IWSG—June odds and sods

InsecureWritersSupportGroupIt’s time for another meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The first Wednesday of each month, we share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

For how long do you shelve your first draft, before reading it and re-drafting? Is this dependent on your writing experience and the number of stories/books under your belt?

The books I wrote on MacWriteII, ClarisWorks, and AppleWorks were inaccessible to me for up to a decade, due to being either stuck on obsolete file formats on disks or on an older desktop I didn’t bring over all the files from. Obviously, I finally learnt how to convert and open all those file types.

The ones created or saved in MacWriteII have/had a lot of bizarre formatting issues caused by data migration; e.g., floating chunks of text that belong elsewhere in the document and need to be C&Ped back together in their proper order (often breaking off in the middle of words or sentences!), gibberish at the beginning, words I taught the ’93 Mac’s spellcheck, text from files on other disks, symbols in the middle of words, repeated letters, huge indents. That needed addressed before I could even begin editing and assigning them places in my long queue.

As I’ve said many times, it was a blessing in disguise that the original files of Little Ragdoll were held hostage for so many years. There was no way I could’ve salvaged even a halfway decent story by writing around this Grimms’ fairytale on acid. I needed a complete rewrite from scratch and memory, though I kept the same general outline.

Being away from a story for 5–10 years provides one with a whole new set of eyes. Now, I like to wait at least a few months before diving back in. When we begin editing and revising too soon, we’re often blind to mistakes both big and small.

I learnt a big lesson from my mad dash to the finish with And Aleksey Lived in 2018. Since there was almost no time between the day I wrote the last word in the final appendix and the release date, I had to fly through with proofreading. A lot of little errors also turned up in the first printed edition, which I thankfully was able to correct for free.

I’m doing JuNoWriMo for I believe the sixth year, though I’m not hopeful of reaching 50K. All part of the joy of being stuck in a home not my own, with the local libraries still not open to more than brief browsing, and in an open concept house that makes privacy all but impossible. </extreme sarcasm>

I’ll be using June to work on my radical rewrite of the book formerly known as The Very Last, start my new alternative history, and do my final proof-check of the third edition of Little Ragdoll. I also count blog posts as creative non-fiction.

After daydreaming about this for at least 20 years, I’ve finally begun the process of applying to make aliyah (move to Israel). I came up with a lot of stupid excuses and reasons to postpone it, and even let my now-ex talk me out of it. Unfortunately, I’ve aged out of a lot of great opportunities, like work-study programs and volunteering on most kibbutzim.

I’ll be discussing this much more in future posts. If all goes well and I’m approved, I should be there by next summer. Though I used to want to live in Haifa, my dream city now is Tiberias in the Lower Galilee.

In response to the awful events of May, I’ve changed my Twitter display name to my Hebrew name, Chana Esther Dafna.

What are your summer writing plans?

WeWriWa—Halloween party ends in mayhem


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 snippet comes from the eighth book in my series focused on Max Seward, Jr., and his wacky family, set during autumn 1943.

Max’s cousin Elaine and their friend Quintina have organized a show-stopping school Halloween party, and Max himself has carved sixty jack-o-lanterns. All is going well till the local band starts taking off their costumes.

After these first five girls tackle their favorite bandmembers, it becomes a free-for-all as almost all the other girls rush the gym stage and pile onto the band too.

“There’s my heartthrob.” Kit yanked off the Stalin mask and raced over to Randy as he pulled off the spider head.

“And there’s mine.” Julieanna whipped off the Lenin mask and raced to Jakey as he draped the Dracula cape over the drums.

“That’s mine.” Violet tore off her Mussolini face and raced towards Bobby as he unghouled himself for the evening.

“And mine.” Cinnimin grabbed off the Hitler mask and made for Danny as he took off his football helmet.

“Oh my God, is that Pauly Richardson under the suit of shining knightly armor?” Mickey screamed, removing the disks from her eyes and tackling him to the ground.

I’d opened and converted the fourteen chapter files of this draft about two and a half years ago, but for some reason, the new master file kept crashing when I tried to open it. I had to go back onto my older computer (which has Word, unlike my newer computer), and went through the process all over again.

I’m so lucky that 10-year-old computer still works, I have an external disk drive, and those old files still open in spite of the hoops I have to jump through to convert and reformat them. This particular section seemed to need less extensive editing and rewriting than other parts of the Halloween chapter.

I was only fourteen when I handwrote the first draft, and about twenty when I transcribed it and made some changes. It’s yet another example of how my shorter books need far more extensive rewriting, editing, and restructuring than the books I deliberately wrote at saga-length!

Letting Go Bloghop

My Alpha Male post is here.

To celebrate the release of her new adult contemporary romance novella If I Let You Go, Kyra Lennon is holding a bloghop with the theme of letting go. The winner will receive a $10 Amazon gift card. (And I love that font! It reminds me a bit of a slightly less-fancy version of my favorite fancy font, Edwardian Script.)

Here’s my entry, originally 892 words and edited down to 498.

I got the idea for my contemporary historical Bildungsroman Little Ragdoll in May of ’93, when I first heard the famous story behind The Four Seasons’ song “Rag Doll.”  In July, I began working on it.

In those days, I usually didn’t break up my books into smaller files.  I learnt a very valuable lesson when some kind of disk bug struck in the Spring of ’94.  I was so devastated I stopped working on it.

I carried Adicia’s story around in my head for years, always feeling I’d finish it someday.  In the intervening years, I even thought up Betsy van Niftrik and her parents.

Years passed, and computers no longer had disk drives.  And the newest Mac word processing program, AppleWorks, couldn’t open MacWriteII or ClarisWorks files.

I finally bit the bullet in November 2010, after having several dreams about it.  So many things came back to me, like Sarah.  It was meant to be, if I could carry that story around in my subconscious for 16.5 years.

Because I let go of my obsession with needing to have the original first draft to work from, I was able to craft a much stronger, more mature story, and take it in directions I never could’ve dreamt of at all of 13-14.

A few months after finishing the 397,000-word first draft, the discontinued original first draft was miraculously resurrected.  I’ve been thankful ever since that it was lost for so many years.  I needed to be forced to let go of it in order to take the story in the direction it needed to go.  I’d grown so much as a writer, and I wouldn’t have been served well to crawl back to the past.

There’s no way I could’ve salvaged a halfway-decent story from that mess.  The only things that remained the same were the names, ages, and basic outline.  Losing it let me do things like:

  • Make oldest sister Gemma more nuanced and sympathetic, instead of some queen bitch.
  • Significantly tone down youngest brother Tommy’s spoilt brattiness.  Now he grows very slowly over the 15 years of the story, and his major redeeming feature is his colorblindness.
  • Give Allen and Lenore’s love story more buildup, instead of getting them together so soon.
  • Put in some new characters and subplots, like Marjani, the mystery of who Julie’s mother is, and oldest brother Carlos’s trial.

As emotionally difficult and frustrating as it is, every writer should have that experience of a total rewrite at least once.  Sometimes a draft is so awful that you have to scrap it and reconstruct it almost completely.  Now down to 387,000 words (would’ve been a bit shorter if I hadn’t needed to write in left-handedness for a bunch of characters), this is one of the books I’m proudest of having written.

It was truly a combination of letting go and being unable to move on.  They existed alongside one another and made the final product stronger.

2011 in writing

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.

When starting over is a good thing

The miraculously resurrected, mostly unreformatted file containing the first part of the discontinued first draft of Adicia’s story is such a nightmare to wade through. Not just because of the extreme purple prose and heavy-handed narrative moralizing, preaching, and pontificating, but also because it’s the worst file yet I’ve pulled off of MacWriteII. All the others have been fairly straightforward to fix, with only double-spacing, auto-hyphenating, taking out extra spaces and hyphens resulting from how the files HAD been auto-hyphenated in another format, and misplaced text blocks to find and fix. This one not only has misplaced text blocks, but also frequent run-on letters (e.g., ssssssssssshe, miiiiiiidle, booooook) and completely fouled-up left margins.

I’m wondering if this is so because, despite the fact that the file itself was created on a ’93 Mac, most of it was written on a 128K Mac, the dear little computer I really miss. Sure it was way behind modern computers, and had a lot less memory and capabilities, but I feel sentimental for its sweetness, newness, and simplicity. I liked playing the old black and white games, like Alice in Wonderland, The Manhole, and Puppy Love. I had never known any other computer to feel I were missing out. That was what I knew. The IBMs and other non-Macs I used at school were poor imitations, though I vaguely remember how to navigate my way around vintage non-Macs from the Eighties and early Nineties.

Because the file is so damn old, and was created on such a dinosaur of a computer, on such a dinosaur version of a dinosaur word processing system, the translation is all kinds of fouled up. This was also the file I typed in Bookman, the font I thought best resembled a typewriter font, which I’d read was encouraged if one were typing a book on a computer instead of a typewriter. (The book containing that advice was written in the very early Nineties!) I’m old enough to have typed on a typewriter, both manual and electric versions, more than a few times, but for the life of me I don’t remember how to start one up. I would like to buy my own typewriter, preferably a purple Remington Portable. (Here are some typewriter-inspired computer fonts available for free download. Some of them are so pretty I’m almost tempted to betray my 18-year relationship with Palatino!)

It kind of makes me sad to think how kids nowadays would probably find the computer I grew up using to be old and boring, and not find the games fun enough because they’re slower, in black and white, and with less features. They’d also probably find the old MacWriteII and even ClarisWorks to be old and boring, but that’s why I loved them so much and why I still miss being able to type in them. Sure Word has more features, but it’s harder for me to navigate my way around and figure out how to do things that were a lot simpler to find and figure out on MacWriteII and ClarisWorks. It’s downright scary to think that the people entering college now have never known a time before the Internet or probably even cellphones. My childhood and adolescence of the Eighties and Nineties really is the stuff of historical fiction now!

Anyway, this is the original character list. I remembered too late, while writing the finished first draft after finally starting over, that Lenore’s surname had been Lennon. Oh well. I like her last name better as Hartlein, and I like how it’s one of my family names, my five-greats-grandma’s birth surname. (For reasons too off-topic to get into here, I really hate the term “maiden name.”) And I’ve already used the surname Lennon in my Atlantic City books, for Charlotte Lennon, Cinnimin’s 12-greats-grandma, and Jennifer Lennon-Zargovich, her 11-greats-grandma, who is currently periodically coming back as a ghost to haunt Cinni’s granddaughter Daphne. Jennifer first appeared to Daphne right before her ridiculous, very unpopular wedding at age 17 and urged her to call it off. Daphne made a comment that really pissed Jennifer off, and Jennifer placed her first curses on Daphne and the joke of a marriage. She’s not an evil spirit, just one who’s having fun torturing a very annoying, disagreeable person who acts like she’s living in Jennifer’s era and not the late Nineties.

I just love how naïve and heavy-handed my 13-year-old self was. The introduction isn’t meant to be funny, but it just seems so self-righteous and like I were taking myself too seriously. This is just one example of the heavy-handed moralizing that’s found throughout this mess of a discontinued first draft. Thank God I lost it for so many years, since I have no idea how the hell I would’ve found a way to even halfway salvage this mess when I began again last November. It had no real plot, it was painted in extreme shades of black and white, and it was like a Grimm’s fairytale on acid.

Little Ragdoll

by Carrie Ann Brown


Dedicated to the girl I know only as Ragdoll.


This novel was inspired by a story I heard on the radio.  The story was about a girl who was a poor little girl in New York City in 1964.  Ever since I heard that story, I feel I cannot do enough for her, even though I don’t even know her.  So I wrote this novel to be assured that she had a happy ending, even if she didn’t or her story is drastically different than the one in this novel.  It is all fictitious, except for the part that comes from the story on the radio.

Anyway, the theme in this novel is that beauty is only skin-deep.  The world many times won’t accept people who don’t look as beautiful as others, even if these people have the most genius minds in the world.  Our society is run by people who process a message to youths that beautiful people are better.  You see examples of this all around (e.g.  boys only asking out beautiful girls and laughing at girls who are fat or are bookworms).  That message is not a very good one.  Instead we should be sending young people a message that what’s on the inside counts more than superficial things.  We know we cannot undo what has already been done, but we can hope that someday in the future people will see the light.

And who really knows?  Maybe 50 years from now, when we are working toward a harmony of being universal citizens, you will look in a book of names and find the name “Ragdoll” as meaning “underlying beauty.” In the meantime, you can read this novel and maybe change your views on beauty and ugliness when you’re done reading it.  I hope you will.

Characters in this book:

Mrs. Troy, the mother of 9 children.  She wastes all her money on things for her sons and her eldest daughter and runs a falling-apart household in New York City.

Mr. Troy, the father of the children.  He is a miser and a drunk who spends all his money on alcohol and prostitutes.

Sarah Klaus, the nanny of the children who has just come from Germany and barely gets any money for her work.

Gema Troy, age 16, the eldest daughter who gets all the new clothing and things such as records and books.  Mrs. Troy comes to all her cheerleading practices and spoils hers.  All the boys like Gema.

Carlos Troy, age 15, the eldest son.  He gets high on all sorts of drugs he gets from his friends on the streets.  He gets all the new boys’ clothing and is spoiled by his father.

Allen Troy, age 14, the next in line.  He has every girl in school hanging over him and has a reputation for using drugs also.  Allen’s problem is that he really is scared of using the drugs and just started taking them to escape from his real life.  But he knows that if he ever stops taking them, his father, brother Carlos, friends, and girlfriends will all reject him for wanting to be seen as a really nice guy, not simply some stupid drug-user boy who can’t fight the feeling.

Lucine Troy, age 13, the next-born daughter.  She has a few boys notice her, because by the time she gets Gema’s clothing, it is still fairly good-looking.  She is fairly pretty.

Emeline Troy, age 12, and the nicest of the Troy girls.  She wants to be beautiful, but she knows that is impossible.

Ernestine Troy, age 8.  She is always living in fear of boys because boys at her school all hate her for being different.

Adicia Troy, age 5, and the main character.  By the time she gets her clothing, they are rags, and this causes her to be the laughing-stock of the town.  She wants people to like her, but everyone at school hangs out with beautiful rich children.

Tommy Troy, age 3.  He is a spoiled little baby who is always getting his way because his mother likes him best of all her children, next to Gema.

Justine Troy, 6 months old.   She doesn’t stand too good a chance in life because her family is becoming so poor they might be moved from their apartment to the ghetto because of unpaid rent.

Ricky Carson, the son of 2 very rich people who move into New York City around 1968.  He does not believe everybody’s negative thoughts about Adicia.

Jack Rogers, Adicia’s boyfriend in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.  He doesn’t really love her for who she really is, but he listens to her and buys her things, so to her that is better than nothing at all.

Girl, Ernestine’s best friend that she meets at the squat.  Girl teaches Ernestine all about real life and how to fight off the system.  From the moment that the 2 girls meet, they are instantly inseparable.  They do everything together, such as going to different churches, working at the same job for the same low pay, learning to read, shopping, celebrating holidays, going to concerts together, and eventually learning about life and reality together.

Lenore Lennon, a beautiful girl who was sexually abused by her father.  She runs away one night in late December of ‘61.  She and Allen meet in a bus stop waiting for their trains, and he instantly falls in love with her, although it takes some time before she loves him too.

Dolly, a very stuck-up little blonde girl who is always running into the Troys for some reason or the other.  She loves to shun and humiliate them in public.

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