Can You Handle the Truth? and What’s Up Wednesday

18 Truths

In order to mark the coming release of her second book, 18 Truths, Jamie Ayres is holding a blogfest centred on the classic Two Truths and a Lie game. There are 18 fantabulous prizes up for grabs.

See if you can guess my lie.

I’m allergic to cockroaches.

My estimated due date was one day after a tragic event in the history of my favourite band (The Who).

I know how to play the dulcian, a late Medieval/early Renaissance instrument that’s like a more melancholy bassoon.

WUW Winter

What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly hop/meme with four simple headings. Anyone can write a post and add the link to Jaime’s blog.

What I’m Writing

I’ve gotten to about 575,ooo words in my WIP, Chapter 74, “Novomira Does It All.” Chapter 73, “Inga in America,” is the longest chapter of Part III so far, at a bit over 11,000 words. Chapter 74 will include the birth of Feliks, the second grandchild for Lyuba, Ivan, Eliisabet, and Aleksey, as well as Ivan’s first blood grandchild. Novomira is committed to finishing her senior year at Barnard instead of dropping out and coming home with the baby. She wants to set a good example to her younger sister Nina, a Barnard freshwoman. Since she’s been living with Vera, she’s lucky enough to have a wetnurse during the day, as Vera just had her second child in November 1941.

It’s safe to say that at this point, I’ve given up the idea of capping it in at 600K. If it tops 700K, I’ll eat my hat. I think the safest bet is to publish it in four volumes, since each Part reads like its own story, with a focus on different characters and storylines.

Part I focuses on Lyuba’s difficult seventh pregnancy, the love story of Vera and Vsevolod, and the reunion of Nadezhda and Pavel after 12 years apart. Part II is focused on Tatyana’s rejection of Ivan while she lives with Boris in Harlem, while the Soviet characters struggle to survive the Great Terror and escape to America and Iran. Part III focuses on World War II, and Part IV will be about the aftermath of the war on everyone’s lives. In the Epilogue, “Back to an Ordinary World,” Lyuba and Ivan have a renewal ceremony on their 25th anniversary, on the eve of their finally heading off to university.

What I’m Reading

Sadly, not too much.

What Inspires Me

I was thinking about how it must be a sign of maturity that I’ve become more skeptical and less crunchy as I’ve gotten older. There are things I immediately, unquestioningly accepted as a teen and in my twenties that I’d never accept so readily these days. I’d want to see confirmation from other sources, and not just believe some sensationalistic, fear-mongering tv show or one-sided, crunchier than thou website.

Mind you, there are still things I believe in and will staunchly defend, such as Astrology, reincarnation, life after death, and homebirth. I can’t dismiss or be skeptical about everything. Being skeptical for the sake of skepticism is just as bad uncritically believing everything. Not all skeptics are militant atheists who deride anything not recognised by modern scientists. Some things will never have a scientific explanation, and don’t pretend to be scientific. The evidence comes from other avenues.

What Else I’m Up To

I started the new onomastics blog I’ve been thinking about for awhile. It’s called Onomastics Outside the Box, and will focus on classical eccentric, classical unusual, and international names. I initially had it in the Mac OS Classic theme, but it didn’t really match the theme.  I’m much happier with the My Life theme I replaced it with, and the blue colour scheme.

I also had a really awesome surprise last week. It didn’t dawn on me till I was looking through my virtual cemetery for children and young people at Find A Grave that one of my photos was used for a recent pro-vaccination meme. What an amazing, awesome coincidence. I’d seen the first drafts of the meme, but didn’t realise right away that that was one of my graves. It’s a grave of 12 children in the same family in St. Vincent’s Cemetery in Latrobe, PA. The 1884 group probably were victims of the diphtheria epidemic that hit the state that year. The final meme says “Childhood Before Vaccines.”

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And yes, I know this still won’t convince the vaccine-denialist cult. They’ll continue giggling and patting themselves on the back, convinced they know more than the entire scientific community because of garbage on Natural “News,” Tenpenny, and Mercola. Their special little snowflakes will easily survive diphtheria, polio, measles, whooping cough, and flu with lemon juice, breastmilk, Vitamin C, kale smoothies, echinacea, and expensive water (I mean, homeopathy). They’ll continue to swear by a discredited fraud and former Playboy bunny. I refuse to let this cult take us back to the days when a gravestone like this was common, when childhood mortality was an accepted fact of life and parents expected to lose some of their kids.

Cheersfest for Arlee Bird

Cheersfest 2013

Following the success of last year’s Cheers, Cavanaugh roast, the tradition is continuing this year with Arlee “Lee” Bird, founder of the April A to Z Challenge and a prolific blogger. Once again, the hosts are Mark KoopmansMorgan ShamyDavid Powers KingStephen Tremp, and Ninja Captain Alex.

Lee will choose two winners to receive:

  • An autographed color photo of Arlee Bird appearing as the Court Wizard in the World of Fantasy Players. Also included in the first prize pack are an assortment of promotional materials from Lee’s show biz days with a personal letter and a brief history of his entertainment career.
  • A personalized blog graphics design from Jeremy at Being Retro. (Jeremy will design a header, badge, button, banner, or whatever might appeal to the winner.)

Participants simply answer four questions in no more than 20 words each, and write a flash fiction of 100 words or less, using the words

  • Bird
  • Juggler
  • Challenge
  • Brown Jacket
  • Tossing

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  • Why did Lee come up with the A-Z Challenge?

As a way to meet other bloggers, and motivate others to regularly find something to blog about.

  • If someone dreams about being a juggler, what does it mean?

Successfully, your life is in balance. If objects drop, we may be juggling more responsibilities than we should be.

  • Is a post by Mr. Bird worth two in the bush?

It sure is.

  • Who could play Lee in a documentary? (Living or dead.)

W.C. Fields

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I decided to make my flash piece a freeverse past life poem, which I haven’t done in years. The only time I ever touch first-person present tense is when I write as Oda.

Returning to the world of the living
is a challenge.
At times I feel like a juggler,
constantly forced to balance so many things
and surrounded by people
who do not understand.
No amount of words can ever transmit
the scents, the sounds, the sights, the tastes, the emotions.
If only I could be like a bird, flying free outside, unencumbered by pain and suffering.
Give me time to transition back to a world that will never be ordinary again.
Or will I be forever tossing about, a species apart,
huddled in a brown jacket’s symbolic embrace?

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For Bonus Points:

  • In +/- 40 words, can you come up with a caption for Lee’s Facebook picture?

Juggling

A vintage picture of a dapper juggler, appearing to be from the Seventies or early Eighties. He looks very pleased with his juggling abilities.

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Unrelated but important post-script:  On this day in 1979, nine days before I was born, the World Health Organisation declared smallpox eradicated. I’m so thankful my lifetime has never included this frightening disease, and hope to God it never finds a way to come back. Hopefully polio will be next to be eradicated, followed by diseases that were all but eliminated in the West until a certain science-denialist cult arose 10-15 years ago.

Resurrection Blogfest II—Appreciating Life

Mina Lobo is hosting the Resurrection Blogfest for the second year in a row. Participants are reposting something they wrote between now and the last Resurrection Blogfest. For full rules and prize information, just click on the badge above.

Since most of my posts remain very serious and intellectual, even if I’ve managed to get my average post down to under 1,000 words these days, I thought it would be fun to revisit one of my more lightweight posts. It originally went live on 10 August 2013, entitled Sweet Saturday Samples—Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day! I briefly went back to a hiatused WIP just to write the chapter this scene comes from. (Note to regular readers: The woman who runs SSS has been taking a break to recharge her batteries. If and when she resumes the weekly hop, my pre-scheduled Saturday posts will return.)

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This week, for Sweet Saturday Samples, I’m returning to my hiatused WIP Justine Grown Up, set from 1979-84, in honor of today’s special holiday. If you had told me three years ago I’d soon know that 10 August is a real holiday, Duran Duran Appreciation Day, I probably would’ve laughed in your face. It just goes to show you never know what interests you’ll develop as you go through more of life.

Before my excerpt, I’d like to share a video that touches on the reason for this day. This particular date was chosen because on that day in 1985, Simon (the lead singer) almost died from drowning. You never know when you’re living your last moments. Always appreciate the gift of life, since you never know when it might be about to be taken away.

If you don’t want to watch the whole interview, the part about his near-death experience ends at 1:40. For some reason, the first half later repeats, but then continues to the rest of the video. I completely understand when he’s talking about how he thought those were his last moments, since I had a near-death experience too. Mine was on land, though, not at sea, and I was run over by a car and pinned underneath, 10 years ago this 19 August.

This is taken from Chapter 54, “Irene and Amelia Redecorate Their Room.” It’s early 1983 (probably about February-March), and Irene is 15 and Amelia is 13. They’re giving their 23-year-old aunt a tour of their room, along with a little lesson on their new favorite band.

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Irene indicates a somewhat androgynous-looking member of the quintet. “I chose Nick as my favorite.  God forgive me, but I wasn’t entirely sure what he was the first time I saw him.  Then I realized that’s a normal look for a New Romantic, and that I was being pretty ignorant by assuming a man in makeup with a pretty look has to be a cross-dresser.  I like how he’s not afraid to be himself, no matter what certain people might assume.  My parents always taught me how important it is to beat to your own drummer.  Different is good.”

Justine takes in Irene’s favorite. “I kind of agree with you, but I’m not sure I’d know what to think if David came home one day wearing eyemakeup, styled hair, and feminine shirts.”

“Oh, I like that look on the right man.  A man who’s not afraid to look pretty in public is really sure of his masculinity.  He doesn’t need silly things like leather jackets or a motorcycle to prove his manhood.”

“Yeah, but there’s a lot of ground between wearing mascara and being a Hell’s Angel!”

“I was never interested in the jocks anyway.  I always liked the artistic types, like the guys in art, film, dance, or music clubs.  I don’t know how girls in the old days could ever be attracted to things like crew cuts, letter jackets, and square jaws.”

Amelia points to one of the brunets. “My favorite is Roger, the drummer.  Most of the girls at school have other favorites, but I don’t care.  I guess I just like that he’s quiet, like I am.  My favorite guys at school are the quiet, shy ones.”

“You can never go wrong with a quiet one,” Justine agrees. “I think it’s safe to say that the average introvert isn’t using that as a façade for a jerkish personality.  What you see is what you get.”

“And it adds mystery.  Plus when a quiet person does speak, it’s usually pretty deep and profound.  Everyone always underestimates us, but you know what they say about the quiet ones.”

Justine smiles at her. “Yes, I sure do, even though I’ve never been guilty of being too quiet and shy.  Is he one of the brothers?”

Irene vigorously shakes her head. “None of them are related, though a lot of people assume that at first.  It’s just one of life’s funny coincidences that three out of five share the same last name.  I’m glad we’re Troys and don’t have that problem of an overly common name.  Well, you’re a Ryan now, but even Ryan isn’t overly popular.”

Amelia continues pointing. “Nessa chose Simon as her favorite.  She likes his poetic lyrics, and you know how much she loves books and poetry.  It’s kind of unusual that she likes him best, since normally she doesn’t like blondes all that much.  Did we tell you he’s part Huguenot just like us?”

“No, you didn’t,” Justine says, starting to feel like a fish out of water with her teenage nieces.  She’s not even a generation away from them, but suddenly they seem like they have less in common.  They have mainstream teen girls interests now, as opposed to how they often used to talk about deep things like indie films, current events, and classic literature.

“Little Simone likes John best,” Irene concludes. “She thinks he’s the best-looking.  No deeper reasons.  What else can you expect from a ten-year-old?  She’ll learn when she’s a little older.”

From the Great Beyond Blog Hop and What’s Up Wednesday

My Horny Hump Day post is here.

Great Beyond

Roland Yeomans, in conjunction with Tara Tyler, Angela Brown, and Gwen Gardner, is hosting the From the Great Beyond Blog Hop. Participants will share which famous writer or celebrity they’d like to contact in a séance, why they chose the person, and what they’d say. Winners will be announced on Halloween, my favouritest day of the year besides Yom Kippur. Prizes include the hosts’ books and some autographed posters from Roland.

Since I live and breathe historical, and have really dinosaur tastes in entertainment, almost all of the people I love and admire are deceased. There are so many great people to choose from on my favourites list, but these are the toppermost of my poppermost.

laurel and hardy photo: laurel and hardy hardy.jpg

My darling Stan and Ollie, whom I’ve loved for 17 years this July. I never could’ve gotten through my junior year of high school without their sweet faces and lovable antics to look forward to at 11:30 AM on Saturdays on AMC (before AMC totally jumped the shark), and sometimes a few other times during the week. These dear clown prince angels put their loving arms around my weeping heart. The love I have for them was forged in fire, and even after that year is far in the past, my love is still strong. I still remember how sad I was when I found out they’d both died some time ago and how old they’d really been in these shorts I loved so much.

It wasn’t a big surprise to learn they were just as kind, sweet, and generous off-camera, and that they were closer than brothers. They were also very good to their fans, and Stan, who outlived Ollie (whose real-life nickname was Babe), granted tours of his house, kept his number in the phonebook, and wrote back to everyone who wrote a fan letter till his final illness. Such a sweet, sweet person. If I met them, I would say simply, “Thank you. I love you. I’ll love you until there’s no more breath in my body. You’ve never really died, since you’re still making people laugh.”

WUW

What I’m Writing

Now past the 520,000-word mark in my WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest: Lyuba and Ivan in the Age of Anxiety, Chapter 66, “Answering the Call.” This’ll cover January-June 1942, as six of my characters go into the service, and a seventh (a minor character based on my dysfunctional, emotionally crippled ex) is forced to go. His Harpy mommy can spend some time what-whating it up from prison for treason when she tries to protest his being drafted!

Still hoping to finish up within 600,000 words. If the final length exceeds that, I’ll consider putting it out as either four or two volumes, making clear they’re merely installments of the same book.

What I’m Reading

My primary focus is on class readings.

What Inspires Me

The ending of one of the most haunting, unforgettable books I’ve ever read (which shall go unnamed to avoid spoiling it for anyone). I read this book over a decade ago, and I still remember so much of it in brutal, painful detail. When my ex-roommate freaked out at me yet again the day before Yom Kippur, it triggered something in me and I became terrified of being around her again, esp. alone. And the next time she came over a few days later and I had my panic attack, I had a full-on body memory and felt like I were back at Hackett, this scared 14-year-old being bullied and dominated. I never want to lose my voice like that again.

….The voice lost in a faraway village church had found me again and filled the whole room. I spoke loudly and incessantly like the peasants and then like the city folk, as fast as I could, enraptured by the sounds that were heavy with meaning, as wet snow is heavy with water, convincing myself again and again and again that speech was now mine and that it did not intend to escape through the door which opened onto the balcony.

What Else I’m Up To

Enjoying the last week of my blessèd aloneness, before my new roommate moves in. I’m having a great time cooking and preparing my own meals, buying my own food, decorating, everything. I can’t wait to buy a microwave and another bookshelf, and something for my records.

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I had to get these beautiful red radishes when I saw them at Hannaford. I’ve always loved radishes. When I made pirogi on Tuesday, I had a salad with my radishes, spinach, and Romaine lettuce.

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I just had to get this cute little guy when I saw him in the Halloween aisle at the nearest Price Chopper before Shabbos. I love Halloween, bats, and stuffed animals. He also reminds me very much of a Popple. As an Eighties kid, I had a number of Popples! His name is Batty, and he’s so soft and cuddly.

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I finally sewed up the rip in Simon’s side seam, coincidentally on his namesake’s birthday. It only took maybe 20 minutes, and he was across my lap the entire time. I’ll probably never be a vet as I used to dream of, but performing stuffed animal surgery is good enough. He was an early Chanukah present in 2011, and love at first sight (though I didn’t name him for probably at least 6 months). If only I could repair beaten-up Davy so quickly and easily, after 25 years of love.

Spooktoberfest 2013—Varya in the Woods

Spooktoberfest

Dani Bertrand of Entertaining Interests and Jackie Felger of Bouquet of Books are hosting their second annual Spooktoberfest. Participants have four pictures to pick from, and must use three of the six words in a list. All flash fiction must be between 300-500 words.

I started writing something set in the darkened cellar, with my character Kit in a gorilla costume to spook her annoying youngest brother Sammy, but I didn’t really feel inspired by it. I switched to a piece set in the eerie forest, set in 1929 and featuring two of the main characters from my long-hiatused alternative history. It’s based on the premise of the Whites winning the Russian Civil War and young Aleksey later coming to power as the Tsar at age 25, in 1929.

Forest

Várya slipped out the back door of the palace and ran down the darkened streets of St. Petersburg, the wretched chilly winds biting at her bare hands and legs.  She hadn’t been out of the palace since her unwanted arrival, and wasn’t at all familiar with this large regal city, but any direction she took would guarantee her of getting as far away from her prison and farce of a marriage as possible.

After running for what felt like hours, she reached a forest aglow with an eerie greenish-blue light, the trees looming, sinister black shadows.  Every step of the way, desiccated red and orange leaves crunched underfoot.  Then, just as it seemed things couldn’t get any more foreboding, she tripped on a tree root and came face-to-face with a pile of skeletons.  Várya screamed one long, loud, blood-curdling scream, her whole body violently shaking.  She covered her face for a minute, and when she saw the skeletons were all still there, she screamed even louder.

“Are you trying to run away again?”

Várya pressed her fingers over her eyes and ears, positive one of the skeletons were talking to her.

“Don’t be scared, Várya.  It’s just me, Alyosha.”

Várya recognized the soft, soothing voice of her new husband, the most powerful yet craziest man in Russia.  At least she knew he wouldn’t beat her or hand her over to be punished for running away.

“Why are there a pile of skeletons here?” she gasped, her voice ragged and shaking. “Does anyone at the palace know about this?”

“Of course we know.  This is an ongoing project.  These are just some of the priests Dzhugashvili murdered before my father was restored to the throne.  They’re being excavated to a more respectable location, with plans for a large stone engraved with each one’s name and dates.  Dzhugashvili himself approved the project.  It’s amazing how much progress Dr. Freud has made with him.” Alekséy lowered himself onto the ground and put his silver fox coat over Várya. “You’ll be nice and warm on the walk home.  I hope this teaches you not to run away again.”

“You don’t want to be married to me either.  I’m not the only one unhappy in this marriage.”

“At least I like you.  That’s more than some other monarchs can say about their arranged marriages.  And I don’t want to be married to anyone because I don’t want to risk a child with my condition.  If I weren’t sick, we might be a real married couple.” Alekséy pulled a silver flask out of his leather satchel and guided it over to her mouth. “Drink this.  It’s a special potion to make you feel warmer and happier.”

Várya accepted, then stood up and gave her husband her arm.  She huddled closer than usual to him as they walked out of the forest.  Even if he were no match for ghosts, it was nice to be on the arm of the Tsar.