A phenomenal anniversary for my beautiful swan


Twenty years ago today, 26 August 2001, I finished Chapter 41 of Swan (later entitled “Who Will Stand, Who Will Fall?” after a line in the chorus of the George Harrison song “The Lord Loves the One [That Loves the Lord]”), wrote the Epilogue, and typed “The End.”

I was 21 years old, and had been working on this book for almost the entirety of my teen years, plus my entire adulthood up to that point. Yes, there was a break from working on the novel proper from October ’93 to September ’96, but in between, I wrote several prequel short stories and additional scenes to be inserted into the book, as well as doing longhand editing of a printout of the entire story up to that point.

Soon after closing out of the final document of this massive doorstopper, I saw on aohell that the singer Aaliyah had just died in a plane crash. Though I don’t really follow contemporary pop culture, I’ll always remember that event and its date because it’s linked so closely to the end of my first draft.

All these years later, it’s stunning to think back on how young I was when I wrote the first draft, and yet how well I wrote it. Yes, I ended up junking or radically rewriting at least 95% of the original 1993 material, but there were so many places in my juvenile initial vision that perfectly led into a more mature direction and an actual plot with a real focus.

The material from the second major phase, my junior year of high school, didn’t need quite so many severe edits and excisions, but it did require more than light, surface tweaking. By that point, I’d begun making and working from short chapter-by-chapter notes and following a real storyline.

The material from the third and final major phase of the first draft, late ’98 through to the end, needed the least amount of editing. The vast majority of these chapters are largely unchanged but for adding and expanding certain scenes. I look back and marvel at how a good chunk of that was the work of a teenager! In my very late teens and thus technically an adult, but nevertheless still a teen.

And without any elaborate advance plotting and planning, I managed to ultimately link up all these groups of characters and their stories—the main cast, the orphanage girls, the middle Lebedeva sisters, Lena Yeltsina, Natalya Yeltsina, Mrs. Yeltsina and her older daughters. How did I do that?! I doubt I’d be able to pull off such a feat, or even write the book itself so well, if I were just starting out now.

Technology moved on, and I was unable to access any of my files on disks for almost an entire decade, even after buying an external disk drive. Finally, in April 2011, I figured out how to open and convert these documents in obsolete file formats.

When I typed “The End” at 21, I naïvely believed I only needed to really edit the earliest chapters. How very wrong I was! The entire manuscript received multiple edits, revisions, and rewrites over the next three and a half years.

Then I made various edits for a second, third, fourth, and finally fifth edition. Nothing too radical, mostly just some new, brief additions here and there. One of the later editions also involved replacing the cover. Though I remain proud of how those are the best human figures I’ve ever drawn, I’m now embarrassed I ever thought that looked professional.

My entire life long, this will stand as one of the books I’m proudest of having written, one of the books closest to my heart. We grew up together, and it wonderfully demonstrates my writing style during many distinct phases of my development.

Author: Carrie-Anne

Writer of historical fiction sagas and series, with elements of women's fiction, romance, and Bildungsroman. Born in the wrong generation on several fronts.

5 thoughts on “A phenomenal anniversary for my beautiful swan”

  1. “Soon after closing out of the final document of this massive doorstopper, I saw on aohell that the singer Aaliyah had just died in a plane crash. Though I don’t really follow contemporary pop culture, I’ll always remember that event and its date because it’s linked so closely to the end of my first draft.”

    I had followed rhythm and blues in passing – people like Monica and Brandy – and, yes, that crash. And several of the teens and twenties figures.

    [and many of the figures associated with Mariah Carey and her productive/writing side]

    Not the only plane crash that year of course. [though we weren’t to know it – then!]

    I remember the death of Aaliyah because I had been in the common room at that point or around that week. Yes, probably that morning or the next day.

    Back to the writing!

    When you said “the final document” – did you save lots and lots of documents?

    The long-hand editing – was that from 1996-2001?

    And Harrison was still alive [though very sick] by the time you called the Chapter what it did.

    [he was in his last months too].

    “And without any elaborate advance plotting and planning, I managed to ultimately link up all these groups of characters and their stories—the main cast, the orphanage girls, the middle Lebedeva sisters, Lena Yeltsina, Natalya Yeltsina, Mrs. Yeltsina and her older daughters. How did I do that?! I doubt I’d be able to pull off such a feat, or even write the book itself so well, if I were just starting out now.”

    There are moments – as a reader too – when you wonder HOW?

    Good old nerve, I guess. And steel, too.

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    1. I did longhand editing of the printout from about 1993–95, probably mostly 1994–95. A crash on the old ’93 Mac had resulted in losing the in-progress first draft of then-Chapter 7, and I didn’t yet feel up to recreating what I remembered. Given my elephantine memory, I was able to recreate pretty much everything when I returned to it in autumn ’96.

      The final document was just the Epilogue. Overall, I saved each chapter into its own document, as well as a few super-old documents containing several chapters from the original ’93 material.

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      1. Splitting each chapter was probably very wise, depending on how long they were – some might have been as long as a short story or a long book.

        EPILOGUE! I generally tend to keep the things very short – like a fringe of hair.

        [And there’s a lot to say about the function and structure of epilogues and afterwords].

        [Also their location in time – how far you go].

        [Some people put in a taste of the next chapter in the next work – both professionally published and self-published].

        1993 Macs were generally very stable. I had a 1992-issue Mac in mid-1994 and that was a fillip for any good writing project.

        [but early on I asked for more memory/RAM – it had originally 4 megabytes and then it had 10 and that was as far as I could expand.

        Trying to think how many kilobytes/megabytes MS Word would take].

        Argh! Chapter Seven going like that.

        [I will presume that nothing like that Chapter Seven exists in the published edition – or if it IS part of the 1-5 percent you kept].

        And yet you could and did re-create it with about three or four years’ residue and professional and personal experience.

        [that was put into the printout].

        [the whole 1994-95 or do you remember a set of months in particular? #elephantinememory]

        Then of course I recall you write/wrote in MacWrite.

        Any script doctoring in TeachText when you thought/knew a document was short and crucial? [SimpleText it then became].

        In modern times [2021] people grab TextEdit.

        So that was effectively early work from when you were 13 to 15.

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        1. Sorry, I meant the ’84 Mac, not the ’93 Mac! The book was begun on a 128K Mac and then moved over to the new 1993 Mac after it short-circuited in October ’93. That wasn’t the reason I lost the chapter in progress, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t have any unsaved documents open when the crash happened. The ’93 Mac eventually became my computer alone, and it was with me till another short-circuit in May 2002. The plastic cup of water holding my flower from the recent senior service tipped over faster than I could blink, and the water went into the openings on the top of the machine.

          The general events of Chapter 7 remain, but significantly fleshed out and radically rewritten.

          All these years later, I don’t recall when exactly I worked on the longhand edits on the printout. It’s still around somewhere, and might have been dated. If I had to guess, I’d say autumn of eighth grade, 1993, and on from there.

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