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.

Some writing and music tidbits

Words on Paper

Tuesdays in Blog Me MAYbe are themed “May I tell you something about myself?” Here are some tidbits about my tastes in writing, my characters, and my tastes in music:

I HATE Word with the fire of a billion Suns, though I’ve lazily kept using it even after re-installing Pages just out of force of bad habit, and because I like how it autocorrects typos, and how you can teach it new autocorrects based on your most common typos of words not already in their system. But I hate how you can’t get into the dictionary of words you added during spell-checks, and remove them if the dictionary gets too big, or if you realize you added a misspelling. I loved being able to do that in the older programs.

If it were possible, I’d track down old copies of ClarisWorks or MacWriteII and install them with my external disk drive. I’d even love to go back to using a vintage Nineties computer just so I can have all the old familiar programs back. Yes, they were technologically inferior, but I loved how they had all the basic stuff right on the top bar of the document, and in a few basic menus. You didn’t have to hunt all over to find out how to do things, or wade through twenty different menus and formatting bars.

The character I’ve been with the longest now is Henry Unicorn-Mitchell. I created him sometime in the late Eighties, when I was still mostly doing picture books. I suppose I liked him so much I decided to use him again when I started my first Atlantic City book in November ’91. Now that I think about it, it’s entirely possible I also created some of his friends along with him, like Harry, Dan, and Dave (in much different incarnations, of course).

Though after participating in the Dust It Off Bloghop, I’ve begun to reconsider my decision to permanently shelve my old character Anne Terrick, who was created even before Henry and called Ann-Ann (or An-An, maybe). I kid you not, her actual name was really originally Ann-Ann. Perhaps all her story needed all along was some major retooling. I wouldn’t have matured as a writer if I hadn’t let her story go and realized it needed too much surgery to bother with, but I could still retain the same character and general concept while making a much better, stronger, more realistic, more historically accurate saga told in journal form.

After all, my first Russian novel lost a lot of the original 1993 material and took on a much different plot trajectory, but that didn’t change the same general storyline I had in my head. It just got more mature and developed a lot more twists and turns. The junk was tossed and the glimmers of gold were brought to the surface and radically reworked. It was really a stroke of genius that I hit upon the idea of Lyuba ending up with Ivan instead, and eventually of them having secretly been in love all along. Otherwise, I’m not so sure that book could’ve been saved or become what it eventually did.

The newest vinyl in my album collection is Join Together, a triple album of The Who’s 1989 25th anniversary tour. I also have a large commemorative magazine documenting that tour, found in the vintage music magazines section of Amherst’s Mystery Train Records.

The most current album in my collection (in CD form) is George Harrison’s posthumous swan song Brainwashed. I have very mixed feelings about this album and rated it 3.5 stars on my old Angelfire site. Too many of the songs are too downtempo, don’t really go anywhere musically, and sound all the same. (I’m obviously not going to hold it against George for sounding kind of weak on some of the tracks, knowing he was very sick at the time.) There are only a couple of tracks I really love, like the title track, “Any Road,” and “Marwa Blues.”

Currently the oldest records in my vinyl collection are from 1964. I’ve got Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. and a bunch of those crappy Capitol repackagings of The Beatles’ early catalogue.

I’ve got, like, seven albums made in my lifetime from people who got famous in my lifetime, out of 33 albums I own that were made in my lifetime. And both of those bands are now eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so my tastes aren’t that modern. (Okay, technically they’re from three bands, but one of those bands was just a spin-off and not an entirely new entity.)

The most recent addition to my vinyl collection is So Red the Rose (1985), which was a present from my so-called fiancé/boyfriend/whatever he still peripherally is to me.

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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