The Insecure Writer’s Support Group convenes the first Wednesday of the month. Participants share their worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears.
This month, the IWSG question is:
What was your very first piece of writing as an aspiring [sic] writer? Where is it now? Collecting dust or has it been published?
I actually had never heard the term “aspiring writer” till five years ago. I’ve always called myself a writer, period, since to me, an aspiring writer is someone who wants to write but hasn’t started yet. The act of writing makes one a writer, published or not.
My first book was a picture book in yellow marker, I and a Sunhat, on my father’s work stationary of the time (1984), when I was four years old. I think it was for some early computer-related company. The pages were held together with tape. The book illustrated opposites, like Up and Down, Right and Left, Asleep and Awake, High and Low. Just now, I’m realising the parallels between that and my love of The Tao Te Ching, which began when I was 16. So much of Taoist philosophy is about opposites and duality.
I don’t know where the book is now. My mother was very attached to it, so I hope she kept it in one of the boxes which wasn’t destroyed up in the attic by mice in recent years.
July’s Camp NaNo was a brilliant success. I set my goal at only 30K this time, after having a really hard time reaching 50K in April’s Camp NaNo and JuNoWriMo. It paid off big-time, and super-increased my productivity and daily wordcounts. I not only got my win on Day 18, but also went above 60K.
I finally went back to Part II of my WIP, which is a series of flashback chapters, inspired by the early flashback chapters in Leon Uris’s Exodus. Those chapters are an actual, integral part of the narrative, without which we couldn’t fully understand the characters.
Not very long in, I felt I’d killed off way too many of these characters before they even existed. They were just names and death dates, not actual characters I’d gotten to know. Granted, I wanted to show a contrast between my Polish and Hungarian characters (miraculous rescues and escapes vs. cruel reality), but it still seemed too excessive.
Thanks to all the testimonies from the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive, I know a lot more about this chapter of Shoah history. Going in, I’d mostly drawn from the memoirs of Aranka Siegal and the late Isabella Leitner (and, later, Livia Bitton-Jackson). It’s not that the information is unrepresentative or misleading, but those were the accounts of two specific survivors, not everyone.
For example, I didn’t realise until very recently that it was extremely unusual for Isabella and her sisters to have spent six months in Lager C before being taken to another camp. Lager C was a transit camp for Hungarians, where no one was tattooed and very little official work was done. Selections for factories, relatively nicer camps, and work details in the main camp at Auschwitz I were constantly conducted. Prisoners weren’t meant to stay in Lager C longterm. Some were there as little as a few days. Because the sisters hid or ran from so many selections, they probably missed their golden ticket out of Hell.
Instead of radical frogging and working in even more members of an ensemble cast, I’ll have some of these characters, whom I really like, transported to other camps. Some of them also slip away during death marches. They survive separately from the main cast, and don’t reunite immediately after the war.
I also came up with a really great subplot for 17-year-old couple Tódor Reisman and Friderika Klein, which involves Friderika being pregnant and managing to make it all the way to the eve of liberation before giving birth. The gestation period works out perfectly, from 19 June 1944 till 9 April 1945.
Since I now know a number of Hungarian young women survived with their mothers (provided they were young enough), I saved the 39-year-old Mrs. Klein too.
It’s particularly appropriate that reis is German for “branch,” since the book’s title is The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees.
Lesson learnt: Never draw all your research from too few sources. Seek out a variety of information from multiple sources.