More adventures in reformatting


I finished reformatting and doing some preliminary polishing of the fourth and fifth Max’s House books, and have now converted the five files making up the sixth book, Two Happy Endings. I was right to remember this one as being one of the longer MH books completed to date. The approximate word count, prior to doing much reformatting and polishing, is around 93,000. It covers December 1942 to June of 1943, and ends with Kit’s brother Saul getting a very angry surprise that’s a happy ending only for the hated Mrs. Green, being able to walk again after spending the last 21 months in a wheelchair.

Kit and Mrs. Green never exactly have the friendliest relationship, to say the least, and Kit was the one who put her mother in that wheelchair in the first place. Their acrimonious relationship is kind of a satire on the horrible parent-child relationships shown so often on Maury, only of course exaggerated for a black comedic effect and to satirize how horrible things can be between a parent and child who’ve never gotten along or had anything in common. I suppose my style of satirizing and irreverant, sometimes absurd and dark, humor could be compared to some of the stuff on a show like Family Guy. I know in real life Kit would be considered a juvenile delinquent, a huge bitch with a violent temper, and a sex-addicted slut and heartless serial cheater, but her character is over the top on purpose. It’s part of the reason why I love her.

Two Happy Endings got the lion’s share of the salvageable material from the horrid Proud to Be a Smart. I used some of the salvageable material in some of the other books too, but #6 seems to take the most of it. The book is also like two books in one, the interlinked stories of Cinni and Levon getting together in the early days of their relationship and Cinni and Kit’s shared granddaughter Livia and her husband Liam, Violet’s grandson, in 2007. Livia and Liam also defied convention by running away and getting married. Livia is Jewish and Liam is Wiccan, and they’re raising their girls as Jewitch (which is actually a pretty interesting religious combination, and far from unusual). Instead of waiting around for their friends or relatives to approve or apologize for having tried to break them up, they decided to make their own happy ending on their own terms. The 2007 story (which was quite a bit in the future when I wrote the first draft) is told in the present tense, but the predominating 1942-43 story is still in the past tense. The book was written between 16 August 1999 and 10 July 2000, and I have some pages printed out from it, to use as reference for parts of Saga VI of Cinnimin.

A lot of good stuff happens in #6, like the introduction of Peter Cunningham, the love of Kit’s life; Kit’s scandalous carryings-on with three boys at once, instead of the usual two; Max and Elaine throwing a huge New Year’s Eve party when the adults are away, topped off by Max wrecking his easily-angered father’s new car in a horrific freak accident with about 20 passengers stuffed inside; the annoying behavior of Liana and Eugenia Wilson, two of the current British kids the Greens are housing (from Birmingham, my great-great-grandma’s hometown); Kit getting fake glasses because she thinks it makes her look cool, and soon getting them destroyed by Sam, on orders from Violet; Violet getting pregnant by Gayle’s on-again, off-again boyfriend R.R., and her decision about what she’s going to do about it; and Violet finding out not only that her mother is finally pregnant with a third child, but that neighbor John Holiday has been spying on her and her sister Mandy and taking pictures of them in various states of undress. Kit also tells some good dirty jokes to the horrified Wilson girls in one section.

I think #5 could stand for a bit of lengthening. I went to special care to have minimal overlap between the Max’s House books and Saga I of Cinnimin, but now I think that leaves a rushed narration, or one with gaps. I suppose it’s not the end of the world to have exactly the same scenes and dialogues in both books, so long as that’s not done frequently. I could probably up it from around 51,000 words to perhaps 10,000 words more (maybe more, maybe less) if I took out those place-holder paragraphs in Part III and just depicted the events it says Cinni is telling Levon about over the fall of 1942. Events like Halloween, Violet’s birthday party, and the launching of AS into action, after all that planning and initiating they did over the spring.

In Part II, I also took a similar, rushed-narrative approach to Cinni’s birthday, which was depicted over many pages and quite some detail in her own book. In #5, it’s mostly told from Max’s POV, that he’s so busy making special plans to celebrate the year-anniversary of his and Al’s first time that he forgets it’s his best female friend’s birthday. Then he sits at the party as he and Al whisper about what a disgusting display Cinni is putting on, trying to one-up Elaine for the self-centered display she made at her own birthday in December. And, after all, Max and Elaine are the protagonists of the series, even if Cinni gets a lion’s share of the storylines in the fourth, fifth, and sixth books. They should get more action in their own series.

I know #6 is on the long side because it fits with the plot trajectory and the six-month timeline, unlike #3, which was just overwritten. I think #7, which has always been one of my favorites, might be somewhere around the length of #1. The first draft was handwritten, and written at a time when my writing was a bit larger and had bigger spaces between each word. And it’s always fun to write one of the Summer books.

I’m kind of glad I gave up too quickly on getting published a decade ago, since the future part of the storyline in #6 is now in the past, not the future. I can correct any errors there might be. The one error that’s already been corrected is Livia’s form of birth control. Norplant was off the market by 2007, so I switched her to Implanon. There also might be something about Livia’s cousin George talking about his namesake in the present tense, and George Harrison sadly passed from the material world a year and four months after I finished the first draft.

The insidious influence of Beatrice Sparks


I was converting the third, fourth, and fifth of my Max’s House books out of MacWriteII the other day (since I decided to use a section of the opening chapter-like section of #5 for the upcoming Can You Leave Us Breathless? Blogfest Contest), and skimming through #3, Resolutions (which is broken up over six files and which I’m estimating is somewhere in the vicinity of 85,000 words pre-editing), it’s clear that that old fraud “Dr.” Beatrice Sparks had some kind of influence on my writing style at the time. It’s very embarrassing to realize this, but it seems like that’s the case.

It’s a blessing in disguise in this instance that converting old MacWriteII files by dragging them down into the Word icon at the bottom of the screen (which is slightly less difficult and time-consuming than how I was doing it before, by opening the old files through TextEdit and then copying and pasting the text in between the gibberish blocks into a Word file) robs them of all the original formatting. MH #3 was one of the books whose first draft was handwritten, between 24 December 1994 and 6 April 1995. (I have the dates at the end of the sixth file, since I like to keep track of when I wrote things like that.) And I do remember a LOT of the words were unnecessarily underlined and double-underlined. (Remember, you obviously can’t use bold or italics when you’re handwriting, and this was still a time when I underlined and double-underlined when I was transcribing them. I’ve since switched over to using italics for emphasis, and in rare occasions bold italics for extra emphasis.) There were also a lot of words which were unnecessarily put in all caps, if I remember correctly. Many of my journal entries from this same time were also riddled with such overuse of underlining. MH #3 is also rather full of unnecessary adverbs and other purple prose. And guess whose trademark that is!

If you don’t already know, “Dr.” Beatrice Sparks was born in 1918 (I’m surprised she’s still living!) and is an extremely conservative, religious shrink who lives in Utah. She’s most famous for having written (NOT edited) the fraud Go Ask Alice and for having made up the majority of Jay’s Journal to include a Satanic theme that was never present in the journal of the real Jay, Alden Barrett. She only used about 25 of Alden’s actual journal entries when she was cobbling her second fraud together, and because of this, the Barrett family went through a lot of problems. “Dr.” Sparks didn’t do such a stellar job of disguising Alden’s identity, and the family suffered a lot of grief in their community because people believed Alden had really been a Satanist. The family was forced to move, the parents eventually divorced, and Alden’s headstone was defaced and stolen several times. And not that Satanism is one of the religions I’ve done much reading on, but from what little I know about it, authentic Satanism is nothing like how “Dr.” Sparks depicts it.

She also wrote a number of other books meant to scare teens out of normal teen behavior and to become unrealistic goody-goodies who never curse, think of the opposite sex, resent their parents, lie, skip church, or do anything the good “doctor” deems immoral. I felt sick when I found out It Happened to Nancy, about a young girl who dies of AIDS only two years after being date-raped by her older “boyfriend,” might have been largely faked like Jay’s Journal, or even made up entirely. I had gotten emotionally involved with this dear girl when I read the book twice in a row at fourteen, cried at the end both times, and been angry at the jerk who did this to her. It’s not cool to play with people’s emotions like that. When I reread the book a few years ago, I saw “Dr.” Sparks’s Molly Mormon fingerprints all over it (strange that the Catholic Nancy is saying and referring to so many things that are clearly drawn from Mormon theology and which would be highly unlikely to be known about by someone who hasn’t done a fair bit of reading on the religion). And yet some of the entries read like they were written by an actual young girl. Perhaps it was based on a real diary, but then Sparks just added a lot of her own entries to give it her own spin.

I’ve read three of her other books, Annie’s Baby (one of the worst books I’ve ever read), Treacherous Love (also extremely horrible), and Finding Katie. The lattermost book actually wasn’t too bad by her standards, even though much of it also reeked of unreality. I was a teen of the Nineties myself, and the depictions of how teens of that decade thought, talked, and acted rang completely false. These books all read like books written, in journal form, about a specific problem, with a beginning, middle, and end. They speak of almost nothing but the issue. Real journals contain a lot more than just talking about a problem in one’s life. I suppose none of these teens listened to music, went to the movies, had idle chit-chat with their friends, went to the mall, reacted to current events, nothing that normal people talk about in journals.

Funny how all these teens have the same exact writing style and moral preachiness. They also never get drawn into these issues of their own free will. They’re raped, drugged, taken advantage of. God forbid a teen willingly have premarital sex, experiment with drugs, run away from home, drink alcohol, etc. There are far better ways to impart moral warnings and encourage healthy lifestyle choices than by lying to, preaching at, and scaring your intended audience.

She even has some stock lines she uses in all her books, like “I’m so glad my dear sweet mommy is MY mom.” I never knew any teens who were all lovey-dovey with their parents and rushed to apologize if they said anything negative about their parents. A journal is a place for honesty, not apologizing for thinking bad thoughts about your parents or using a curse word. It’s extremely unrealistic for a teen to be all cuddly with her parents.

All her teens have the exact same writing style, esp. WRITING ENTIRE PASSAGES IN ALL CAPS, USING EXCESSIVE EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!!!, randomly italicizing, and sometimes RANDOMLY ITALICIZING PASSAGES IN CAPS!!!!!! It’s extremely difficult to read all caps, and annoying. It’s the equivalent of screaming. A lot of her teens also use silly made-up words I’m sure even a first grader would be embarrassed to use. I don’t think even teens from her own teenage era, the Thirties, acted like such goody-goodies or used such lame words! And all her narrators give the time at the start of journal entries. Why is it that all these teens have the exact same moral preachiness, over the top writing style, and even little linguistic quirks? Oh, yeah, because Sparks is the one who wrote all these books.

She also portrays teens as very stupid and naïve. I refuse to believe Jenny from the hideous Treacherous Love, were she real, would’ve remained in the dark about her teacher’s sick intentions till she heard a voice message from a friend talking about what a pervert he is. This guy is so clearly doing and saying gross, pedophilic things to her, and she thinks they’re just a normal couple with a big age difference? And why is Nancy letting some dude she barely knows spend the night at her house and thinking they’ve got a full-blown, serious relationship after less than a week? And by the time you’re fourteen, you should know the difference between an 18-year-old college boy and a 32-year-old grown man. (But then again, I only liked guys my own age when I was in high school, and then only liked younger guys till I found my beshert, who to my great surprise ended up being three years my senior. The thought of an older guy being with a teen girl always gave me the creeps, since even a few years of difference is a huge deal when the younger party is all of 14 or 15 years old. I never was one of those girls who was like, “Ooh, he’s OLDER and he likes ME, I must be SOOO mature!” Barf.)

For whatever reason, I kept in the original unnecessary underlinings and other purple prose when I was transcribing MH #3 in the summer of ’99. Back then, even though my writing had matured by leaps and bounds over the last few years, I was still in a rather immature place that said editing or rewriting your original work was sacrilegious. Now I know that it’s not necessarily kowtowing or betraying your art to edit some things out or to rewrite things. It’s done to make your work better, esp. if the earlier, more immature pieces no longer fit with the plot you later developed. It’s for this reason that the first MH book needs the most editing. The new stuff I wrote in ’99, when I was transcribing it and making the second draft, are like night and day compared to the original material from December ’91 to April ’93. I look at the steady stream of MH books I wrote between 1999 and 2002, and when compared to the rough drafts of #1, #2 (which is on a long hiatus, for reasons I’ll explain later), and #7, it’s almost like they were written by two different people. I also handwrote the original drafts of #3 (obviously) and #8, in 1994 and 1995, and while there are still some issues with them, they’re still a fair bit better than the first drafts of the earlier MH books I wrote.

In other news, I’m looking forward to reformatting and editing all the MH books I’ve got completed to date, and then going back onto my old desktop to finish #12. (I was doing so well on #12, after some years of hiatus, but then I got so caught up in writing the stories of my Shoah characters from 1944 on, both during and after the War, to be inserted into various MH books at the proper time, that I sorta lost interest in #12. I believe I was up to 12 chapters, possibly up to April or May of 1944, and probably have perhaps 10 or so chapters left to go, maybe less.) The files on that computer are in AppleWorks, which at least isn’t quite so obsolete as MacWriteII or ClarisWorks. I love the sound my disks make when they’re loading in my external disk drive, and when I see the last date modified as being 1999, 2000, 2001. It’s like going back in time, even if I can’t see those files in their original MacWriteII formats on the old ’96 Mac.

Writers Support 4U progress report


So I recently joined the Facebook group Writers Support 4U, after hearing about it on several of the writers’ blogs I’ve been going to. Members are encouraged to make blog posts the second Tuesday of  every  month, giving a progress report, and then link to other members at the end of the post. Since I already posted about the wonderful progress on my Russian novel sequel yesterday (over 306,000 words and only 10 more chapters plus the Epilogue to go!), I’m going to be posting about my long-overdue revisions on The Very First today.

I had the converted file containing most of Part II already on my computer, but I had to look through quite a few of my discs before I found the file containing Part I and the first few chapters of Part II. And, lucky me, wouldn’t you know it, I happened to have an older version instead of the most recent one I’d printed out over a decade ago. Thankfully, I have that to compare the older version to, though the only significant difference I can see so far is that the older version was missing the paragraph (now several paragraphs) in the chapter about Kit, wherein it’s explained that her parents are keeping the secret of their Jewish, immigrant identity from her and her siblings.

I was also shocked to discover my estimated word count of somewhat below 43,000 was a bit off. It was lower than I thought, going by multiplying 350 by the number of pages. (Palatino gets more words per page than the butt-ugly Courier, and I also hate the supposed “standard” Times New Roman. If I were ever deprived of Palatino, I’d go to the font I used before Palatino, Bookman, since it looks practically identical.) My estimation method still comes out to 43,000, but that’s not what the computer is telling me it contains. Well, I’ve already added several thousand words on, and given how fast I write and how I’ve known these characters for going on twenty years, it’ll be no skin off my back to continue puffing it up a bit. I’m going to try to bring it as close to 43,000 as possible.

I decided to make an entirely new opening, with Cinni looking at pictures of the Brandts and talking with her beloved father about the coming long-term houseguests. I figured that established characters and the story immediately, as opposed to the original opening, several pages of narrative about the Brandts and how they came to arrive in Atlantic City. I also did a bit of tweaking with the two-page foreword explaining, in a nutshell, the history of WTCOAC and leading up to Cinni’s descent from Charlotte Lennon. I also edited the two-page introduction, which shows the now-aged female characters meeting at Violet’s mansion in the year 2000 to make an oral history and then a book about their adventures in the years leading up to WWII. I wanted to make everything consistent with the characters and the story as I’ve long known it, nothing reflecting the amateurish original draft.

It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would to almost entirely rewrite Chapter 1. I didn’t feel like I were betraying the little story I wrote for my seventh grade English 8H class. (I was a year ahead in my English classes from seventh grade on, so I was really at an eighth grade honors level that year.) I wrote a story featuring my then-relatively-new WTCOAC characters in the fall of ’92, in the style of the Poe story about the possessed bubblegum, with lots of fancy, elaborate language. But I had to recognise that that just didn’t work for the story that had ultimately emerged from that assignment. So I cut out all the ridiculous ornamental language except Cinni’s, and I showed her dad hanging his head in his hands over her goofy hundred-dollar words. When he told her to use the King’s English so the Brandts wouldn’t think she was an uneducated moron, he meant to avoid saying “ain’t” and using double negatives and improperly conjugated verbs. He didn’t mean for her to use thesaurus words no one uses in real life. (And boy, was I embarrassed when I caught myself writing my new opening in present tense, only to immediately start writing in present tense all over again after realizing my mistake! I guess I’ve spent so much time with my present tense characters that I couldn’t immediately get back in the habit of using past tense for my past tense characters. Maybe I was thrown off because the introduction in the year 2000 is indeed written in the present tense.)

After my extensive editing, rewriting, revising, and polishing of the original sections of the first seven chapters of my Russian novel, I know I’m no longer in that old immature place that said I could never edit out anything I wrote, just add new scenes and bits of dialogue. If the old sections aren’t consistent with the story that ultimately emerged as you became a stronger, more mature writer, go ahead and axe them out. Particularly if they add absolutely nothing to the story, such as saying the Filliards live in an old farmhouse that used to belong to French immigrants, or spending several pages just describing the Brandts. That’s fine during the rest of Part I, when Cinni is telling Sparky the story of the people she’s going to make friends with and the town she’s come to, but not when I’m establishing the story.

I decided to make the long narrative section of Part I more consistent with Cinni’s voice, since she’s the one who’s really “narrating” it. That means editing out anachronistic slang, an intrusive narrative voice essentially telling the reader what to think and beating them over the head with preachy or judgmental attitudes (hello, D.W. Griffith!), breaking of the fourth wall, and anything that would’ve happened after 1938 and which Cinni obviously wouldn’t know yet. In the few cases where I felt it were best to leave in some passages describing things that would happen after 1938 or that Cinni wouldn’t have known, such as the passages about Kit’s parents’ secret origins and how Cinni was emotionally scarred by FDR’s death because of how much she worshipped him, I put them in italics to distinguish them from the main track of young Cinni’s narration.

I also now find it ridiculous how I explained what was wrong with Mr. Filliard and why he was dying. I suppose, in my 12-year-old mind, it made sense to concoct a fantastic story about a local STD called WARDS, Weakness Acquired Reproductive Deficiency Syndrome, a disease he got from his wife and which would kill him by 1940. Mrs. Filliard had the disease removed from her blood. But that doesn’t explain how in the world she could get an STD without sexual contact herself, and how a disease could live in her bloodstream and then be removed as simple as that. It sounds as silly as the anti-science claims made by the anti-vaccination liars, but in my defence, I was only twelve years old. So I started thinking about what kind of disease he could have that would gradually weaken him and eventually kill him, and I hit upon rheumatic fever. That was the disease that ultimately took Lou Costello from this life before his time. It’s usually a children’s disease, but obviously it’s not unheard of for grownups to catch it. So now it’s established from the first page of the main text that Mr. Filliard had rheumatic fever in 1937 and hasn’t been the same since. It weakened his heart, and his doctor said it would eventually kill him.

It’s kind of tricky to me how to classify TVF (and the other three books in the introductory WTCOAC series). Most of the time, I’ve felt they were YA in spite of not having teen main characters, because they contain mature subjects and some off-color language. (No f words, but there are some other curse words, as well as some relatively mild vulgar slang and sexual references.) But these people were always deliberately written as older than their chronological age, and it’s made clear from the beginning why this is so. I also didn’t state Cinni’s age at the beginning, so that by the time the reader starts to realize how young these characters actually are, they’ve been established as people who seem like they’re about 12 or 13. It’s part of the humor, so deliberately over the top in the spoof/satire of modern-day preteens and teens who behave like that. Since they’re written as being lower YA ages, I suppose it could work to classify it that way, though I’m sure I’ll have censors’ groups after my blood for showing young people doing things like spying on their neighbors having sex, drinking beer, wearing revealing clothing to show off their preternaturally developed bodies, having physical relationships (but no intercourse), and disrespecting their parents. It’s supposed to be so deliberately over the top as to be funny, since you know that’s not real.

It’s really like two separate books, almost. The majority of Part I is a long introduction to the characters and the town, and Part II contains the actual story, of Sparky longing to become a real American girl. I’m glad I have my old print-out to check the converted MacWriteII file against, since there are once again misplaced floating text blocks and gibberish. Once it’s all put back properly together again and has been edited and rewritten, I hope it’s been puffed up to at least 40,000 words. Just like Adicia’s story needed about 390,000 words to be told properly and my Russian novel needed about 348,000, so too do my earliest WTCOAC books need lengths barely longer than a novella. You write the story you need to write, whether it be a doorstopper like my adult novels or a very slim book like these. I never considered them novels because they’re so short, and they’re series books besides.

Other progress reports from writers in the group:

Jumping through hoops


It’s quite a bit of work to convert old files on now-obsolete formats into Word. First you have to put the discs into an external disc drive, since Macs no longer come with internal disc drives. Then you have to open the MacWriteII and ClarisWorks files through TextEdit, which produces a lot of garbage, jibberish text (mostly at the beginning and ending of the document). At first I was copying and pasting the whole thing into a Word file and then deleting the garbage, but eventually I felt it would be easier to cut and paste, and then additionally copy and paste the middle text, without the garbage, into the real Word file. There’s some other garbage throughout the files, but not as much as in the initial conversion. And for some reason, the Claris files were a lot easier to fix up, whereas MacWriteII files have weird misplaced text blocks. I have to copy and paste these orphan lines back into the places they came from. At least with some of these manuscripts, I have the original handwritten drafts to check against if I’m unsure where an orphan line or passage goes.

And then of course I have to auto-hyphenate, make it double-spaced, and change the font from the generic Times New Roman into my belovèd Palatino. Any other formatting from the original is also lost, like italics, bolding, bold italics, underlining, and centering. At least you don’t lose accent marks when you translate; that would’ve been a nightmare for the 42 chapters of my Russian novel plus the short Epilogue, since I used accent marks wherever I was aware of for personal names and Russian words and lines. I know accent marks aren’t normally written in actual Russian publications or regular writing, but I decided to use them for the same reason they’re used in dictionaries and textbooks—as a pronunciation guide for the non-Russian or non-Russophile reader who isn’t familiar with all the rules of Russian pronunciation. For example, I know a lot of Westerners erroneously mispronounce Boris as BORE-iss instead of Bah-REECE, and Ivan as EYE-vin instead of Ee-VAHN. (And in my opinion, both of those Anglo mispronunciations totally throw those names away. They sound so elegant, refined, and romantic in Russian, but they sound so common and ordinary in English. And don’t even get me started on how my favoritest female name, Anastasiya, is often mangled into Ann-a-STAY-zha. The true pronunciation, Ah-nah-STAH-zee-yah, is so much more beautiful.)

Those are a LOT of hoops to jump through just to finally have access to my older manuscripts again and to start fixing them up for eventual publication. I know many writers might write them off and not want to bother with going to so much trouble to access and revise older manuscripts, but my writing is the most important thing in the world to me. I’d do anything for it, the same way Aleksandr Isayevich was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for his writing (but thank God he lived to the ripe old age of 89 and saw all of his writing published in his homeland after the Soviet Union fell!). It’s also like how a mother would do anything for her children, since I do consider my manuscripts, all of them, to be my babies, in the absence of any blood (or adopted, for that matter) children. Yes, it does take a lot of time to reformat and fix these translated manuscripts, but it’s worth it in the long run. I also love going down memory lane and having a whole new chance to edit and revise these manuscripts.

I spent too much time, effort, and love writing them in the first place (and in the case of some of them, transcribing them from handwritten originals and then adding in more text where necessary) to just let them sit forever on old discs, in obsolete, inaccessible formats. They mean too much to me to abandon to the ravages of time. I’m going to have to go to even more effort to get some of the files off of one disc that isn’t being read by my external disc drive. I really only want two files on that, the beginning of the original Part II of the book I’ve been querying, for comparison’s sake, and the long-hiatused second book of the second of my four Atlantic City serials. That file was partially printed out, but it caught the same type of error that Part I of the currently-querying manuscript did, and I figured that if that massive file was able to be miraculously resurrected 17 years later, why not try it on that one as well? I never went back to try rewriting that other book or to just pick up where I’d left off, but maybe now I have a chance to work with the original as I edit and revise it.

There are also some files on the hard drive of my old computer, which will require just as many additional hoops. I’m pretty sure that’s the only other place left to look for the first two (I think) chapters of the long-hiatused sequel to my Russian novel. Sure, I could start again from scratch, esp. since I was only about two chapters in, and the entire thing is outlined on paper and in my head backwards and forwards for years, but it would at least be nice to pick up where I left off. There are also a couple of other files I’d like to look for on that hard drive.

I believe Hashem created me to be a writer, and I recognize that our talents, passions, and gifts are ultimately on loan from Hashem. Yes, we can always do things to improve things we already have a talent or passion for, like taking writing workshops, voice lessons, and art classes, but I believe the base talent was implanted there from birth. It’s up to us to use these talents and gifts wisely. It’s like one of the messages of the song “Pure Smokey,” recognizing talents and gifts come from Hashem, and thus ultimately thanking him/her for those gifts, and those people whose gifts we admire. And I also don’t want to end up like Mrs. Turkina, a character in one of Chekhov’s stories, a woman who wrote many books but who was content to just read them to friends and family, never pursuing having them published so everyone could enjoy them.

A blast from the past


So this is what happens when you’re looking in your chest of drawers to see if maybe your MIA Russian slang dictionary (the one that has all the good words that aren’t in your PG-rated dictionary) is in there along with some of the other non-clothes items stored in there. You find a couple of stray discs that weren’t in your little box of discs. I converted one of my books into Word through TextEdit, the first book in the Atlantic City series that focuses on the blended family of cousins Max and Elaine, and am quite happy to see it only has a word count around the ballpark of 60,000. I also found research papers I wrote on Shoah denial and the history and development of GULAG. But, most shockingly and unexpectedly of all, I found…


For some odd reason, TextEdit was able to open that massive file, in spite of having been locked and unable to be opened after catching some kind of disc/file error years ago. And DAMN, I’m blown away the more I skim through this stuff! This is stuff that’s straight out of a modern-day Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which I suppose isn’t a shock when that was the very first book I ever read, at three years old. That kind of stuff stays in your subconscious and affects how you see the world. When your first exposure to reading on your own is Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the original, adult, uncensored version, and at only three years old, you know early on that life can be more like a Grimmy’s fairy tale than a Disney fairy tale. A lot of what I’ve written over the years has an edge, a darkness, to it, acknowledging that real life can be depressing, not pretty, mean, cruel, imperfect, instead of all sweetness, light, flowers, bunnies, puppies, and happily ever after. Seriously, some of this stuff almost reminds me of The Painted Bird!

First of all, could I have been any heavier-handed with the narrative moralizing and preaching, essentially telling the reader to feel sorry for Adicia and what to think about her sordid environment? It’s like those pompous, preachy intertitles in many of D.W. Griffith’s films, beating the viewer over the head with how he wanted them to think and feel. That’s one of the reasons (besides that whole BOAN thing) I had such a hard time getting to a point where I could enjoy any of his films. (I wanted to vomit a number of times when I was watching BOAN, and even gasped or groaned out loud at many of the racist things.) I like his early Biograph shorts very much, and some of his later, post-heyday features, but I just can’t get into most of the features he made in his heyday, even if they do star the beautiful, talented Lillian Gish (who continued to shine even after she started making films for MGM and moved away from her mentor). The only heyday film of his I absolutely loved was Way Down East. I think he did a really good job on that one, and kept the preaching to a minimum. (But no, even that wonderful film will not redeem him in my eyes for BOAN. I’d sooner rewatch Life Is Beautiful, which also made me sick to my stomach with how it trivialized the Shoah, or Half-Wits’ Holiday, the Three Stooges short where Curly had his massive stroke halfway through and which therefore gives me a very sad, sick feeling knowing what happened to him after he walked off-screen in his last scene.)

Anyway, there are REALLY graphic descriptions of the poverty these people live in, like broken beds, rusty radiators, rarely-washed plates, broken lightbulbs, a car with no windows (how the hell are they affording a car when they’re so dirt-poor and live in Manhattan besides?), mice living in their bureaus, rusty water, moldy shower curtains, and an overflowing garbage can filled with really nasty stuff. There are also WAY more descriptions of drugs and drug use than I ever put in the rewrite, and the older brothers, Carlos and Allen, are regularly hanging out with hookers and even bringing them over to the house. At one point Allen, the one nice brother, is engaged to marry some hooker named Kiki, even though his mother is trying to marry him off to some younger Polish girl. I didn’t even remember anything about Mrs. Troy scheming to marry off one of her sons!

I got the names of oldest sister Gemma’s abusive, controlling first husband and son mixed up. Originally it was the husband, not the baby, who was named Giovanni, and the baby was named Francis. In the rewrite, the husband is named Francesco. Gemma herself was also originally called Gema (what happened to the second M?). At least I got most of the siblings’ ages right, or was only about a year off in the ones I got wrong. Seriously, this thing is littered with purple prose, tons of descriptions of people and things. The characters also use downright awful grammar, and they can’t even read. Fourth-born sister Ernestine also decides to drop out of school when she meets Girl and moves to the squat, since she feels she’s getting more of an education there. That never happened in the rewrite! Girl and her siblings remain self-taught and then go to formal school later, but Ernestine always remains in school and even goes to Vassar, along with Girl, who passed her GED, got good SAT scores, and took some supplementary classes at night school and community college before starting college.

Girl is even further out in left field in the original. I remembered her as being quite a character, kind of like a young radical, but not as being this weird! In the original, she’s talking about underworld beings visiting the planet, sci-fi coming true, life on other planets, a universal religion, sixth senses, and deliberately having children out of wedlock (as in a sperm bank, not the old-fashioned way). In the rewrite, she’s your average women’s libber, Socialist, and radical of the Sixties and early Seventies, in large part influenced by how she grew up poor and squatting. She also believes in things like auras and invisible energy fields. At any rate, she’s definitely not blathering on about communicating with aliens or psychic powers!

Second-oldest daughter Lucine was originally slated to marry some 21-year-old Greek fellow named Nikolas Pappadoras; in the rewrite, her black-hearted mother is planning to marry her off to a 35-year-old drug dealer named Jacob DeLuise. The first guy was only six years her senior; the second guy is 19 years older. There’s also some business about Nikolas bringing over a woman named Ronnie, his mistress. Nikolas also goes over across the hall to give drugs to a 6-year-old girl who is also a child prostitute. (This story just keeps getting better and better!) That girl became Julie in the rewrite (eight, not six, when she first appears), one of Adicia’s best friends, who escapes from her degenerate father with help from Adicia and Allen. Her mother divorced her father when she found out what he was doing to Julie, but was prohibited by the courts from having custody since, typical of the era, they believed the man over the woman. Just look at these beautiful descriptions of the girl who originally was named Karin and hadn’t talked in years:

Adicia sees the little neglected girl who lives in this apartment. She is only 6, but she is even smaller than 7 year old Adicia is. The little girl has cheekbones so hollow that they could act as coasters, hair that is very knotted up and infested with lice, eyes that are coated with a slime-like substance, crooked legs from having rickets, a hacking cough, she has a very hard time breathing, there is a rash all over her neck, she has very bad dandruff, the skin around her fingernails is red and raw, her nails themselves are beginning to fall off, and her mouth is totally dry and chapped.

Then, later (love the hideous grammar!):

“Who is this person?” Girl asks.

“She don’t got a name,” Adicia says. “She lives in the apartment next to my family, and her folks is rarely home. She sniffs glue and pops pills, and she gets attacked when she goes to buy her dope. Her folks come home drunk often and beat her up and push her down the stairs and set her on fire. She don’t talk. Her father and this man Nikolas do something that’s horrible to her, but I don’t know what it is, ‘cause nobody tells me whatever it is that’s such a big secret.”

“Nikolas Pappadoras?” Girl asks. “He’s involved with Rhonda Hill, right? Ronnie comes over here often! He’s a sick little man, and I’s been tellin’ her forever to leave that little insect! I will gladly take in her. I know this girl. Ronnie says that her name is Karin, an’ Carlos is a good friend of her father, and they’s both wanted by the cops for dealin’ dope to minors and for seeing hookers under the age of 12. Her mother is also wanted by the cops for sellin’ clients to pimps under the age of 15 for up to $900! I’ll just take this glue and give it to Carlos.”

Perhaps most horrifying of all to me (which I do remember from the rough draft) is that the exploited, German-born, Shoah survivor, live-in nanny and servant Sarah is telling the girls a Halloween story about what happened to her in the camps. WHAT?! These are little girls, her surrogate daughters, and they consider her their true mother since she’s been the one raising them since they were born! They obviously know some things, but she’s told them in age-appropriate ways, and certainly never goes into any sort of graphic detail.

“I know a horror story,” Sarah says. “It really happened, and you’ll be so scared you won’t be able to sleep.”

Emeline turns out the only known light source in the building, the nearly broken lamp. Then she lights a candle and gets under the old table. Ernestine gets one of Gema’s quilts and puts it over herself and Justine. Adicia covers herself with an ancient blanket.

Sarah starts telling them about the war she lived through. The girls are far from scared.

“Why didn’t anybody do anything about it?” Emeline asks.

“Why did people wanna do something like that?” Ernestine asks.

Sarah tries to scare them, but she cannot.

“Now we want a ghost story,” Ernestine says.

It is midnight by then, so Sarah makes them go to bed.

Yeah, that’s a totally normal thing to talk about when your young surrogate daughters ask for a horror story on Halloween! In the rewrite, they gather under the kitchen table during a blackout on Halloween, and she tells them a story from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, “The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was.” Sarah also has a German accent in the rewrite (i.e., I wrote a V instead a W and a D or T instead of TH when she’s talking); she doesn’t speak perfect unaccented English like in the original. I also see that her original surname was Klaus; I made it into Katz in the rewrite. (I also discovered that one of my orphanage girls in my Russian novel is also named Sarah Katz. I think that might be the first time I inadvertently used the same forename and surname for different characters, with the exception of people named for a relative.) It also makes no sense for Sarah to have been working for the Troys since she was 16 in 1941, since otherwise she couldn’t have survived the worst horrors of the Shoah and her little horror story would be moot. In the rewrite, she came over in 1947, when she was twenty. I just love how historically inaccurate so much of my earliest historical fiction was!

In other notes, I do remember youngest brother Tommy was an even bigger spoilt brat originally, and I decided to tone his brattiness down a bit in the rewrite. He’s still a spoilt little brat, but he’s not so over the top anymore, and he does have periodic glimmers of humanity. For example, he plays with African-American and Puerto Rican kids in spite of his otherwise enabling mother’s racist attitudes and attempts to ban him from playing with kids of other races. He also comes to the rescue of baby sister Justine when the jerk their parents were trying to forcibly marry Adicia to breaks and enters in an attempt to force answers out of Tommy and Justine re: Adicia’s whereabouts. Tommy finally grows up a bit by the end, but his development is very slow, and his maturation still isn’t complete by the end (it continues in the hiatused sequel), but at least he’s no longer some ridiculous caricature, some cardboard cutout of a spoilt, coddled, enabled, bratty child. Tommy is also kind of mean in the original, and in the rewrite, he’s just a spoilt brat, not a truly mean kid.

To sum it up, basically the original is just like a huge parade of horrors, darkness, depression, and disturbingness. No wonder I had unexplainable soul memories of a feeling of depression, despair, and hopelessness when I thought about how I depicted the tenement and the Troys’ lives originally. It just goes on and on in an endless loop of sadness, meanness, poverty, drugs, exploitation, abuse, and depression, and there really isn’t any sort of real plot emerging. I do like how the kids are rendered as so streetwise and how their surroundings are described to get a real feel for just how poor they are, though.

While I’m ecstatic to finally have the original for comparison, I’m also kinda glad I wasn’t able to access it months ago and that I had no choice but to finally start over from scratch. The way I told the story this time around, it focused more on the love between the sisters, their one good brother Allen, and their friends, NOT an unceasing litany of the horrors of poverty and emotionally abusive, drug-addicted, drunken parents. It kind of reminds me of how Isabella Leitner’s Shoah memoirs (the most haunting, unforgettable books I’ve ever read, btw) focus on the love shared by Isabella and her three (later, sadly, two) remaining sisters, instead of going into any graphic detail about the camps. So in the end, love carried them through that awful ordeal, the same way my fictional characters are buoyed by the love they share with their friends and decent siblings.

But who knows, if I do end up getting famous, it might be interesting to sell this original rough draft in some kind of anthology of previously unpublished works!