Since today is the second Tuesday of the month, it’s time for the Writers Support 4U progress report. I’m extremely happy to report that on 5 November, after Shabbos ended, I finished the sequel to my Russian novel. I decided to give up trying to impose an estimated word count range on it, since I realized counting words just isn’t my thing. I always cared more about just telling a story the way it unfolds, while noticing along the way how many pages are filling up. I never even knew until earlier this year that modern-day writers are supposed to count words. So it finished up at around 406,000 words, and I’m very proud of it. (The first book is around 348,000.) I don’t think I could’ve written it the way I ultimately did had I continued writing the discontinued first draft in the fall of 2001, when I was 21.

The top of the page is the final bit of my outline/notes for the sequel. Like some of the other chapters, it too was changed around a bit. The book now has 45 chapters, not just 40, and ends with an Epilogue containing the events of the planned Chapter 40. Ilya, Lyuba and Ivan’s sixth child, is also 11 weeks old, not 3 weeks old, when Lyuba’s mother, stepfather, youngest stepsister (16-year-old Fyodora), and baby halfbrother Osyenka (a month shy of seven) come to Minnesota to visit for Lyuba’s 31st birthday in December 1930. Below it is the first page of notes for the third book, which now has the planned title Journey Through a Dark Forest: Lyuba and Ivan in the Age of Anxiety.

Some of the second page of my decade-old notes for the third book. Once I organize these notes a little better into an actual outline and table of contents, instead of just describing plots and stories, I’ll be ready to start work. But first, I need a little time away from these people. My heart wants to immediately start the third book, but my head reminds me it’s never worked out well when I’ve tried to immediately start the next book with characters I’ve just spent a very long time with. After you’ve finished a saga, you need time to unwind and get back to normal, the same way I felt after I first watched some of the seminal silents, like The Crowd, The Big Parade, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and Ben Hur (the 1925 version is SO superior to that stupid Charlton Heston remake!).

Right now I’m working on a table of contents for Justine Grown Up, the third book in Adicia’s family saga (set through 1979-84), and going back through Adicia’s story (now all pasted into a master document that’s 1,269 double-spaced pages, not counting frontal material) to write in left-handedness for Adicia and 10 other characters, to break up some of the bigger paragraphs, and to slightly whittle down word count through making contractions, etc. I already eliminated all the superfluous “that”s. I’m annoyed at myself for forgetting to have any lefties in this book, but at least I’ve had enough time away from the manuscript to be able to go back and do some edits. I know it probably seems stupid to some people, but it’s always been very important to me to have characters in my own image, ambidextrous, left-handed, left-handed mixed, and predominantly left-handed. (I know how to write, eat, and sew with both of my hands, but I prefer the left for just about everything, and feel clumsy when I’ve tried to do some tasks with my right hand, like use a knife or strike a match. Although I do like messing with people’s minds by switching my hand midway through eating or writing!)

Of course, I couldn’t have gotten through my five months of writing my Russian novel sequel without my wonderful (and very unexpected, given my normal tastes!) soundtrack. Just because I normally am into classic rock and oldies, and usually only have albums made in my lifetime if the artists got famous before I was born, doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to have a few guilty pleasures and like groups from my childhood decade.


I’m actually a fair bit older than I look, believe it or not. Both of those records are a few years younger than I am. You know, music snobs can say whatever they want about bands who have been heavily promoted to the teenybopper market, but a lot of these bands have stood the test of time and have musical credit to back it up with (such as my first musical love, The Monkees, who are often bashed by people who don’t want to educate themselves). You can’t say that for all those annoying boygroups who started popping up in the late Nineties and early Aughts (although I’ll admit I sorta liked The Backstreet Boys, since compared to all the other copycat boygroups, they were comparatively talented and original). Me, I like to discover things (bands, books, actors, etc.) on my own, and not because everyone is telling me I should. If they’re still popular or well-regarded after enough time has passed, then I’ll see what all the fuss is about. I guess that’s why I’ve never really been into popular music, books, or actors of my own time, and prefer things that have stood the test of time.

Of course, I couldn’t have finished or even started the sequel without Hashem. As it says in the George Harrison solo song “Pure Smokey,” all talent is on loan from Hashem, and we should ultimately thank him/her for our talents and gifts. Hashem gave me the talent and interest for writing saga-length books, and the large memory required to store so many books and storylines in my head for so many years. To paraphrase the Shehecheyanu, the blessing recited over mitzvot we only do once a year or in celebration of doing something special for the first time or reaching a milestone:

My Sweet Lord, Ruler of the Universe, you whom I always pray to, you whom I love and believe in so much, thank you for granting me life, sustaining me, and enabling me to reach this joyous occasion.


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