My Horny Hump Day post is here.


It’s time for the first meeting of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group this year.

I’ve finally stopped waffling and come to the conclusion that I’m not a YA writer in the modern, U.S. sense of the word. I’ve always most enjoyed writing about young people, but it’s become more and more obvious, based on contests, following trends, and such, that my stories are more adult in nature, and just happen to be about young people.

I’ve gotten a lot of good comments and feedback when I’ve entered Jakob’s story in contests and query critiques, but one thing that prevented a number of people from selecting it as a finalist was the length, and the narrative voice. 120K is actually a drop in the bucket by my adult standards, and this particular book is a lot closer to third-person limited than I usually do. Jakob remains the pivotal character throughout, and there’s never a scene where he’s not present. For example, when his mother Luisa is being abused at the police station before they go to Westerbork, he can only hear what’s going on in the other room, and then sees the evidence when Luisa is let go.

Traditionally, historical has been a lengthy genre. I usually look askance at historicals that aren’t at least 400 pages, though there are wonderful exceptions. I get the feeling that a lot of agents who list historical in a big laundry list of interests aren’t really passionate about it. If you were, you’d understand that it normally requires a fair bit of length for worldbuilding, not to mention how most historical novels are set over a number of years, not just a few months.

Jakob’s story ended up a bit over 120K, because that was the length that naturally unfolded for it. Cutting out at least 30,000 words just to make it shorter would make it not the same story anymore. It’s the same way that my Atlantic City books tend to be under 70K, because that length works best for the types of stories they are. Within each genre, there’s a continuum of normal, like 60K for a police procedural or YA contemporary, and over 300K for a lot of classic historicals and fantasies.

Also, I’m just really disappointed in a lot of YA historicals from the last 10 years or so. The best ones I’ve encountered tend to come from outside the U.S., where the focus is on a young person fully experiencing history, not a teen who just happens to be living through history. Don’t even get me started on the Gossip Girl in period clothes trend.

WUW Winter

What I’m Writing

Past the 555,000-word mark in my WIP, and up to Chapter 72, “Shelter in Shanghai.” In the last chapter, Lyuba, Ivan, Eliisabet, and Aleksey became grandparents to little Kira Tvardovskaya-Koneva, and the chapter before was the polio chapter. It was pretty emotionally challenging to end the chapter in the iron lung ward, as I had to research what an iron lung sounds like and then put myself in 12-year-old Violetta’s semi-conscious mind as she’s being taken into this place and put in that grotesque breathing machine.

Two of the girls, Beatrisa and Platosha, got non-paralytic polio and were able to walk again within a week, but the other two, Violetta and her sister Flora, were paralysed. In later chapters, little Flora will take a ballet class taught by Lyuba’s stepsister Lyolya, who knows what it’s like to have a mobility injury and gradually relearn how to walk and dance. Lyolya is about due to retire as a ballerina anyway, so teaching little polio survivors how to dance as part of their rehabilitation is a really nice touch.

Violetta is going to date and marry Lyuba and Ivan’s son Igor in the future fourth book (1948-52), so her being a polio survivor creates some good storylines. Being the sinistral chauvinist I am, I also made her left hand and arm untouched by paralysis. Though her paralysis isn’t permanent, her right side will be too damaged to remain her dominant side.

What I’m Reading

I saw The Age of Innocence in a classics display at the nearest library, and decided to revisit it 20 years later. In 8th grade, I basically just read the dialogue and short narrative passages, and still got an A+ on my social-studies book report. As an adult, I can appreciate the writing style and storyline much better, though I still think there are way too many descriptive passages and backstories bogging down the action, as well as far too much telling.

What Inspires Me

I’ve got an upcoming blog series called “Diseases and Historical Fiction.” Part I, to go live on the 13th, is a general debunking of the vaccine-denialist cult and their complete ignorance of history and hatred/abuse of children with ASDs. In the final paragraph, I’m officially outing myself, and that prospect no longer frightens me. God chose to wire my brain a little differently, and that’s just part of who I am. The fact that these people would see me as damaged, defective, cursed, nonexistent as an adult, or soulless enrages me, and I don’t think it’s right to continue hiding in the crowd just because I learnt how to more or less pass as “normal.”

What Else I’ve Been Up To

I was playing around a bit with my title page for Little Ragdoll, and changed the typeface a few more times. The original Edwardian Script seemed too fancy for the type of story it was, and Monotype Corsiva, Lucida Handwriting, Lucida Calligraphy, and Snell Roundhand felt a bit dull, not too creative or inspired. I initially loved Handwriting Dakota, since it matches the typeface in the Wordle I made, but I had to look it up to make sure Dakota isn’t considered amateurish or overused by serious typographers. I’d hate to unintentionally use something as disreputable as Comic Sans or Papyrus!

I ultimately found a typeface called Journal, which is recommended as one of several substitutes for Dakota. It conveys the same feel of casual handwriting, is still very similar to the Wordle typeface, looks better-designed (no slanting, and the characters are closer together and more proportionate), and really does match the story of a young girl, her sisters, and their friends growing up poor in Manhattan during the Sixties and early Seventies. I made the title dark blue, Adicia’s favourite colour.

LR Title Page

16 thoughts on “IWSG and What’s Up Wednesday

  1. If it comes out that no one will buy the book for whatever reason, publish it yourself.

    The idea of making the character switch dominant hands is going to create additional problems in a historical perspective, because those who were left handed were stigmatized.


    1. I’ve got lots of lefty characters, and don’t shy away from the prejudice and stigma of the times. Ivan and his oldest son Fedya were abused pretty horribly in school, until finally Ivan’s teachers left him alone, and Fedya was pulled out of school and found a home tutor who’s also a lefty. It’s hard to write about, but it’s something I can’t get out of as a historical writer.


  2. I’m a new visitor, but it sounds like you’ve got some fascinating stories in the works! I love the idea of the retiring ballet teacher helping polio survivors. That’s delightful, and makes me want to get to know that character more. Keep it up!


  3. i agree that agents don’t always have passion for their lengthy list of genres they accept. and i think you’re right on with historicals needing length and most good ones coming from outside the US. we will always be the younger siblings to the rest of the world… but i feel you do a great job and will find a wonderful agent someday who appreciates your work!

    i always learn something new of old here!
    happy new year!


  4. Books sometimes need to be the length they are, whether it is 50,000 words or 200,000 words. And writing books about young characters doesn’t necessarily make them YA. There’s nothing wrong with having an adult book featuring a young protagonist. For example, Stephen King sometimes have young characters in his books, but there’s no way they’d be YA. 🙂

    Good luck with everything!


  5. It sounds like your realization that you write historical fiction not YA is a good thing. Teens read books for adults and adults read books for teens. All labels like YA and Historical do is give the reader an idea of what type of book to expect. If your writing doesn’t fit into the standard guildlines of the genre, don’t change your writing style, claim your true genre.

    I do think that the significance of word count is decreasing with the rise of ebooks. Readers have an expectation of what a physical book is supposed to look like. As you said, you are wary of reading historical books that look to short. But with ebooks, novels are becoming much more common at the same time as epic tombs are engaging readers who might have been fearful of a 700 page hardback.

    Your stories will find their readers, even if they do bend genres and break rules.


  6. Go with your gut and write what you want. Bending to other people’s ways is more likely to stifle than inspire you.

    Also, eeep, an iron lung. What an awful experience that must’ve been for a child.


  7. I’ve never actually read THE AGE OF INNOCENCE but I did enjoy the movie. That was long before I had the rule about not watching movies before reading the book though. Your research on the history of diseases sounds fascinating! I always tend to be interested in the future of medical advances, but it really is interesting to see how far science has come over the years.


  8. Historical fiction is definitely a wordy genre, much like true sci-f or fantasy. Stay true to that and you will be doing yourself and your interests justice, which is more important than trends. Look at Dianna Gabaldon–her novels are very long and very popular.


  9. I really don’t know much of anything about polio, but it sounds as though you’ve done some fascinating research into the disease. I would love to attempt historical fiction at some point, but I’m so worried I’d fall into this vortext of research and never resurface. I love learning about history and I think I’d just wander off on bunny trails out of pure interest. I recently read an adult book that technically could have been an adult/YA split because one of the main characters (the story was partially from her perspective) was a teen girl. It’s nice figuring out where your story fits, don’t you think?


  10. You’re right, cutting 30000 words will change your story. I’m going through this right now. My paranormal ms was well over 110k, and too long for this genre. Cutting it has changed the story because I had to change the plot. It’s been frustrating and most of the time I feel like I’m back peddling, but… I like this new direction. Historical fiction is different though and like you said, tends to be lengthy. However, I recently read a fantastic historical fiction book, Shiri by DS Taylor and it caps out at 350, though I believe it’s destined to be the first in a series…. Anyway, good luck with your ms and I’d say, stick to your gut feeling and don’t try to slash the word count just to fit a mold.


  11. I’ve read so many books with young protagonists that aren’t YA at all. Genre is just a way for publishers to market their stories and stores to organize their inventory. Stick to your guns and you’ll be happy.


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