Actually, all novels have more than one story--in the sense that every character has a story. The more complex the character's story, the more complex the character. For the novelist, the trick is to pick out the most compelling of the stories, foreground it, and weave all the other stories together around it, behind it, in the background. In a mystery series, we usually assume that the most compelling story belongs to the detective, whose job it is to solve the mystery and create a more or less appropriate ending for the story of the bad guy. That's how it almost always works in first-person mystery novels. China's story is foregrounded, the other stories (Ruby's, Sheila's, McQuaid's, Brian's, etc) play out in the background.
But Nightshade, which will come out in April, is different. In that novel, two detectives are at work--China and McQuaid, so both their stories are foregrounded, China's story told in her usual first-person voice, McQuaid's story in third person, present tense.
And now Wormwood, which is different still. I wanted to set China's story in a Shaker village--a reconstructed village, a living museum called Zion's Spring. The mystery in China's story (a murder, covering up an embezzlement) takes place in present time. But I also wanted to tell a story set in the past, about the lives of the Shakers who once lived in Zion's Spring. So I'm crafting a two-story novel: China's story is told in her usual crisp, authoritative first-person voice; the Shaker story, set in 1912, is told in a variety of voices and media (narration, dreams, letters, journals, newspaper articles, even drawings). These multiple stories alternate, overlap, and intersect in what I hope will be interesting and thought-provoking ways, so that we see both the present and the past from multiple and often contradictory points of view. I haven't got all this worked out yet, of course. But the process has been challenging. For me, and I hope for you, when you sit down to read the book.
And maybe you'll come back to this blog to see what I've written about the process (and to read the comments)--which might extend the reading experience in some new ways. More about that in another post.
Writing log. I was gone for a few days at the beginning of November (book talks, etc) and the blog tour took more time than I expected. And there was the pecan harvest to deal with (200 pounds, when we weighed it all out!) and a sick dog, and so on and so forth. Life happens.
Here's an update. I've been working more or less steadily for two calendar months. (I know: it seems MUCH longer to me, too!) So far, I've managed to corral 44 writing days out of 60 (this includes 5 days for revision of the first half of the book). I'm up to just over 60,000 words (about 3/4 done). I have about 25,000 words to go, or some 16-17 writing days. I won't quite finish in early December, as I expected, because my daughter is coming next week for a visit (yay!), and then I'm heading out to NM to join Bill for Christmas. But what the heck. Fiction can wait. China will just have to twiddle her thumbs until I can get back to her.
Reading note. I tell a story the way some people eat an Oreo cookie.--B.E. Zalman, quoted in Room to Write, by Bonni Goldberg