I was recently lent a book to read by a friend who thought I would enjoy it because it was set in Moscow. It was 466 pages, so it was going to be quite the commitment to read, but I since I was recuperating from surgery, I knew I had plenty of time. The reviews were stellar, so I was excited to dig in and become a fan. However, I was having a very difficult time getting into it, yet I felt compelled to continue. “What is wrong with me,” I thought, because it was becoming more of a chore than an enjoyable read. It took about 200 pages until I my opinion changed, and by the time the book was winding down, I did not want it to end.
Reading that book made me wonder if readers of my book are bored by some of the earlier chapters, which contain a lot of background material and were written to set a tone for what I knew was the juicy stuff coming later. It is like a new television show. Sometimes you need to understand the characters and push through a few episodes before the action begins.
For example, I spent many pages detailing my grandparents early years before their six children were born, followed by the events leading up to their decision to return to Russia. I felt this helped show how desperate they must have felt after having taken such a difficult journey to America and then became part of a community with friends and a home they built.
I wanted the reader to see the six children as typical American kids, who led a simple life playing stickball with their friends, enjoying Halloween pranks, and taking trips into the city with their father. They could have been me.
It was important for me to spend time showing the kids having fun on the ship and the family having a nice vacation in London as a contrast to suddenly moving into a small apartment in a big city in a foreign country.
During one of my earlier drafts, I skipped all of this, partially because I did not know these details until I discovered the diary, but then added these incidents because they helped me understand how they must have felt.
The letters to my father were included because so many people wanted to know how I was able to learn so many details, and while I was writing I was always having conversations with my father in my head. Still, as the person who researched this story, I admit that the best part of the story for me was learning what happened to my father after he got on that train in Moscow headed back to New Jersey across the barren expanses of the Soviet Union. I never knew any of the details about what happened to the family he left behind and how instrumental he was in their return. So I can understand a reader wanting to skip those parts and move on to the action.
That was all part of my decision to self-publish the book, because I wanted total control over the book. Perhaps if I ever write another book—one which is not so personal—I will be more willing to relinquish control. But for this book, I say, skip the parts you find boring and incidental. I admit I occasionally do myself.