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…
THE LOST FIRST 100+ PAGES OF THE BOOK I’VE BEEN QUERYING!
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!