Posted in Aleksey Romanov, alternative history, Atlantic City books, Editing, Rewriting, Writing

IWSG—A defamatory review and a swamped writing schedule


Welcome back to the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The IWSG convenes the first Wednesday of every month to commiserate over worries, fears, doubts, and struggles.

Last month, I became aware of a downright nasty, defamatory, off-topic 1-star review of my alternative history And Aleksey Lived on Goodreads. My issues with this review aren’t so much about it being 1-star as they are with her personally attacking me and every single choice I made to give the story original angles and dramatic tension.

While I was going through old photos on my phone, I came across an Instagram screenshot which really tingled my Spidey sense. I’d bet money on that girl being the one who wrote the novella-length vitriolic rant with no paragraph breaks. When I encountered her a few years ago, her nastiness and anger towards someone with a different theory of what might’ve been really unnerved me.

It’s really creepy, disturbing, and chutzpahdik for a total stranger I only had the briefest of interactions with on Instagram to speak for my motivations and beliefs. Shockingly, Goodreads doesn’t think calling someone an evil, shameless murder apologist who believes murder is okay as long as you’re a leftist is against their TOS. All they did was remove the word “evil” and reword that sentence.

She accused me of that because six real-life Bolsheviks, Lenin included, are genuinely reformed during their eleven years in prison, pardoned, and given high-ranking positions in Aleksey’s government. Has this child never heard of people toning down their radical politics over time and changing for the better in prison, let alone forgiveness?

She thinks the seven-year age difference between Aleksey and Arkadiya is creepy, gross, and would be condemned by “everyone,” and that no 25-year-old man would want a 32-year-old woman who’s “almost past her expiration date” and therefore automatically not as attractive as a 20-year-old. That makes me think she’s either very young and sheltered, or has sadly bought into the ugly double standard.

It’s particularly creepy how she’s convinced Arkadiya is a self-insert and too perfect. That’s sure news to me! She has the perfect characteristics for her role as Empress and Aleksey’s wife, but she’s never intended as perfect altogether.

It’s too bad if this troll doesn’t buy my explanation of why I created this match and felt it would’ve been too cliché and expected to match Aleksey with Princess Ileana of Romania. My story, my rules.

This comparison never occurred to me until just recently, but Arkadiya does seem to have parallels with Princess Diana. Though Diana had a much more privileged upbringing than Arkadiya (to say nothing of the much less happy marriage!), they were both born into non-royal families, unexpectedly landed the role of a lifetime, and endeared themselves to their subjects as a long-overdue breath of fresh air who cared about the common people on a really deep level.

And what about all the modern royals who marry not just morganatic spouses, but people with zero connection to any royal, princely, or even aristocratic families? Does this troll condemn them all too?

I’m thinking of writing an author review (obviously without a star rating) to explain some of the story behind the story and correct all these insulting accusations.

It seems safe to say at this point that I’ll miss the deadline for the free IngramSpark title setup for winning NaNo 2022, but I’d rather take my time finishing the rewrite of the book formerly known as The Very Last than rush through and submit a file that has to spend months in further editing and proofing. I did start the title setup, though.

I could insert a bunch of blank pages and submit that, but the cover file would need redone to reflect a different spine size if the file were more than eight pages above or below the original number.

I lost some time writing posts for both of my blogs, plus all the research I’ve done for the chapters in what’s now Part II. It made more sense to split the chapters about Long Island, Coney Island, the World’s Fair, and NYC into their own section, and for the first two NYC chapters to be further split by each day’s activities. The original Part II is now Part III.

Since I’m so superstitious about numbers, I had to add in two new chapters for an even total of 60, and made the original final chapter into an epilogue. As per my initial intentions, I’m able to write chapters about Orthodox Pentecost and Cinni and Sparky sitting in on a day at a progressive school in Wilmington after all.

And I still have to write my A to Z posts for both of my blogs!

Posted in Editing, Rewriting, Writing

The importance of keeping a file of discarded material for your novels

In 2011, I started a discard file for the absolute garbage culled from the 1993–94 material of You Cannot Kill a Swan, and the historical infodump and pointless clutter from the 1996–97 material. That way, it was cleared out of the book without being forever lost.

I’ve never had a reason to look back at it in all these years, but it’s comforting to know it still exists somewhere, as a record of what once was. Since I have an elephantine memory, I also remember many of the passages and lines I cut, and exactly where they are in the book.

I also have the original files of each chapter on disks, from before I began the three and a half years of exhaustive editing, revising, and rewriting.

I’ve followed this pattern for every book since which I’ve assembled from separate chapter files. The original chapter files are untouched in their folders, as an archival record, while I C&P them into master files for Part I, Part II, etc., and edit from there. Those part files in turn are C&Ped into one big master file, from which more edits are done.

Books which were originally created as one single document are broken into chapters within that master file, saved as File Name Original Version, duplicated as File Name New Version for edits, and duplicated again and saved as File Name Final Version for the last bits of polishing and editing.

To be clear, I no longer write any books without chapters, and the old drafts lacking them are split into chapters. The books written in master files from the jump are also all divided into chapters within that document.

In recent years, I’ve gotten into the habit of maintaining discard files for every book, regardless of whether they’re written in one big document or chapter by chapter. These are mostly scenes, paragraphs, and lines I realised weren’t working or right for the book and discarded in media res. As my unconscious inability to turn off my permanent editor mode intensified, the length and usage of these files increased.

I recently hit upon the brilliant idea to turn such text blue in the original document, so it’s marked for immediate deletion during edits. That way, I no longer have to waste time C&Ping these discards into a separate file.

However, such a file still serves an important function. Not just for my own personal archival records, but because sometimes I decide to use that discarded scene or chapter in progress after all. The material is right there waiting to be C&Ped back into the master file, completed, and edited.

Other times, I keep a file of discarded chapters. Since these are entire chapters instead of selective portions, it makes more sense to archive them separately. They also may be put in the general discard file as well.

This really comes in handy if the chapter itself isn’t entirely being discarded, just heavily rewritten. It’s good to have the original to look back on. I also might want them all in one place for easy C&Ping later if I realise they’ll work better in a later book in a series, or if I want to use select portions in another place in that book. They could also just be good as backstory reference.

Most importantly, even if you have zero use for any of these discards in other books or different places in the book they came from, they’re a valuable record for yourself. We need to look back at our past writing to appreciate how far we’ve come from our earlier days.

Posted in Atlantic City books, Editing, Rewriting, Writing

Why I finally decided to raise the age of my Atlantic City characters

Since today, 25 November 2022, marks 31 years since I wrote the first of my Atlantic City characters into existence, I wanted to do a post walking through why I made the decision to age them up by two years after all this time. This was weighing on my mind for a really long time, and deep down I knew what the right decision was, despite my irrational emotional attachment to preserving them as-is.

A number of these points have been addressed in prior posts, but I want to bring them all together and sum them up.

1. I was thinking about this since at least 2011, if not earlier! It’s one thing to think about something superficially in passing, but if you still feel just as strongly for many years, odds are this isn’t just a short-term fancy and you won’t change your mind quickly. I wanted my nostril pierced for almost 12 years before it finally happened, and I still have it 19 years later. The thought of ever retiring it is completely out of the question!

2. Cognitive development. This was one of the biggest reasons I leaned so strongly towards aging them up. As originally written, their mental and physical ages aren’t synched until they’re about fifteen. Even the most mature, precocious, intelligent kid is still incapable of thinking, reasoning, talking, and acting like an adult, or even a teenager.

3. Child safeguarding red flags all over the place! Since I was in such an awful school system from K–10, I genuinely had no frame of reference to know how creepy, abnormal, and concerning it is for preteens to be having sex, doing drugs, smoking, drinking, having wild unchaperoned parties, getting into violent fights, wearing clothes suit for a nightclub, constantly skipping school, all manner of awful, age-inappropriate stuff.

4. Piggybacking off of the above, it’s creepy, not shocking and satirical for a purpose, when fifth graders are having sex. It’s obviously still very concerning when 12-year-olds in seventh grade are doing it, but at least that’s somewhat more plausible. It’s hardly unheard-of for kids that age to experiment with sex with one another, and it doesn’t always necessarily reflect a broken home or coercion.

5. Likewise, girls of nine and ten should not be dating and making out, particularly with older boys! I totally removed Kit’s relationship with Jerry because it looked so creepy to my adult eyes. Cinni’s relationship with Barry also needs toning down, but if she’s 12 and he’s 14 when they get together (after two years of a mutual crush), the weird factor is lessened.

6. Toddlers don’t give a damn about politics. Why would Cinni, at barely two, want to write a letter to Pres. Hoover? I don’t think I understood who Reagan was until I was four, during the 1984 election.

7. They never really feel their supposed age until they’re about fifteen. Is it really lampshading if even the author feels like something isn’t right?

8. It speaks volumes how I deliberately made their ages ambiguous in the first two books during the final rewrites. At most, it’s said they’re under twelve, and that they look much older than they really are. If an event associated with a specific age is referenced, like Laura’s First Communion, it’s vaguely “awhile ago” instead of given an exact date.

9. When their ages are finally revealed early in the third book, that doesn’t change anything. The reader might be used to seeing them as very advanced and precocious, but they’re still only nine at that point. I imagine many people would sit back in disbelief. Only a few people over the years had the guts to ask, “These kids are supposed to be twelve?”

10. People in my now-inactive local writing group assumed they were about eleven or twelve in the first book. They would’ve been shocked had I said they were seven and turning eight!

11. Precocious puberty! It’s a huge cause for concern when girls begin growing breasts at all of six or seven years old and start menstruating at seven, eight, nine, ten. Entirely more believable, and less creepy, if they start these processes a few years later.

12. The fourth book was originally just a very short (11K) collection of loosely-connected vignettes, with no real plot or consistent story arc. It also didn’t feel like a proper, fitting conclusion to a series or setting things up for the next series and a new stage in these characters’ lives. Now the main storylines are built around the characters’ approaching elementary school graduation and the struggle Cinni and Kit have to get permission to switch to the progressive track when their mothers disapprove.

13. It’s a really annoying, overused trope when a child is so advanced beyond his or her years, as well as highly unrealistic in most cases. Even a super-intelligent, mature kid is still only mature and intelligent for that age, not as mature and intelligent as adults.

14. It’s also one thing if a single character, like Lisa Simpson or Stewie Griffin, is a savant. Entirely another when everyone that age looks, talks, acts, and thinks like miniature adults.

15. I was young myself when I created them, and preteens and teens ain’t exactly known as very self-reflective. One of the blessings of youth is that we never realise just how young we are at any given age or stage. We always believe we’re so much more mature, sophisticated, experienced, intelligent, world-wise than we really are, only to discover in shock just how immature, inexperienced, cringey, and silly we were at 11, 13, 15, 17, 21, even 24 or 25. We rarely see ourselves the way we truly are.

16. There was always a gap between September 1945–April 1947. What better way to fill it than by giving them storylines and adventures fitting their new age?

17. It seems kind of grotesque and freakish to imagine a 7-year-old who looks and acts like a 13-year-old.

18. It would feel more believable and natural for Sparky and Cinni to start having their kids when they’re out of college. As originally written, Sparky has three kids and Cinni is pregnant with her fourth by the time they graduate. There’s zero depiction of any real struggle to juggle college and childrearing. I was only fifteen when I wrote about those years, after all.

19. Their high school years (what I wrote of them) were shallow, cliché, derivative junk. Regardless of age, I would’ve radically rewritten them anyway.

20. I suspect I hatched the angle of a deliberately over the top spoof and satire in part to cover up their shocking, age-inappropriate antics and pass them off as being there for a purpose. As music teacher Busload told my buddy Bruce when he submitted his vulgar parody of “My Favorite Things,” “This isn’t satirical. This is filth!” There was just too much reveling in the worst of human nature, and everyone looks so mean-spirited, gross, cruel, selfish, psychotic, shallow, vindictive, violent.

21. I may have written these characters all the way to 1998, but only two of those books have been published to date, plus two more where a few of them (most notably Sparky) appear as secondary characters. The frogging and retconning would be much more difficult if I had to memory-hole and reconstruct years of official established history. The worst obstacle is probably the advanced maternal age of some of the ladies when they have their final kids.

22. I’m toying with the supernatural storyline of Cinni and her friends having time stand still for two years (which would put them back at their original age eventually) if Cinni makes the right decision about the life path to take in the fourth book. She’ll have a lot of dreams about a mysterious ancestor, who shows her many possible trajectories for her life in alternative universes, including the one I originally crafted. Everything ultimately joins back together.

Posted in Editing, Fourth Russian novel, Rewriting, Writing

IWSG—Ready for the homestretch and second draft

In loving memory of Keith John Moon, who left the material world 44 years ago today at the tender age of 32.


It’s time again for The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, which meets the first Wednesday of every month to commiserate over worries, fears, doubts, and struggles.

This month’s question is:

What genre would be the worst one for you to tackle and why?

Epic high fantasy isn’t my genre at all. The fantasy short story I wrote a few years ago for an IWSG Anthology contest was more along the lines of magical realism, with a real-world setting (737 Japan) commingled with fantasy elements. Doing an entire book with a purely fantasy setting and the complicated rules of the genre seems impossible.

I also could never do YA contemporary, sorry not sorry. Just not the types of stories I connect with, and first-person present tense makes my eyes glaze over 99% of the time.

I’ve now gone through the entirety of what I’ve completed to date of Dream Deferred (a combination of skimming and in-depth reading, depending upon the necessity). During this process, I made notes of important details I’d forgotten (e.g., Kleopatra and Yaël are left-handed; Nestor’s first gift to his future wife Yustina is a Matryoshka necklace she treasures), things to add, and things to take out or move to the fifth book.

I made the above notes quite some time prior, a handy guide to the dating of the chapters set around the start of an academic year. Because I wrongly assumed the autumn semester always started the first week of September, I now have a bunch of things to shift around. I 100% blame myself for not doing enough research and engaging in arrogant presentism. Thankfully, I’ve now tracked down all the relevant dates from archives of The New York Times, student newspapers, and the U of Minnesota’s press releases.

Miraculously, I finally found The Minnesota Daily archives over seven years after they went MIA! It’s still not an ideal storage system, and not all issues are scanned in entirety, but at least the issues for the years I need are available again. The press releases fill in the gaps. Someone needs a better digital archivist.

The highest concentration of things to be junked or moved came in Part IV and the latter half of Part III. I got so caught up in my runaway storyline to nowhere about the Konevs moving back to NYC, I kind of forgot the subtitle is Lyuba and Ivan at University. Even before that, I didn’t have enough scenes of them at university or working on assignments!

In Part IV, they appear in less than half of the 23 chapters completed to date, and almost only when they’re visiting New York or talking about their move (or, in Ivan’s case, fighting against it). Their youngest children are likewise MIA.

As this embarrassing omission dawned on me, I began rethinking the retention of one of Part IV’s major storylines, which begins near the end of Part III. Cousins Zhdana and Susanna get pregnant during their junior year at NYU, and there’s a whole lot of sprawling drama I felt helpless to rein in. Great storyline, wrong book.

Now that I’ve gone through the entire book, vs. just skimming through parts of it out of full context, I remember why I wanted to junk a lot of the storylines that arise in Part IV. They pull the attention away from the main, long-established storylines. In the fifth book, they’ll be able to shine more strongly, since they can arise earlier and have much more time to develop.

It’ll almost feel like I’m writing this book all over again, since there are so many important events I forgot about or didn’t think to include. Even in a book with a deliberately large ensemble cast and multiple storylines, you don’t want TOO much going on, nor to introduce and rush through a major storyline when everything else is heading towards happy conclusions.

Posted in Editing, Fourth Russian novel, Rewriting, Writing

IWSG—A miraculous flash of seeing everything clearly


It’s time again for The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, which meets the first Wednesday of every month to commiserate over worries, fears, doubts, and struggles.

This month’s question is:

When you set out to write a story, do you try to be more original or do you try to give readers what they want?

While we should be aware of current literary conventions and trends, someone who aspires to be a writer for all time should ultimately be true to one’s own voice, style, and interests. Even if you’re writing in a popular genre, like paranormal romance, you should at least use an original angle that makes your story stand out instead of obediently fitting into a mindless cookie cutter. Why be one of a million when you can be one in a million?

I set a 15K goal for July Camp NaNo and overachieved, though the majority of my writing was creative non-fiction for blog posts, not the actual declared project, my radical rewrite of The Very Last. I suspect I didn’t write as much as I could for TVL because I wasn’t starting it as an entirely new project or writing only new chapters.

Towards the end of July, I began reconsidering what I thought was a rejected storyline for Dream Deferred, the Konevs relocating back to NYC en masse in June 1952. I last seriously worked on it in March 2020, and the most recent chapter, still unfinished, was begun on 28 July 2020 and not updated since 28 October 2020. Lockdown ruined what seemed to finally be the homestretch.

And just when I was almost decided on resurrecting the aborted storyline that bloated the already sprawling wordcount and made me lose control of my own book, the most perfect development came to me. It’s so perfect, I had to look for reasons to possibly reject it. After all, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice!

What if the Konevs had chosen Minneapolis instead of St. Paul when they moved to the Twin Cities? That makes more sense, since it’s the location of the university, and it’s more likely a progressive academy like Stefania Wolicka would be there. Also, Minneapolis has always had more population and been more vibrant and cosmopolitan than St. Paul.

Anton, the second husband of Lyuba and Ivan’s goddaughter Lyudmila, will alert them to an old mansion next to his on East River Road that just came on the market. In that era, Victorian houses were often abandoned or sold for very cheap prices on account of being so unfashionable.

With Tatyana’s family buying the house next to that by surprise, there’ll be more than enough land for dear horse Branimir to enjoy his autumn years. There’s also ample land for hobby farming, gardening, and keeping some non-working farm animals.

On the same block will be the girls’ new friends from school, who won’t have to be introduced at the very end of the book.

Kabardin horse (Branimir’s breed), Copyright Helgie12 at WikiCommons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

In preparation for striking while the iron’s hot and refreshing my familiarity with the story, I began skimming through it. After almost two years away, I’d forgotten many things—little details, major plot points, seeds being planted for developments in future books.

To my great surprise, the only major issue is the aborted moving back to New York storyline. The overall story wasn’t nearly as trainwreck as I thought it was. Even the major subplots that arise in the final quarter or so are on-point and so entwined with the pre-existing storylines, it would be a mistake to move them into the fifth book. Only a few need moving or junking.

As the real-life Father Andrew Rogosh of St. Michael’s Russian Catholic Church (pictured above) says to Ivan’s much-younger sister Varya:

“….When one boils dilemmas down to their core essence instead of obsessing over a succession of minute details, the easiest solution often appears quickly.”

Have you ever found an epiphanous solution after it seemed you’d written yourself into an impossible corner? Discovered a story wasn’t nearly as trainwreck as you thought it was after some time away?