What I’m Reading
Rising Sons: The Japanese American GIs Who Fought for the United States in World War II, by Bill Yenne. I’m enjoying it so far. As someone born in 1979, it’s often hard to understand how entrenched institutionalised racism was in everyday society not all that long ago. These men, and a few women, were brave and committed enough to fight for the same country which was tossing their people into internment camps, casually bandying about epithets like “Jap” and “Nip,” and creating racist cartoons showing the Japanese as yellow-skinned, buck-toothed apes.
What I’m Writing
Well into the last real round of editing and revising for my first Russian historical. The release is slated for 7 November, and since I want to place it for preorder, it needs to be ready by 28 October. By this round, I mostly needed to work on the first few chapters, and a few other odds and sods here and there. It’s finally to a point where I’m much more confident and proud of it. I’ve also added a number of other entries to the Glossary, and written “The Story Behind the Story,” about my inspiration and the book’s evolution during the three major writing periods in 1993-2001.
I’ll be honest, if I were starting this book as an adult, not a 13-year-old, I probably would’ve started much closer to the October Revolution, possibly even sometime in 1918, not in April 1917. I also probably would’ve put my characters in Petrograd (the name of St. Petersburg during 1914-24), not Moskva. But it is what it is, and the best I could do was change up a few things to work with actual history so the first two chapters wouldn’t have to be completely redone, along with much of the rest of the book.
For example, it must’ve been late into the third major period of writing the book that I created the first chapter storyline about Aleksandrovskiy Gymnasium (their high school) having been a hotbed of radicalism since before the war. The arrests and other acts of terror committed against their fellow Tsarists, which culminate at the end of Chapter 1, are described as the work of vigilantes and possible enemies after the change in régime. The roving Bolsheviks in Chapter 2 are changed to deserting soldiers (some of whom are Bolshevik) and forces sent by the provisional government to put down nearby peasant rebellions.
As I’ve said, I was one of those kids who read too much and understood too little. At 13, I really believed the Bolsheviks immediately took power after the February Revolution and unleashed a wave of terror. I didn’t understand the difference between the February and October Revolutions, nor why the vast majority of Russians hated the Tsar by 1917.
What Works for Me
If you’re writing 20th century historical, be very careful about modern language. Don’t assume the slang and expressions you’re familiar with were used for the entire modern era. One of my most-used resources is the Historical Dictionary of American Slang. Over the years, I’ve discovered many words and expressions I assumed were pretty old actually are fairly recent, like “hanging out,” “hooked up,” “sexist,” “chauvinist,” “dork,” “brainwashed,” “reprogram,” and “getting high.”
Also, make sure a place you’re writing about had that name at that time! I was beyond embarrassed recently to discover one of the cities in my first Russian novel was only renamed Kalinin in 1931, and still would’ve been called Tver in 1920. Since the end of the USSR, it’s reverted to its original name. Hey, my atlas was published in 1985, and it didn’t look like an obviously renamed city, like Stalingrad or Leninabad.
What Else I’ve Been Up To
I had an awesome Yom Kippur, not least because it was the first time in awhile I’ve completely observed the Sabbath. I’m really ashamed of how I haven’t been 100% Shomeret Shabbat (a guardian of the Sabbath) in recent memory, and fell into bad patterns instead of conquering my yetzer hara (evil inclination) and resisting temptation. I’ve already decided to stop driving on Shabbos, since it got to feel too hypocritical and wrong to walk to shul yet drive to dinner and lunch. If that means making Shabbos meals all by myself if I have no invitations, so be it.
The 8-day festival of Sukkot begins on Wednesday night, and concludes with Shemini Atzeret, a holiday where the prayer for rain is recited, and the joyous holiday of Simchat Torah. I always assumed I’d have my own family to celebrate the holidays with well before this age, but Hashem (God) knows better than I what direction my life was meant to take.