When you decide to write a novella, you sit down and write until you have between 7,500 and 40,000 words, depending on genre. However, since thriller/suspense isn’t listed among the genres where the length of novellas is specifically spelled out, I’ve opted to go with the length suggested for literary and romance fiction, 20,000 to 40,000 words.
For my most recent novella, The Yellow Scarf, which debuts today, the history isn’t quite that simple. I never intended for it to be a novella at all.
The second part of the novella started out as a chapter in book one of a draft series called A Perfect Hatred, which is about domestic terrorism in the U.S. I intended that chapter to illustrate how my two covert operatives not only had to switch between missions but also had to deal with a mission interfering with the upcoming holidays.
In a subsequent edit/rewrite of the novel, that chapter got cut, and for some reason I didn’t ditch it completely. A couple of years later, I was searching for some short story material, and I opened the file, changed the ending, and ended up with a short story, originally titled “Justice for Ludmilla.” The story was around 5,000 words, and I was pretty pleased with it.
The short story was a snapshot of a couple of hours in Sarajevo in late fall 1993, at the height of the sniper activity in that city. The Serb Army was entrenched on the ridges surrounding the city, which had hosted the 1984 winter Olympics. Not only did they bombard the city with artillery, but snipers wreaked havoc. A battle of snipers ensued, with Bosnian Muslim civilian snipers and Serb Army snipers hunting each other amid the destruction. Even though both sides sniped at civilians, a preponderance of the sniper killings were Serb Army on civilians. Sarajevo’s main avenue became known as Sniper Alley. My story told of an investigation into a civilian’s death and the investigator’s desire to find the identity of the sniper.
I was so pleased with the story that I work-shopped it at my 2015 Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop genre fiction writing class. The consensus was that everyone liked the story, but they wanted to know more: why was the investigator there, why were there vague hints about something happening the year before, etc. In our one-on-one, the workshop instructor, Laura Benedict, said, “I think this is too powerful for a short story. Why don’t you turn it into a novella?”
In general, workshop instructors are much like agents or editors. They tell you trim, cut, be more concise. Rarely do they ever suggest that you add words or, heaven forbid, expand a short story into a novella. I was stunned by that, but I went home determined to see if I could do it. After all, the back-story to that short story was in my head, i.e., I knew who and what and why but hadn’t wanted to clutter the short story with it. A novella offered definite possibilities.
I put butt in chair and wrote. About 18,000 words later I had a draft novella. I did my usual thing and set it aside for a couple of weeks. When I did a revision I ended up adding a couple thousand words to get it to the 20,000 mark. I shipped it off to a couple of beta readers, who coincidentally had been in the workshop with me, and they gave me great feedback, which I incorporated.
I continued to polish and refine it until I thought I had a good draft, ready for publication. Still, I hired a professional editor to make a final review, and she, too, made some excellent suggestions. More polishing and refining, and today we have the debut of The Yellow Scarf!
If you’re not already intrigued, and I’m sure you are, here’s an excerpt from the back cover copy to intrigue you even more:
A year after being medevacked from the disintegrating Yugoslavia, U.N. spy Mai Fisher is back for a new mission: investigating sniper activity in Sarajevo. On a cold autumn morning she finds herself at the spot in Sniper Alley where, the day before, someone shot a young mother on her way to buy milk for her children. Pushing the limits of safety Mai searches for the sniper’s nest, hoping for a clue to the shooter’s identity. She feels the pull of justice, not just for this mother but also for what Mai lost the year before. Mai’s partner–and husband–Alexei Bukharin ponders whether the Balkans have given his wife a death wish. When Mai’s focus on her mission costs a life, her desire for justice is strengthened, but Alexei understands here in the Balkans sometimes vengeance is the only option.
The Yellow Scarf is available from Amazon as an ebook for your Kindle or Kindle app ($4.99 or free in Kindle Unlimited) or as a paperback ($6.99). If you buy the paperback, you can get the Kindle version for the Matchbook price of $1.99. What a deal! And just in time for your holiday shopping.