My 2019 A to Z themes revealed

I’m taking somewhat of a detour regarding my A to Z theme on my main blog this year. Instead of choosing something related to my writing, I finally moved a long-planned theme out of my queue. I began putting this list together in late 2015, but kept pushing it off every year, thinking I’d get around to it eventually.

My 2019 theme will be actors, writers, directors, and producers of the silent era. To make it original, my focus is on lesser-known stars (at least, outside the community of people already passionate about silent cinema). Most people know names like Clara Bow, Buster Keaton, Mary Pickford, and John Barrymore, but I doubt the average non-fan knows about someone like:

Raymond Griffith, a dapper comedian in a silk hat whose voice was severely damaged as a boy. He spoke at the level of a hoarse whisper, but was able to use that to deliver an incredibly moving, unforgettable swan song performance in his only talkie.

June Mathis, one of the most powerful women in Hollywood, the mystic-minded screenwriter who sought to elevate movies into a serious artform. She gave Rudy Valentino his big break and lovingly mentored him when no one else believed in him.

Larry Semon, a brilliant comedian who burnt out early after getting far too big for his britches with over the top special effects and budgets, and is now almost exclusively remembered for his dreadful 1925 version of The Wizard of Oz. He also thought it’d be hilarious to credit an African-American co-star as G. Howe Black.

Anna May Wong, one of the first Chinese-American moviestars, who became very frustrated with the stereotypical roles offered to her, and was barred from being a romantic lead due to strict anti-miscegenation laws.

Xuan Jinglin, one of China’s most important female actors of the silent era, who was sold into a brothel by her mother due to extreme poverty. One of the founding fathers of Chinese cinema saved her by giving her a bit part in a film and buying her freedom when her acting deeply impressed him.

Fred Thomson, a very popular cowboy actor who was a Presbyterian minister and WWI Army chaplain before becoming involved in acting. His second wife, screenwriter Frances Marion, was one of Hollywood’s most powerful women. Fred died of tetanus on the eve of making his first talkie.

Olive Thomas, a fellow Pittsburgher who was poised for superstardom when she fell victim to accidental mercury bichloride poisoning while on her second honeymoon with husband Jack Pickford.

Wallace Reid, a matinée idol destroyed by greedy studio executives and doctors. Instead of letting him recover after a serious train accident, they got him addicted to morphine and kept overworking him, forcing him to crank out one film after another without any breaks. Wally could barely stand up by his final film.

Marie Prevost, one of Mack Sennett’s famed Bathing Beauties, who became a huge star working for several studios, until several personal tragedies plunged her into depression, drinking, and an eating disorder. Hers was one of several tragic deaths which inspired the acting community to create the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital.

Ernest Torrence, a big, bulky character actor who specialized in villains and tough guys, but played nice guys once in a rare while. His touching, sweet performance as Peter in the original King of Kings is one of the film’s highlights.

Though many of these posts originated in my “Too Young, Too Soon” series on my old Angelfire site, written around 2005–07, they’ve all been significantly edited and expanded. Most of them read like entirely new posts!

Miraculously, I found the long-missing Part II of this six-part series through a recent cache search of archive.org. That was one of the pages I was most upset about not recovering after my Angelfire site was deleted without warning in September 2010.

My names blog will feature Slavic names, from languages including Czech, Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Slovenian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Belarusian, and Bosnian.

WeWriWa—Enjoying Christmas morning

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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 year, my Chanukah- and Christmas-themed snippets come from Chapter 20, “Dueling December Holidays,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

This week’s snippet comes a few lines after last week’s, when young Cinnimin Filliard unwrapped her Christmas present from her secret crush Barry, her best friend Sparky’s favorite brother. He got her The Sword in the Stone and put in a very nice inscription.

Piernik is Polish gingerbread. Lucinda is Cinni’s aunt.

With the wrapping paper, tissue paper, ribbons, and unwrapped presents still strewn all over the living room, they went to the kitchen for a traditional Polish Christmas breakfast. Lucinda and Mrs. Filliard made several big pans of scrambled eggs with goat cheese and spinach while Mr. Filliard got the rest of the feast from the icebox and pantry. As soon as the scrambled eggs were done, they joined smoked salmon, apricot coffeecake, piernik, pickled mushrooms, cold cuts with horseradish, raspberry tea, marinated vegetable salad, and oranges on the table.

After breakfast, Cinni went up to the attic to change into one of her gifts from Bogda, a black rayon dress featuring orange flowers with large leaves. This was the only article of clothing she’d enjoyed unwrapping. Her great-grandma might be seventy-five, but she understood fashion, and knew what kinds of clothes Cinni liked to wear. Cinni hoped she’d be such a fashionable elder when it was her own time.

Cinni and her family spent the afternoon in the living room, listening to the radio, playing board games, and doing jigsaw puzzles. Towards 4:00, Cinni’s stomach led her into the kitchen for something to tide her over until the early dinner. Surely her mother wouldn’t lecture her about her sweet tooth and spoiling her appetite on Christmas of all days.

WeWriWa—Cinni unwraps her presents

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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 year, my Chanukah- and Christmas-themed snippets come from Chapter 20, “Dueling December Holidays,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

This week’s snippet comes about a page after last week’s, when the Jewish Smalls (originally the Brandts) and their Methodist hosts/sponsors the Filliards unwrapped Chanukah and Christmas presents together. In 1938, Christmas Eve and the eighth night of Chanukah coincided.

It’s now Christmas Day, and Cinnimin is unwrapping the rest of her presents and shaking out the contents of her stocking.

Cinni delightedly found a lot of chocolates, candies, and oranges in her stocking, some of them from the kosher candy store and bought by Barry and Sparky. The goodies from her father were swing records, ruby hairpins, ten Bakelite bracelets in a rainbow of colors, a Bakelite brooch of a tortoiseshell and white guinea pig, new rollerskates with red straps, a mesh bag full of peppermint swirl and Joseph’s coat swirl marbles, a 200-piece jigsaw puzzle of jungle animals, a jumprope with red and blue swirled handles, a dragon paperweight, and a medium blue kaleidoscope. As usual, he’d given her all the best presents.

Also as usual, her mother had given her the most boring presents—socks, pencils, ink refills, blouses, skirts, more of the hated bicep-high church gloves, petticoats, plain hair clips, a red and white bandeau, red hair ribbons, a children’s Bible, a red alarm clock, and a new addition to the Little Bo Peep church dress collection, this one in an awful shade of lemon-yellow. Cinni shuddered as she unwrapped it, thankful her parents never forced her and her siblings to model their Christmas clothes right then and there.

The present she saved for very last was Barry’s. She held her breath as she pulled the paper and ribbon off the carefully-wrapped gift. Barry wrapped presents very well for a boy. She was used to her male friends’ careless wrapping jobs, where the paper was unevenly cut and ripped, not measured properly, and asymmetrically-aligned.

Cinni smiled as she discovered the T.H. White book The Sword in the Stone, a fantasy about King Arthur’s childhood.

WeWriWa—Unwrapping presents together

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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 year, my Chanukah- and Christmas-themed snippets come from Chapter 20, “Dueling December Holidays,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

This week’s snippet comes a few pages after last week’s, as the Smalls (originally the Brandts) and their sponsors/hosts the Filliards sat down for a dinner jointly celebrating the eighth night of Chanukah and Christmas Eve, which fell on the same night in 1938. Now they’re going to unwrap some of their presents together.

Artwork by Yelena Flerova

After the table had been cleared, everyone went into the living room to unwrap presents. The Filliards had wrapped the Smalls’ gifts in innocuous, secular paper, without any Christmas symbols, not even snowflakes. Both the paper and ribbons were solid green, red, and blue. The gift tags likewise were devoid of any hint of Christmas, and could’ve easily been affixed to gifts for any occasion.

Cinni watched expectantly as the Smalls opened her gifts. She’d gotten a small, no-frills compact mirror for Mrs. Small; a tin of shoe polish for Mr. Small; a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle for Gary; a book of Heinrich Heine poetry in German for Barry; and pearl hairpins in the shape of hearts for Sparky. Barry’s earlier Chanukah present had been a dark blue and white plaid beret, so he’d have a more stylish, modern way to cover his head. Though Cinni had itched to put a more personal inscription in the book, she didn’t want Barry to suspect her true feelings. Instead she’d settled for “Dec. 24, 1938, to Barry from Cinnimin. Happy Chanukah.”

WeWriWa—A joint holiday celebration

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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 year, my Chanukah- and Christmas-themed snippets come from Chapter 20, “Dueling December Holidays,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

There have been a lot of religious conflicts during December 1938, as young immigrant Sparky (real name Katherine) and her family are inundated with symbolism of a holiday they don’t celebrate, and a variety of responses to their refusal to adopt Christmas as a secular holiday “everyone” celebrates. However, Sparky’s family has agreed to come together with their hosts the Filliards for a joint celebration of the eighth night of Chanukah and Christmas Eve.

This has been slightly tweaked to fit 10 lines.

Painting by Yelena Flerova

The Smalls had brought schnitzel, Kartoffelpuffer, chicken soup, brisket, candied carrots, bolussen, applesauce, and, best of all, plenty of Berliner Pfannkuchen, while on the Filliards’ side of the table sat roasted goose with stuffing; dried fruit compote; mushroom soup; gołąbki; pierogi stuffed with chopped mushrooms and mashed potatoes; kotlety; stuffed mushrooms; mazurek stuffed with dried almonds, chocolate, and apricot jam; chocolate sernik; zefiry; and several heaping platters of cookies. There’d be more than enough for everyone.

“You don’t know what you’re missing,” Mrs. Filliard said as she cut into a gołąbek. “You’ve been generous to share your food, and oughta taste some of ours in return.”

“Perhaps next year, we can cook by your recipes in our kitchen,” Mrs. Small said.

“It’s ‘with,’ not ‘by,’” Gary gently corrected her. “You’re making the mistake of directly translating a German expression into English. Sometimes being too literal results in improper English.”

“My mother and I made that mistake too, when we were learning English,” Mr. Filliard said. “That expression translates from Russian the same way it does from German, and it took a long time for me to realize I wasn’t being grammatically correct.”

Kartoffelpuffer are German latkes; bolussen are Dutch sweet rolls; Berliner Pfannkuchen are jelly doughnuts. Among the traditional Polish and Russian Christmas foods, gołąbki are cabbage leaves wrapped around a savory filling (usually including meat); kotlety are small, pan-fried meatballs; mazurek is a sweet, flat cake; sernik is cheesecake made with quark; and zefiry are similar to meringues.