don’t know how the Native Americans got anything to grow here.

  17. Try daylilies. (Not the crappy kind.) They’re very sturdy, and they mostly don’t mind clay.

    1. I have Stella d’Oros that are hanging in there for a second year. Barely. And a side yard full of tiger lilies that must have been there for twenty years. They’re not going ANYWHERE.

  18. Or it’s where you live. Rosemary and lavender are mediterranean plants. They like hot, dry summers; mild, wet winters and well drained soils. Probably not clay. I live in the sub-tropics and it’s breathtaking what they try and sell us here. Tulips, for example. I ask you. Funny how we always blame ourselves.

    1. I kill lavender and rosemary even when I plant them in a sunny spot and tuck them in at night with lullabies and bone meal. On the other hand, dandelions love me.

      What the hell.
      I’m winsome, and I lose some.

    2. We’re zone 6, on the river. SBPs (Storms of Biblical Proportions) often, clay and rocky soil. I keep trying because I love rosemary, but it’s just not working out for us.
      Tulips, on the other hand, you can’t kill with a stick here.

      1. I have lavender that the previous owner planted. I’m west of Chicago — so I get a colder climate, but mine’s come back every year. Start with as big a start as you can. Mine is on the west-facing side. It gets non-stop sun from noon on. And, all the wind from the Dakotas that hasn’t been slowed down by anything in Iowa. So, I suggests a sunny westerly spot if you have one available.
        I’ve never been able to get rosemary to return. It is a tender perrenial. I hear that it’s roots are the things that need protection, so even covering it is not much help. I suggest you grow that in a pot and bring it inside (or into the garage at least) for the winter.

        1. I think the sun is the big deal. We live in the woods so there are spots of sunlight, but I don’t think any place gets six hours a day which is usually the minimum.

  19. Louise..

    Oh, our Rosemary is in the right place here in southern California. A 4 inch pot has grown to an eight by seven foot clump…seldom watered…just rainwater as seldon as it does here.

  20. Reading this, all I can think about is how choosing your fellow passengers with care leads to a smoother boat ride. (Yes, I’m stealing Lucy/Lani’s lifeboat analogy.) I’m also blown away by how much work you put into writing. Then I think, “Dummy, why did you think they were so good? Did you think she just wrote them on the back of her grocery lists when she had a spare minute?” Actually, your books are so good that yes, for a long time I thought you were a genius that this came effortlessly to. Now I know better. 😉 There’s a lot of effort there, and it makes me that much more grateful whenever you give us something new.

    On a similar note, I think I finally convinced my boyfriend to read Welcome to Temptation, if only to get me to shut up and stop overloading him with bits of it. He’s got two of your titles on his To-Be-Read shelf right now because I snuck them in. I’m determined to have him crack one open by the end of the summer because I know that he’d really enjoy them. 🙂

    1. He might not. When we were first talking about collaborating, Bob read Faking It (he hadn’t read anything of mine before he asked me). The only thing he said was, “Lotta dialogue.” I think you’d pretty much have to put a gun to his head to make him read anything he hadn’t written with me. Too girly.

      As for the hard work, yep. But it’s so satisfying, too, to keep working at it until it’s right. Not that it ever is. Did I mention the end of Maybe This Time is slow?

      1. My guy’s a pretty big fan of dialogue and banter, which is why I think he’ll like your stuff. He’s not afraid of the girly stuff, and is actually a big fan of good rom-com movies. We’ll see. 🙂

        I’ll have to take your word on Maybe This Time for now, as it isn’t out yet. But my copy is pre-ordered, so I’ll let you know in August. 😉

      2. Did you always think MAYBE THIS TIME was slow and just couldn’t get it quite right to suit you? Or do you always look back thinking you could’ve done something a little more perfect?

        I love all your work and am sure I’ll love MTT when I get it.

        1. I usually have things I’d like to have fixed, but this time the ending is just slow. I think it was Jennifer who pointed out that North’s POV disappears before the end, and I went back and tried to fix it, but the problem is that everything North wants, he gets, and after that he’s just busy with logistics, so his POV ends where it’s supposed to . . . I just shouldn’t have let him get everything that far from the end of the book. Or more accurately, I should have figured out a way to end the book faster. It was just too big a rewrite to fix on the galleys because it would have meant reconceptualizing the end. So now I just have to pray there’s enough momentum that nobody notices. Fat chance.

  21. Ms Jenny, I admire your hard work. That’s some real dedication to your craft and just getting stuff done.

    Theme: Reviewing your childhood as an adult leads to revelation and release?

  22. A great way to get perennial plants that will survive in your area is to go to local plant club sales where they sell divisions of plants that do best. Great prices for plants that have proven themselves survivors in the local area! If you have a sunny window I believe you can grow the rosemary indoors. I live in zone 5 and have not had great luck with lavender, but have had better luck with some varieties than others. If you want to try again, may sure to research the zone of the variety you are considering. ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’ are considered two of the hardiest. They do like well drained soil. I find russian sage visually similar to lavender and easier to grow.

  23. I don’t suppose anyone could tell me where I could read about this writing beat thing? Cause I don’t understand it in the least, and I want to.

  24. I’m taking Lani’s Discovery course right now and between it and your blog, I feel like I’ve learned so much about writing! I swear, if I quote you or Lani one more time to my family, I think they’re going to kill me!

  25. Back to the important stuff, i.e., gardening on clay soil (because every second person you meet is thinking about writing a novel, if they had the time so it must be easy). I am in Portland, OR zone 8b and when I moved in I could have potted with this soil. And I have only afternoon sun through a 70 year old star magnolia. These plants are very hardy. So — perennial phlox. Try for one not subject to powdery mildew if you get mildew – Laura comes to mind and Starfire (VERY slow to increase here – buy in a gallon container). Astilbe does okay on the clay stuff. Hardy begonia – and its hardy to zone 5 is great for shade – wonderful folage. Mulch with fine bark – Not cedar or walnut because it will be bad for growing other plants – then work it in whenever you plant something new – it helps break up the clay. If you add sand and gravel, that is how you make concrete. Also lime helps break up clay.

  26. Oops. . . Regarding my gardening suggestion this morning (above), I meant to say “garden club plant sales”, not “plant club sales”.

  27. Every time I read the title of this post, I become very, very tempted to burst into song:
    What’s it all about, Jen-EEEEEEEEE?
    Is it just for the moment we live?
    What’s it all about when you sort it out, Jen-EEEE?
    Are we meant to take more than we give
    or are we meant to be kind?


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