Happy release day to Journey Through a Dark Forest, and happy 100th birthday to Aleksandr Isayevich!

                          

                          

With gratitude to Hashem, I announce the long-overdue release of my third Russian historical, Journey Through a Dark Forest: Lyuba and Ivan in the Age of Anxiety. I planned and plotted it in 2001, wrote the first draft from 5 November 2012–13 March 2015, and edited, revised, and polished it from September 2015–September 2018.

Because this book ended up sprawling so much, with a lot more important characters and storylines than I’d originally envisioned, the first draft ended up 891K. My conservative initial guesstimate going in was only 500K, but the further I got into it, the more it sprawled and demanded to be the longest book I’ve written to date. I got the second draft down to 877K, and the final draft to 861K.

I thought so long and hard about how to handle its length. Chopping out over a thousand pages was always completely out of the question, since it was deliberately planned and written as a saga, with an ensemble cast, with multiple storylines, spanning fifteen and a half years. It wouldn’t be nearly the same story anymore if I removed, e.g., the Soviet characters who escape to Iran and the U.S., Inessa and Vitya’s second chance love story, or Patya and Rodya’s service in the Marines.

I considered putting it out as the one massive volume; two volumes; two volumes plus a master version; four volumes; and four volumes plus a master version. Ultimately, I decided to release it as one book in four volumes. Many great novels of yore were originally released in multiple volumes. I don’t consider Dark Forest to suddenly have become four books. It’s still one supersized book that just happens to need four volumes.

Though I needed to make four different covers, and will need to pay for four ISBNs when it comes time for print (through a legit third-party dealer, NOT price-gouging monopoly Bowker), the length is now much more manageable and realistic. Part I is 146K; Part II is 267K; Part III is 215K; and Part IV plus the Epilogue are 233K.

I had two last-minute changes I’m glad I caught in time. One involved moving the text on the first cover, so it’d match the other three in showcasing the dark forest. The other was discovering St. Paul’s Regions Hospital was called Ancker in 1948.

Today I’m featuring the synopsis of Part I. The other three will follow on succeeding days this week. Part I spans 6 January 1933–23 January 1935.

While the whole world is in the throes of one of the most concentrated periods of Sturm und Drang in recent memory, the Konevs and their friends far and wide struggle to survive and make their way back to some semblance of a peaceful, ordinary world.

Lyuba and Ivan are snowed in at their barn on Russian Christmas Eve and have a passionate encounter which creates a surprise seventh baby. Lyuba is ecstatic to be pregnant again, in spite of her history of difficult pregnancies and deliveries, but her sense of serenity and joy is soon destroyed when she suffers a near-miscarriage. She’s forced into complete bed rest and using a wheelchair in order to carry her riskiest pregnancy yet to term.

Meanwhile, Nadezhda is finally released from Siberia after her 12-year sentence runs out, and makes her way to America with Vsevolod Smirnov, the older son of the family who rescued Lyolya all those years ago. America is a dream come true for both of them, but after they come to New York from San Francisco, they’re each confronted by romantic quandaries. Nadezhda’s emotional reunion with Pavel ends in heartbreak when she sees the phony wedding ring he bought, and Vsevolod falls in love with Nadezhda’s spinster cousin Vera. Each couple needs some time to navigate the path from friends to lovers, all while hoping for a happy ever after.

And in the middle of it all, Lyuba and Ivan’s firstborn Tatyana has begun growing up and becoming a young woman. Their sweet little girl Tanyechka is now a modern American teenager who goes by Tanya. Though her increasingly apparent young womanhood disconcerts her parents, they know she can’t stay their innocent little girl forever. Everything must come to an end eventually. And sometimes, one ending starts another beginning.

I chose 11 December as my release date not only because it’s Lyuba’s birthday, but because today would’ve been the 100th birthday of my favourite writer, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn. So much of who I am as a writer, esp. in regards to how I write my Russian historicals, I owe to him. He’s always been so much more than just a favourite writer, but one of my heroes.

One of the greatest regrets of my life is never writing him a letter in all the years our lifetimes overlapped, to tell him how very, very, very much he means to me. I forever stand in awe of his courage, faith, elephantine memory, willingness to lay down his life for the sake of getting his writing out to the world.

Dedicating my first Russian historical to his memory was the least I could do in gratitude.

May your beautiful memory be an eternal blessing, Aleksandr Isayevich, and may your incredible soul rest in peace. Happy 100th birthday, wherever your soul may reside now.

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IWSG—October odds and sods

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:

How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?

I wasn’t able to do much of any writing after my car accident in 2003. It killed my momentum, and when I got back to it, the writing wasn’t as natural and passionate as what went immediately before. Something very similar happened during my depressing junior year of high school.

Writing the chapter “Halloween Wedding Gone Awry” in my hiatused WIP Justine Grown Up helped me to realise I needed to end my relationship with Sergey. If my fictional Doppelgänger Emeline could find the strength and guts to walk away, I could too.

Last month, I went through the grueling final edit/polishing of Journey Through a Dark Forest, the third book with my Russian characters. The first draft was 891K; the second draft was 877K; and the final product is 861K.

I thought very long and hard about how to deal with its release—one massive volume; four separate volumes; two volumes; four individual volumes plus a master; two volumes plus a master. For a long time, I’ve seriously considered doing four volumes, since it miraculously worked out so each Part reads much like its own self-contained story.

Part I is now 146K; Part II is 267K; Part III is 215K; and Part IV plus the Epilogue is 233K. You can see from the Wordles how different characters predominate. The one for Part I includes the front matter, which explains the inclusion of “Chapter.”

And just for fun, a Wordle for the front and back matter:

The final product, not counting front and back matter, is 2,081 pages in 6×9 trim, with 1-point leading and normal margins. Even if I shrunk the leading, kerning, and margins as much as legibly possible, it’d never fit in one massive volume. 7×10 trim would only remove a few hundred pages.

One book in four volumes it’ll have to be, which means four covers and ISBNs. I chose 11 December as the release date because that’s Lyuba’s birthday, and would’ve been the 100th birthday of my favourite writer, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn. Words can’t do justice to what a massive influence he’s had on me. One of my greatest regrets is not writing him a letter in all the years our lifetimes overlapped.

Due to changing my double-spacing to single (to remove the unexpectedly huge gaps that often created), all these books shrunk. If the page count differs from the original by more than four, the spine and thus the entire cover file needs redone.

For Lark, I added a glossary and “The Story Behind the Story,” which added back the same number of pages. For Fiend, I added the same SBTS (with a few tweaks to avoid spoilers). For LR, I added a colophon (a.k.a. “A Note About the Type”) and one of the appendices I deleted. For AAL, I added back the colophon and everyone I’d deleted from “The Real People in This Story.”

I’m once again making great progress on A Dream Deferred, though it’s become obvious it’ll need to be released in two volumes. I predict the first draft of Part I will be around 430K. During NaNo, I’ll start Part II.

I still haven’t decided on the titles for Parts I and II—Fission and Fallout, Hypocenter and Epicenter, Bright Light and Black Rain, or Pika (Flash) and Don (Boom). The Epilogue is “Red Canna Flowers,” after the miraculous flowers which started blooming ten days after Hiroshima was destroyed. They represented hope and courage to the survivors, and helped them to heal and rebuild their lives.

Copyright Rexness from Melbourne, Australia; Source Cannas

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.