Carlos on the Witness Stand

There are still quite a lot of posts that need moved out of my drafts folder already. This was originally scheduled for 31 March 2012, intended for the long-discontinued Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop, and set aside indefinitely. It differs slightly from the published version.

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This week, I’m featuring an excerpt from Chapter 36 of Adicia’s story, “Carlos Goes to Prison.” Carlos, Adicia’s oldest brother and the next-oldest Troy sibling, was paralyzed in an accident at work in early July of 1962, and while he was in the hospital, a number of charges were brought against him for his drug-related activities, stealing at work, and (accidentally) starting the fire that destroyed the Troys’ original tenement. Five years later, he’s finally mentally and physically fit enough to stand trial. Now he gets a chance to take the stand, and unwittingly incriminates himself for basically everything. The rating is PG-13.

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“Will you raise your right hand and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

“Yup,” Carlos says.

It is the second week in September, and the prosecution has decided to put Carlos on the stand.  The defense declined to use him as a witness, citing his alleged diminished mental capacity and the fact that he’s already been through enough trauma, but the prosecution lawyer thinks he’s either crazy like a fox or so genuinely stupid he’ll be putty in their hands.

“Will you please state your name?”

“Carlos Ghislain Troy.”

“Now, Mr. Troy, at the time of your accident, July 3, 1962, Wednesday, you were working at Mighty Mike’s Mechanics on the Lower East Side, correct?”

“It was the second job I had in my life,” he says proudly. “I was a car repairman and mechanic.”

“And what did this job entail?”

“I fixed people’s cars and performed basic maintenance services.”

“Did you ever take anything out of the cars you were entrusted with?”

“All the time.  That’s onea the reasons I wanted the job after I was fired from my first job.  I knew some rich folks would be taking their cars in, and I’d help myself to their belongings.  They either wouldn’t miss ‘em or would just buy new stuff.  Hell, my own mother right there told me she hoped I’d be stealing from the cars the same way I useta help myself to cereal when I worked in a cereal factory.”

Mrs. Troy hangs her head in her hands.

“So you are basically admitting to stealing from your customers and pleading guilty to the thirty counts of petty theft you are facing?”

“All poor folks steal.  We deserve nice stuff, and rich folks deserve to be put in their place.  Besides, I was told they found mosta the stuff in my work locker.  That problem is solved and the charges should be waived.”

“That’s not up to you, Mr. Troy.  That’s up to the judge and jury.  Now here’s another question for you.  Can you remember when you started using or selling drugs?”

“I was fourteen, maybe?” he guesses. “I think I waited till I started high school to start joining my parents in the wonderful world of drugs.  We useta have a whole drug lab in our old tenement, before it was destroyed by fire.”

Now Mr. Troy hangs his head in his hands.

“Did you start selling them at the same time you began using them?”

“I want to say yes.  I sold and used all kinds of drugs you can imagine, though my favorite to use was meth.  Speaking of, I’m dying for some meth right now.  Can anyone oblige me?”

Mrs. Troy wishes she could run out of the courtroom right about now.

“Mr. Troy, are you aware you are incriminating yourself by your testimony?  You do have Fifth Amendment rights to refuse to answer any of these questions.”

“You asked if I’d tell the whole truth, and I agreed.  I ain’t got nothing to hide.  I’m proud of my roots and what I’ve done.”

“Fine.  Now that we’ve quickly established you did steal from your customers at the car shop and that you’re a drug user and pusher, let’s move onto the most serious charges you’re facing.  Do you remember what you were doing on the late afternoon of June 27, 1962, Wednesday?”

“Using meth, probably.  Is that supposed to be the day our old tenement burned down?”

“Yes it is.  Does that jog your memory now that you know what exactly I’m asking about?”

“That was the day I got my job at Mighty Mike’s Mechanics.  On my way home, I siphoned off some gas from a fancy car for my buddy Nick and his wife Louise, onea the few families I knew with their own automobile.  Nick and his wife lived on the fourth floor of our old tenement.  Nick told me their electricity had gotten shut off ‘cause they hadn’t paid their utility bill, and asked if I’d please go into the basement to try to fix it by fiddling with the fuse box.  I gladly obliged.  I saw the cheapskate landlord had taken out the penny I’d put into the socket last time I’d been working with the fuse, so I stuck another one in.  It was really dark down there, so I lit a match to see.  After I was done fiddling with the fuse, I threw the match on the ground.  It musta come in contact with somea the gasoline I’d accidentally spilled when I was setting the gasoline canister down on the ground.  So as you can see, this fire was a total accident.  I did not maliciously set a fire or intend to kill nobody.”

“Sir, are you aware of what putting a penny into a socket or fuse breaker can do?”

“I guess it could cause a fire hazard, but that ain’t no reason to never do it.  Tons of people get in cars every day, and they ain’t avoiding ‘em for fear of dying in accidents.”

“And are you aware of how flammable gasoline is, and even more so when it comes into direct contact with a flame such as a match?”

Carlos waves his hand dismissively. “Those were complete accidents.  It was actually pretty funny when we looked out our door and saw a fire at the bottom of the steps.  It was onea them ‘Did little old me do that?’ moments.”

“You find it funny that you caused a massive gasoline and electrical fire that completely consumed a ten-floor tenement building where roughly two hundred people lived, claimed twenty lives, and left everyone homeless?”

“Of course that part wasn’t funny!  It’s like how you laugh when someone falls on a banana peel.  You know it ain’t funny for him, but it’s funny to watch since it ain’t you, and ‘cause people getting hurt are funny.”

Mr. and Mrs. Troy’s mouths are hanging open in shock by now.  They’ll have no reputation left if any of their friends, family, or neighbors read about this in the papers or hear about it through the grapevine.

“Sir, are you aware of how quickly a gasoline fire spreads, and that when combined with a concurrent electrical fire, the end results will be disastrous?”

“You act like I did this on purpose!  I hated losing everything I owned and being made homeless, though at least we was able to move right into my older sister and her ex-husband’s apartment in Two Bridges, since she’d just divorced him and he’d moved back in with his parents.”

“Did you make any efforts to report this to the police, or let the firemen know how it had started?”

“Now why in the hell would I incriminate myself like that?  Accidents happen.  That don’t mean all harmless accidents need to be treated like criminal matters.”

“Now I’m going to read you a list of names, and you can tell me if you recognize any of them or know how these names relate to one another.  Angela Barbieri, Maria Delmonico, Edward Gallagher, Hannah Gallagher, Stanley Houlihan, Jane Johnson, Lisa Jones, Nathan Jones, Timothy Jones, Adela Levine, Charles Levine, Peter MacIntosh, Georgia McIntyre, Philip McNulty, Alexander Nankin, Vera O’Loughlin, Richard Rogers, Randolph Spirnak, Jerry Teitelbaum, and Sharon Zoltanovsky.”

“My mother was friends with a Mrs. Nankin on onea the lower floors, but I don’t remember if I personally knew that family. The only name on that list that rings a bell is Spirnak, who moved in across the hall from us that May. He had a daughter Julie who’d just turned eight. Spirnak sold drugs as his full-time job. My parents and I became somea his best clients. There was no Mrs. Spirnak, since they’d divorced a couple of years prior. That bitch tried to tell the cops and lawyers he was doing degenerate things to their daughter, but we all know how girls and women make stuff up when they’re desperate for attention or trying to get people to take their side. The girl, Julie, disappeared not that long after they moved in, and I have no idea where she went to. Why, are these people the ones who are charging me for accidentally burning down the building?”

“No, they can’t do anything now, because they are all dead.  Most of them were found dead when the firemen arrived too late to save the building or anyone inside, and Mrs. O’Loughlin, Mr. MacIntosh, and Miss Lisa Jones, who was only nine years old, died shortly thereafter in the hospital of their injuries.  Do you feel any remorse, now that you’ve learnt the names attached to the people who died in the fire you started?”

“Why should I feel bad for something that I didn’t do on purpose?  I ain’t some pansy like my brother Allen, who was pathetic enough to quit all drugs, alcohol, and even cigarettes, and who don’t mind being surrounded by more girls than guys.”

The prosecuting attorney smirks and turns to the defense. “Mr. Hoffman, would you like to cross-examine this hapless witness?”

Carlos’s lawyer feels like throwing his hands up. “No, that’s fine.  I don’t think my client will be able to get out of the hole he’s just dug for himself no matter what I ask him.”

Mrs. Troy looks like she wants to murder Carlos as he wheels himself off of the witness stand.  Mr. Troy has to suppress the urge to reach out and smack his firstborn son upside the head.  Just about the only thing a poor family can claim to be proud of is its name, and now they probably don’t even have any name left after Carlos has cavalierly admitted in court to using and selling drugs, stealing at work, and starting a fire.

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Unexpected Neighbors

Here’s another post originally intended for the long-gone Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop, which I wanted to move out of my drafts folder already. Originally scheduled for 8 September 2012, it differs somewhat from the published version.

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This week’s excerpt is the point where I’ll be ending my excerpts from Little Ragdoll, since if I went much further, it would give too much away. In the future, I may feature some excerpts from earlier in the book, or some future excerpts that don’t give anything vital away.

In Chapter 52, “Unexpected Neighbors,” Justine says she notices the next door neighbors finally pulled into their driveway last night. As she and Adicia are wondering who their neighbors on the end of the cul-de-sac might be, the doorbell rings, and everyone gets a shock in more ways than one.

Thank you all so much for your kind, encouraging comments on Little Ragdoll and its characters! I’m so glad I finally went back to this long-hiatused story from scratch and memory 16.5 years later. The way it ultimately turned out was a story I couldn’t have written at 13-14, when I was working on the (beyond-awful) discontinued original first draft.

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Adicia opens the door and takes several steps back in astonishment.  Allen, a very pregnant Lenore, and their two daughters are standing right in front of her, all of them looking just as stunned.

“What in the world!” Allen says. “What in the world are you doing in the house next door to us?”

“We didn’t even know you’d come up here!” Lenore agrees. “Did you come by while we were on vacation at Lake George?”

Justine hears their familiar voices and rushes over. “You live in our new neighborhood?”

Lenore hugs both of them. “However you came to be here, I’m so glad to see you’re safe and sound.  And you came in time for my baby to be born.  It’s due in September.”

Allen turns around and looks at the dark red Super Beetle in the driveway. “Adicia, when did you learn to drive, and where did you get the money to buy or lease a car?”

“I haven’t learnt to drive yet.  I’ve been waiting to find a teacher who’ll come to the house, or for you or Lucine to come back from vacation so I can start learning.”

“So then how and why did you get a car?  Am I about to hear something that’ll make me very upset?  And how did you know Lucine’s on vacation?  Did you run into her and she never told us in the few days our vacations overlapped?”

“How did you get such a nice house?” Lenore asks. “Are you renting a room here?  Don’t tell me you took up squatting.”

“The house is paid for in full, as is the car,” Adicia says.

“Where in the world did that kinda money come from?” Allen asks. “Boy, I never expected to come back from my summer vacation at the lake to find my youngest sisters moved into the house next door.  Is this legit money you used to pay for all this?  This furniture I’m seeing just in the living room doesn’t look cheap either.”

“I have enough money in my bank account to afford to live comfortably for awhile to come.  There’s plenty of money in there for Justine too.”

“Since when did you get a bank account?  And how in the world did you already manage to stash so much dough in there that you’d be able to support yourselves long-term?  Who gave you that kinda money?  Is this clean money?  Who’s your sugar daddy?”

“I don’t have a sugar daddy.  I’m not that kinda girl.”

“Why don’t we sit down so we can catch up?” Lenore asks. “We came over here to meet the new neighbors, and even if we already know them, we can still have a proper visit.”

“Would you like something to eat or drink?”

“No, we’re fine.” Lenore sits down on the overstuffed brown leather davenport. “Nice furniture.  I wish we had leather upholstery.”

Irene crawls onto Adicia’s lap and smiles up at her aunt. “We missed you.  You missed my fifth birthday last month, but you won’t miss my first day of school.”

Amelia is captivated by the sparkly sapphire on her aunt’s left hand and pulls her hand closer to her face. “Your ring is pretty.”

“Do you like my other ring too, the one with the flowers?” Adicia asks.

Allen stares at Adicia’s rings and grabs her hand away from Amelia so he can examine the rings himself. “Who’s been giving you this kinda expensive jewelry, Adicia?  I have a sick feeling in my stomach that this has something to do with that rich boy Warrick, and if you tell me he’s the one who’s been plying you with money, houses, cars, jewelry, and other expensive presents, you’ll have a hell of a time convincing me not to go give him a piece of my mind for using you like that.  You’re a respectable girl from a poor and working-class community, not some kept woman to be kept in a gilded cage for the entertainment of some limousine liberal who was born with a diamond-encrusted silver spoon in his mouth.”

“You can’t do or say anything to Ricky right now, since he left on Thursday morning for boot camp.  They drafted him, and he’s being forced to go to Vietnam.  His number was eighty-eight, and since he withdrew from Columbia, he lost his student deferment.” Adicia looks down, overcome by sorrow at having lost her husband so soon.

“Wait, that guy was living with you?  And Justine was here in the house too?  Please do not tell me you did anything with him.”

“He was drafted?” Lenore asks. “Come over here and sit by me, sweetie.”

Adicia gently pulls Irene off her lap and goes over to Lenore, leaning against her as Lenore puts her arm around her and gives Allen a dirty look.

Mr. and Mrs. Carson Return

This post was originally scheduled for 11 August 2012, another of the posts intended for the long-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It comes from my published book Little Ragdoll, in a scene set in July 1972. It differs a bit from the published version.

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This week’s excerpt takes place the day after Justine’s arrival in Hudson Falls. Ricky’s parents are back from their week-long vacation in the Hamptons, and are scandalized at what’s happened in their absence. They’ve arrived with a bunch of mail that came for Ricky and the news that Mrs. Troy is pressing charges against Seth for his breaking and entering and attempted assault of Adicia’s brother Tommy. Then they start running their mouths against Adicia, her family, and her marriage to their son, not expecting anyone will talk back to them.

Justine’s second line was taken from the Laurel and Hardy short Tit for Tat (1934), one of the ones I practically know by heart. Stan and Ollie are having a store war with their neighbor and enemy Mr. Hall, and when a cop finally intervenes, the boys tell him Mr. Hall started it by slandering Ollie’s character and jilting his good name.

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“My sister is a great person,” Justine says. “How dare you slander her character and jilt her good name!  And I were you, Mrs. Carson, I wouldn’t be the first to throw stones at anyone.  Just lookit that dumb hat you’re wearing.  Who mixes up tiny lightbulbs, Russian nesting dolls, parrot feathers, and jumping jacks all on the same hat?”

“Shut up, you insolent child.  Apparently no one ever taught you not to talk back to your elders or betters.”

“If you talk to either my wife or my sister-in-law so disrespectfully again, I’m going to throw you out of our house right away,” Ricky says. “In fact, I’ve half a mind to throw both of you out right now.  Obviously you can’t say anything nice or constructive.”

“Why are you even here?” Adicia asks. “This is our home.  We don’t want you in it.  Your son made a choice to marry me, and he’s been a very good husband to me in the six days we’ve been married.  He’s done more to take care of me and protect me than a lot of husbands do in six years of marriage.”

Mr. Carson grabs Adicia’s hand and examines her rings. “Sapphire and diamonds for an engagement ring, with a white gold band, and gold and silver with diamonds for a wedding ring.  I’m scandalized you spent so much money on wedding jewelry for this whore, Warrick.  Knowing girls of her ilk, she’ll probably lose both, or damage them beyond repair.  Fine jewelry wasn’t meant for common street girls.  It was designed only to grace the perfect hands of upper-class ladies.”

Mrs. Carson bursts out laughing. “What kind of childish wedding ring is that?  Three little flowers with diamonds in the center?  How old are you, little girl, twelve?  You certainly don’t look eighteen.”

“You’re living in a dreamworld if you think you’re going to stay married to Warrick and live happily ever after.  He’s coming with us, back to the city, and is going to be re-enrolled at Columbia.  If this house is already paid for in full, you and that urchin sister of yours can have fun making it into a pigsty by yourselves.  Thank God my son didn’t consummate the marriage yet, since it would ruin his good name if he were tied to a street girl forever by a child.  Warrick, we’re going to wait for you to pack up your things and join us.  You’re going to leave these two ragamuffins behind and forget this past week ever happened.  Miss Troy, I hope you had your fun pretending to be married and getting a taste of the moneyed world, a world you don’t deserve, while it lasted.”

“Where did you buy the wedding ring?” Mrs. Carson is still examining it. “Certainly not at a proper store like DeBeers, where they sell only quality rings.”

“Mother, please take your hands off my wife,” Ricky orders. “And they’re called plumeria flowers, from Hawaii.  Adicia wanted this ring more than any other.  It’s what made her happy.  A plain gold band wouldn’t reflect her specialness.  Her wedding ring is cute and not like every other ring.”

“We got it at Macy’s,” Adicia says in a small voice.

“Why are you being so mean to my sister?” Justine demands. “She never did anything bad to you.  She’s the best big sister I ever coulda asked for.  Adicia would give me the moon if I asked for it, ‘cause that’s the kinda big sister she is.  And Ricky’s the best brother-in-law ever.”

“Oh, nonsense.  Poor trash like you don’t even have feelings.  You’re just like rats or fleas.  Warrick, I won’t ask again for you to collect your things and come with us.  Leave the house and everything else to the ragged poor girls.”

“You wouldn’t dare choose Miss Troy and her pathetic sister over your own parents, the family wealth, and your reputation, would you?”

“Please show my wife the proper respect due to her and use the correct title.  Adicia is Mrs. Carson now, no longer Miss Troy.”

The senior Mrs. Carson laughs. “Do you really think a slum-dwelling piece of trash and street whore like that deserves or knows what to do with the title Mrs. Warrick Grover Carson?”

Ricky goes over to the door, pulls it open, and points outside. “Get out of my house.  I’m done with yous guys forever.  Never try to contact me again.  You oughta be ashamed of yourselves for the cruel, appalling way you’ve spoken to my beautiful bride and her darling baby sister.  It’s nice to know you think a girl who’s been raped on two different occasions is a whore.  If Adicia and I have kids eventually, you will never know them.  Get out of our house before I call the cops.”

“You’re starting to talk like them!” Mr. Carson says in disgust. “Before we moved from Syracuse and you started hanging around with social undesirables, you never had the term ‘yous guys’ in your vocabulary!”

“Get out of my house,” Adicia orders. “Ricky is my husband now, no longer your little boy you get to boss around and control.  We’ve chosen this life for ourselves, whether you like it or not.  We don’t need your blessings or approval to continue our marriage of convenience.”

“You heard my wife,” Ricky nods. “Go back to the city and leave us alone forever.  You took a trip up here for nothing.”

“Don’t let the door hit yous on the way out!” Justine catcalls as they turn around and storm out.

Adicia goes over to the front windows to watch them getting in their extravagant luxury sports car and starting to back up out of the driveway.  She hopes they get into an accident after how they spoke to her and Justine.

Lessons learnt from post-publication polishing, Part IV

I didn’t expect to write a Part IV to this series over a year and a half later, but the topic just seemed right to continue.

I had to go through the four manuscripts I’m prepping for print editions, and it was a powerful reminder of how far I’ve come in my development as a writer, even in the last 5–10 years. We should all always endeavour to become better at our craft. If we’re still writing exactly the way we did at earlier stages, and see nothing wrong with that bygone style, something’s very wrong.

As I mentioned in the earlier installments of this series, I definitely would’ve written Little Ragdoll much differently were I only going back from scratch and memory now. It’s much more telly or omniscient, in a number of spots, than my writing has evolved into since.

But I really do feel it ultimately works with the type of story it is, esp. since one of its strongest inspirations is the 19th and early 20th century Five Little Peppers series. It also reads like a 1960s version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (which I hadn’t yet read when I wrote this book). Hardly books with a modern narrative style.

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At the time I turned my long short story/piece of backstory about Jakob DeJonghe and Rachel Roggenfelder into two full-length novels, I fully intended to query them. I deliberately wrote the first volume as YA, albeit mature upper YA. Hence, the fade to black in the wedding night scene (though they remain technical virgins to avoid creating a potential half-orphan).

Were I writing that book as adult lit that just happens to feature someone who ages from 14–20, I would’ve made it much longer, by at least 50K. I would’ve added a lot more chapters, or made the existing ones much longer and more detailed.

I’d also expand certain wraparound narrative segments into active scenes, just as I would’ve done with many of those kinds of passages in LR. While the estimated 125K is on the short side by my standards, it’s towards the upper limit of traditionally published YA in the modern era. That was as short and sweet as I could make it.

Likewise, the sequel also could’ve been much longer than only 104K. I could’ve easily planned for many more chapters, or made the existing chapters longer. But the focus is on a single young couple and their first true year as husband and wife, not a bunch of competing subplots with my Atlantic City characters.

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Things I never thought I’d admit: My ingrained habit of putting two spaces after a period (except for blog posts), when combined with justified text and Baskerville typeface, can create a number of unsightly, disproportionate gaps. I’ll continue typing the way I was taught, but when it comes time to format a manuscript for print, I’ll do a find/change.

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I don’t regret at all the post-publication polishing and light revising I did of LR early last year. That book truly needed it, and became stronger as a result. But there are many things about the inherent voice and style I can’t change so much time after writing it, without the entire structure collapsing.

Indie authors can do whatever they want with their own work, but there needs to come a time when one steps back and recognises a book is the strongest, most perfect it’ll ever get. What’s more important, going back again and again to revise or rewrite already-published books, or spending that time on writing new books where you no longer make those mistakes?

I learnt from my mistakes, and recognise them when I see them in older books. It doesn’t mean those previous books are inferior or poorly-written because they have, e.g., a lot of adverbs or some telly spots. It just means I wrote them at an earlier stage of my life.

IWSG—Exhausted

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

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:

What pitfalls would you warn other writers to avoid on their publication journey?

Don’t jump into querying or publication too soon, or declare you’re done editing and revising too soon. I cringe when I see a hit to a post from 2011 or 2012, naïvely declaring I think I’m done editing something that was nowhere near done, or talking about querying the wrong agents or after barely any revising.

Think of it like slowly savouring gourmet chocolate vs. uncouthly gobbling a cheap cookie. You should never rush anything important.

Also, stay true to your own voice and style.

I’m so damn exhausted after preparing four of my five books for print editions! IngramSpark had free title setup during July, to mark their fifth anniversary, but scheduled 26 hours of system maintenance to begin 8:00 PM Central Time on the 31st. I barely made it under the wire!

IS has a very steep learning curve, though I don’t regret going with them over CreateSpace. IS has greater reach, being taken more seriously, and a higher maximum page count. But damn, was that a lot of hard work!

I chose not to put up Swan because it needs a revamped cover and light tweaking.

I’m really grateful my father provided so much help with my cover templates.

I’ve yet to check proofs, but after all the time I spent with these files, I doubt I left any typos or other little mistakes. I went back through my two books about Jakob and Rachel, and only had to do minor tweaking (mostly rooting out overused words and unnecessary pluperfect, esp. in the first book). I also specified Jakob’s father was buried in a copper coffin, to explain how he wasn’t in an unrecognisable state of decay after almost five years.

There were unfortunate errors with my revamped cover for LR, so I had to get a third cover. My revamped cover remains for the e-book, but it didn’t have enough pixels for good rescaling. It pulled pixels from other things, creating a muddied, fuzzy look. The artist also no longer has either the physical artwork or a digital copy.

I went with 6×9 trim for everything but my alternative history, which is 7×10. At 6×9, the page count was just too high for IS parameters. I figured 7×10 was a workable compromise. It’s not a standard size, but not wildly unheard-of either. As someone who reads many saga-length books, I’m cognizant of how page size translates to comfortable, long-term readability and ease of holding.

As I mentioned in several previous posts, once I’ve earned enough from my alternative history, I’ll use some of the money to make donations to the Hemophilia Federation of America and National Hemophilia Foundation, in memory of Aleksey. I didn’t write that book for myself.

When I break even with Little Ragdoll, I’ll use some of that money for a donation to The Bowery mission, which appears several times in the book. I most need to make back this $200:

I won Camp NaNo with a mix of my alternative history, my minor edits on the other books, blog posts, and A Dream Deferred. My goal was only 20K, and I knew I wouldn’t have a giant wordcount due to the timing.

Oh, and my trackpad quit working. At this point, my 11-year-old backup computer is in better shape than this one! My father gave me an external mouse he no longer needs. In addition to that, I enabled touch-clicking.

I’m still interested in doing guest posts to promote my alternative history!