Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween! This year, for my Halloween-themed excerpt, I’m sharing the first half of Chapter 6, “Samhain Proposal,” of Green Sunrise, the hiatused sequel to Little Ragdoll. Here, it’s 1974 in Hudson Falls, NY, where six of the Troy siblings and the three Ryan sisters now live.

This is a shortened, edited version of the rough draft.

“I just love Halloween,” Fiona says as she, Deirdre, and Adicia decorate the yard and Ernestine, Aoife, and Justine decorate the house on a Saturday two weeks before the holiday. “Christmas and Easter decorations are really pretty, but Halloween decorations are really groovy.  I prefer spooky stuff.”

“Halloween, or should I say Samhain, is gonna be extra-special this year,” Deirdre says. “It’ll be a holiday no one’s ever gonna forget, particularly not Ernestine.”

“What are you planning?” Adicia asks as she stands on a ladder to drape Halloween lights over a tree. “Can we be let in on this secret?”

“So long as you don’t squeal to Ernestine.” Deirdre looks behind her to make sure the windows and door are shut, then pulls a wooden box out of her baggy front skirt pocket. “Have a look at what I bought her when I pretended I was studying late at the campus library.”

Fiona pops open the box and squeals at the sight of a ring with a heart-shaped garnet clasped by two hands, with a crown on top. “You’re proposing?”

“It’s time to take the bull by the horns.  This is called a claddagh.  I got a garnet ‘cause red’s her favorite color, and rubies are too damn expensive.  The three symbols represent love, loyalty, and friendship.  They’re traditional Irish wedding and engagement rings.”

“When are you gonna pop the question?” Adicia asks. “Is it gonna be in private or a public event?”

“I think I’ll do it on Samhain night, when we get back from trick-or-treating.  I’m gonna slip it into her candy bag and wait for the results.”

“You’re going trick-or-treating?” Adicia asks. “At twenty-two?”

“We all did it in Poughkeepsie.  Why not take the opportunity better late than never?  You’re going trick-or-treating too.”

“Folks here are nice, even if somea ‘em don’t share our revolutionary principles,” Fiona says. “They won’t care we’re not kids.  I’m going to be a dragon, and Aoife’s gonna be a ladybug.”

“Are you staying home with the baby this year, Adicia?” Deirdre asks.

“Robbie would love to get candy!  My baby’s never gonna lack for anything.  Lenore made him the cutest little monkey costume, and she made Oliver an elephant costume.”

“I’d love to celebrate the traditional Celtic way.  Some folks practice divination on Samhain, predicting stuff like your future spouse and how many kids you’ll have.  We can have fun trying our hand at that.  Some Wiccans and Celts also use the holiday to pay tribute to their ancestors and other loved ones who are no longer here.”

Deirdre quickly shoves the ring box back into her pocket when the door opens and Ernestine comes out with Robbie on her hip.  Ernestine doesn’t notice anything out of the ordinary about Deirdre’s expression and proceeds over to Adicia, handing her the baby.

“He started fussing like he wants to nurse, and I think he wants you instead of grape juice in a cup.”

Adicia’s eyes have lit up at the sight of her child, and she doesn’t wait to go inside to ease him under her blouse.

“It still gets me how happy she looks every time she sees him,” Ernestine says. “She looks like a kid in a candy store.  It’s the kinda look our mother never gave any of us but Tommy.”

“We’ll both be giving that kinda look to our babies soon enough,” Deirdre says. “We’ll be one big happy family, even if it’s a little different from most.”

***

Before everyone sets out for trick-or-treating on Halloween, they meet at Lucine and Zachary’s for Simone’s second birthday party.  Simone is dressed as a tiger and sitting in a chair decorated with pink and purple streamers and balloons.  Some of her friends from daycare are there with their parents.

“I helped frost the cake!” Fiona says. “It looks like a wrapped present, and has cherry filling.”

“What a great unisex costume!” Emeline says. “A tiger can be a boy or a girl.  We had a storytime and Halloween activity for young kids today at the library, and a bunch of ‘em were dressed in such disappointingly sex-typed costumes, like princesses, kings, ballerinas, cowboys, and witches.  If I ever have kids, I’ll give ‘em costumes just like Simone’s.”

“I hope you don’t think Amelia’s and my costumes are too girly,” Irene says. “I know girls can do anything, but I like dressing like a girl.”

“I suggested to your mommy you could be a Colonial girl and a pioneer girl, and I helped her shop for fabric.  I always wanted costumes like that growing up.  They’re feminine without being too girly.”

“How long are we going out for?” Ernestine asks as Allen takes pictures of the cake.

“Simone can probably only handle an hour at most,” Lucine says. “Oliver and Robbie will probably be the same.  Don’t tell me you’re going.”

“Deirdre and I are both going.  We never did it growing up, so we might as well milk it while we can still get away with it.”

“Don’t they have a Halloween party at the university yous guys can attend?”

“I’m a sexy saloon girl, and Deirdre’s a pirate.  Afterwards, we’re gonna try our hand at divination.  Emeline’s coming with us.  It must stink to be all alone on the funnest day of the year.”

“I’m not trick-or-treating,” Emeline defends herself. “I’m just meeting up with them at their house after I’m done handing out candy.”

Lucine pats Emeline on the shoulder. “Hopefully someday you’ll have a husband and a couple of kids, and you won’t always have to tag along with us.  Not that we mind having you, but it’s nice to have your own separate family.”

“I’m not entirely alone.  I’ve got Georgiekins.”

“A cat can’t take the place of people, no matter how nice he is.  I hope you don’t mind you’re in my prayers.  I want you to find love like the rest of us.  Even Ernestine’s gonna lesbian-marry Deirdre at some point.”

“It’s called a handfasting,” Deirdre corrects her. “What the hell kinda term is ‘lesbian-marry’?”

“Well, whatever you call it, it is happening eventually, isn’t it?”

“You better believe it.” Deirdre smiles enigmatically as Zachary lights the candles.

***

Adicia, Ernestine, Deirdre, Fiona, Aoife, Justine, Lenore, Lucine, and Sarah canvassed a twenty-block radius with Irene, Amelia, Oliver, Simone, Robbie, Fritz, and Nessa before heading back to their respective houses.  A few people looked askance at Ernestine’s costume, which consists of a purple corset attached to a very short skirt with black fringes, fishnets, her one pair of heels, black lace glovelets, a dark pink leg garter, and a big purple feather on her head, but no one held back candy.

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“Next year, I’m gonna be a sexy French maid,” Ernestine announces as she kicks off her heels the minute they get inside. “It’s a blessing in disguise we were cheated outta proper Halloweens growing up, ‘cause when you’re a kid, you can’t wear fun costumes like this.  Plus I probably woulda gotten stoned for wearing something like this in public.”

“I hope you mean at a costume party for adults,” Adicia says. “You and Deirdre both said this was probably your last year to go trick-or-treating.”

“You didn’t have a true Halloween till you were eighteen either.  I’m surprised you’re not milking all that lost time for all it’s worth too.”

Ricky looks away from Ernestine in embarrassment and takes Robbie from Adicia. “I’ll be upstairs with the little monkey while you girls are down here doing your thing.  I’ll read him Corduroy and The Poky Little Puppy.  Those are his favorites.”

“Don’t be afraid to look at me,” Ernestine teases him as he limps up the stairs.  “Nothing you haven’t seen before.  This is downright modest given somea the stuff in Adicia’s lingerie closet.”

Adicia turns as red as a beet.

“Don’t you go being shy either.  We all do each other’s laundry, and I bought you that dark blue corset with the matching garter belt.  I see it in the wash so often, I guess you’re getting good mileage outta it.”

“Shall we get on to divination?” Adicia asks. “That’s Emeline’s car pulling up.”

Fiona gets the door for Emeline, who’s in a dark green velvet flapper dress. George jumps into Justine’s lap while Emeline finds a place on the davenport.

When Ernestine gets up to pet him, Deirdre stealthily retrieves the ring box from under the davenport and tosses it into Ernestine’s pillowcase full of candy.  Each embroidered her pillowcase differently, so they won’t get them mixed up.  Deirdre’s has shamrocks, Ernestine’s has flowers, Fiona’s has baby animals, Aoife’s has moons and stars, and Justine’s has butterflies.

“It’s not time for candy yet,” Emeline calls when she sees what Deirdre’s doing. “I thought divination was your idea.”

“What method would you like to try first?” Deirdre asks, trying to look and sound as normal as possible. “Tea leaves, Tarot cards, apple peels, I Ching, palmistry, Runes, bibliomancy, lithomancy, podomancy, what?”

“What’s podomancy?” Justine asks.

“Palmistry for the feet.”

Justine and Aoife wrinkle their noses in unison.

“That’s gross,” Aoife says. “I don’t think our feet smell like roses right now.”

“How do you tell fortunes with apple peels?” Justine asks.

“You throw it behind you or drop it into a bowl of water, and the letter it forms is the first letter in the name of the person you’re gonna marry.”

“What if it falls into a lump or a straight line?” Fiona asks.

“If it breaks, it means you’ll never wed.  Other methods for tryna predict if you’ll have a faithful lover or if you’ll ever wed are roasting chestnuts and seeing if they stay close together or drift apart, and separating an egg white and putting it in a bowl of water.  If the egg white sinks, you’ll be alone for the next year.”

“Didn’t all these parlor tricks originate when most girls were married by all of eighteen?” Emeline asks. “They also started before the modern concept of dating.”

“Can I start with the apple peel?” Justine begs.

“Sure, if you know how to peel an apple in one piece,” Deirdre says. “In the meantime, who wants to give me her palm first?”

Fiona scoots over to the coffeetable and gives her sister her hand while Justine is in the kitchen peeling an apple in one unbroken piece.  Deirdre tells her the names of the major lines and mounts, followed by an analysis of the shape, size, and appearance of her hands, fingers, and fingernails.  They’re all laughing at Deirdre’s prediction that Fiona will have at least seven children when Justine returns with her apple peel.

“Does anyone else wanna try counting?” Deirdre asks. “I’m not sure if I’m seeing more than seven, or if somea the extra lines are broken segments of pre-existing lines.”

“Where are these lines?” Justine asks.

“Under the pinky.  They say that you’ll have as many kids as there are lines.” Deirdre gets up. “Close your eyes and I’ll spin you three times.  You toss the apple peel over your left shoulder after the last spin.”

“Are there any boys you like, Justine?” Emeline teases as Deirdre spins her. “Any names you’d like to tell us?”

“There are a couple of guys I fancy, but no one I’d be interested in getting serious with.  I’m having a hard time in somea my classes; the last thing I need is a relationship.”

“Are you failing?” Ernestine asks. “If you’re having difficulties, we might be able to help you.”

“I’m having problems too,” Aoife confesses. “They’re nothing that can’t be fixed.”

Justine throws the apple peel over her left shoulder and holds onto Deirdre for support, her eyes still closed.

“Is that an O?” Emeline asks. “Or maybe a G?”

“I think it’s a U or a V,” Fiona says.

“Oh, brother,” Deirdre says. “That looks like a D to me.”

Justine blushes. “Even if this stuff is for real and not just a parlor game, I’m still five years younger than David.”

“You’ll be old enough for him someday,” Adicia says. “Age differences aren’t so big when you get older.”

“Can we try tasseography now?” Ernestine asks. “I’m mad with curiosity to see if you can see anything concrete in a bunch of loose tea leaves.”

“Maybe you can have some candy with the tea,” Deirdre encourages her. “Do you have a preference for tea?”

“Raspberry green tea with honey, please.”

Deirdre picks up where she left off with reading Fiona’s palm while the water heats up and Emeline pulls out teacups, saucers, the wooden box of teas, and the blue cast iron teapot with a butterfly motif.  Ernestine thumbs through one of her fortune-telling books as she waits.

“This line right above the Heart Line and under the index and ring fingers is the Girdle of Venus,” Deirdre says as Ernestine sips the tea. “It’s usually found in people who are extremely sensitive.  This marking between the Head and Heart Lines is La Croix Mystique.  It means you’ve got a natural gift for mysticism and the occult.”

“That’s groovy,” Fiona says.

Ernestine sets down her teacup midway through her drink and reaches for her pillowcase, hoping to pull out a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, a bag of M&Ms, or a Snickers.  Instead she finds the wooden box on top of her sack of loot.  Curious, she pulls it out and examines it.

“Did anyone else get something like this?  Don’t tell me it’s from some dentist who gave out boxes of coins ‘steada real candy.  We had some awful killjoy back in Poughkeepsie who gave out toothbrushes every Halloween.”

“At least you can do something with money,” Aoife says. “The worst are the dentists and health nuts who give out apples.  Who wants an apple on Halloween?”

Ernestine pulls the box open and finds a folded note propped up on a slight angle.  Even more curious, she sets the box down, neglecting to notice the ring, and reads the note.

My belovèd Ernestine Zénobie Troy, you are my best friend, my life, my soul, my heart, the only best friend and life partner I want for the entire rest of my earthly existence.  We promised this to each other six years ago, but now I’m formally, officially asking you again if you’ll be my best friend, my dear one, my partner through life, even until we’re seventy, and beyond if we live so long.  We’ve been inseparable and interconnected since we were kids, and now I want to make things permanent by having a handfasting ceremony binding us together as wives.  Will you please make my world complete by telling me you’ll marry me?  Love forever and always, Deirdre Apollonia Ryan, Halloween 1974.’”

Deirdre looks at her expectantly. She knows full well what the answer will be, but is unable to breathe until she knows for sure.  Ernestine sets the note on the table and turns her attention back to the little box, letting out a loud, excited scream when she sees the brilliant red garnet in the claddagh setting.

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“Yes, of course I’ll marry you, Deirdre!  I’ll belong to you forever!” She jumps up and throws her shaking arms around Deirdre. “Would you like to put the ring on for me?”

Deirdre slips it onto Ernestine’s left hand. “I knew it’d fit you perfectly!”

“This is awesome!” Justine says. “Now you’re gonna be our real sister-in-law, and Fiona and Aoife are gonna be our sisters too!”

“It’ll be so nice to officially be family,” Deirdre says. “Ernestine, how about a June wedding, after finals and papers?”

“June is fine by me!”

“Can we start planning the wedding tomorrow?” Aoife asks. “Is it in good taste for us to reuse our bridesmaid dresses from Adicia and Ricky’s renewal?”

“You can if you want, but it’s always nice to have new clothes for a special occasion if you can afford them.  At the very least, Deirdre and I will have to look for wedding dresses.  I’d love to go back to Mrs. Marsenko’s salon.”

“Better book the appointment for an entire day,” Fiona says. “You know how much Deirdre hates formal clothes.  I bet she’ll try to get away with wearing hot pink, turquoise, or electric green.”

“I’ll have to take you to look for your own engagement ring tomorrow, darling,” Ernestine says. “Does anyone wanna look at how gorgeous my ring is?”

“We all saw it already, but not on your hand,” Adicia confesses.

“Well, I didn’t see it,” Emeline says.

Ernestine giddily dances over to her and thrusts her hand in Emeline’s face.

“Rubies were too expensive, but I know red is your favorite,” Deirdre says. “That’s called a claddagh.  It’s very traditionally Irish.  It represents love, loyalty, and friendship.”

“Very pretty,” Emeline says. “I’m kinda jealous.”

“You’ll get a fellow someday, if you want it enough,” Adicia tries to cheer her up. “Why don’t you try onea those divination games to see if you’re gonna get a fellow within the year, or what the first letter of his name might be?”

“If you walk out the door backwards at night, pick some grass, and put it under your pillow, you’ll dream of your future husband,” Fiona says. “If you eat a dry crust of bread at night, any wish will come true.”

“You can also wear your night clothes inside-out to dream of your future spouse,” Ernestine says, still admiring her ring.

“I don’t wear anything to bed mosta the time,” Emeline confesses.

The others look at her in surprise, barely able to imagine Emeline of all people, the stereotypical quiet, shy librarian, routinely sleeping in the nude.  Justine and Aoife are unable to contain their giggles.

“Well, you know what they say about those quiet ones!” Emeline giggles a little herself. “When it’s really hot, who needs pajamas or sheets if you’re the only one around?  I pulled it off a couple of times at Vassar when my roommate was there, by maneuvering just so.  She never suspected anything.”

“Does anyone else know this?” Deirdre asks.

“I told Lenore awhile ago, and she was kinda blown away too, but she thinks it’s my own personal business.  Speaking of, don’t you think it’s a good idea to go over and tell her and Allen your exciting news?”

“Oh, we will, but first we can do another divination game,” Ernestine says. “You crack an egg, separate the white, and put the white in a bowl of water.  If it floats, you’ll soon be married, or you’ll continue to be happy in an existing relationship.  If it sinks, you’ll be alone for the next year.”

While Deirdre fills a bowl with water and separates a yolk and white into little bowls, Justine gets a piece of paper and starts doing some calculations while Aoife and Fiona dig into their candy.

“What are you doing math for?” Aoife asks.

“I’m figuring out when David and I won’t break the half plus seven rule.  I’ll be nineteen and he’ll be twenty-four.”

“Oh, boy, if only my brother knew what a big crush you have on him,” Aoife says. “Even if he were interested, it’s kinda lowlife for a guy in his twenties to date a teen girl.”

“Lenore was eighteen and Allen was twenty-one when they got together.”

“There’s a smaller difference between eighteen and twenty-one than there is between nineteen and twenty-four,” Emeline says.

Deirdre presents her with the bowl of water and the bowl with the egg white. “Have at it.”

Emeline pours the white into the water, and her heart sinks when the white immediately sinks to the bottom.  She’s not entirely surprised, and knows it’s only a game, but is still a little offended the negative outcome attributed to this superstition had to present itself immediately.  At least the white could’ve floated around for a little bit on a gradual descent to the bottom.

“Remember, you always told us the right guy’s worth waiting for, and that your future spouse will be even more special and appreciated if you had to wait a really long time for him,” Adicia tries to cheer her up, seeing the look on her face.

“Never mind this silly egg white,” Ernestine says. “We’ve got some calls to make.  After Lenore and Lucine,  we’ll call Sarah, David, Julie, Betsy, Mr. and Mrs. van Niftrik, and Gemma.”

“I hope they don’t care how late it is,” Deirdre says.

“That’s a valid point.  Why don’t we hold off breaking the news till tomorrow?  For now it’s just between us.  Why don’t we get back to divination now?”

“Oh, come on, don’t you wanna enjoy some post-engagement sex?” Fiona asks. “We won’t mind if yous guys retire early and leave us without our resident divination experts.”

“Not with all of yous knowing that’s what we’ll be doing!” Ernestine hopes she isn’t turning too red. “It was bad enough when my own parents did that without caring we walked in on them or overheard them!”

“Unless one or both of yous is having her monthly visitor, I’m pretty sure we all know you’ll be doing that anyway after you hit the hay.”

“Yeah, we’re all ladies here,” Justine says.

“We’re not going upstairs to have celebratory engagement sex,” Ernestine reiterates firmly.

“We don’t mind if we overhear anything,” Fiona says. “It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve overheard you.  Though I don’t know if sound carries as far downstairs as it does down the hall.  Me, Justine, and Aoife have overheard Adicia and Ricky doing it too, and we’re not embarrassed to look them in the face afterwards either.”

“This conversation is over,” Ernestine declares. “Now where were we with divination?”

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IWSG—Grueling edits

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

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:

Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

That’s what many of my books are! I wrote the rough drafts when I was really young. Most of these are my Atlantic City books, which I love radically rewriting and restructuring (as exhausting as that can be!).

I never understood why my mother felt I should “move on” after reaching some arbitrary age. I love these characters and their stories, and literally grew up with the original cast of characters. We’ve known one another since we were eleven years old. After now 25 years together, I kind of know them inside and out. That puts me in the perfect position to not only continue writing the stories of their lives, but also to revise their oldest stories.

I also want to resurrect my 18th and 19th century characters, whom I thought I’d permanently shelved in the early Nineties. I figure if I never forgot their names and stories in all these years, they were meant to be. I also created these characters (albeit not historical originally) when I was like five or six years old. It’s destiny.

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I just finished second edition edits for Little Ragdoll, which I’m still waiting on the revamped cover for. I first went through the book on my newer computer and made a file with all the things I needed to change on the Word and HTML files on my older computer. (My newer computer won’t open Word 2003, since it’s a Power Point PC application, and I don’t think I can do Time Machine on a computer which never had an older operating system like Mountain Lion.)

My older computer was behaving very well, though it was taking a lot longer than I anticipated. After fixing all the main issues, I began doing find/change to root out excess usage of crutch words and phrases like “even,” “yet,” “apparently,” “I know,” “now,” “I mean,” “still,” “then,” “ever,” and “just.”

I ultimately decided to go through the entire file and make the changes as part of a read-through, not finding them and deciding if the usage of that word or phrase worked in that context or could be junked. I felt it’d reduce the effort.

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I became concerned my older computer was being overused, and making that whirring sound more often than not. Its left fan is broken, and while it’s not dangerous, I don’t like risking overheating. This computer is ten years old, and doesn’t need overworked in its senior years!

I took the most recently saved Word file onto my flash drive and converted it into Pages on my newer computer, so I could work on it as one file, instead of going back and forth between three files on two computers. This still took a long time and wore me out, but it was a lot more practical.

Afterwards, I saved it as a doc file and went back onto my older computer, who really appreciated its resting period. All I had to do was re-hyperlink the table of contents in the Word file. Thankfully, the chapter and appendix titles still registered as being in a heading style, so I didn’t have to go through and redo that as well. After that, I converted it back into an HTML file.

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I took out almost 22,000 words, after thinking I’d just be doing minor tweakings. I’m so much happier the slightly shorter, much stronger second edition has replaced the first edition which released 20 June 2014. It’s a blessing in disguise it only sold maybe two copies since its release.

I made some really stupid mistakes in marketing, and then gave up trying in humiliation and embarrassment because no one was buying my books. Once I have revamped covers for both LR and Swan, I’m going to finally make paper copies of all four of the books I currently have out, and I’ll be able to do things like book-signings and library promotions.

Lessons learnt from post-publication polishing, Part III

There’s nothing better than good old-fashioned time in a writer’s journey. We become better writers with the passage of time, and learn what our weaknesses are and how to edit our work. Excellent, experienced critique partners and the most esteemed editor in the world telling us such-and-such is awkward phrasing, an overused word, cluttery chat, overwrought prose, or infodumpy dialogue won’t mean anything if it doesn’t click in our brains. We have to see it for ourselves, not merely be told it’s a problem. Only then can we begin to understand how to improve.

Thus, I noticed a number of shortcomings while editing the second edition of Little Ragdoll. In addition to what I’ve previously mentioned, I also found:

1. Rehashing established information. We already know, for example, everything good Allen has done for Lenore since he gave her a safe place to stay when she was a 15-year-old runaway. Why be reminded of the main points every time Lenore reflects on or talks about their history together?

We also already know all the good things Father and Mrs. Murphy up in Yorkville have done for Lucine and Emeline, and how they adopted oldest sister Gemma’s birth son Giovanni after she divorced her abusive, unwanted husband and started over. There’s no need to be reminded again and again.

2. Pointless, cluttery chat adding nothing to the scene, or coming across like me putting my own viewpoints into characters’ mouths. At one point, Allen is talking about how his parents were very upset when Giovanni was adopted and taken out of their clutches, since they’d been planning to sell him for at least $1,000 on the baby black market. There’s no need to point that out when we already know how black-hearted they are and why Allen doesn’t want them coming anywhere near his kids.

In another scene, when Ernestine, Julie, and the three oldest Ryan siblings are comforting Adicia after her black-hearted, unmotherly mother coerced her into sacrificing her virginity to save her mother from returning to prison, Ernestine and Girl/Deirdre get into a discussion about the repackaging of Beatles’ albums. Though Adicia snaps at them to have this conversation later, and they apologize, it’s still really inappropriate they began discussing that during such an emotional time.

3. If a character is meant as an intellectual or someone very political, make sure that naturally flows with the overall direction of a scene or dialogue. Emeline just wouldn’t be the same Emeline if she didn’t constantly bubble over with chatter about books, philosophy, music, Eastern religions, and vegetarianism. Likewise, Girl/Deirdre, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Ernestine wouldn’t be the same if they weren’t so tuned into politics and social issues. They have to be discussing that for a reason, not out of the blue.

4. Some dialogues and passages don’t lose anything, and are made stronger, by cutting out the fat. This goes for removing overwrought prose, too many details, unnecessary lines, rehashing established information, and polemics which sound more like the author trying to work one’s opinions in than a character naturally expressing such thoughts.

In the scene of Ernestine and the Ryans riding up to Hudson Falls from Poughkeepsie for Thanksgiving 1972, I cut out everything Deirdre said about a certain topic. Now, Adicia begs to talk about something else after she feels Deirdre’s scathing critique of this subject is finished. I similarly cut out the dialogue Ernestine and Deirdre have when revisiting this subject during baking on Christmas Eve.

5. When a story is set during a very political time, conversations of a political nature are kind of inevitable. The first time the subject of the Vietnam War is broached, it leads into Lenore hoping Allen isn’t drafted, and then turns into the girls planning what Lenore will get Allen for his upcoming 21st birthday and trying to get Lenore to admit she has a crush on Allen.

Chapter 37, “The Year the World Went Up in Flames,” is about 1968, and so it naturally follows there will be discussions about things like the presidential election, RFK’s assassination, the feminist protests by the Miss America pageant, and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Were I only starting over with this story today, I’d write certain things differently, maybe change wraparound narrative passages into active scenes. Part I in particular might be drastically different. But this is how the story came together, and I can’t alter everything in the impossible quest for perfection.

Lessons learnt from post-publication polishing, Part II

Going in, I believed I’d only be tweaking Little Ragdoll for its physical copies, doing things like catching stray typos and removing all those excess “even”s I was so fond of. Instead, I’ve cut about 13,000 words so far. That’s a drop in the bucket considering how long it is, but even a deliberate saga needs to be as tight as possible.

First things first, it’s such a beautiful blessing that my older computer still works! I got it secondhand in early 2009, but it was made in 2007. It’s now lasted longer than the 152K Mac and the ’93 Mac. My version of Pages can’t do certain things Word can, like create a hyperlinked table of contents or convert files into HTML, and my newer computer can’t open Word 2003.

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A big issue I noticed was that some passages and dialogues were really pushy, preachy, and lecturey re: attachment parenting and natural childbirth. Yes, both were coming back into vogue during the Sixties and Seventies, but a lot of times it just felt like a smug, holier than thou lesson instead of a naturally-flowing dialogue or prose.

I absolutely still am a huge advocate of natural childbirth, midwifery, and attachment parenting, but that needs to be conveyed as a natural part of a story, not expressed in a rather sanctimommy way. The penultimate chapter, “Allen Finally Accepts Adicia’s Marriage,” opens with a bunch of long paragraphs talking about how Adicia has been mothering her newborn son Robbie, how much she loves him, how she wishes she didn’t have to use cloth diapers, how she co-sleeps, how she uses baby slings a lot more than a stroller, you get the idea.

I junked pretty much all of it and just skipped right to the chase. How was that  relevant? It really slowed down the chapter’s true storyline, and seems more like a history lesson and too much POV.

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I also changed how some things were worded re: Adicia’s awakening during women’s liberation and her disagreement with certain of the things she’s been reading. Back then, I hadn’t yet realized I’ve been a lifelong radfem myself, and was seriously misinformed about just what radical feminism is and isn’t. “Radical” truly means “root,” not “extremist.” I’m planning a series on radical feminism. Too many people are just as misinformed as I used to be.

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One of the midwife characters, Veronica Zoravkov, is really lecturey while discussing the history and then-current use of twilight sleep. It reads like a lesson instead of a natural dialogue! As a former labor and delivery nurse, she’s certainly seen the horrors of twilight sleep firsthand, and oldest sister Gemma was left traumatized by her own experience, but it again comes off more like a polemic. That scene was almost totally rewritten!

There’s definitely a time and place to incorporate one’s own views into a book, but it needs to be a natural, believable part of the overall story and the characters involved. I wasn’t rushing at all during all my prior rounds of edits; I just didn’t see those as things which needed changed.

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I’ve mostly read older books my entire life. Therefore, I absorbed a style which isn’t so in fashion anymore—overwrought prose, God-mode omniscience, monologue-like speech, conveying historical background or other information through dialogue, telly passages. I know I’ll never have a fully contemporary style, but I’m open to evolving in a way which feels right.

I know I can’t change every single thing short of doing a full, time-consuming rewrite. I’m okay with that. This book will just have a somewhat more old-fashioned style than I’ve since developed into. We need to reach a stage where we accept a book is as perfect as we can get it, and not try to run around fixing every little thing.

Lessons learnt from post-publication polishing, Part I

Since I’m having a new cover made for Little Ragdoll, and thus will soon have physical copies, I went back through the document to check for any typos I may have missed during all the previous editing rounds and sweep-throughs. I also wanted to strip out all the unnecessary uses of “even” and other words/phrases I wasn’t aware of overusing.

Thankfully, I only caught a handful of true typos and missed misspellings. Most of the rest were just a matter of weasel words/phrases, taking out cluttery, rehashing, or preachy lines, and removing a lot of passive -ing constructions. None of this is grammatically incorrect, but it’s not as strong and tight as it could’ve been.

I worked on a document converted into Pages, and made a file keeping track of lines and issues that needed corrected on the Word and HTML files on my older computer. With the broken fan on my older computer, I don’t like to spend very long on it. It’s not dangerous, but I don’t like the loud sound that often kicks in. If the price is right and someone has the parts, I’ll have it repaired at a local Mac shop.

Specific issues:

1. Overused words and phrases:

Even
I guess
I mean
I/You know
I think
At least
Just
Ever
Anyway
It seemed/seems
Actually
Now
Then
Yet
Also
Actually
Apparently
Obviously
See
Sentences starting with “And”

2. A lot of weak “feel(s)” instead of “is.”

3. Passive -ing constructions! This isn’t grammatically incorrect, but it’s very formal and old-fashioned. When you have a writing style that’s already rather old-fashioned, you need to choose which hills you’re going to die on vs. which ones you can agree to update. There are times when it’s more effective and accurate to say, e.g., “They’re drinking tea” vs. “They go down the fire escape,” but more often than not, it’s not very strong writing. Some of this I attribute not only to all the old books I’ve read, but also to the fact that many languages, like Russian, have slightly different verb forms to indicate if an action is ongoing or one-off.

4. A really weird spacing issue that may have been caused by the file conversion. Several pages seemed to be missing, with a few paragraphs spaced smaller than the rest of the document. It turned out they were there, only rendered invisible by some bizarre spacing setting I never did.

5. Some extra “that”s. I took out almost all of them back in 2011, but there remained some which don’t really need to be there.

General issues I can’t really do anything about at this stage, short of a time-consuming full rewrite:

1. It’s more omniscient than my current usual. Many scenes aren’t in only one person’s POV. It’s more like a distant camera taking turns. Given how the story was inspired by several very old books, it feels right. It’s a story about a family and some of their friends coming of age and going through life, with a special focus on one of them. It was never meant to be limited to one person’s head for the entire story.

2. It’s very telly in spots. I also think this works for the type of story I planned it as. It seems kind of like a 1960s version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (which I hadn’t read when I wrote the first draft), and that story succeeds brilliantly in spite of having a lot of telly scenes. After all, I intentionally structured it so the language and situations would gradually mature as Adicia gets older. It’s like the evolution through the Little House series. I could do more with her as a teen than I could at five years old. Her character is also deliberately very passive, always acted on instead of acting herself, until she finally has no choice but to act.

I wouldn’t have done many of these things had I written this book today, as opposed to 2010–11, but what’s done is done. I doubt I’d be able to write it so well had I only gone back from scratch and memory now, and would’ve left a lot of important things out. It’s the same reason I doubt I’d be able to write Swan the same way had I done it as an adult, instead of ages 13–21.