The Right Path Appears Not Anywhere

Yesterday I celebrated the release of Journey Through a Dark Forest: Lyuba and Ivan in the Age of Anxiety, my third Russian historical. Since I was only able to bring the length down to 861K (from 891K), I made the decision to release it in four volumes.

Not only were many classic saga-length novels released in multiple volumes, but it miraculously, perfectly worked out so each of the four Parts reads much like its own self-contained story, with a focus on different characters and storylines. There’s no sense of ending in media res.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to visit Iran for firsthand research for the final version. The Iranian chapters and sections of Dark Forest will have to remain based on secondhand research, and my happy memories of my family’s Iranian friends when I was growing up.

I still plan to visit Iran someday, and I’m still completely unafraid. It’s a beautiful country, and the vast majority of her people are nothing like the media stereotypes them. They want peace and democracy, not a totalitarian theocracy. Many people don’t realise Iran was an extremely modern, Westernised country till 1979.

Part II is set from 15 January 1937–1 September 1939.

While the whole world is in the throes of one of the most concentrated periods of Sturm und Drang in recent memory, the Konevs and their friends far and wide struggle to survive and make their way back to some semblance of a peaceful, ordinary world.

The Konevs’ close-knit family bond is torn asunder when Tatyana finally discovers the truth about her paternity on the eve of her eighteenth birthday. She believes Boris’s self-serving, selectively-reported version of events, and wants nothing further to do with Ivan. As soon as she graduates high school and becomes a Barnard student, she moves in with Boris, who now lives in Harlem and operates a jewelry store. In order to keep an eye on the situation and make sure Tatyana is safe, Nikolay moves into the third bedroom. But the truth about Boris eventually starts catching up with Tatyana, and Boris’s latest schemes threaten to lead to his umpteenth undoing.

Meanwhile, in the USSR, the Savvins, the Zyuganovs, the Godunov cousins, and several now-adult former orphanage girls are betrayed by the Revolution and sucked into the terrifying whirlwind of the Great Terror. Leonid and Georgiya are arrested for violating the infamous Article 58 in various ways, while Inessa is left a young widow with going on three children and fights against the clock to get her family out of harm’s way and to their old friends the Lebedevas in America.

In addition to her own children, Inessa has also been given her old friend Inna’s baby nephew Damir for wetnursing and safekeeping while his father arranges for Inna, the elderly Mrs. Brezhneva, and some of the orphanage children and employees to get out of Kyiv. Inna’s group ends up in Isfahan, Iran, the same place her old friends Alina, Ohanna, and Izabella have fled to with their remaining families. Iran represents an entirely new world, unlike anything they’re used to, but it’s a welcoming haven for the dispossessed. The life Inna and her friends create for themselves in Iran isn’t always an easy life, but it’s a much better life than the one they fled from.

And back in America, Tatyana, Nikolay, and their new friends are enjoying being young, carefree, and in love, even as storm clouds gather on the horizon and threaten to tear apart the world of tomorrow they’re so excited to step into. But whatever lies ahead in the uncharted world of tomorrow, and however many shocks, struggles, and adjustments it may entail, change has always been a part of life. To be born or create something new, one must first destroy the pre-existing world, for better or worse.

Happy release day to Journey Through a Dark Forest, and happy 100th birthday to Aleksandr Isayevich!

                          

                          

With gratitude to Hashem, I announce the long-overdue release of my third Russian historical, Journey Through a Dark Forest: Lyuba and Ivan in the Age of Anxiety. I planned and plotted it in 2001, wrote the first draft from 5 November 2012–13 March 2015, and edited, revised, and polished it from September 2015–September 2018.

Because this book ended up sprawling so much, with a lot more important characters and storylines than I’d originally envisioned, the first draft ended up 891K. My conservative initial guesstimate going in was only 500K, but the further I got into it, the more it sprawled and demanded to be the longest book I’ve written to date. I got the second draft down to 877K, and the final draft to 861K.

I thought so long and hard about how to handle its length. Chopping out over a thousand pages was always completely out of the question, since it was deliberately planned and written as a saga, with an ensemble cast, with multiple storylines, spanning fifteen and a half years. It wouldn’t be nearly the same story anymore if I removed, e.g., the Soviet characters who escape to Iran and the U.S., Inessa and Vitya’s second chance love story, or Patya and Rodya’s service in the Marines.

I considered putting it out as the one massive volume; two volumes; two volumes plus a master version; four volumes; and four volumes plus a master version. Ultimately, I decided to release it as one book in four volumes. Many great novels of yore were originally released in multiple volumes. I don’t consider Dark Forest to suddenly have become four books. It’s still one supersized book that just happens to need four volumes.

Though I needed to make four different covers, and will need to pay for four ISBNs when it comes time for print (through a legit third-party dealer, NOT price-gouging monopoly Bowker), the length is now much more manageable and realistic. Part I is 146K; Part II is 267K; Part III is 215K; and Part IV plus the Epilogue are 233K.

I had two last-minute changes I’m glad I caught in time. One involved moving the text on the first cover, so it’d match the other three in showcasing the dark forest. The other was discovering St. Paul’s Regions Hospital was called Ancker in 1948.

Today I’m featuring the synopsis of Part I. The other three will follow on succeeding days this week. Part I spans 6 January 1933–23 January 1935.

While the whole world is in the throes of one of the most concentrated periods of Sturm und Drang in recent memory, the Konevs and their friends far and wide struggle to survive and make their way back to some semblance of a peaceful, ordinary world.

Lyuba and Ivan are snowed in at their barn on Russian Christmas Eve and have a passionate encounter which creates a surprise seventh baby. Lyuba is ecstatic to be pregnant again, in spite of her history of difficult pregnancies and deliveries, but her sense of serenity and joy is soon destroyed when she suffers a near-miscarriage. She’s forced into complete bed rest and using a wheelchair in order to carry her riskiest pregnancy yet to term.

Meanwhile, Nadezhda is finally released from Siberia after her 12-year sentence runs out, and makes her way to America with Vsevolod Smirnov, the older son of the family who rescued Lyolya all those years ago. America is a dream come true for both of them, but after they come to New York from San Francisco, they’re each confronted by romantic quandaries. Nadezhda’s emotional reunion with Pavel ends in heartbreak when she sees the phony wedding ring he bought, and Vsevolod falls in love with Nadezhda’s spinster cousin Vera. Each couple needs some time to navigate the path from friends to lovers, all while hoping for a happy ever after.

And in the middle of it all, Lyuba and Ivan’s firstborn Tatyana has begun growing up and becoming a young woman. Their sweet little girl Tanyechka is now a modern American teenager who goes by Tanya. Though her increasingly apparent young womanhood disconcerts her parents, they know she can’t stay their innocent little girl forever. Everything must come to an end eventually. And sometimes, one ending starts another beginning.

I chose 11 December as my release date not only because it’s Lyuba’s birthday, but because today would’ve been the 100th birthday of my favourite writer, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn. So much of who I am as a writer, esp. in regards to how I write my Russian historicals, I owe to him. He’s always been so much more than just a favourite writer, but one of my heroes.

One of the greatest regrets of my life is never writing him a letter in all the years our lifetimes overlapped, to tell him how very, very, very much he means to me. I forever stand in awe of his courage, faith, elephantine memory, willingness to lay down his life for the sake of getting his writing out to the world.

Dedicating my first Russian historical to his memory was the least I could do in gratitude.

May your beautiful memory be an eternal blessing, Aleksandr Isayevich, and may your incredible soul rest in peace. Happy 100th birthday, wherever your soul may reside now.

IWSG—October odds and sods

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The Insecure Writer’s Support Group meets the first Wednesday of each month. Participants share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?

I wasn’t able to do much of any writing after my car accident in 2003. It killed my momentum, and when I got back to it, the writing wasn’t as natural and passionate as what went immediately before. Something very similar happened during my depressing junior year of high school.

Writing the chapter “Halloween Wedding Gone Awry” in my hiatused WIP Justine Grown Up helped me to realise I needed to end my relationship with Sergey. If my fictional Doppelgänger Emeline could find the strength and guts to walk away, I could too.

Last month, I went through the grueling final edit/polishing of Journey Through a Dark Forest, the third book with my Russian characters. The first draft was 891K; the second draft was 877K; and the final product is 861K.

I thought very long and hard about how to deal with its release—one massive volume; four separate volumes; two volumes; four individual volumes plus a master; two volumes plus a master. For a long time, I’ve seriously considered doing four volumes, since it miraculously worked out so each Part reads much like its own self-contained story.

Part I is now 146K; Part II is 267K; Part III is 215K; and Part IV plus the Epilogue is 233K. You can see from the Wordles how different characters predominate. The one for Part I includes the front matter, which explains the inclusion of “Chapter.”

And just for fun, a Wordle for the front and back matter:

The final product, not counting front and back matter, is 2,081 pages in 6×9 trim, with 1-point leading and normal margins. Even if I shrunk the leading, kerning, and margins as much as legibly possible, it’d never fit in one massive volume. 7×10 trim would only remove a few hundred pages.

One book in four volumes it’ll have to be, which means four covers and ISBNs. I chose 11 December as the release date because that’s Lyuba’s birthday, and would’ve been the 100th birthday of my favourite writer, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn. Words can’t do justice to what a massive influence he’s had on me. One of my greatest regrets is not writing him a letter in all the years our lifetimes overlapped.

Due to changing my double-spacing to single (to remove the unexpectedly huge gaps that often created), all these books shrunk. If the page count differs from the original by more than four, the spine and thus the entire cover file needs redone.

For Lark, I added a glossary and “The Story Behind the Story,” which added back the same number of pages. For Fiend, I added the same SBTS (with a few tweaks to avoid spoilers). For LR, I added a colophon (a.k.a. “A Note About the Type”) and one of the appendices I deleted. For AAL, I added back the colophon and everyone I’d deleted from “The Real People in This Story.”

I’m once again making great progress on A Dream Deferred, though it’s become obvious it’ll need to be released in two volumes. I predict the first draft of Part I will be around 430K. During NaNo, I’ll start Part II.

I still haven’t decided on the titles for Parts I and II—Fission and Fallout, Hypocenter and Epicenter, Bright Light and Black Rain, or Pika (Flash) and Don (Boom). The Epilogue is “Red Canna Flowers,” after the miraculous flowers which started blooming ten days after Hiroshima was destroyed. They represented hope and courage to the survivors, and helped them to heal and rebuild their lives.

Copyright Rexness from Melbourne, Australia; Source Cannas

WeWriWa—Saying goodbye

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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 a bit after last week’s, when 23-year-old departing soldier Yuriy suggested to his 18-year-old crush Inga that she might be a real American girl and have a returning soldier for a boyfriend by the time they meet again.

Inga said she only wanted her old family, and Yuriy tried to cheer her up by saying the pain of longing isn’t so bad as more time passes, and that after the war she could create her own family who’ll never leave her. He then holds out his hand for a farewell handshake.

“Can’t I hug you goodbye?  You deserve more than a handshake after you’ve been so nice to me.”

Yuriy smiles as he hugs her. “You’re such a sweet girl.  Just make sure not to be too sweet with the wrong kinds of people.  You have to be strong to survive in a new country.”

Inga stands at the door and watches him walking up the street, until she can’t see him anymore.  She was given a very nice friend, what some would call a guardian angel, bearing the same name as her belovèd dedushka, to get her started in America.  But he could only do so much, just as eventually a mother bird pushes a baby from the nest so it can fly.  Now it’s up to her to make good in America.

WeWriWa—Ice-cream parlor

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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 a few lines after last week’s, when 23-year-old Yuriy tended to his 18-year-old crush Inga’s injured knee one final time. They’re now on their way to get ice-cream before he has to get a train back to Canada.

This has been slightly edited to fit 10 lines.

Yuriy turns into the first ice-cream parlor that appears and finds a green corner booth that almost matches his uniform. He translates the menu for Inga, and she orders a sundae with chocolate ice-cream, hot fudge, cherries, and crushed candy bars, with an orange egg cream, while Yuriy orders a humbler strawberry ice-cream float.

“I’d ask you to kill some Nazis or Japs for me, but I can see you’re a medic,” the soda jerk says when she brings over the food. “Good luck with saving as many guys as you can.”

Inga lingers over her sundae and egg cream, not sure when she’ll next be able to splurge on a little luxury like this. Once they’re done, Yuriy leaves the money on the table and walks Inga home.

“You’ll be fine,” he reassures her. “You’ve got a new family who’s eager to take care of you, and some new friends. The language comes quicker than you think, if you’re constantly immersed in it. I bet you’ll be a real American girl by the time I come to visit again, and you might have a returning soldier for a boyfriend.”