So I recently joined the Facebook group Writers Support 4U, after hearing about it on several of the writers’ blogs I’ve been going to. Members are encouraged to make blog posts the second Tuesday of every month, giving a progress report, and then link to other members at the end of the post. Since I already posted about the wonderful progress on my Russian novel sequel yesterday (over 306,000 words and only 10 more chapters plus the Epilogue to go!), I’m going to be posting about my long-overdue revisions on The Very First today.
I had the converted file containing most of Part II already on my computer, but I had to look through quite a few of my discs before I found the file containing Part I and the first few chapters of Part II. And, lucky me, wouldn’t you know it, I happened to have an older version instead of the most recent one I’d printed out over a decade ago. Thankfully, I have that to compare the older version to, though the only significant difference I can see so far is that the older version was missing the paragraph (now several paragraphs) in the chapter about Kit, wherein it’s explained that her parents are keeping the secret of their Jewish, immigrant identity from her and her siblings.
I was also shocked to discover my estimated word count of somewhat below 43,000 was a bit off. It was lower than I thought, going by multiplying 350 by the number of pages. (Palatino gets more words per page than the butt-ugly Courier, and I also hate the supposed “standard” Times New Roman. If I were ever deprived of Palatino, I’d go to the font I used before Palatino, Bookman, since it looks practically identical.) My estimation method still comes out to 43,000, but that’s not what the computer is telling me it contains. Well, I’ve already added several thousand words on, and given how fast I write and how I’ve known these characters for going on twenty years, it’ll be no skin off my back to continue puffing it up a bit. I’m going to try to bring it as close to 43,000 as possible.
I decided to make an entirely new opening, with Cinni looking at pictures of the Brandts and talking with her beloved father about the coming long-term houseguests. I figured that established characters and the story immediately, as opposed to the original opening, several pages of narrative about the Brandts and how they came to arrive in Atlantic City. I also did a bit of tweaking with the two-page foreword explaining, in a nutshell, the history of WTCOAC and leading up to Cinni’s descent from Charlotte Lennon. I also edited the two-page introduction, which shows the now-aged female characters meeting at Violet’s mansion in the year 2000 to make an oral history and then a book about their adventures in the years leading up to WWII. I wanted to make everything consistent with the characters and the story as I’ve long known it, nothing reflecting the amateurish original draft.
It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would to almost entirely rewrite Chapter 1. I didn’t feel like I were betraying the little story I wrote for my seventh grade English 8H class. (I was a year ahead in my English classes from seventh grade on, so I was really at an eighth grade honors level that year.) I wrote a story featuring my then-relatively-new WTCOAC characters in the fall of ’92, in the style of the Poe story about the possessed bubblegum, with lots of fancy, elaborate language. But I had to recognise that that just didn’t work for the story that had ultimately emerged from that assignment. So I cut out all the ridiculous ornamental language except Cinni’s, and I showed her dad hanging his head in his hands over her goofy hundred-dollar words. When he told her to use the King’s English so the Brandts wouldn’t think she was an uneducated moron, he meant to avoid saying “ain’t” and using double negatives and improperly conjugated verbs. He didn’t mean for her to use thesaurus words no one uses in real life. (And boy, was I embarrassed when I caught myself writing my new opening in present tense, only to immediately start writing in present tense all over again after realizing my mistake! I guess I’ve spent so much time with my present tense characters that I couldn’t immediately get back in the habit of using past tense for my past tense characters. Maybe I was thrown off because the introduction in the year 2000 is indeed written in the present tense.)
After my extensive editing, rewriting, revising, and polishing of the original sections of the first seven chapters of my Russian novel, I know I’m no longer in that old immature place that said I could never edit out anything I wrote, just add new scenes and bits of dialogue. If the old sections aren’t consistent with the story that ultimately emerged as you became a stronger, more mature writer, go ahead and axe them out. Particularly if they add absolutely nothing to the story, such as saying the Filliards live in an old farmhouse that used to belong to French immigrants, or spending several pages just describing the Brandts. That’s fine during the rest of Part I, when Cinni is telling Sparky the story of the people she’s going to make friends with and the town she’s come to, but not when I’m establishing the story.
I decided to make the long narrative section of Part I more consistent with Cinni’s voice, since she’s the one who’s really “narrating” it. That means editing out anachronistic slang, an intrusive narrative voice essentially telling the reader what to think and beating them over the head with preachy or judgmental attitudes (hello, D.W. Griffith!), breaking of the fourth wall, and anything that would’ve happened after 1938 and which Cinni obviously wouldn’t know yet. In the few cases where I felt it were best to leave in some passages describing things that would happen after 1938 or that Cinni wouldn’t have known, such as the passages about Kit’s parents’ secret origins and how Cinni was emotionally scarred by FDR’s death because of how much she worshipped him, I put them in italics to distinguish them from the main track of young Cinni’s narration.
I also now find it ridiculous how I explained what was wrong with Mr. Filliard and why he was dying. I suppose, in my 12-year-old mind, it made sense to concoct a fantastic story about a local STD called WARDS, Weakness Acquired Reproductive Deficiency Syndrome, a disease he got from his wife and which would kill him by 1940. Mrs. Filliard had the disease removed from her blood. But that doesn’t explain how in the world she could get an STD without sexual contact herself, and how a disease could live in her bloodstream and then be removed as simple as that. It sounds as silly as the anti-science claims made by the anti-vaccination liars, but in my defence, I was only twelve years old. So I started thinking about what kind of disease he could have that would gradually weaken him and eventually kill him, and I hit upon rheumatic fever. That was the disease that ultimately took Lou Costello from this life before his time. It’s usually a children’s disease, but obviously it’s not unheard of for grownups to catch it. So now it’s established from the first page of the main text that Mr. Filliard had rheumatic fever in 1937 and hasn’t been the same since. It weakened his heart, and his doctor said it would eventually kill him.
It’s kind of tricky to me how to classify TVF (and the other three books in the introductory WTCOAC series). Most of the time, I’ve felt they were YA in spite of not having teen main characters, because they contain mature subjects and some off-color language. (No f words, but there are some other curse words, as well as some relatively mild vulgar slang and sexual references.) But these people were always deliberately written as older than their chronological age, and it’s made clear from the beginning why this is so. I also didn’t state Cinni’s age at the beginning, so that by the time the reader starts to realize how young these characters actually are, they’ve been established as people who seem like they’re about 12 or 13. It’s part of the humor, so deliberately over the top in the spoof/satire of modern-day preteens and teens who behave like that. Since they’re written as being lower YA ages, I suppose it could work to classify it that way, though I’m sure I’ll have censors’ groups after my blood for showing young people doing things like spying on their neighbors having sex, drinking beer, wearing revealing clothing to show off their preternaturally developed bodies, having physical relationships (but no intercourse), and disrespecting their parents. It’s supposed to be so deliberately over the top as to be funny, since you know that’s not real.
It’s really like two separate books, almost. The majority of Part I is a long introduction to the characters and the town, and Part II contains the actual story, of Sparky longing to become a real American girl. I’m glad I have my old print-out to check the converted MacWriteII file against, since there are once again misplaced floating text blocks and gibberish. Once it’s all put back properly together again and has been edited and rewritten, I hope it’s been puffed up to at least 40,000 words. Just like Adicia’s story needed about 390,000 words to be told properly and my Russian novel needed about 348,000, so too do my earliest WTCOAC books need lengths barely longer than a novella. You write the story you need to write, whether it be a doorstopper like my adult novels or a very slim book like these. I never considered them novels because they’re so short, and they’re series books besides.
Other progress reports from writers in the group: