WeWriWa—Arranged marriage anguish

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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. 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 now returning to my alternative history, with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari, and will give them an eventual happy ending, with lots of Sturm und Drang.

This comes from Chapter XVI, “Permanently Broken Bond.” It’s now 1287, and Dante is 22 years old, married for the last two and a half years to Gemma Donati. He was studying with his guardian and mentor Brunetto Latini when his eight-year-old halfsister Gaetana (Tana) told him Gemma went into labor about two months early. During their walk home, he discovers Tana knows about his love for another woman.

Tana stepped over a puddle. “Didn’t you ask her parents if you could marry her? People in love are supposed to do that, not let themselves be married to other people.”

My heart ached as I remembered first the announcement of my betrothal and then the news of Beatrice’s betrothal. “There was nothing we could do about it, since our parents decided for us whom we’d marry. Before Bice’s wedding, I kissed her in her parents’ garden when we were alone under the strawberry trees, since I didn’t want de ’Bardi to be the first man to have that honor.”

Tana stepped closer to me and squeezed my hand. “I’m really sorry you lost the girl you loved and had to marry someone you don’t love. Even now I can hear in your voice how much you adore her. When I’m old enough to be married, will you let me marry a man I love?”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

“Yes,” I said without hesitation. “Now that Babbo is with God, it’s my duty to arrange an honorable marriage for you. I want you to marry a man of means, so you won’t suffer in poverty, but I also want you to marry someone of your choosing, a man who genuinely loves and respects you. If God blesses me with any daughters, I’ll do the same with them.”

“Oh, good. I thought you’d let me marry someone I love, but I had to ask just to make sure.” She smiled up at me. “You’re the best brother God could’ve blessed me with.”

NaNoWriMo and its deleterious impact on my writing

As I mentioned recently, I’m strongly considering not participating in NaNoWriMo again, or at least not until their woke leadership in Berkeley is replaced by sensible people, or they hit peak woke and walk back their support of the lunacy they advocate now. But whatever my decision, I wouldn’t delete my profile. I’ve written over a million words since I began participating, and I want my records to remain.

Though my stats page shows my first project from 2010 (when I only started on Day 18 and thus didn’t make 50K), I only officially began participating in 2014. Thus, the earlier projects were honestly, retroactively added, without individual wordcounts for each day, just the final total of words I wrote in those Novembers.

I was so proud of my win in 2014, when I came within spitting distance of 75K. The next year, I set out to beat that total, and was really disappointed I only made 71K, particularly since I pulled an exhausting marathon session of 7K on the final day. I didn’t feel that were my best work. Then in 2016, I only got 65K, and felt even worse about myself for falling so far of what I know I’m capable of.

In 2017, I pulled 80K, though part of that was creative nonfiction, primarily my 12-part series on The Jazz Singer at 90. Ever since, I’ve counted blog posts in my totals (while striving to have the fiction side as the majority of my words).

2018 was my best year ever, at almost 131K and a marathon final day of 8K. But even then, I felt like I could’ve done better. It was very disappointing to only do 101K in 2019, and then came lockdown and only 53K in 2020 and barely 50K in 2021.

Even if their leadership hadn’t cancelled all in-person events, I’ve still felt for some time that NaNo has had a deleterious effect on my daily wordcounts. After that glorious first official year, it’s felt more like a crazed contest to beat my former total, and I end up feeling disappointed and like I failed if I can’t do that. It now feels more like pressure to produce instead of a fun, carefree month. Indeed, in many non-NaNo months, I’ve easily written over 100K.

For the last few years, a lot of the material in my master wordcount file has been garbage, which I knew was garbage as I was writing it. E.g., I’ll write and rewrite a sentence multiple times instead of deleting the mistakes or rough draft and only keeping the final product. Or I’ll discontinue a paragraph or scene in progress, or realize the thousands of words I just spent days working on belong in another book instead.

It’s like my fingers and brain freeze the moment the clock strikes midnight on April, July, and November, and I suddenly have terrible writer’s block, or I struggle to produce decent words that naturally flow in the thick of so much garbage.

Who knows, maybe this is partly because I’m continuing WIPs instead of starting fresh with new projects, and that hampers my sense of freedom and creativity.

The banning of all in-person events for the last two years has also played a huge role in my struggles to keep my former usual daily wordcount output. I hate the “Permanent lockdown for the win!” cult. God forbid normal life resume ever!

Since joining the NaNo group in Albany, NY in 2014 (which I’m still happily a member of, despite no longer living there), I became used to doing much of my writing at our weekly write-ins at Denny’s, and the additional weekly write-ins at a local coffeehouse in Camp months. Then there were all the other write-ins at libraries during November, and virtual sprints to cover the rest.

Thus, I gradually lost my habit of doing all my writing independently, and began struggling more and more with finding motivation when I wasn’t with the group or doing virtual write-ins. Moving away from NY made the situation even worse.

I had finally gotten back into a good habit of writing for several hours six times a week at the library, and then lockdown hit. My cyclical depression was triggered, and my writing output became almost nonexistent.

Whereas I once felt excitement, challenge, and joy upon seeing my wordcount steadily rising hour by hour, day by day, week by week, now it feels more like unrelenting pressure to produce, and if I don’t top my records, I feel like I’m not living up to my full writing potential.

The “updated” website they rolled out a few years ago is also awful.

NaNo has no business espousing political positions, regardless of what side of the aisle they are or what the POV is. This isn’t like knowing the owners of a business like Hobby Lobby hold certain views in their private life. They’re publicly, inappropriately declaring their support for extremist groupthink and polarizing views like “Biological sex is a bigoted, colonialist invention!” and “It’s totally cool for Hamas to fire thousands of rockets on unarmed civilians!”

WeWriWa—Presents from the Lindmaas

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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. 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.

This week will be my last Christmas-themed excerpt, in honor of the recent Orthodox Christmas. It comes from Chapter 90, “Cruel Christmas,” from A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, the fourth book about my Russian-born characters. It’s set during January 1951.

Milena Kalvik, age 26, is the nanny of Tarmo and Meri Lindmaa. Their father Vahur, a widower about to turn 33, lost his wife in the final bombing of Tallinn, Estonia in 1944. Meri is particularly attached to Milena, never having known her birth mother. She was born in a posthumous C-section two months prematurely, and has a very unusual scar on her face from the rushed surgery done in the dark with only a knife.

Milena has had feelings for Vahur almost since they met, and adores his children, but doesn’t think he could ever reciprocate.

The Lindmaas are Taaraists, followers of Estonia’s original religion Taarausk (Taaraism), which is built around Nature worship. Taara is their supreme god.

Milena fetches the gifts she bought for Vahur, Meri, and Tarmo. Though they don’t celebrate Christmas, it felt wrong to not give them anything in return. For Tarmo and Meri, she bought James Thurber’s The 13 Clocks and Anne Parrish’s The Story of Appleby Capple, respectively. Vahur’s present is a painted necktie with Bengal tigers.

“I hope you like our gifts,” Meri says. “Tarmo and I spent a lot of time making them. It was easier to do when you don’t live with us anymore.”

Milena unwraps a set of four coasters from Tarmo, painted with geometric patterns in a rainbow of colors, and a green, heart-shaped ceramic candy dish from Meri. Her heart skips a beat when she discovers a rough-cut pearl necklace from Vahur.

“You didn’t have to get me something so personal,” Milena protests.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

“I’m only your children’s nanny. The other jewelry you’ve gotten me is unprecedented enough.”

“Why shouldn’t I honor such a special person with pearls?” Vahur smiles at her. “I’ve never seen you wearing pearls, and thought you deserved your own, in a unique style. So many other ladies wear basic, boring white pearls, but how many wear rough-cut pearls? It’s special, just like you.” Vahur takes it out of the box and fastens it around Milena’s neck. “Every lady deserves pearls from a man, and since no one else did it, I took it upon myself.”

“So you feel sorry for me because I’m an old maid?”

“Perish the thought. Taara’s keeping you single so long because your husband’s very special and worth waiting for. It takes more time to match some people. Not everyone is lucky enough to find a soulmate at all of sixteen or twenty. You’ll appreciate him more when he reveals himself.”

Milena’s heart flutters at that choice of phrase. She can’t let herself believe Vahur is speaking about himself, but the possibility exists. Her heart beats even faster when Vahur helps her on with her winter wraps and takes her arm.

IWSG—Writing plans for 2022

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Welcome to this year’s inaugural 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:

What’s the one thing about your writing career you regret the most? Were you able to overcome it?

I would have to say I most regret not aggressively networking and marketing myself more, particularly as an indie author. I’m afraid to ask people to, e.g., host me for a guest blog, review one of my books, or help with a launch, since at the back of my mind, I’m afraid it’ll come off like shameless, pathetic begging. So many other writers seem to have a ready group of 20+ people to do all those things, or quickly get scores of volunteers the moment they ask for help.

This is still something I need to work hard on overcoming, the same way I worked so hard to lose 75 pounds and bring my severe pyrophobia as under control as it’ll ever be. Very similarly, now that I’ve started making BookTube and AuthorTube videos, I’m afraid to ask other people in those niches to collaborate with me or subscribe to my channel, since I’m not part of their established friend group.

And yes, I know this makes me sound like I’m mentally stuck in junior high or high school.

I’ll be going into this in much further detail in a separate post soon, but suffice it to say, I have serious reservations about continuing to do NaNoWriMo, either the official event in November or the camp months in April and July, after learning just how regressive and woke the organization has become. My profile would stay regardless, since I’m proud of how I’ve written over a million words since I began participating, but I’m not so sure about future events.

They wrote some long, impassioned blog post bashing Israel’s right to exist and defend itself against terrorism, and happily promulgated the woke new antisemitism that comes straight from the Soviet Union’s playbook. They don’t approve of the five chapters in Israel, because God forbid there be a single majority Jewish nation, in the very place our ethnoreligious group is indigenous to and has had a continuous presence in for thousands of years. They also ousted some municipal liaisons for not being sufficiently woke, which is really sinister and creepy.

And of course, the usual virtue-signalling woke word salad all over their other blog posts, website, and updated mission statement.

During 2022, I plan to focus the majority of my creative energies on my alternative history about Dante and Beatrice. Since IngramSpark didn’t offer free title setup as usual as a prize for winning NaNo 2021, I won’t have to race to finish the radical rewrite and polishing of the book formerly known as The Very Last by the end of March. However, I do intend to get back to work on TVL within the year.

I’ve not yet made a list of films and albums with landmark anniversaries to blog about this year, but I would like to finally do the pet and education series I’ve wanted to do for the last few years. Other topics I hope to cover in 2022 include writing about breeching and long pants, the struggle between historical accuracy and perpetuating misinformation, debunking myths about corsets, and when to split one book into multiple volumes.

I’ll also be continuing my Dantean posts, with subjects including contrapasso (i.e., a punishment mirroring or contrasting a sin), the history of English translations of The Divine Comedy, why you should read the entire poem and not just quit after Inferno, and proper new reviews of Purgatorio and Paradiso.

What are your writing plans for the new year? Would you continue participating in a writing group or organization whose official politics are impossible to agree to disagree on?

WeWriWa—Welcoming 1980

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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. 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.

For my New Year’s snippet, I’m sharing from Chapter 11, “New Year’s Eve Delight,” of my long-hiatused WIP Justine Grown Up, the third book in my contemporary historical family saga about the Troys and the Ryans, and a modern retelling of sorts of Margaret Sidney’s Phronsie Pepper. It’s now New Year’s Eve 1979, and instead of spending the entire holiday sharing private romantic moments, Justine and David are forced to endure the negative running commentary of older siblings who still see them as children.

David’s term of endearment for Justine, cuisle mo chroí (COOSH-la ma cree), means “pulse of my heart” in Irish.

Working synopsis:

Justine’s jealous feelings at the birth of Julie’s first child are quickly turned around when she reconnects with David, now twenty-five and a Ph.D. student. Unfortunately, her older siblings and their friends have a hard time seeing her, after years of being the precious family baby, as a grownup woman who’s old enough for marriage, motherhood, and moving out with her new family. But then, when her young nieces become Duranies, an unexpected opportunity opens up for Justine to finally prove once and for all to her family that she’s a responsible, capable, mature adult.

When the tray of food is passed around to her, she takes a handful of nuts and a few crackers.

“Would you like something to drink with that?” David asks.

“Watch it,” Adicia says. “Justine won’t be twenty-one till March. Have you ever given her alcohol before?”

“Of course not! I rarely drink myself, but it’s nice to have a little on holidays and special occasions.”

“You’ve let me have champagne and wine before on New Year’s Eve,” Justine says.

“Yeah, but I’m your sister, not an older boyfriend who’s slept his way across Europe!”

“I slept with a handful of women, not the entire female population!” David says.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

Justine grudgingly accepts the orange egg cream David brings her in place of champagne. During the remaining few minutes of the decade, she sits snuggled up against him, trying to tune out the rest of their families. If they were in Times Square, she’d probably be kissing her new boyfriend, but for now she’ll have to settle for a hug to greet 1980.

“Don’t worry,” David whispers. “We’ll be back in Albany soon enough and can have all the privacy we want. In the meantime, the anticipation will make it better.”

“I hope so.”

He hugs her again. “Welcome to 1980, cuisle mo chroí.”