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.

Kolyma vs. Archipelago


(This formed the long middle section of my old Angelfire review of Kolyma Tales. It examines in-depth the differences between Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov and Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn’s depictions of GULAG.)

Shalámov’s wood-cutting partner Garkunov is murdered for his good white sweater in a game of cards, and his only reaction is “Oh well, guess I’ll have to get a new wood-cutting partner.” Compared to how A.I. was very upset when Borís Gammerov and Zhora Ingal, his friends whom he arrived at his first camp with, died soon after their arrival. He even wanted to mark their graves with some of the poetry they had composed during their too-short lifetimes instead of just moving on to find new friends or work partners.

There’s a cat wandering about the hospital in One Day; all the animals in Shalámov’s Hell are eventually killed for their meat and fur. They don’t care that the dog or cat was being friendly with them moments before; they murder these poor defenceless creatures to have meat and warm mittens.

Some things are questionable, though. Shalámov tries to prove, in story after story, that the Medical Section were guardian angels, and were truly looking out for these unfortunates. Granted, his life was saved twice by the Medical Section, but it’s well-known that a lot of camp doctors and medical personnel were first-rate [scumbags] who sent plenty of people to their deaths, through signing death sentences or sending them back out to work in the cold while deathly ill. Just because he had two great life-saving experiences doesn’t mean the majority of camp doctors were these wonderfully beneficent people. Evidence shows they weren’t.

Very questionable is the claim that most women were prostitutes. Women in Kolyma were rare, and you’re telling me that of that small minority, the majority were hookers? Yes, prostitution was declared a crime, and women who were caught were sent to prison and camps, but that doesn’t mean the majority of zechki were hookers! The great majority of the prisoner were “politicals,” convicted under the infamous Article 58, not career criminals or thieves.

It’s true that when women arrived, the trusties looked them over and propositioned their favourites. If the woman knew what was good for her, she agreed to it for better living conditions and treatment. But not all women decided to sleep with the trusties. They weren’t forced to do anything. I have no doubt that a lot of the real criminals did have mistresses, but Shalámov claims they were prostitutes, and were often traded off to new criminal owners. He claims that a criminal could sleep with any woman, but a female criminal (of which there weren’t very many) would be shunned if she slept with a non-criminal.

There were a lot of camp romances and even “camp spouses,” but that was voluntary. The criminals were complete [scumbags] and very sadistic, but I don’t think they treated women the way Shalámov describes. Since women were so rare in Kolyma, they were usually raped, so I don’t doubt his assertion that rapes and gang-rapes were common. It was in Kolyma, in fact, that the term “streetcar” to describe gang-rape originated.

It’s probably true that most of the career criminals wanted their sons to follow in their footsteps, but is it really true that they wanted their daughters to be prostitutes, and if they wouldn’t be, they shunned or beat them? In Archipelago, A.I. barely mentions homosexual activity. Some of the thieves did keep young boys for the purposes of pederasty, but I doubt it was that widespread as Shalámov claims, nor that the thieves also would rape little girls, sometimes as young as three.

Lesbianism also arose among the zechki, when they were in a female-only camp and were very lonely and hungry for love. That’s about the only times homosexuality gets mentioned there, and even then not much space is devoted to mentioning these occasional instances. Shalámov claims most of the criminals were gay, and that they went by girly nicknames without shame and had feminine voices to boot.

In his long chapter on the thieves, A.I. never even mentions what Shalámov claims was widespread, that the criminals had sex with one another and gave everyone venereal diseases. There were some camps with many cases of venereal diseases, but that doesn’t mean every single camp was that way. I have no doubt that he did experience this, but you can’t honestly take some isolated incidents in certain camps and then claim it was like that all over the Kolyma! Oh yeah, and if these guys were such flaming fruits, then why were they “married” to women and enjoying such healthy sex lives with them!?

Top Ten Tuesday—Top Ten Books That Were Hard For Me To Read


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 theme is Top Ten Books That Were Hard For Me To Read.

1. A Farewell to Arms, by the massively overrated, overhyped Ernest Hemingway. So beyond dull and uninvolving. Ever since I reposted that old review from my Angelfire site, some of the most popular search terms turning up my blog have been along the lines of “Hemingway overrated,” “Hemingway boring,” and “I hate Ernest Hemingway.” Stick to short stories, “Papa”! Your beyond-Spartan writing style reads so much better in the short form.

2. Joy in the Morning, by Betty Smith. I absolutely loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when I finally read it, and thus expected the sequel in all but name to be just as awesome. It was more like watching paint dry. Even a deliberately slower-paced, character-based book needs to be hung on some kind of plot structure! I also raged against Annie’s controlling, God-complex, patronising OB. This guy gave me the creeps.

3. The book which shall not be named. Just thinking about this massively overrated book and all the squeeing hype makes me rage. I gag every time I see/hear yet ANOTHER person squeeing all over this gimmicky crap and declaring it as such a moving, tear-jerking book. Nope, more like watching paint dry as I waited for some type of story arc to take shape. Also, I wasn’t aware foreshadowing now involved outright giving away the ending and important developments. Pardon my language, but fuck that gimmicky narrator and his endless parade of smirking spoilers and bizarre language!

4. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It was practically unreadable, due to all the slave vernacular. Major writing tip: Do NOT phonetically render accents or vernacular! It’s extremely annoying, distracting, and borderline offensive.

5. Foundation, by Isaac Asimov. I’ve loved everything else I’ve read by him, since I discovered him at age eleven in fifth grade, but I had such a hard time slogging through this, one of his most famous novels. Only Part IV was lively and exciting, and then we went right back to a bunch of talking heads and only one recurring character.

6. Das Kapital, by Karl Marx. How can anyone read this all the way through? I have the exact same reaction to what I’ve read of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. Who wants to read a long, boring economic treatise, no matter what kind of economic philosophy it espouses?

7. The Glass Bead Game, by Hermann Hesse. This was the only book by my next-fave writer I ever found boring and a chore to get through, instead of a joy and delight which sped right by. It’s like he bit off more than he could chew, both in the much longer than usual length and the writing style. I also hated the rather in media res ending, almost like he finally belatedly realised what a monster he’d created and decided to just slay it then and there. The poems and “Three Lives” stories after the main text are FAR more interesting and easier to get through. Some writers are better-suited to short novels than long sagas, and Hesse was one of them.

8. November 1916, by Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, of blessèd memory. I’m glad my favouritest writer lived long enough to finish his massive Red Wheel saga, four historical novels about the course of Russian history in 1914, 1916, and 1917, but damn, if these books aren’t difficult to slog through. I’m down with large ensemble casts, since I use them myself, but there are way too many characters for even me to keep track of. The book is also interrupted by six long research papers, like showing off the massive research he did for these books. Only the last two research papers, the Duma transcripts, are halfway interesting and relate to the actual novel narrative.

However, it was more than worth it to get to the ending, one of the most beautiful, unforgettable endings I’ve ever read: “….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.”

9. Just about anything by the late fraud Beatrice Sparks. I would only recommend her poorly-written crap as a quintessential example of how NOT to write YA, or a book in journal format!

10. Coming Home: A Woman’s Story Of Conversion To Judaism, by Linda Shires. Like watching paint dry. Most boring, off-topic conversion memoir I’ve ever read, and I’ve read quite a few.