A lot of things happened in 2011, many of them writing-related, but not all. Some of the highlights:
I finished Little Ragdoll (Adicia’s story) after biting the bullet and starting from scratch in November, reconstructing it as best I could from memory. Then this spring, the file with the original Part I was miraculously resurrected, and I’ve been grateful ever since that file was still presumed lost forever when I began the second first draft. It’s like a huge laundry list of everything NOT to do in writing a book!
I learnt through trial and error how to write a query, and that a query really isn’t supposed to be a mini-synopsis. When you’ve written a deliberately very long book, though, it’s hard to summarize it in just a few paragraphs. The advice to just summarize the first 50 pages is for people whose books are all of 300 pages long. Fifty pages is a tiny drop in the bucket for me. I also learnt that 397,000 words is considered astronomically high by many people nowadays, and that my Russian novel, at 347,000 words currently, is also considered “way too high” by many people, without even looking at the actual content to see just why it has to be so long. I’ll never apologize for deliberately planning, plotting, and writing sagas with large story arcs and many characters and storylines. It’s just what I know. Many modern books just seem so tiny and insubstantial, and all about racing from Point A to Point B at breakneck speed, no time to just enjoy the journey and spend a few weeks with these people.
After I put querying on hold for awhile, I realized I forget to have any lefties in the book. I went back and wrote in left-handedness for 13 people, with three more young lefties whose handedness hasn’t had a chance to manifest by the end since they’re so young. I also shrunk the word count a fair bit, by making contractions, taking out unnecessary dialogue tags, and removing excessive wording. It’s now around 387,000 words, which I’m very proud of. If I hadn’t needed to write in left-handedness, it would’ve been several thousand words shorter, probably.
I started the sequel, Green Sunrise, then realized I just wasn’t feeling enough of a spark and put it on hiatus. I’m now working on the third book, Justine Grown Up, and am very eager to get back to it after the short break I took to do that editing and revising of the first book.
While I didn’t do any work on Cinnimin, after having been on a very good streak in 2010, I did write a new opening. I was just so focused on Adicia and my Russian novels this year, my magnum opus had to go on the back burner. It’s always taken out of hiatus and worked on with a vengeance. There’s no worry I’ll avoid it for years.
I realized The Very First needed a very significant overhaul and near-total rewrite, because the long-standing Part I wasn’t even a story. It’s just a bunch of chapters describing characters, the town, their houses, what America was like in 1938, historical events of the year, and the characters’ relationships with one another. Even though it’s meant as a getting-acquainted book that forms the backbone of all the other books to come after it, that’s still not a very compelling story, pages upon pages of descriptions.
I’ve done a ton of work on revising it and making some new chapters, putting a lot more focus on the real story, Sparky’s desire to be a real American girl without selling out her faith, and the subplot of Cinni’s suspicions that Violet is trying to steal her title as Most Popular Girl. Violet’s unintended coup doesn’t happen till February 1942, but the seed is still planted. Now the acrimony is really strong, and it’s a much more prominent part of the story.
I pulled the majority of the Max’s House books completed to date off of MacWriteII and started reformatting, editing, and revising them. Converting obsolete file formats and reformatting them isn’t fun or easy, but the more times you do it, the easier it gets. I’ll always prefer MacWriteII for word processing, with ClarisWorks a close second and AppleWorks in third place. I’ve gotten used to Word, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever like it.
I used the older programs for years. They were familiar, and everything was so simple to figure out. You didn’t need tons of menus and formatting bars to write a document. If I could install MacWriteII or ClarisWorks on my modern Mac, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I’d even spend a little money for a vintage computer just so I could have peace of mind and go back to typing in a format I know, love, and understand. At least the files are still able to be opened, however arduous the process is. It’s always worth it to get to breathe life back into files that haven’t been opened or worked on for almost a decade.
I got all 43 files of my Russian novel out of MacWriteII and ClarisWorks, and went through the arduous process of reformatting them all, and then a long series of edits, rewrites, revisions. and polishings. I’m going through it again now, to do just what I did with Adicia’s story, root out any excess wording, unnecessary dialogue tags, and any missed holdovers from the original sections of the first six chapters. This is the book I’m most proudest of having written, and I believe in it at its length.
Perhaps it starts a bit more slowly than many modern agents might like, but it’s not a short book. You need some time to set things up and get to know everyone. I’m not sorry I use the writing style I’m familiar with reading, of directly telling the reader things instead of making him or her guess or removing any chance to create a scene in one’s head by “showing.” To be honest, I really think this current obsessive focus on “showing” is rather pretentious, forced, and affected. It just doesn’t feel natural, and goes against a long-established method of writing.
Just spit it out and say someone’s scared or that it’s cold. Then let the reader imagine in his or her head the tone of voice, body language, etc., and don’t be afraid to use adverbs. “Showing” also seems to lend itself to excessive verbiage, something I’ve always hated. I always skipped over excessively long descriptive passages and just read the dialogue or relevant narrative passages when reading 19th century literature.
I went back to my Russian novel sequel, giving up the idea of transferring and reformatting the two or so files on the hard drive of my old ’93 Mac. I had the entire story memorized in my head for years anyway, along with the decade-old chapter-by-chapter notes to jog my memory. It came in at 406,000 words, exactly the right length for the type of story it is. I’m going to take a little rest before getting to work on the third book, which is also memorized in my head and set down in an outline and notes.
This year also made it 11 years since I became a serious Who freak and 15 years since I became a Laurel and Hardy fan. It’s hard to believe it’s now been so long since I started seriously getting into the band. It was one of the saddest days of my life when I finally admitted to myself that The Beatles were no longer my favorite band and that I’d fallen irreversibly in love with another, but I worked past that. The Beatles will always be the musical love of my life, even if they’re not my favorite band anymore. In this case, the fourth time was the charm. My fourth musical love remains my favoritest band to this day.
It’s also hard to believe it’s been 15 years as of July since I’ve been a Laurel and Hardy fan. My love for them was forged in fire, since they helped me through one of the most difficult years of my life, my junior year of high school. Watching them at 11:30 on Saturday mornings on AMC, and sometimes other times during the week, made me so happy in the midst of a very painful year.
All week I looked forward to seeing them on Saturdays, even though no one but my grandpap understood why I loved them so much and laughed so hard. Although I know it’s often hard for people to understand how someone could genuinely gravitate towards movies, music, and books of an earlier generation and prefer them over anything modern. These clown prince angels put their loving arms around my weeping heart that year, and for that I’m eternally grateful. And even long after that horrible time, I still love them just as much. I still remember how sad I was when i found out just how old they were and that they’d been passed on for quite some time. At least they’ll live on forever through laughter and timeless comedy.
Speaking of anniversaries, this year marked 20 years since I created my Atlantic City characters and began the first books in both the WTCOAC and Max’s House series. They’re kind of rough around the edges in their earliest incarnations, but the essential elements are all there. They just needed some time to grow into themselves and become well-rounded, complex, and well-drawn.
I did a reworked opening for my hiatused soft sci-fi Bildungsroman What’s to Become of Us All? and renamed the protagonist. She went from Casey to Arcadia. I’m looking forward to finally getting back to this book and reworking what’s been written so far. And speaking of renaming, I renamed a few of my Russian and Estonian characters as well. Catherine became Katariina, Katrin (sometimes Kati or Katya) for short, Elizabeth became Eliisabet (Liza), Amy became Lyubov, Lyuba for short, her aunt Margaret became Margarita, and Peter became Pyotr.
Realistic explanations were also found for why her cousin Mikhail’s nickname is Ginny and why Nikolas goes by the Greek form of his name. Cognitive dissonance can be very strong, which must account for how I’ve long been such a purist (perhaps even a pedant) about proper transliteration and cringing at old books that “translate” proper names, yet having no problems with having very un-Russian names in my own book. Now I can’t imagine my female lead as anything but Lyuba, though I must admit that once in awhile, I slip and think of her as Amy.
This year I also came out of the closet about the true extent of my sinistrality. I was confused and discouraged for a long time, since I grew up writing right-handed and had to teach myself how to write left-handed. But I did almost everything else left-handed, and knew how to do certain things with both hands. It set me back a lot and pushed me further into the closet to be told I was just being oppositional, was lying, or was trying to pretend to be left-handed or ambidextrous because I thought it was cool or something. Brain wiring doesn’t lie, even if you refuse to believe in its setup in certain people. I feel extremely confident since I’ve switched my writing hand, and am very proud of how hard I’ve worked since the age of seven to get my lefty writing looking so good, more than just merely legible. I almost never revert to using my right hand.
Most surprising of all this year, I somehow ended up becoming a Duranie. (Anyone who wants my classic rock cred can pull it out of my cold dead hands.) But it was what led me to discovering the perfect finish for Justine Grown Up, which I’m very much looking forward to getting to. Everything is always arranged by Hashem for a reason, even if we can’t understand it at the time.