Yom Kippur Beach Walk

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This post was originally scheduled for 14 September 2013, as part of the long-discontinued Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. I wanted to finally move all these old posts out of my drafts folder already!

Like last week’s post, this also obviously comes from an older version of the book formerly known as The Very First. It’s since undergone several more rounds of edits.

***

Important Note: Out of reverence for Yom Kippur, this post, like all my other Saturday postings, has been prescheduled.

This scene takes place a bit after the Yom Kippur piece I shared last year. Young Cinni and Sparky are taking a walk on the beach in the late afternoon, and have gotten to talking about Cinni’s feud with her older sister Stacy (Eustacia). Sparky is trying to explain what repentance and forgiveness mean, though Cinni and Stacy will continue not speaking to one another until June 1985, when their near-lifelong silence ends by accident.

***

“Real repentance happens between two people.  God doesn’t perform forgiveness on your behalf if you haven’t talked to the other person and apologized.  And you’re not supposed to think about how things might be different or better in another life.  Our focus is on the here and now, on this life.  But the gates of repentance are always open.”

“So you can ask God, or other people, for forgiveness at other times of the year?”

“Of course.  And even though tonight is gonna be the main closing of the gates, they’re still gonna be officially open till Hoshanah Rabah, one of the holidays at the end of Sukkot.  It’s like one last chance to get in any final, missed prayers or apologies.”

“Wow, you people have a lot of holidays I never knew about.  I don’t think even Laura celebrates so damn many.  She says the Catholic Church stopped celebrating all their fast and feast days a long time ago.  At least, normal people stopped celebrating them.  I’m sure religious fanatics still do it.”

Sparky cast her eyes up toward the sky, which was still rather blue and not yet turning into a watercolor of the setting Sun. “I can almost see the gates of heaven up there, even though I know God doesn’t really live up in the sky or even in this world.  It’s hard to describe unless you’ve been there and heard it, but when the shofar is blown at the end of Rosh Hashanah services, the final, very long note, I can feel time and the world standing still, and the gates of heaven opening.  And when the long note is blown again at the end of Yom Kippur, it’s like I can feel the gates shutting for another year.  But God hears prayers at all times, even if this time of year is the most ideal time to ask for important stuff.”

“Next year at this time, I bet you’ll be a proper American girl and not so focused on old world stuff.  I mean, you can still be religious, but I hope it won’t be the main thing about you.  Laura lives in the real world while still doing her Catholic thing.”

Sparky looked down at her skirt, which covered her knees, and her sleeves, which covered her elbows. “I guess I still don’t look exactly American.  Even if I’m not Orthodox, I still was taught I have to dress modestly.  But when I’m at school or with you and your friends, I do feel kinda outta place.  The only other girl we know who dresses like me is Nancy, but you said she ain’t really your official friend.”

“You’ve got a leg up on Nan, ‘cause at least you show way more skin and don’t think it’s a sin to even look at a boy.  But your hair’s slowly starting to grow outta that awful haircut your mom forced on you, and the poodle curls are gone.  I think you’re more scared than you oughta be of showing off extra bare skin.  Once you start wearing more normal clothes, it’ll become like second nature, and you won’t be able to believe you useta shun them.”

“Can we talk more about this tomorrow?  Even if I’m not old enough to fast or do other grownup stuff, I don’t feel right talking about stuff like clothes and hair on Yom Kippur.”

Cinni dug her sandaled foot into a patch of wet sand. “If you insist.  I ain’t some twit like Al, who only likes to talk about stuff like that, even if I ain’t the opposite extreme like Nan or Adeline.  Speaking of, I’ve long been itching to get my hands on botha them to try to make ‘em over.  Perhaps they’ll be inspired once they see how I’ve successfully made you over.  Even unpopular girls can’t be that immune to wanting to look normal as they get older.  If they want boys to notice ‘em when we’re old enough, they’ve gotta start dressing the part and talking about normal stuff.”

Sparky looked up at the seagulls flying overhead as she and Cinni continued on down the beach.  If only she could be as carefree as the seagulls, and not worrying about heavy things like repentance and how to become a real American girl before she was even bat mitzvah.

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Tashlich 1938

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This post was originally scheduled for 7 September 2013, as part of the now-discontinued Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It comes from an older version of the book formerly known as The Very First, which has since undergone even more edits.

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In loving memory of the one and only Keith John Moon, greatest drummer ever, who passed from this life, far too early, 35 years ago today.

In honour of Rosh Hashanah, which spanned 4-6 September this year, this week’s post comes from my chronological first Atlantic City book, The Very First. (I know it needs a much better title, but after over 20 years, I just can’t think of it by any other name!) Chapter 12, “High Holy Days,” covers the full cycle of the fall holidays in 1938.

New immigrant Sparky (real name Katherine) is struggling to fit into her new town and American life. Her new best friend Cinnimin, whom her family lives with, thinks Sparky should make some compromises to be a real American girl. Each girl tries to convince the other, in a respectful way, of the merits of her side.

***

Monday after school, Cinni was skipping stones at the pond with Tina and Gayle when the Smalls appeared on the horizon, along with a bunch of other people Cinni didn’t recognize.  When she saw the man with the beard, she figured it must be their rabbi.  None of the other gentlemen had beards.  Perhaps he felt it were his duty to set an example and appear very religious on behalf of everyone else.  As it was, beards seemed so pre-modern, on a man of any religion.

“Would you like to skip stones with us?” Cinni asked. “It’s nice how your folks ain’t against having fun on a holiday.  I’ve heard some Christians in the olden days useta just sit and read the Bible on holidays and Sundays, and wouldn’t let their kids play or listen to music.”

“We’re not here to have fun,” Barry said, sneaking a look at Cinni. “We’re here for tashlich.”

“We’re going to throw crumbs into the water to symbolically cast off our sins,” Gary explained.

“Don’t you get rid of your sins by doing all that praying?  And I know you fast on Yom Kippur.  This seems like a silly superstition, like sacrificing children or spitting to ward off the evil eye.”

“It’s not meant to take the place of prayer and repentance,” Barry said. “It’s just a nice ritual done in addition to praying.  Some really religious folks spin a chicken or fish around their heads to transfer their sins to the animal.  We’re not nearly that goofy.”

“Barry and I are too young to fast on Yom Kippur,” Sparky said as the adults assembled a short distance from them. “We’re encouraged to not eat for part of the day, but we’re not supposed to fast the entire day before we’re obligated to keep all the commandments.  But Barry will be bar mitzvah in January.  He’ll have to do it next year.”

“Would you like to come to my bar mitzvah party?  I’ll give you a seat of honor at my table.”

“Sure, that sounds fun.  I ain’t a fan of most religion, but if there’s a party involved, it can’t be that boring.”

Cinni moved to another part of the pond with Gayle and Tina and continued skipping stones.  They watched the ceremony out of the corners of their eyes.

“I don’t understand what in the world they’re doing, or why, but I think it’s neat,” Gayle declared as she selected a round, flat gray stone and skipped it quite a distance across the water. “I wish Methodism had rituals like that.  I like religions with fun stuff.”

“Why do you even read about religion?” Tina asked. “It’s grownup stuff.  Grownup stuff is boring.  I only like reading stuff like comic books and magazine stories.”

“I like opening my mind to new worlds.  I don’t wanna look like some stupid American who only cares about her own culture and community.  When I grow up, I’d like a job where I can use my interest in these things.  Maybe I’ll be a fortuneteller or an astrologer.  Or maybe I can do what Mrs. Malspur does in her séance room, only make money for it.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever thought about what I really wanna do when I’m a grownup.” Cinni pulled a candybar out of her skirt pocket, ripped off the wrapper, and took a huge bite. “For now, all I wanna do is fill my stomach and have fun.”

They watched the man they assumed to be the rabbi reading from a prayerbook as some of the group followed along in their own prayerbooks or from memory.  At the conclusion of the brief prayer service, someone passed around a bag of breadcrumbs mixed with fish food, and people took turns going to the water’s edge to cast the crumbs into it.  Cinni noticed that there weren’t many young people in the group.  Sparky probably felt lonely.

IWSG—Plans for 2018

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Welcome to the first installment of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group for 2018!

A total stranger recently misinterpreted one of my Tweets and jumped on me like an attack dog, assuming both my religion and politics. She never apologized after I explained several times I was writing from the POV of a character and that this is a writers’ hop.

I also recently did a guest post about Dr. John Money and David Reimer for 4thWaveNow.

I was recently in the odd, difficult position of having to pass on an offer of interest. Though I haven’t taken part in any trad-pub contests in a few years, I took a chance and pitched the book formerly known as The Very First during the latest Pitch Madness.

I was excited to get one like from the managing editor of a publishing house, but further research revealed this would be a very bad fit. Though I’ve significantly watered down or removed the age-inappropriate content I only included to be controversial, there are still a few spots they wouldn’t consider “clean.”

Removing or radically reworking them just to curry favor and potentially get published would alter the story in unacceptable ways. It would distort and misrepresent my voice.

That publishing house is also an imprint of a very conservative religion’s book company, and has a censorship board. G-rated content isn’t who I am at all. My character Cinni says several times that real life isn’t like a Norman Rockwell painting, and that that kind of life never existed for many Americans.

I thought I only had to finish up my unplanned chapter on The War of the Worlds radio broadcast and do some final polishing, but I instead saw an awesome opening to add two additional chapters after what I always thought was the ending.

Though I’ve carefully edited this book to feel more suited to upper MG, the ending felt too simplistic, easy, sudden, more suited to a younger readership.

The new chapters are about Sparky’s first Thanksgiving, and the experience of being Jewish when everyone around her celebrates Christmas. There’s also an Epilogue in January 1939, at her favorite brother Barry’s bar mitzvah. The new and improved reason for the nickname Sparky will be revealed then.

My guesstimate for the final length is 80K, which is super-short by my standards. The hot mess of a first draft was only 38K.

I also need to finish my alternative history about the rule of Tsar Aleksey II. My initial plan was to release it on what would’ve been his 112th birthday, 12 August 2016, but that obviously didn’t work out. A release date of 17 July 2018 would be so appropriately bittersweet, since that’s his real-life 100th Jahrzeit (death anniversary).

Getting back to work on my fourth Russian novel would also be awesome.

My planned blog posts for the year will again feature films and albums celebrating landmark anniversaries, including:

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
October (1928)
The Crowd (1928)
The Great Train Robbery (1903)
Duck Soup (1933)
Thriller (1983)
Colour by Numbers (1983)
The Birds, the Bees, and The Monkees (1968)
The Wedding Album (1993), this year’s feature for Duran Duran Appreciation Day

My October series on classic horror films will include The Invisible Man (1933), West of Zanzibar (1928), The Fall of the House of Usher (1928), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), and several Georges Méliès films.

I’m also going to feature the radio play of The War of the Worlds (1938). As I recently discovered, the so-called mass panic was far, far, far less widespread than we’ve been led to believe. It’s also an awesome story perfect for Halloween.

Finally, as you might’ve seen in my second banner, I’ve added an index page cataloguing my posts by nine major topics—book reviews, film reviews, album reviews, misc. book-related, misc. film-related, misc. music-related, historical topics, writing advice, and names.

What are your writing and editing plans for this year?

WeWriWa—1939 becomes 1940

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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. This week’s lines are the ending of the book formerly known as The Very Next, my chronological second Atlantic City book.

It’s the end of 1939, and Cinnimin Filliard’s family goes upstairs and outside to take part in a local New Year’s tradition of setting off an egg full of fireworks. Two years later, this tradition goes horribly wrong when Cinni’s frenemy Violet stuffs the egg with stink bombs instead of fireworks!

This has been slightly edited to fit ten lines.

A minute before midnight, everyone crowded onto the fire escape.  It was neighborhood tradition to stuff a large plaster egg full of fireworks, light a fuse, and send it plummeting to earth so it would explode at exactly the moment the old and new year changed places.  This year, the Filliards had stuffed their egg with purple fireworks.

Cinni proudly held the egg as Babs struck a long match and held it to the fuse, and at a signal from Mr. Filliard, Cinni let go, throwing it with as much force as she could, to ensure it exploded better than anyone else’s egg.  Her family always won the unofficial block competition, and best of all, this year the Vallis had joined them, so there was one less egg to compete against.

“Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.  Happy 1940!”

The purple fireworks showering in all directions gave Cinni hope the new decade would be much happier than the depressing decade which was now the stuff of history books, no matter how ominous future signs were.  It was like the butterfly emerging from Pandora’s Box and giving the chained, tortured Prometheus hope in spite of everything.  Life is nothing without hope.

2017 in Review (Writing and life)

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My wordcounts were in the toilet for much of this year. I’m shocked I got just under 81K for NaNo, even as a rebel working on several different things. 47K of that came from my WIP about my long-shelved character Anne Terrick. After about 25 years, it’s very surreal to write an entire book in first-person again, but diary form just feels right for this story.

I managed to get some decent work done on Part II of The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, even if I lost the roughly 2,000–5,000 words closing the penultimate chapter and in the rewrite of the final chapter. Baruch Hashem, I didn’t lost as much as I’d feared, and a number of things came back to me in the ensuing days.

I also have excerpts from those lost words in my Twitter feed, from all the themed weekly writing hops I do. It won’t be the first time I’ve had no choice but to go back from scratch and memory to rewrite and reconstruct something.

Though I waited till four days before the deadline, and almost gave up on the second day, I’m glad I went for it and wrote a story for this year’s IWSG anthology contest. Sci-fi is my next-fave genre, though I don’t give it nearly as much attention as I give historical. It ended up a bit over 5K.

I also got some good work done on my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University. A lot of great secondary characters and subplots introduced themselves this year. I’ve just had to accept that this volume isn’t one of the ones which has been writing me more than I’ve been writing it, and that it won’t be finished as quickly as normal.

I’m surprised to see I wrote a bit over 90K on Dream Deferred this year. It felt like much less, giving my depression and lagging wordcounts.

I’m now back to working on the book formerly known as The Very First, which I’ll write more about in my January IWSG post. I’d thought I only had to finish up the chapter I’d belatedly added about the 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast, but I saw a great opening to add two new chapters concluding the year, and an Epilogue in January 1939, at Barry’s bar mitzvah.

I’ve lost about 30 pounds since June. The weight I’d ballooned up to made my UMass weight look healthy. I still can’t believe I was that heavy and lived, even with my bone structure!

I’m not happy at how I was shanghaied and blocked from moving home to Pittsburgh like I’d been excitedly planning to, but I remain hopeful I’ll be there by the end of 2018 and resuming my master’s program. I know I’ve been out of school for a few years, but I was far from the only student who was very unhappy with UAlbany’s library science program.

My 17-year-old leafy baby, Kalanit, started the year just as depressed as I was. Her leaves were dull and drooping over the sides of her pot, and she hadn’t had any new growths for a few years. After she survived her longest car ride ever, 900 miles, and was put into a new pot for the first time ever, she came back with a vengeance.

Kalanit’s roots had started to become impacted, but a larger pot and fresh soil worked miracles. She grew and grew like crazy, with a new baby almost every time I turned around. I’ll have to have a future post with pictures of Kalanit to show just how amazing her recovery has been.

A lot of people have expressed astonishment when they find out I’ve kept a spider plant alive for 17 years. She’s been on a number of car rides and in a number of residences, including the four different rooms I lived in during my two years at UMass.

Kalanit may soon need a larger pot, and possibly to be split up for the first time in years!