New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Evison discusses the process of writing his new Dickensian epic novel, Small World.

Jonathan Evison is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including All About Lulu, West of Here, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!, Lawn Boy, Legends of the North Cascades, and Small World. As a teen, Evison was the founding member of the punk band March of Crimes, which included future members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. He lives with his wife and family in Washington State. Find him on Instagram @jonathanevison123.

Jonathan Evison

Photo by Keith Brofsky

In this post, Jonathan discusses the process of writing his new Dickensian epic novel, Small World, the importance of silencing self-doubt, and more!

Name: Jonathan Evison
Literary agent: Mollie Glick
Book title: Small World
Publisher: Dutton
Expected release date: January 11, 2022
Genre/category: Fiction
Previous titles: Legends of the North Cascades; Lawn Boy; West of Here; The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving; All About Lulu; This is Your Life, Harriett Chance!
Elevator pitch for the book: Small World is a big, sweeping Dickensian epic that through its large and diverse cast of characters explores the American Dream from its inception to the present moment, and asks whether or not our nation has made good on its promises.

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What prompted you to write this book?

I’ve been wanting to write this book my entire adult life, and after 13 previous novels (over half of them unpublished), I finally felt like I had developed the chops, the focus, and the experience that such an undertaking would require.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

I outlined this book a good deal more than previous novels, as the large cast, epic scope, and bifurcated timelines all seemed to necessitate a high degree of organization and orchestration. As a result of all my preparation, the actual writing of the book only took about a year.

The first draft was a couple hundred pages longer, and I had to kill more than a few darlings to achieve what I hope is a brisk pace, and a cohesive overarching narrative. From completion of the manuscript to publication was a little over a year, so really, the whole process unfolded quickly.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

Well, there was one decisive moment where I had a huge decision to make, and that was whether or not to add an entire third generation of characters to the cast (the extant cast is comprised of two generations separated by 170 years—I was considering adding a generation in the middle). I ultimately decided against it, and I believe I made the right decision.

I wanted the novel to be audacious in scope, but adding four more narrative lines in addition to the 10 that already existed seemed like too much. I wanted the reader to be able to track the various characters and timelines fluidly without interrupting the narrative momentum, so that the reader could effectively assimilate and contextualize all these narratives into the larger narrative, which was a cumulative story.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

That I was able to achieve my objective without pulling out all of my hair, and how fluidly all these divergent narratives ended up working in conjunction with one another because of the larger conception underlying the individual narratives. When I executed this with a previous novel, West of Here, the process had been much messier.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

As much as anything, I want readers to be entertained, and feel like they are actively participating in the unfolding of the novel. A novel is a dance, and I’m asking the reader to do everything I’m doing, backwards and in heels. I want them to set the book down at the end and say, breathlessly: “Wow, that was a blast.”

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

Trite as it may sound, in my experience, work habits and workflow are the most important factors in good writing. The more you sit down and give yourself to the story and fill up the pages, the more the magic happens. The more of a rhythm you can get into, the more good stuff happens on the page.

Unburden yourself from the crippling baggage of self-doubt (or more precisely, reserve it for the editing process), and just keep getting information and scenes on the page. It isn’t easy to make time consistently—our lives can be incredibly busy—but we’ve got to find a way to work on a consistent basis, even if that time comes out of our sleep.

Join Donna Russo Morin to learn the definition of historical markers and how and where to unearth them. And uncover the tools to integrate history, research, and the fiction plot arc. Most of all, find out how to honor verisimilitude—the goal of any historical writing—and avoid the dreaded anachronism.

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