A couple of weeks ago I sent Assignment 9 off to a freelance editor and paid her to do what editors do. Having only ever self-edited and edited the work of other writers, I was curious as to what she might have to say. Yesterday I got her comments back.
Apparently, Assignment 9 is unpublishable as it is, something I was beginning to realize myself after the numerous rejections and research I have been doing. She was also very positive about some of the book, and gave me a few suggestions as to what I could do to change it.
So now I'm almost back where I started.
I can throw away the 'NOW' sections and focus on what has been the assignment up until this point. But if I do that, I need to change my protagonist's age, or lose some of the more icky aspects of her life and make the book suitable for MG. I don't think I want to do this. Making Casey older changes everything because all the other characters' ages will need to change with her, and the dynamics between them will be different. Taking out the more icky aspects will dilute the story and Casey's journey, so I don't want to do that either.
I could also make this an adult book which gives me two options. I can either start the 'NOW' story earlier, and develop Mark and Casey's relationship before the assignment is given. I can see this working because both of them are so damaged, I imagine they would have kept their pasts secret, even from each other, wanting to pretend they are normal first year college students having a normal relationship. The assignment throws a spanner in that, and once they've laid their issues on the table, I imagine their relationship might suffer.
Alternatively, I could scrap Mark and Casey's story all together and introduce a new framing story, one in which perhaps Casey works out her relationship with Will in the end. I love Mark and Casey together, but in reality, their story is a hangover from when Holding It Together was a part of this book. Once I discovered that having the two stories told side by side made the book too long and too complicated, I should have realized their story didn't work in there either.
So this third option is the one I'm leaning toward. I have an idea for what the framing story could be, and I quite like it. Although doing another complete rewrite of a book I've probably rewritten five or six times already, does feel a little wearisome. Unfortunately, Casey, Rick, Jason, Alan and Will won't let me go. Until they do, their story is going to have to be told.