Among the noteworthy books I read this year:
Last Train from Hiroshima, by Charles R. Pellegrino. I only had to research the atomic bombs for one chapter of my WIP, yet I quickly developed a morbid fascination with this depressing, macabre topic. I just had to read as much as I could, and watch as many films as I could. I’m so glad that today, more and more people realise it was cowardly, immoral, illegal, and unethical to end the war in that way, and that Japan had been well on the way to surrendering anyway. Japan just wanted to avoid Germany’s fate with the Treaty of Versailles, and not be forced to agree to overly punitive terms.
My Brother, My Sister, and I, by Yoko Kawashima Watkins. It’s the sequel to her memoir So Far from the Bamboo Grove, and covers how she and her siblings struggled to stay together and make ends meet after the war, when they returned to their native Japan from Korea. They didn’t have a lot, but they had one another. I really raged at the mean girls at Yoko’s school, who treated her like garbage just because she didn’t have a moneyed life. Her only friend at school was the kindly Mr. Naido, who emptied the trash cans in the furnace room and always gave her scrap paper.
A Time to Dance, by Padma Venkatraman. This is a novel in verse set in India, about a teenage girl, Veda, who becomes a below-knee amputee following a devastating car accident. She’s been a dance prodigy, and has to learn a whole new approach to dancing with a whole new teacher. She’s helped by her new friend and fellow dancer Govinda, who teaches her to see dance as a spiritual affair, not purely physical.
Living in the Material World, a beautiful coffeetable book about George Harrison, full of beautiful pictures, stories, and quotes. George was such a special, beautiful soul.
I wrote over 200,000 words on my primary WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest, and finally crept up to Part IV. The end is finally in sight. My guesstimate going in, in November 2012, was 500,000 words, and I kept upping it as more of the story unfolded and it became obvious this needs a more massive canvas than I’ve ever worked with before. My current guesstimate is 825,000 words. I still can’t believe I’ve created such a long single-volume book! At least my handwritten magnum opus Cinnimin is intended as one book in 12 volumes!
I majorly reworked the first chapter of Little Ragdoll and made a few other final edits and revisions, after a long time of being bugged by certain things. It became more and more obvious that much of the first chapter was unnecessary backstory, infodump, and “As you know, Bob” dialogue. I also came to realise I didn’t need the several pages of catch-up backstory which interrupt the start of Part IV. Having time away from a manuscript is a beautiful thing.
I also did a lot more editing, rewriting, and revision on You Cannot Kill a Swan, my first Russian historical. I was dreaming if I’d thought it only needed a few more light sweep-throughs! I found so much cluttery chat, dialogue which just awkwardly rehashes established information or fills up space, and scenes and passages which don’t have enough details. I also changed Lyuba and Ivan’s skin of the teeth escape in Tallinn, so they now run into the waterfront Church of St. Simeon and Hanna the Prophet instead of lying underwater in the Gulf of Finland in March. They also go back to their ship in a collapsible lifeboat, instead of swimming. Seriously, that was NOT a very mature, realistic storyline!
I also rewrote a lot of Chapters 31 and 32, where Lyuba gives birth to Fedya and suffers in a fever-induced coma for the next week, and Svetlana reunites with her father and then-five accounted-for sisters. (There are ten Lebedeva sisters, and Mr. Lebedev finally gets his long-awaited only son after he remarries to Lyuba’s mother.) Much of the original material was, to say the least, rather ridiculous and implausible. I rewrote the offending material twice in a row, changing Lyuba’s condition from puerperal fever back to just fever. Puerperal fever always has an incubation period and isn’t contracted during the actual delivery. The final rewrite allowed me to bring in the kindly, radical Dr. Scholl, who’s also featured in my other two Russian novels so far. His surname is in honor of Sophie and Hans Scholl, the young brother and sister of the anti-Nazi White Rose.
I also did my first edit of my second Russian novel, The Twelfth Time. Thankfully, since I wrote it as an adult and not ages 13–21, it needs a much lighter hand. Mostly I changed or removed references to things which no longer happen in the first book, took out references to Fedya’s crib (Lyuba and Ivan now co-sleep with their babies), and removed the two pages or so of infodump at the beginning. I thought it would benefit a reader who might not’ve read the first book, but all that information becomes obvious over the course of the first few chapters anyway.
Knowing how and when to edit yourself is such an important skill, which a lot of modern writers seem to have forgotten. They rely on other people to tell them exactly how to fix or change things. And there’s nothing wrong with making your work stronger with the right kinds of critiques, but you ultimately know your work better than anyone else. Only you know how best to fix something, or if something needs reworking or deletion.
I officially did NaNo for the very first time and won, at just under 75,000 words. Thank God I realised the original material from 1996 was a hot mess and needed a near-complete redo! I still have a lot of work to do on finishing and revising my project, but I got a huge chunk out of the way. My conscience never would’ve forgiven me had I left this project on hiatus forever. Perhaps, from the other world, Aleksey wanted me to give him the happy ending he was denied in this life, and chose me as the messenger, the vessel, because I also know what it’s like to grow up knowing you’re different from the others, an eternal outsider looking in.
There are things I also can’t do, like go swimming during an eczema outbreak or go to a trampoline park (due to the metal hardware in my right ankle). “Normal” people take for granted being able to do these things, and don’t know the bittersweet pain of being kept away from a fun activity, watching as other people matter-of-factly have fun. Alyosha used to cry to his parents about how other boys had so many things, like bicycles and horses, while he was forbidden to engage in so many pastimes just because he was sick.
After my car accident, I also know what it’s like to look Death in the face and win, your whole existence influenced by such a traumatic experience. In the end, he was the last of his family to be murdered, staying so strong when so many times in the past he’d almost died. If only the murderers had shown any humanity and left him alone, after he’d remained alive and unharmed after everyone else had died.
Unlike a lot of other people, I never assumed he would’ve died young anyway. I’m so glad, as an adult, to discover my long-time convictions are grounded in fact, that he probably would’ve made a damn better Tsar than his inept father. He had so much more compassion, was more intelligent, was getting appropriate experience from a young age, had a sensitivity and maturity beyond his years, cared about the hurts of others, and said no one would be poor or unfortunate when he was Tsar.
I also seriously got back into my artwork and have begun moving towards a stricter level of Kashrut (kosher). I’ve begun weaning myself away from eating by non-kosher restaurants, and now will only order a cold dish from a non-kosher restaurant, eat by 100% vegan or vegetarian restaurants, or get food from an open-bar assembly line like Chipotle’s or Moe’s, where all the ingredients are kept separate.