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River in the Sea Review and Interview With Author Tina Boscha
River in the Sea Review
River in the Sea, Tina Boscha's debut novel inspired by her mother's childhood follows 15-year-old Leen De Graaf as she questions everything she's ever believed following the single event in World War II-era Friesland, Netherlands, that sent her life into a tailspin.
Leen De Graaf doesn't concern herself with always doing what she should--she drives illegally, steals salt from her employer for her family, and has little interest in household duties. Though she's audacious enough to stand against the expectations of the era and her community, her fearlessness doesn't extend to those times she's forced to pass the German camp on her bike or in her father's truck as she travels to and from her job as the Deinums' maid. The soldiers yell for passing girls' attention, but she pedals and drives faster to avoid them.
She succeeds until the night she makes a horrifying last-second decision and hits a soldier's dog with the truck. What follows is a gripping experience that leads her to believe she could be digging her own grave until the kindness of one soldier releases her from the rabid clutches of another.
Later, conflict with the Germans unleashes a level of despair she couldn't have imagined, involving her family in a potentially deadly game of hide-and-seek as she wallows in guilt and anxiety.
In River in the Sea, Boscha paints a poetic and heartbreakingly beautiful account of loss, love, loyalty, and survival as Leen feels herself falling from being "daddy's girl" to disappointment. The story unfolds slowly at first but then progresses at a pace that nestles the reader into Leen's daily life without feeling at all monotonous (it is obviously NOT an average daily life today, but one wrought with fear, dread, and survival).
When her father disappears, Leen worries about the fate she's sealed for him while caring for her siblings and a mother whose mental status is quickly deteriorating. She has her mind made up about her new world until a romantic encounter inspires her to consider everyone from a different perspective.
Getting lost in this book is a way to experience an often forgotten piece of history through a young woman's eyes and return with a more open mind.
Interview With Tina Boscha
I was lucky enough to interview Tina through email to get a peek into her writing and revision process, self-publishing, and some of the challenges of writing this particular story.
Crystal Schwanke (CS): What was the writing process like for you? How long did it take and what really helped you organize and get everything down on paper? Have you noticed anything in particular that really helps you reach your word count goal of the day (or other type of writing goal) in almost no time at all?
Tina Boscha (TB): I wrote this book over such a long period, it's really hard to identify one concrete process I stuck to. For a while, I wrote on my lunch hour. At other times, I wrote on the weekend. Sometimes I used Word, sometimes I used Scrivener. There was a time when I had to write while sitting on a couch with a laptop - I hated a desk. (I think this had a lot of do with the fact that I had a desk job!) Now I need to sit in front of my huge screen with an office chair. Honestly the best thing that helps is setting a goal, however small. Right now I aim for 250-500 words, which is really short.
In the end, though, the only tried-and-true method that works is to know in advance what I'm going to write. Yep, an outline. Even if it's just a sketch, if I don't know where I'm going, it's a recipe for me aimlessly staring at the screen and then going to play FreeCell, followed up with lots of Facebook stalking.
CS: I read in another interview that you're a little self-conscious about the first draft and everything comes together during the revision process. How painful was the revision process for you? Did you find yourself cutting a lot out?
TB: Revision is painful mostly in the beginning. The manuscript feels so unwieldy and big and impossible to tame. Again, some sort of plan is helpful - combine these two characters, cut this element, amplify here, etc. Probably the most difficult element for me to nail down in River in the Sea was the beginning. In a historical novel, you have to establish the time, setting, etc., while also setting up the entire plot and conflict. It's a lot like sci-fi or fantasy, where you have to educate the reader, so to speak. That was monumentally difficult - I had a prologue that I kept around until the last few months before I finalized the draft!
Perhaps perversely, I really like to cut and shorten. (That said, I am naturally wordy so I always know I have to do this.) There is something really satisfying about cutting, deleting, and polishing what's left. I'm weird that way, I think!
CS: What are some of the challenges of writing about someone you know?
TB: I'm not sure there is a bigger challenge that writing a book based on your mother! I think the biggest challenge is letting yourself, as writer, write what you want. To shape the character and the plot and tension and all those things that make a good story. The inspiration is there, but sometimes the need to get it EXACT gets in the way. I found that letting go of that need actually made it easier to get close to the heart of the story, rather then replicate every last detail. That's what made me feel like I was writing the book I always wanted to, and I believe that transfers over to the reader's experience.
CS: What made you decide to self-publish? Would you recommend that route to anyone who currently doesn't have an agent? What do you like about it? What don't you like about it?
TB: The short answer is that I was rejected and really had no other avenues left. The long answer is that the last rejection I got was a "No" based on the fact that the publisher was Canadian and felt it couldn't be the lead for an American author, and had nothing to do with the quality of the work. I also just felt strongly that the book would find readers.
I think self-publishing is a very viable option these days, but I can't emphasize enough to those considering it that they have to make the book the best book they possibly can. You can't take something that you've been told repeatedly (by various reputable sources) is flawed and then put it out there. That may sound hypocritical coming from me, but bear in mind that once I decided to self-publish I revised my manuscript before anything else. I combined two characters, rewrote the first chapter, added to the second, eliminated the prologue, cut about 50 more pages, and tightened, tightened, tightened. I had also been through a revision process with my agent. So I had a lot of feedback.
It's very true that publishers get it right and they get it wrong. It's also true that they are risk-averse. It makes perfect sense for someone with a great ms. to publish it independently if their book is the best it can be, even more so if it's something publishers won't try for business reasons. But too many writers are rushing this because the doors have opened. Take your time - those doors will still be there!
There's really very little I dislike about self-publishing itself. Honestly the biggest issue with me personally is a lack of time to properly market. That's something you must accept about going this route - you are IT. You can hire things out if you like (and have the means) but it all still comes down to you to execute. That can be hard for some. I am a DIY-er by nature but I admit that right now, I'd love some help getting the word out! Anyone want to volunteer? :-)
CS: Do you think there will be a sequel that tells of Leen's life in America? (I still really hope so!)
TB: It is a real honor to have so many people asking for a sequel! I am a bit flabbergasted but in the best possible way. As far as the answer, what feels right to me is to write an epilogue of sorts, something like a novella from Leen's perspective as a much older woman. It's really hard to follow-up a tale that is set against WWII, I think. The dramatic elements are so different. It's also scary to think about! But also in a good way. I don't want to let readers down!
CS: What's your next project?
TB: My next project is tentatively titled The Sleeping Fields, and while I've been saying "it's a good old-fashioned ghost story", it's really more a YA novel that focuses on how far one girl will go to be with a boy she loves. The question is, how far SHOULD she go?
CS: Your mom inspired Leen's character, but how much? How much of the story really happened?
TB: This is tough to answer without spoilers! Much of the events in the book did happen, but not necessarily to my mom. Many things happened in her family or to cousins or friends, and I reshaped them and attributed to her character. Some characters are fully fictionalized but most of them have a very real-life corollary. One very satisfying thing for me was hearing from my mom that I got the fear right, that everyday dread that filled every moment and every decision, because the occupying force was less than two kilometers away.
CS: If you were to inspire a family member to write a story based on your life, what would be in it?
TB: Oh boy! Good question. I'm a stepmother without biological children of my own, and I think my experience (ups and downs and successes and failures) could one day make for some interesting writing.
Thank you, Tina, for taking the time to answer my questions!
Be sure to visit her Facebook fan page for more information.