Thursday, August 24, 2017

"The Weight of Ink"

Rachel Kadish is the award-winning author of the novels From a Sealed Room and Tolstoy Lied: a Love Story, as well as the novella I Was Here.

Kadish applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Weight of Ink, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Weight of Ink was a daunting moment in the writing process. The novel asks the reader to step into a foreign world: a world of seventeenth-century London, semi-hidden Portuguese Inquisition refugees, plague and fire, and danger around every corner for those who questioned the religious and political orders of the day.

Among the novel’s challenges was finding a way to introduce the reader to all of that gently enough that it didn’t feel daunting. I wanted the reader to be aware only of following a story and a set of characters, rather than studying up on unfamiliar history or syntax. So the question was to figure out how best to guide the reader into that world.

The novel alternates contemporary chapters (in which the historians discover the seventeenth-century documents left by Ester Velasquez and begin to realize how radical they are), with chapters set in the seventeenth century (in which we enter Ester Velasquez’s world).

Knowing how alien the seventeenth-century world might initially feel, I started off letting the reader get comfortable in the novel’s contemporary storyline. Chapter 1, which is set in contemporary London, is twenty pages long.

But for chapter 2--the reader’s first foray into the seventeenth century--I gave the reader only a three-page sampling of that world: a letter dated 1657, in which one seventeenth-century character expresses concern for another’s wellbeing.

A toe in the water of the seventeenth century—that was all.

Then back to safer ground: chapter 3--twenty pages set in contemporary London.

For the novel’s first 67 pages, the odd-numbered chapters—the contemporary ones--were “normal” length…but the even-numbered chapters—those set in the seventeenth century--were tiny: chapter 4 was another letter, two pages long; chapter 6 was a single solitary page, describing a woman on a ship heading to London.

And then it was time to take the plunge. By now, I hoped the reader was sufficiently oriented to understand the wants and loves and fears of my seventeenth-century characters in context.

Chapter 8, which starts on page 68, is the first full-length seventeenth-century chapter in the novel…so page 69 was part of a scene I wrote with great trepidation: would the reader be willing to follow my characters down the narrow lanes of London and of seventeenth century language? Would the tense encounter between Ester and her brother on the docks, and the fraught exchanges with the dock workers and the subsequent fight and Ester’s retreat to the rabbi’s study all make sense to the modern reader?

I’m still stunned when readers say chapter 8 was one of their favorites. I wrote it with such fear and trembling—but also with a sense of fatalism: Now I’m in and there’s no going back, and all I can do is hope the reader will take the leap with me.
Visit Rachel Kadish's official website.

My Book, The Movie: The Weight of Ink.

Writers Read: Rachel Kadish.

--Marshal Zeringue