The Next Book: Diving In

Talking about Next Book* feels funny to me. I have a difficult time talking about what I’m working on, because it’s constantly changing. If you had asked me early on in the writing of MODERN GIRLS, I would have told you that Dottie had gotten pregnant by her boyfriend Abe, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to marry him; the story took place in Newark, NJ; and her mother Rose was definitely not with child. How different the final novel turned out! (This is not a spoiler: in the first chapter we learn that Dottie is pregnant and *not* by her boyfriend, Abe; chapter two clues us in about Rose.)

Hebrew Orphans Asylum 1920s
The Hebrew Orphans Asylum, 1920s

Yet I’ve been working on Next Book–tentatively called ORPHANS AT THE GIN MILL–for a while now, so I think it’s okay to mention the bare outlines. The idea for it came to me–once again–through genealogy. I was having difficulty tracking down some first cousins of my grandfather. Imagine my surprise when I found them in an orphanage. They were residents of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum (HOA), located in a mammoth building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

I began to research and discovered that few kids who ended up in the HOA were truly orphans. In my cousins’ case, their father deserted the family and their mother was ill. They entered the HOA in 1911. One left when she started high school. One left because she was old enough to be on her own. And the youngest left when the mother was capable of supporting her.

Orphans entrance card
The original entrance card to HOA for my cousins. This reads: Man left home 7 months ago and his whereabouts are unknown. Woman is sick internally and will enter a hospital. She appears very weak. Woman’s sister, 102 Norfolk St., husband second-hand clothing, $12 wk, 1 child. She is unable to assist. WHC formerly assisted with rent. She has not received allowance this month.

This got the wheels spinning. Of course I have no idea of the circumstances of my cousins. But what if instead of 1911, it was the 1920s? And what if, instead of deserting his family, the father was a bootlegger during Prohibition? I began writing and toying with the idea of a story that takes place within the orphanage. But then I thought, what if, what if, what if? What if the story spans more of her life? What if we the main character–Minnie–worked in a speakeasy after the orphanage? What if there’s a boy? What if, what if, what if?

I don’t want to delve too far into the story because it will change. I’m heavy in research mode and I have a Pinterest board for the novel to pin my inspiration.

While I agree with Louise that it’s difficult to romance one book while you’re still involved with another, I did start this novel last fall, in the midst of MODERN GIRL copyedits and publicity writing; I’m probably about 1/4 or 1/3 of the way through. Unlike some of the other Debs, I don’t have a two-book deal, so while I hope this novel will see the light of day, there’s no guarantee. But as I did with MODERN GIRLS, I’ll just put my head down and keep writing. Because while Dottie and Rose will always be close to my heart, every day I fall a little bit more in love with Minnie.

*Yes, I know we’re calling this week’s theme Book 2, but you all know, this is definitely not book 2 for me. I’ve lost count of what book number I’m working on. So instead of Book 2, I shall simply call this Next Book.

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Jennifer S. Brown is the author of MODERN GIRLS (NAL/Penguin). The novel, set in 1935 in the Lower East Side of New York, is about a Russian-born Jewish mother and her American-born unmarried daughter. Each discovers that she is expecting, although the pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted, in this story about women’s roles, standards, and choices, set against the backdrop of the impending war. Learn more at www.jennifersbrown.com.

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This article has 6 Comments

    1. Honestly, I steal shamelessly from my family tree! Also, I spend a lot of time on the Social Security sight, which lists the most popular names of any given year, beginning about 1900. I find a lot of names that way.

  1. This book sounds really good! Best of luck with the writing process! Just bought Modeen Girls and I can’t wait to dive in! I’ve only heard great things about it!

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