To Cecilia on her 20th birthday

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October 4, 1993, 20., Monday,

On Wendsday [sic] there was this full moon [a blue moon actually], and it was so beautiful. You could see a crater on the bottom, and there [were] these grey clouds on it. It was so nice out you could see the color of the stars. For the next few days it stayed there. And yesterday I washed with a new soap from France. But do you know what it was like at the very dawn of time? Clouds of biting dust, gasses, no true sun, etc. And the soap was once animal fat, ashes, and rose petals. That’s the way my life is. Sometimes so perfect, sometimes Hell.

Those are the opening lines of my third journal Cecilia, who in spite of being “only” a big five-subject college-ruled notebook and a bursting binder of looseleaf paper, has a place in my heart as my favourite and dearest journal. I was so attached to this imaginary friend of sorts I’d created for myself, someone to pour out my heart and soul to, I had a really hard time letting her go and finally moving on to my next journal, Rita. Because of the different kind of dark night of the soul that followed, Rita went on to become my next-dearest journal.

The following is taken from a much-longer piece I wrote on my old Angelfire site, on Cecilia’s 10th birthday:

I created her, I named her, I protected her, I confided in her, I loved her. It’s like the nursery magick in The Velveteen Rabbit—something becomes Real because it’s been loved so damn much, it doesn’t even matter that it’s not alive. She was one of the best friends I ever had. She always listened to me, even though she could never talk back to me and telling me I was just babbling or sounding goofy or ready to be committed to the psych ward. She couldn’t give me a hug or comforting words back or anything that flesh and blood best friends do, but she was there for me when I most desperately needed a true friend.

Her beauty was that she was there to listen to me and never made me shut up and stop talking, put me down, nothing. She didn’t have the worries and depression I had, being abiotic, like I once told her, but she almost assumed a real human identity to me. I even gave her a physical description early on—five foot one, five pounds overweight, long black hair, big green eyes, and long nails. Maybe I held onto her longer than I should’ve, the way I kept her going for a whole other year after the pages just clear ran out, but I was just too attached to the dear friend I called Cecilia to say goodbye.

And then I let her go when the time was right, her sides splitting with pages, after I had finished quoting from a hundred songs. [For years I had the habit of starting each journal entry with a song lyric, and used many songs multiple times.]

*********************

I can’t believe I’m now old enough to easily remember 20 years ago, though two decades still seems like a vast stretch of time. Everything was so different in 1993.

Since 1989, I’ve had the following journals, and yes, from Cecilia on, they’ve all been named for songs:

Journal #1 (the only one I never named), September 1989-February 1993

Helena, February 1993-September 1993

Cecilia, October 1993-January 1996

Rita, January 1996-June 1998 (ended on the anniversary of Tiananmen Square)

Prudence, June 1998-December 2000

Rael, 8 December 2000 (John Lennon’s 20th Jahrzeit)-February 2002

Athena, 1 March 2002-October 2003

Emily, October 2003-May 2005

Zelda, 1 June 2005-November 2007

Eloise, 29 November 2007 (George Harrison’s 6th Jahrzeit)-September 2008

Current journal, begun September 2008, abandoned 1 March 2009, picked up a few times in 2012 and 2013, finally permanently resumed my longtime daily journaling habit September 2013, hopefully never to be stopped for so long ever again. She needs a name!

But there can only ever be one Cecilia.

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In defence of contemporary historical fiction

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My great writing love is historical, and for about 20 years now, I’ve written exclusively 20th century historical. Since I tend towards series and family/town sagas, odds are a story will inevitably end up in the modern era, close to the present day but never quite contemporary. Since recent decades aren’t quite classical historical fiction, but not quite contemporary yet, they’ve been given the label contemporary historical fiction. And within that genre, more recent past history, like the 1990s, would be considered late contemporary historical.

While some people stop considering something historical after World War I, I think most people consider up to World War II historical, and probably the immediate postwar era. But a lot of historical events happened in the decades afterwards, even if some people aren’t comfortable with labeling them as historical. Let’s face it, the world of even 20 years ago now seems like the stuff of history, since technology and society have evolved so much. And to a young person in particular, a book set in a year like 1968, 1974, or 1980 is about ancient history they never lived through.

I was born in 1979. The world I was born into now seems like history, even to me, as much as I hate admitting I’m getting old. The world I grew up in included rotary phones, black and white computers, disks, VCRs, less cable, TVs you still had to get up to change the channel on, typewriters, record players, cassette tapes, boxy cars, and living World War I vets and Titanic survivors. And the world of even 10-20 years before my birth seems like history now, with things like sex-segregated help wanted ads, twilight sleep, no women’s lib, and gas-guzzling boat-sized cars.

If you’re choosing to set your story in the Sixties or beyond, or if it starts earlier and gradually comes into the present, don’t overdo it with the historical references. This should be true of any historical. It’s kind of obnoxious and breaking the fourth wall to show off your research and constantly call attention to the fact that it’s taking place in a given year or decade. Loving any decade or historical event isn’t reason enough to write a book set then if that’s the only reason you did it.

If you’re only writing about this decade to indulge your nostalgia and waltz down memory lane, you should reconsider why this story needs to be set then. No one wants to read a book that’s little more than a recitation of popular songs, fashions, news stories, inventions, tv shows, and movies. That’s actually what badly dates a lot of once-contemporary books, too much of a period feel rather than being a story for all time that just happens to be set in a certain decade.

Things like bell bottoms, beehive hairdos, muscle cars, New Wave music, mood rings, rotary phones, big hair, and classic Nickelodeon (from the Eighties, NOT the Nineties, no matter what my younger university friends think!) should just be seasoning for a greater historical story. A reason to set a story in a given decade would be like a brother or husband being drafted to Vietnam, a family active in women’s lib, dealing with an AIDS diagnosis during the early days of stigma, a father in Desert Storm, a family going through the energy crisis, or the L.A. Riots.

No book should ever feel like it’s just a contemporary dressed up in historical clothes, set in a year or decade with no special significance to the characters or story. You can incorporate things you love about the recent past, like classic rock or old tv shows, without constantly name-dropping. That kind of smacks of mental masturbation, which I’ve been guilty of myself in the past.

I feel so old when I tell kids that when I was their age, computers were black and white and that I never had a damn booster seat. That was reality in my childhood, but it seems like a distant, foreign mystery to a child growing up now. Society changes so much more quickly now than it did in the past. It’s for this reason that reincarnation researchers have suggested that the time between lives is much shorter now than hundreds of years ago.  Someone who lived in the 8th century wouldn’t feel discombobulated at being thrust into the 11th or 14th century, whereas someone from the 18th century would feel lost at even the early 20th century, and someone from 1920 would feel like s/he were in a sci-fi story come to life even in 1950, 1975, or 1990.

Valentine and Ajax (Verdana)

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(Warning: Contains some mature language.)

Font: Verdana

Year created: 1996

Personal experience: Some of my files of notes and scratch work have been saved into this font through default, and I rather like it, for a sans serif font.

Chapter: “Valentine and Ajax”

Book: Cinnimin

Written: 4 September-1 October 2002

Handwritten

This is Part XLI (41) of my magnum opus under the current table of contents, the second Part of Saga VI (the Nineties), Children’s Children. The title couple are Cinni’s firstborn grandson, Ajax Kevorkian, né Seward-Filliard (born February 1972), and the firstborn of her dear friend and stepsister-in-law Gayle, Valentine Pinkerton-Pembroke (born 1970). (Valentine was, surprise, born on Valentine’s Day!) It’s set from 17 May-23 August 1991. Near the beginning, the Seward patriarch, dear Grandpa Stan, dies.

During the wedding reception, Julieanna’s troubled son André is thrown over the edge to learn that his wife Bridget, who’s also his stepsister, is pregnant a third time without consulting him, esp. since they’ve already got two sets of twins. The elderly family patriarch suffers a stroke during André’s ranting, and things only get worse from there.

Some highlights:

“Corpses rot quickly in the heat,” Al advised. “Somebody wrap him up in ice packs before rigor mortis sets in.”

“Under my roof, you will cut off your own head if I order it,” Mr. Seward growled.

“Don’t be coy about what you do,” Max laughed. “My beautiful daughter-in-law hawks pornos and sex toys.”

Mr. Seward turned white when he spied Luke assembling the sixty-year-old television set. He anticipated hearing a huge pop or snap or bang when Luke adjusted the rheostat that turned it on. Instead a fuzzy black and white image filled the small screen.

Eunomia came into the room carrying a chocolate dildo filled with honey. Fudzie ran to lock up the rest of that month’s freebies, only to find Pandora and Stan sitting wide-eyed before a VCR broadcasting Aspen’s Mountains. He yanked the plug.

R.R. reached out and cuffed Ernie. “Do you really want to imagine your big sister slamming the sheets?”

Gayle pinched him. “And must you talk so cavalierly about our firstborn having intercourse?”

“Now Ajax, you’d better knock my daughter up asap,” R.R. said. “Gayle and I are dying for some grandkids. Just look what happened to your great-uncle M.J. He nearly went insane waiting for grandkids!”

[Cinni’s firstborn Demian, increasingly upset at the extravagant wedding presents his de facto father-in-law Max is giving Valentine and Ajax] “No fair! I had to bust my ass painting just to put my wife through Princeton, and they’re getting everything handed to them on a silver platter!”

“I helped Mommy get pregnant again,” Olivia said proudly. “So she’ll let me name the kid as a reward!”

“I have been duped for the last time by that woman! I swear to God I shoulda had a vasectomy after she told me she’d tricked me into impregnating her with a second set of twins!”

Everyone but André froze in horror as old Nathaniel Malspur toppled over on his right side, his face white and limp.

“What, you think the grounds are cursed just ’cause some geezer on his last legs had a stroke here?” Bobbie Jo challenged. “It’s bad enough the perpetrator fled.”

“Oh, thank God, Max.” Luke’s eyes lit up. “I was just hideously attacked by that man, and your bitch of a daughter is already spinning it to make me look like the bad guy. Give me like ten thousand dollars and I’ll leave town to go on a mission asap.”

“So you can try to convert more old folks on their deathbeds?” Nick screamed, nearly popping his jugular.

“Wolfgang!” André thundered. “No kid of mine is gonna be named Wolfgang!”

“Do you have a toy like this?” Pandora gleefully pushed a button that sent a lifesize Oscar the Grouch towering out of a plastic rubbish bin. Kevin screamed.

“This is just one big conspiracy to rob me of my money!” he ranted when they got home. “What is it, quints?”

Bridget screamed when she saw her oldest daughter’s cello had been brutally smashed. André laughed.

[Bélgica, Julieanna’s oldest daughter] “André got recovered by a family out for a yacht ride, bleeding, unconscious, slit wrists, an apparent jump from the bridge into the ocean. They don’t think he’s gonna make it.”

[The elderly Mr. Malspur] “Give André my blood. I have negative AB.”

“I’m ninety-eight years old. I’ve lived long enough. André is only twenty-eight. He has four young children and two more on the way.”

[Typical Violet, not understanding her niece was giving her anything but a compliment] “Oh, my heart glows to hear you say that, Ash! I may be two months shy of sixty-one, but I love to be remembered as a cold domineering bitch who always gets what she wants!”

Meet Ammiel and Micah (MS Sans Serif)

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Font: Microsoft Sans Serif (wanted Modern No. 20, but the html coding didn’t work)

Year created: 1997

Chapter: “Meet Ammiel and Micah”

Book: Cinnimin

Written: 21 April-16 July 2003

Handwritten

This is Part XLVI (46) in my current table of contents for my magnum opus. It’s set from 15 June 1995-late August 1996, and was written in one of the single-subject notebooks I split into two Parts. So much happens here, and two new main characters are introduced, the curmudgeonly beatnik Ammiel Garfinkl and the determined, lovestruck Micah Levine.

Ammiel is the best friend and male version of Cinni’s granddaughter Mancika Laurel. These two are so close that everyone suspects they’re more than just best friends, or blind to what a perfect match they are. They’ve even seen one another naked and insisted it was no big deal, just the human body. Ammiel is always bitching about everything, even his own last name, and doesn’t care whom he might offend with his brutal honesty.

Some of the many highlights:

“I’m going to name one of my babies Midnight,” Eulalia said. “Since it fits the blackness of my soul.”

“Oh, Maxwell has long behaved like this,” Mr. Seward said contemptuously. “I was in the loonybin for four years on his orders. My fatso ex-wife was too, along with his youngest full brother and a lot of his distant cousins, all while he was off playing in Italy. And on his orders, I only got to vote under supervision. That psychotic Stalinist who ran the asylum stood in the booth with me as I voted!”

Mary Julia looked around suspiciously. “There are so many crazy people on the streets, Demian. I saw the looks they gave me. Wanting to stone me and Dana for wearing short sleeves and shorts. I’d love to walk through onea their neighborhoods to force them to see a liberated woman. They thought I was crazy to be wearing this necklace of Lakshmi while Dana is wearing a crucifix and I’m looking for my black hat daughter’s apartment since my grandson is getting mutilated tomorrow.”

[Mr. Green] “I’m not senile. I’m as alert at 92 as I was at twenty.”

“So that leaves Butler Reagan as the oldest geezer in town,” Bobbie Jo smiled. She tore out a notepad and started making up the new Top 20 list.

“There are wonderful bands and singers on MTV,” Portia said. “Why do they waste their time playing this Dark Ages garbage?”

[Sympathizing with her mother Violet re: her lifelong rival Kit] “Don’t worry, I agree with you,” Portia said. “That woman is a major hypocrite. It’s like she gets under your skin on purpose. I’d like to bomb her childhood home.”

[Kit’s youngest daughter Raspberry Ann] “Exactly. Sure it’s nice to be well-endowed, but do you ever find women sharing information about their measurements? I’m glad I have indoor plumbing.”

Leah was far from excited when Gavrilla showed up at her apartment early Monday morning, Lulu’s people standing behind her. There was a plane with their names on it waiting for them at the airport, and free champagne and chocolate.

“Ten glorious years without child support,” Leah nodded. “Contrary to what the majority of unwed mothers on your show believe, it’s not worth sobbing over. There’s no father in my daughter’s life. Big deal.”

“Besides the fact that Garkinkl has an unflattering sound and never gets spelt or pronounced right, it’s a bullseye for the anti-Semities, like Katz, Cohen, or Goldstein. I wish I could hide behind a name like Laurel. Like hell I’d torture my own child with my last name.”

Philip looked up on his way out of the school and saw Ammiel and Mancika reading The PWW underneath a large oak tree. Despite the good early September weather, Ammiel was sporting a black turtleneck, black beret, heavy old-fashioned button-up boots, and loose khaki pants. His brown hair reached down to his shoulders.

A lot of people were there, even Arafat and Rabin themselves. There were a lot of singing, dancing, and flowers. Raina was moved to tears when the 75-year-old prime minister sang the Song of Peace, his first time to sing in public. And five minutes later, shots rang out.

“Gifts are a pretension of the very highest order,” Ammiel said. “I only got Mancika a book of revolutionary quotes from the quarter bin at my favorite used bookstore.”

Ammiel was walking around naked as Mancika went on typing an editorial for the school paper. A wet towel was carelessly tossed on the floor.

Raspberry Ann was enraged at her mother as she went through twelve hours of labor with only gas and air. All while Kit stood by telling her horror stories about old men doctors who thought they were God’s gift to expectant mothers, trivialized women’s feelings about being seen by a strange man, and mistook ectopic pregnancies for attempted self-abortions. And of course the subject of Sammy just had to come up too.

“That is your boyfriend,” Courtnie insisted. “Why else would you kiss on the lips for like three minutes and exchange ‘I love you’s?”

High Holy Days (Helvetica)

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Font: Helvetica

Year created: 1957

Personal experience: Used from the time I began typing my stories on the old ’84 Mac, probably around 1987 or 1988, until September 1993. I never particularly liked it, but I was too young to realize that I wasn’t bound to the default font. That, and I heard that publishers preferred something that looked like it came from a typewriter. (Yeah, that book had some outdated advice!)

Chapter: “High Holy Days”

Book: Cinnimin

Written: 7 April-14 September 2010

Handwritten

I actually have two chapters with this title, one in The Very First and the other in my magnum opus. This post is about Part LV (55) of Cinnimin. It’s set from 20 September-18 October 1998, in Israel, Hawaii, New York City, and of course Atlantic City. It’s also one of the longer Parts, possibly able to stand alone.

So much happens here. Cinni’s daughter-in-law Ophelia finally snaps regarding her spoilt twins (her youngest children and only boys out of ten kids), a family vacation to Hawaii for a bar mitzvah turns into chaos, Ophelia’s marriage heads for the rocks, typical catfighting between longtime rivals Gavrilla (Sparky’s rabbi daughter) and her cousin by marriage Leah, and Cinni’s granddaughter Mancika starts her junior year of studying abroad in Israel with her beatnik best friend Ammiel.

Some of the many highlights:

Ammiel cringed at the applause. “Why do people always applaud when an El Al plane lands? It sounds so silly. People don’t clap when their boat docks.”

“I didn’t know your mom’s family spoke Polish,” Ammiel said. “I thought they used that hideous ghetto language Yiddish.”

[Ophelia’s Yom Kippur outfit; she’s almost a size 20 at this point, a sharp contrast to how slim and sexy she was in youth] Several buttons had popped on her blouse, so she’d wrapped a white silk shawl around her midsection. Her skirt was just several yards of fabric from the crafts store, a black background with ringed planets, sewn together into a semblance of a real skirt and held together with safety pins. For footwear she had frog slippers, not even having realized she’d left the house still wearing them.

Balázs let out a very loud scream and flung himself down on the asphalt before running back towards the building. “You suck, Mommy! You know I can do whatever I want because I have a penis!” [This earns him a public spanking in front of the synagogue.]

Serop gunned the car, desperate to get away from Zeevie, only to find the cop trailing after him again. He was furious when he was handed a second ticket and told he’d lose his license if he committed another traffic violation.

“What kind of a face is that on the eve of your only child’s special day?” Gavrilla asked, full well knowing Leah hadn’t been expecting her.

“Oh, Leah, are you so cynical you can’t grasp your own child’s father doing something nice for her and even putting in a personal appearance out of his own motivation?” Gavrilla asked. “Tisk, tisk, tisk.”

“We took the liberty of looking for disposables, and instead found some stuff you hadn’t even taken out of the box,” Gavrilla said. “Who buys nice tableware and then never uses it or even unpacks it? Maybe that’s why your pre-existing dishes look so worn-out, because you keep using them over and over again.”

Ammiel ambled down wearing black gaucho pants and a Roswell 50th anniversary T-shirt. Mancika was embarrassed by his casual wear but knew he wouldn’t change it.

Ammiel held up a few shirts. “Which one, Mants? The ‘Re-elect Clinton’ one, the ‘Legalize Cannabis’ one, or the ‘Celebrating 25 Years of Roe vs. Wade’ one?”

“I bet you have a stomach ache from eating too many of those candies you stash in your room,” Shafar said. “Your bat mitzvah project should be Weight Watchers.”

Alice stared. With every step Yasmin took, a drop of blood fell on the floor. Pointing, she loudly alerted everyone, “Look, Yasmin’s having her period!”

“Oh, look!” Skye laughed. “Yasmin stuck the tampon up her butt! No wonder you can’t find it!” [And she cut off the string!]

[Praying with Nashot HaKotel, the Women of the Wall] Mancika and Raina just rolled their eyes at the ultras who started yelling, unfazed. Raina had seen the Prime Minister assassinated; a few angry, self-righteous, self-proclaimed mullahs were nothing to her. Toni tried to concentrate on her prayers and block out the noise. These people’s opinions meant nothing to her; after all, they probably wouldn’t consider her de facto Orthodox conversion in Paris ten years ago to be valid anyway. They were with people peacefully praying for peace and unity, not divisive, hate-filled bigots who didn’t live in the real world.