Top Ten Tuesday—Books with sensory reading memories

Top Ten Tuesday, formerly hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is Books with Sensory Reading Memories (i.e., linked to very specific memories).

1. The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse. I was reading this when my family left NY in August ’96, and it went into storage at my maternal grandparents’ house with almost everything else we owned. When I picked it back up in 2003 or 2004, I kept the bookmark in the place it’d been all those years ago, as a reminder of that depressing time.

Interestingly, that bookmark is one I left in a library book about Tad Lincoln, and got back when I checked the book out of the library again at thirteen. I knew that was my bookmark, and no one had taken it in all those years!

2. The Tao Te Ching, Lao-Tzu (Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English translation). This was one of the few things I had during my junior year of high school, 1996–97, while we lived with my paternal grandparents. My relationship with that book of ancient Chinese wisdom was forged in fire. It got me through a lot of tough times. Just smelling the pages takes me back to that dark period.

3. Anything by Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, my favourite writer and one of my heroes. Each and every book, story collection, play, or prose poem takes me back to the time I first read it.

4. The Play of God, Devi Vanimali. I read this beautiful book about Lord Krishna in summer 2002, while my parents and little brother were at Cape Cod. I was sick to death of that place, and decided to stay home. It was so hot, I had to go into my parents’ room for the AC unit at night. We didn’t have central AC.

5. The Lives of John Lennon, Albert Goldman. This book is absolute garbage, but I have so many memories of being a naïve 14-year-old who believed everything she read, and eating this crap up every time I went to a library or bookstore, until I finally checked it out in late ’94 to finish reading it at my own leisure.

6. Upon the Head of the Goat, Aranka Siegal. Not only was this the book that started my Magyarphilia, but it was one of the books I read that spring of ’95 that awakened my Jewish soul. When Piri and Iboya are being threatened by anti-Semitic bullies, I felt afraid and threatened myself.

7. Pretty much any book I read during the 11 months I couldn’t walk, from August 2003–July 2004. How could one not remember being so immobile and helpless?

8. Related to #1, pretty much everything by Hermann Hesse. I have so many memories of the first time I read each of his books, starting with Demian at age 14–15. He was the first real adult author I read, and became my next-fave writer.

9. Beatlesongs, William Dowlding. My receipt from June ’94 is still in it. That was a very happy trip to Borders. A TV in another room upstairs was playing Help!

10. Isabella: From Auschwitz to Freedom, by Isabella Leitner (originally published in two volumes, Fragments of Isabella and Saving the Fragments). Hands-down the most haunting, memorable book I’ve ever read. It was only upon rereading it as an adult that I realised how sparse the supporting details and backstory are. It’s driven by emotions, this story of four (later, sadly, three) sisters who survived for one another, because of one another.

I’ve since listened to, watched, and read a number of interviews with Isabella and her surviving siblings (now all deceased). They filled in so many blanks I was curious about, and often left me wondering why some pretty important details were omitted, like the fact that there were twin boys who died at eight months, not just five sisters and a token brother.


Top Ten Tuesday—Fave Book Quotes

Top Ten Tuesday, formerly hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is favourite book quotes.

1. Just about anything from Monsieur l’Abbé T. in Thérèse Philosophe. This radical priest is on fire every time he opens his mouth! Lines like:

“Everyone agrees that God knows what will occur throughout eternity. But, they say, even before he knows what the results of our actions will be, he has foreseen that we will betray his grace and commit these same acts. Thus, with this foreknowledge, God, in creating us, knew in advance that we would be eternally damned and eternally miserable.”

2. Pistorius in Hermann Hesse’s Demian. “Don’t talk shit, man! One doesn’t hear of Abraxas by accident!”

3. “Pablo would be waiting for me, and Mozart too.” (Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf.)

4. “(I still have that suitcase, and even now when I chance to come upon it, I run my fingers around the hole torn in it. It is a wound which cannot heal as wounds heal on bodies or on hearts. Things have longer memories than people.)”—Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (may his memory be for a blessing), Volume II of The GULAG Archipelago.

5. “Rosy-fingered Eos, mentioned so often in Homer and called Aurora by the Romans, caressed, too, with those fingers the first early morning of the Archipelago.”—Ibid.

6. “To taste the sea all one needs is one gulp.”—Ibid.

7. “Mama, I make this vow to you:  I will teach my sons to love life, respect man, and hate only one thing—WAR.”—Isabella Leitner, Fragments of Isabella.

8. “….You can rarely decide for another that he or she should not do this or that. How can anyone forbid you to love when Christ said that there is nothing higher than love? And he made no exceptions, for love of any kind whatsoever.”—Aleksandr Isayevich, November 1916.

9. “The voice lost in a faraway village church had found me again and filled the whole room. I spoke loudly and incessantly like the peasants and then like the city folk, as fast as I could, enraptured by the sounds that were heavy with meaning, as wet snow is heavy with water, convincing myself again and again and again that speech was now mine and that it did not intend to escape through the door which opened onto the balcony.”—The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski.

10. Last but not least, my love Dante:

Midway life’s journey I was made aware
That I had strayed into a dark forest,
And the right path appeared not anywhere.
Ah, tongue cannot describe how it oppressed,
This wood, so harsh, dismal, and wild, that fear
At thought of it strikes now into my breast.
So bitter it is, death is scarce bitterer.
But, for the good it was my hap to find,
I speak of the other things that I saw there.
I cannot remember well in my mind
How I came thither, so was I immersed
In sleep, when the true way I left behind.

2015 in review, Part II (Writing and life)

My biggest writing accomplishment this year was finally finishing the first draft of Journey Through a Dark Forest on 13 March. I still can’t believe it ended up at 891K, when my guesstimate going in was only 500K. Thankfully, it beautifully worked out so each of the four Parts reads like its own self-contained story, with a focus on different characters and storylines. If I had to, I could put it out as four volumes, making clear this is one book instead of four different books. After the first edit, it now stands at 876K.


This was such an amazingly beautiful sight. I was starting to feel a bit under the weather when I finished, so I waited until the 19th to reward myself with my third lobe piercings. This was my first ear piercing with needles instead of that disgusting, dangerous mall gun, and the long, slow healing process has been completely worth it. After the traumatic experience with my seconds, this was so healing. I’d still like a fourth lobe piercing on my left ear (the bigger ear), but I’m going to wait awhile given how long it’s taken to fully heal my thirds.


I really couldn’t have done this without my soundtrack! I always give credit where credit is due, particularly since I’ve been out of the closet as a Duranie for so long now. What finally pushed me out of the closet during 2012 was my realization that there were so many parallels between Duran Duran and The Monkees, my first musical love. I always defend The Monkees when haters deride them as not a real band and accuse their fans of being nothing but overgrown teenyboppers, so why should this be any different?


The next big thing was completing what turned out to be the penultimate major edit of the book formerly known as The Very First, doing a near-complete rewrite and restructuring of the book formerly known as The Very Next, and getting a bit over the halfway point in the major rewrite and restructuring of the book formerly known as The Very Last.

I realized better late than never that TVF didn’t have a chapter about the famous (if overhyped) War of the Worlds scare, and so I began a new chapter between the chapters about Violet’s birthday and Halloween. Yes, the true extent of the scare has been much overhyped in the decades since, but many people really were terrified, and it was a very real fear based on the overall foreboding atmosphere of the times. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re writing a book set during 1938, you should include that in at least some way, just as it’s a pretty big omission to not mention the influenza pandemic in a book set during 1918–20.

I took TVN from a 24,000-word unstructured hot mess to an actual novel-length story of 75,000 words. That’s kind of on the long side for one of my Atlantic City books and typically a sign of being overwritten, but in this case, the length works beautifully for the story it became. It’s still a largely episodic story, with an ensemble cast, but now it’s more focused on the right characters and storylines, with an actual arc and structure. Maybe 20%, if that, of the original material remains. Creating the third draft really was like writing the book all over again.

TVL started out as about 36,000 words, and is currently up to almost 65,000. Though it’s still been given the radical rewriting and restructuring the other two books got, I have relatively less work to do with this one. Of all four prequel books, it by far has the strongest writing and most focused storylines, and was the volume I had the most fun writing. When I get back to it, my guesstimate is around 100K, perhaps shorter, depending upon how many new words need put in vs. how much original clutter needs taken out or radically rewritten.


I did a few more edits and polishings of The Twelfth Time, and brought it down to 398K so far. This is a huge accomplishment, since I started out thinking I’d bring it from 406K to 400K. I also did some unexpected revising (nothing too major) of You Cannot Kill a Swan for its third edition. Once I get a revamped cover for a fourth edition, I’m hoping to do some kind of belated book tour and better marketing.

I started my fourth volume with my Russian characters, A Dream Deferred, and it currently sits at around 80K. Surprisingly, some of the chapters have been below my normal standards for short in my Russian historicals, coming in at the 2,000/3,000 range instead of the 4,000/5,000 range I consider short for these books.

I did a lot of work on my alternative history, and it’s approaching the 175K mark. Most of what I have left to do are a few more chapters (including some unfinished ones I left to get back to) in Parts II and III, and the majority of Part IV.

I did a minor, final edit of And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth, which I’m planning to release early in 2016.


I finally got back into two of my hiatused hobbies, silent film and body modification. I really have no excuse for why I went so long without actively pursuing my love of silent cinema, except that I got into a bad habit thanks to my ex hijacking my Netflix queue and bumping down all the classic films I’d added long before I was involved with him. I also don’t have cable anymore, so I can’t watch the silents TCM shows. The list crawled along for the last few years, and in this year, it’s jumped from 931 to 999. Onwards and upwards to my long-awaited milestone of 1,000 silent films!

After getting my third lobes on 19 March, I got my left rook done on 14 August, my right conch done on 30 September, and my navel done on 24 November. I have an appointment for lucky #11 on 5 January, for something I’ve wanted since I was 17 or 18. If I’m not anatomically suited to this piercing, I’ll get my tragus done instead.

29 December made it 20 years since I discovered my favoritest writer, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn! May his beautiful memory be for an eternal blessing, and may his amazing soul rest in peace.

2015 marked 15 years since I became a serious Who fan and declared them as my favoritest band. I’m still proud to be a Who Rottweiler, the nickname Pete gave to the female fans. This year also was my baby Kalanit (my spider plant)’s 15th birthday.

RSW Seventh Update


Ready. Set. Write! is a summer-long initiative hosted by Alison MillerKaty UppermanElodie NowodazkijJaime Morrow, and Erin Funk. Each week, participants post brief updates under five headings.

  • How I did on last week’s goal(s)

To get my word count flowing thicker and faster to meet my Camp NaNo goal of 50K, I had to go back to writing out of order. I started the week below par, since I lose pretty much all of Saturday for writing this time of year, when the days are so long and Shabbos doesn’t end till really late.

I wrote 16,000 words, including the backbone of my future note on the House Laws, as part of the document Aleksey writes to liberally revise the House Laws.

  • My goal(s) for this week

Finish the 50K goal I set for Camp NaNo! As of now, the sections of this book which need the most filling-out are Part II (about halfway done) and Part IV (only a few chapters partly-written). I also need to fill in a few spots in the short Epilogue, which is based on Deuteronomy 34, the final chapter of the Torah. Every year at Simchat Torah, that finale gives me goosebumps. Longtime regular readers might remember I based the ending of Cinnimin on Deuteronomy 34.

  • A favorite line from my story OR a word or phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised

“I wouldn’t make you walk that distance if I didn’t think you could do it.  We never really understand what we’re capable of till we’re right there in the moment.  The bounds of a human being are something we can never really comprehend, no matter how much we’re astounded by them.”

(This is based off a line from the late great Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, “The bounds of a human being! No matter how you are astounded by them, you can never comprehend….”)

  • The biggest challenge I faced this week

Surprisingly, I had another moment of doubt in having created Arkadiya, the morganatic princess who becomes Tsaritsa and the much-improved replacement for the ridiculous, unrealistic, completely undeveloped commoner Varya. It really does seem as though Princess Ileana of Romania would’ve been the ideal empress-consort for Aleksey, since not only was she already Orthodox, but she was a woman of great strength and compassion. (Princess Ingrid of Sweden, later Queen of Denmark, would’ve been another excellent match.)

I have to remind myself of why I avoided this match. They were second-cousins twice over (sharing both Tsar Aleksandr II and Queen Victoria as great-grandparents), and this what-if match is so popular, it’s kind of cliché and too expected. I think some of it stems from how he told her he’d come back and marry her someday, as though a 9-year-old’s childish promise should’ve been taken seriously.


Aleksey, Ileana, and Prince Nicolae of Romania (from right to left) on the Shtandart yacht in 1914, one of the few pictures where Aleksey is smiling enough to show the gap between his front teeth. He was clearly enjoying the female attention!

I also had a challenge on my secondary blog, and finally decided I had to blacklist the IP and URL of someone who persistently only commented to make negative, rude remarks. Everything was either “That’s not what this name really means” (she doesn’t trust the venerable Behind the Name, and thinks Mike C. doesn’t cite his sources) or “You do realize [opinion] is ridiculous, don’t you?” I just couldn’t take it anymore after the latest rude remark which brushed off the entire post I’d taken the time and effort to intelligently, respectfully create, about my distaste with “translating” proper names. There’s constructive criticism and politely disagreeing, and then there’s just being blunt, rude, and never positive.

  • Something I love about my WIP

I love a good dark horse hero, and the chance to make a hero out of an underdog with so much going against him. I love how the eventual leading lady also is an atypical hero. An unlikely Tsar needs an unlikely Tsaritsa.

Top Ten Tuesday—Top Ten Book-Related Problems I Have

Top 10 Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly feature of The Broke and the Bookish. A full list of instructions and future themes can be found here. This week’s topic is Top Ten Book-Related Problems I Have.

1. I’ll never have enough bookmarks!

2. Not enough time to finish or get to all those enticing library books, even with maximum renewals. It doesn’t help matters that one of the local libraries, which I prefer out of all the local libraries due to its awesome upper level with peaceful carrels, only loans for three weeks at one time, not four like the other libraries.

3. Not everything I want to read has been translated. I recently read an interview with Ignat Solzhenitsyn (who rather resembles his famous father apart from not being a redhead), in which he said there aren’t any immediate plans to translate the rest of his father’s books into English. This includes the second half of his massive Red Wheel saga, March 1917 and April 1917. There’s not enough of an audience anymore, as evidenced by the lacklustre sales of November 1916 and the unexpurgated The First Circle.

4. Forgetting about library books till I have no more renewals.

5. Those times I forget about due dates and end up having to return them late and pay a small fine.

6. None of the local libraries having a book I really want to read.

7. Out of print books only being available for unrealistically high prices.

8. Not having enough time to read all of a book I checked out for historical research. I’ve gotten out so many library books to research things for my writing, like D-Day, the Pacific Theatre in WWII, Americans in concentration-camps, polio, and fashions of the various decades of the 20th century, only to not have time to read everything. They looked so tempting, but I only read or skimmed the relevant parts and put off reading the whole book for later.

9. All the long-unread books on my shelves.

10. Not having an entire huge room for a library. Should I ever have a mansion, I’m so going to have a real library, with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of the finest wood, luxurious carpets, comfy chairs, tables, artwork on the walls, a fireplace, and even one of those trick shelves that reveals a secret room or at least another side with even more books. My character Kit Green’s father has just such a trick shelf in his library, to hide all his Jewish books and other evidence of his birth identity as Filip Alekseyevich Greenblatt, until his middle daughter Lovella discovers the family secret and he has to hide the books elsewhere.