IWSG—Slowly returning to view the cheerful skies

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It’s time again for The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, which meets the first Wednesday of every month to commiserate over worries, fears, doubts, and struggles. This month’s question is:

It’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times. What are your writer highs (the good times)? And what are your writer lows (the crappy times)?

Unfortunately, due to several bouts of my cyclical depression, being forced to move to an area I hate and in a house not my own, lockdown, and other factors, it’s been quite awhile since I last felt a true writing high. In the old days, it was the feeling I had when finishing a mammoth book that had been writing me more than I wrote it.

This picture I took soon after finishing the 406K first draft of The Twelfth Time, holding some of my writing soundtrack, perfectly illustrates it:

My writing mojo was pulled out of the toilet by my 12-part series on The Jazz Singer at 90 in 2017, and 2018 was my best NaNo ever, at 130,730 words. In 2019, I wrote 101,262 for NaNo, and massively overachieved in both April and July Camp NaNo.

But ever since lockdown began, my usual daily writing productivity hasn’t been the same. I know what I’m easily capable of, and barely making 50K in November, or even 10K in other months, is not it.

Near the end of April Camp, I put my alternative history about Dante and Beatrice on what hopefully won’t be a very long hiatus, and went back to the radical rewrite and restructuring of the book formerly known as The Very Last. I was inspired to return to my Atlantic City books after spending a few days doing the last proof-check of Movements in the Symphony of 1939 (formerly The Very Next).

After approving that book for a print edition, I read through The Very Last until the point I left off on the rewrite last year (though I also began rewriting chapters beyond that). I wrote almost 1,000 words on the first day back, though I ended up moving that chapter, and two other chapters, into a file of discarded chapters.

It truly was hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence) that I put the radical rewrite on hiatus in 2015. At the time, I was frustrated I couldn’t find more detailed information about the 1940 Portuguese World Exposition, and couldn’t be arsed to research and write about the 1939–40 World’s Fair in Queens only two years after I did that for Journey Through a Dark Forest. Now I realise I couldn’t have rewritten that book the way it needs to be had I continued in 2015.

As I discussed in this post, I deleted a lot of pointless, cluttery chapters and subplots. However, I wasn’t yet ready to admit to myself that the ninth item in that list not only was clutter too, but also inherently creepy. Even if Kit is aged up two years, 15-year-old Jerry still has no business dating her! She might look, talk, and act more like a 13-year-old, and I might’ve seriously toned down their relationship, but that doesn’t change her real age.

I’ll be discussing this in more detail in a future post.

I’ve been in a low place with my writing for so long, often taking weeks to write a single chapter, it’s difficult to vault back up and immediately resume my former daily average of at least 3K. As Virgil wrote over 2,000 years ago:

The gates of Hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way;
But to return, and view the cheerful skies,
In this the task and mighty labor lies.

Happy Halloween!— WeWriWa: Halloween surprises

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

This year’s Halloween-themed excerpts come from the eighth book in my Saga of the Sewards series (formerly known as Max’s House). It needs a great deal of editing, rewriting, and revision, along with a new title, so I’m doing preliminary edits and fleshing it out as I go this month.

It’s now near the end of Halloween night, and Mr. Seward’s stepdaughters and younger children have finally come home from trick-or-treating. He’s very displeased, to say the least, when he learns about what happened without his knowledge or permission.

“It’s eleven-thirty!” Mr. Seward raged. “Where have you been all night? It never took that long to trick-or-treat before!”

“We were at the older kids’ party at school a lot of that time,” Harold said.

“Gene ran off, and we searched everywhere!” Cora Ann yelled. “When his mother dropped him off at the party, neither of them apologized for scaring us so much.”

“Mommy gave me really good candy and cocoa,” Gene said. “I got bored of trick-or-treating, and it was cold, so I decided to visit her.”

“That was illegal!” Mr. Seward shouted, shaking his fist in the air. “Clara knows damn well I have full custody and that she’s not allowed to see you again unless it’s by accident in public!”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

Gene peeled the paper off of a candybar and began eating it. “I don’t care if you tan my hide for visiting Mommy. We had a lot of fun, and I’ll visit her again whenever I feel like it. She missed her favorite child.”

“Clara said many times she had no interest in motherhood, and made no attempt to even pretend to care in all those years before our divorce. Even her spoiling of you was constantly interrupted by her many trips abroad with her much-younger lovers. I refuse to believe she’s had a radical change of heart after so much time.”

“I’m sleepy, Daddy,” Amy whimpered.

“Who are you?” Mr. Seward asked. “Did you follow my kids home?” He took a double-take.  “Four strange kids followed you home!”

“What?” Adeladie asked. “Who? There are only ten of us, not fourteen.”

“My God!” he went on. “Where are the other four quints? Did somebody steal them?  Who’s the only quint here?”

“All the quints are here. Take off their costumes if you don’t believe me.”

Mr. Seward yanked the sheet off the ghost to reveal Andrew. Peggy was underneath the seal costume, Paula was under the peanut, and Amy was under the marshmallow.

“Quints, that was terrible, dressing in different costumes! You are not individuals! I’ll have some serious words with Elaine when she comes home, since she was the one who bought you these costumes instead of all five clown outfits.” His jaw clenched as he pointed at the staircase. “Go on up to bed, all of you. Thanks to Gene’s stunt, it’s well past all your bedtimes.”

Mickey’s Halloween costume

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

This year’s Halloween-themed excerpts come from the eighth book in my Saga of the Sewards series (formerly known as Max’s House). It needs a great deal of editing, rewriting, and revision, along with a new title, so I’m doing preliminary edits and fleshing it out as I go this month.

We’re now at the school’s Halloween dance and party, which Elaine and her friend Quintina were in charge of putting together. Elaine’s cousin Max carved all the jack-o-lanterns, and finished shortly before the first attendees arrived.

Elaine stared at Mickey as she entered the gym. It seemed a foregone conclusion she’d win most original costume, with a leotard splattered with twenty different colors, hands encased in rubber snake heads, alligator feet, yellowed teeth, a sash of cellophane flowers, hair dyed ten different colors, skin dyed more different colors than Elaine could keep track of, and kaleidoscope glitter glued around her eyes.

Mickey waved as she approached. “I’m a peyote hallucination. Don’t ask how many hours it took to make this.”

“What’s peyote?” Elaine asked.

“It’s a type of mescaline, a natural drug the Indians use for spiritual experiences. Peyote produces visions that look like me.”

“Where’d you get the purple lipstick from?” Kit asked. “I’d love to wear something besides red and pink for a change.”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

“This is dye, not lipstick.” Mickey lit a Lucky Strike. “Though I have seen a few lipsticks that are so dark they look almost purple. I wish makeup producers would be more creative with colors. Sometimes you just want to have fun.”

“You and me both. If I ever found lipstick in purple, green, and blue, I’d want to wear it every day, not just for Halloween and costume parties. Makeup is supposed to reflect our personalities and interests instead of being a boring one size fits all uniform.”

WeWriWa—An unpopular costume choice

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

This year’s Halloween-themed excerpts come from the eighth book in my Saga of the Sewards series (formerly known as Max’s House). It needs a great deal of editing, rewriting, and revision, along with a new title, so I’m doing preliminary edits and fleshing it out as I go this month.

The Sewards are now at a costume store, and Mr. Seward, who has very rigid ideas about almost everything, decides for his youngest children, 20-month-old quints, what they’re going to dress as.

“Clown,” Susie said.

“Ghost,” Andrew said.

“Peanut,” Paula said.

“Marshmallow,” Amy said.

“Seal,” Peggy said.

“Oh, no, you five will all be clowns,” Mr. Seward said.

“Clowns scare me, Daddy!” Amy bawled.

“No want face paint!” Peggy wept.

“Itchy pants!” Andrew said.

“Itchy wig!” Paula sobbed.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

Mr. Seward found five matching clown outfits in the quints’ size.

“Peanut, peanut!” Paula wept.

Tiffany glared at their father. “Why do you treat them like one person with five bodies? At least your attempt to make them as famous and exploited as the Dionnes didn’t last long.”

Mr. Seward glared right back. “Multiples are supposed to always do everything exactly alike. If quints weren’t so rare, I’d demand they marry another set of quints too. Elaine, would you check the costumes out while I take the younger children to the limo? The other patrons don’t deserve to be subjected to this tantrum.” 

The moment her uncle left the store, Elaine put four of the clown outfits back on the rack. She then got the other four desired costumes.

WeWriWa—Pumpkin antics with the Sewards


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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

This year’s Halloween-themed excerpts come from the eighth book in my Saga of the Sewards series (formerly known as Max’s House). It needs a great deal of editing, rewriting, and revision, along with a new title, so I’m doing preliminary edits and fleshing it out as I go this month.

The year is 1943, and as always, chaos and comedic mayhem reign supreme in the Sewards’ large blended family. Max just went upstairs to help his older sister Tiffany with carving the jack-o-lantern and found her instead making out with her secret fiancé Marc. Mr. Seward forbade Tiffany to see Marc again after discovering they began sleeping together two years ago, and now they’re constantly meeting in secret.

“The pumpkin guts are over there.” Tiffany pointed without looking away from Marc. “You can stall Dad for time by baking pumpkin seeds.” She began tousling Marc’s hair.

Max picked up the bowl of pumpkin guts and went back downstairs.

“Why don’t we cook the seeds?” he asked when he returned to the parlor. “Tiff’s doing a really intricate design, and won’t be done for awhile. It’s great to have a cook, but sometimes it’s fun to do your own cooking.”

“Since when do you like doing anything that’s not fun and doesn’t provide instant gratification?” Mr. Seward asked. “This is a Halloween miracle.”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

“Maybe we can bake Halloween cookies, cakes, and pies too,” Elaine suggested, guessing the real reason Max had made such an unusual request. “By the time the last one comes out of the oven, it’ll be just about time to leave for the costume store.”

“That’s a good idea,” Adeladie said. “I’ve collected a bunch of Halloween dessert recipes torn out from magazines, and each one looks more delicious than the last.”

“I want to decorate my cookies with jack-o-lanterns, witches, black cats, and bats,” Cora Ann said.

Mr. Seward tightly pursed his lips as he led his large brood towards the larger kitchen.

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