Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Historical fiction, Writing

WeWriWa—The awkward first impression concludes

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m currently sharing from my recently-released How Kätchen Became Sparky, a book which I’ll always think of as The Very First, its title for many years. It’s set from August 1938–January 1939, as new immigrant Katharina Brandt, now called Katherine Small and nicknamed Sparky, seeks to become a real American girl without compromising her Judaism or German and Dutch customs. Meanwhile, her new best friend, Cinnimin Filliard, learns there’s more than one way to be a real American.

Sparky and her family are attending services at Beth Kehillah with her family on their first Sabbath in Atlantic City. Unfortunately, they don’t mesh well with these second-generation Americans. When several congregants try to make conversation after services, their differences become increasingly magnified. Mrs. Small and Sparky were just advised to stop dressing so modestly, and Mrs. Small was told not to cover her hair with a tichel (scarf).

“Thank you for that unsolicited advice.” Mrs. Small forced a smile. “My family will be going home for lunch now. I don’t suppose there’s a hospitality committee arranging for Sabbath meal invitations for newcomers.”

“What would be the point of that?” the second husband asked. “If there is one, we’ve never cared enough to inquire. Your family is too religious for this congregation. You’d be better-off attending an Orthodox synagogue.”

Sparky was awash in humiliation as her family made their way out.

The nine lines end here. A few more follow to finish this section.

“It’s only the first visit,” Mrs. Small said. “We shouldn’t rule it out so swiftly. Perhaps this wasn’t the most ideal day, or we encountered the wrong people. If it still doesn’t feel like an ideal fit in a few months, we can go elsewhere. First impressions are wrong sometimes.”

**************

I’d hoped to have the paperback version ready to go within a week or two of the e-book release, but it turned out to be a slightly longer process than I expected. I also took a break of about two weeks to start work on the final draft of the book formerly known as The Very Next. The print version will definitely finally be ready before Halloween!

Posted in Atlantic City books, Editing, Historical fiction, Rewriting, Writing

One of the worst hist-fic tropes

I recently started working on the final draft of the book formerly known as The Very Next. Now that the book formerly known as The Very First has been published at 90K, the sequel’s 75K length seems a bit imbalanced. I’d like all four books in the prequel series to be of fairly equal size.

Those extra words will come mostly from four new chapters. There were 37 chapters in the radical rewrite of 2015, and that odd number bugged me. I admit I’m superstitious about auspicious and inauspicious numbers and dates.

Now there are thirty chapters in Part I, and ten in Part II. I also deleted a three-page chapter from Part II, “The von Hinderburgs’ Mistake.” And why might that be?

It uses one of the worst tropes of hist-fic, particularly WWII hist-fic! It was also poorly-written even after the rewrite, and badly-incorporated with the entire rest of the remainder of the story.

You’ve probably seen this trope in at least one book and/or film. Someone travels to Poland for a really convenient, paper-thin reason right on the eve of WWII, and of course finds him or herself trapped there, either short-term or long-term. Herman Wouk (may he rest in peace) did this in The Winds of War. It was also done in Masterpiece Theatre’s World on Fire recently.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be Poland in 1939. The trope could also be coming to San Francisco right as the hippie movement starts, being stuck in England during the Blitz, travelling to Russia on the eve of the Revolution, being in France on the eve of their Revolution, going to Iran in 1979, going to visit a friend in East Berlin and overnight finding oneself stuck behind the newly-erected Berlin Wall, conveniently-timed situations like that.

Yes, many great storylines and entire books are built around a character finding oneself in a strange situation one doesn’t really understand, but that can easily be accomplished without getting into whatever setting just as trouble’s about to erupt!

Near the very end of Volume II of Journey Through a Dark Forest, Darya and Oliivia set sail for France for an envisioned year of studying abroad at a Parisian lycée. In Volume III, they find themselves trapped after the invasion and occupation, and eventually become Nazi slaves. More than a few American citizens ended up in the camps, and to this day haven’t been nearly properly acknowledged and compensated.

But in other words, they were already there, for a realistic reason. The von Hinderburgs go to visit their old friend Zalman Radulski in Warsaw and end up stuck there until April 1940. By that time, Herr and Frau von Hinderburg have died of starvation, and their kids and Zalman are smuggled back in potato sacks in a truck with help from a young anti-Nazi Wehrmacht soldier. Their escape was strongly based on one of the border crossings in Maia Wojciechowska’s memoir Till the Break of Day.

There’s zero reason for them to be there now, since the Brandts and von Hinderburgs went straight from Germany to The Netherlands in 1933. I got rid of that pointless year in Poland long ago. Thus, they’d have no Polish friends to visit.

My hot mess of this storyline’s original incarnation also had Herr and Frau von Hinderburg dying in the nascent Warsaw Ghetto, despite the fact that it didn’t exist till autumn 1940. Even in Hungary, where the Shoah was implemented with lightning-quick alacrity, ghettoes weren’t created almost as soon as the Nazis invaded!

In my radical rewrite of the book formerly known as The Very Last, the von Hinderburg kids come home to multiple letters from Mr. Filliard in Atlantic City, desperately pleading them to respond so he can get them visas. Thus, it’s an important plot point that they’re away from home and unable to be reached for a very long time.

It seems much more plausible, if still incredibly foolish, for the von Hinderburgs to return to Hamburg to try to bring the rest of their relatives, and the Brandts’ family, into The Netherlands. Maybe Herr and Frau von Hinderburg could be taken prisoner and never heard from again, while their kids and old family friend Zalman escape back to Amsterdam.

Ask yourself, honestly, why your character would accompany a friend to a wedding in Poland or happen to be on a diplomatic mission there in August 1939. If you already have an ensemble cast, why not just use native Polish characters and have them eventually link up with the other people?

In The Winds of War, it particularly makes no sense for the über-WASPy Henrys to be connected to the Jewish Jastrows, beyond trope and convenience. I don’t understand why Mr. Wouk couldn’t have the two families presented separately. It’s hardly unheard-of in historical sagas to feature families and characters who don’t interact immediately.

Original stories are never built around tropes, and if any tropes are involved, they’re used in a very unique way that rises above cliché, to the point it no longer feels like a trope.

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Historical fiction, Writing

WeWriWa—The bad impression gets even worse

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m currently sharing from my recently-released How Kätchen Became Sparky, a book which I’ll always think of as The Very First, its title for many years. It’s set from August 1938–January 1939, as new immigrant Katharina Brandt, now called Katherine Small and nicknamed Sparky, determinedly seeks to become a real American girl without compromising her Judaism or German and Dutch customs. Meanwhile, her new best friend, Cinnimin Filliard, learns there’s more than one way to be a real American.

Sparky and her family are attending services at Beth Kehillah with her family on their first Sabbath in Atlantic City. Unfortunately, they don’t mesh well with these second-generation Americans. When several congregants try to make conversation after services, their differences become increasingly magnified.

“Most of the people here are second-generation Americans, not immigrants,” the second woman’s husband said in broken Yiddish. “I think you picked the wrong synagogue. You won’t fit in very well.”

A third woman leaned in to Mrs. Small and addressed her in Yiddish. “Do you typically wear a tichel over your hair, or is this just for synagogue?”

Mrs. Small touched the red and yellow scarf she’d tied her hair up underneath. “I usually wear hats in public, and wear a scarf for synagogue and around my home.” Like Mr. Small, she also answered in German. Yiddish wasn’t a language most people in Germany had used, outside of very insular, religious pockets.

The nine lines end here. A few more follow.

“I advise you to wear normal hats only from now on. You’ll look like an old-country peasant if you keep wearing scarves. It’s very out of place in a modern American synagogue. Perhaps you’ll feel more at home in one of the Orthodox congregations.” She cast a glance at Mrs. Small and Sparky’s long sleeves, high collars, and low hemlines. “There’s no need to dress so modestly either. You’re in America now.”

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Historical fiction, Religion, Sparky, Writing

WeWriWa—A bad first impression continues

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m currently sharing from my recently-released How Kätchen Became Sparky, a book which I’ll always think of as The Very First, its title for many years. It’s set from August 1938–January 1939, as new immigrant Katharina Brandt, now called Katherine Small and nicknamed Sparky, determinedly seeks to become a real American girl without compromising her Judaism or German and Dutch customs. Meanwhile, her new best friend, Cinnimin Filliard, learns there’s more than one way to be a real American.

Sparky and her family are attending services at Beth Kehillah with her family on their first Sabbath in Atlantic City. Unfortunately, they don’t mesh well with these second-generation Americans.

My own prayerbook, bought in Crown Heights, Brooklyn

The Smalls headed inside and found seats in the back. A few people introduced themselves, but stepped back after hearing the Smalls’ accents. Sparky stared into her prayerbook and Bible for the duration of the service, glad they were in both Hebrew and English instead of only English. If only the English in both books were modern, not the Elizabethan English no one used anymore. Sparky had never heard anyone using words like “thee,” “thine,” “wert,” “wast,” “dost,” “havest,” and “hath.” Maybe this was part of the reason why Cinni and most of her friends hated going to church.

After services, people began talking to their friends and drifting off. Only a few congregants approached the Smalls.

“Are you visiting Atlantic City, or did you just move to town?” a woman in a blue satin dress asked.

“We recently immigrated from The Netherlands,” Mr. Small said.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow.

“Our original homeland is Germany, but we moved to Amsterdam after the Nazis came to power.”

“Why would you leave Holland or Germany?” the woman’s husband asked in Yiddish. “Those are nice countries. They’re hardly places like the old Russian Empire.”

“The writing’s on the wall.” Mr. Small responded in German, which was close enough to Yiddish for hand-grenades. “If we’d stayed, we would’ve been in danger from the Nazis. I don’t trust that madman will stop at Germany and Austria. He might seize more countries if no one stops him.”

“That’s fantasy talk,” a woman in a yellow silk dress scoffed, also in Yiddish. “You uprooted your lives for nothing, not once, but twice. Once the Nazis are voted out, you’ll feel very foolish.”

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Historical fiction, Judaism, Religion, Sparky, Writing

WeWriWa—Unexpected transportation

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

Katharina Brandt, now called Katherine Small and nicknamed Sparky, has just arrived at Beth Kehillah with her family on their first Sabbath in Atlantic City. It’s quite a shock to see not everyone walks to synagogue. Though the Conservative Movement issued a Responsa permitting driving on the Sabbath for that sole purpose in 1950, the official position in 1938 forbade it.

Sparky’s eyes widened when she saw a few people getting out of cabs, and a few more arriving on bicycles. “Mutti, Vati, are you sure this isn’t a Reform congregation?” she whispered.

“The people we spoke with gave us a detailed list of all the synagogues and other Jewish establishments in this city and the nearby suburbs,” Mrs. Small said. “Beth Kehillah was listed as Conservative. A few people back home probably secretly drove or rode bicycles too. The polite thing to do is pretend you didn’t see it. Embarrassing someone is compared to murder.”

“If they don’t live in a city with a synagogue, why don’t they spend the weekend here at a hotel or with friends?”

The eight lines end here. A few more follow to close this portion.

“That’s between them and God. I don’t approve of it either, but perhaps this is the only way they can get any Jewish connection in their lives. Not everyone is lucky enough to come from a religious family or community, or to have strong personal beliefs to sustain oneself without family or community support.”

“They’re not getting out of a cab or parking a car a few blocks away and walking the rest of the way so no one sees them!” Gary protested. “They’re letting everyone see how assimilated they are!”

“People in America are different,” Mr. Small said. “We’ll serve as an example to them. They might be inspired to become more religious.”