Happy Purim!

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Since Purim begins this Saturday night, I thought I’d feature a Purim-themed excerpt. Chapter 3, “Happy Purim,” of the book formerly known as The Very Next, takes place on 4 March 1939 (also a Saturday). It’s interspersed with public domain photos of illuminated Megillot (scrolls of the Book of Esther) and a few vintage photographs. Sadly, it’s very hard to find vintage greeting cards for any Jewish holiday except Rosh Hashanah.

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That evening, Sparky reached into Cinni’s closet for her Purim costume, a Gypsy outfit she’d put together with Cinni’s help.  The dress was peacock-green, with long, flowing sleeves, a floor-length skirt, and a modest neckline.  To transform it from just an ordinary but fancy dress into a real costume, Sparky wrapped herself in a deep blue silk scarf, wrapped her hair in a dark orange velvet scarf, and exchanged her French hook ruby earrings for huge gold hoops she’d picked up at an indoor flea market last month.

“Now why are you perfectly okay with wearing a costume for this holiday, but you felt wrong for wearing a Halloween costume?” Cinni asked. “It’s exactly the same, just for a different holiday.”

“They’re completely different holidays,” Sparky said. “Purim is a Jewish holiday, and Halloween is a pagan holiday.  They’re celebrated for totally different reasons, and have completely different origins.  There are no Purim costumes with stuff like pumpkins, bats, spiders, and witches.  Even the treats we give out are different.”

“So you’re going trick-or-treating after you do your thing at synagogue?”

“We don’t trick-or-treat.  We exchange gift baskets with stuff like money and hamentaschen.  None of the gift baskets have stuff like chocolate bars, caramels, and whatever else you got on Halloween.”

“You get treats for doing nothing?”

“It ain’t nothing.  You wouldn’t get treats unless you were a member of the synagogue, or we knew you.  It ain’t a mitzvah to give Gentiles mishloach manot, but we’ll give you one ‘cause we love you so much.”

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Sparky finished changing into her costume and headed downstairs to join her family.  Cinni sat at the top of the stairs and watched them heading off to synagogue.  Mr. and Mrs. Small were dressed rather boringly, as an Army officer and flapper.  Cinni wondered where Mr. Small had found the vintage military uniform with all the medals and insignia.  He’d been too young to serve in the Great War, and since it was an American uniform, it obviously hadn’t belonged to any of his ancestors or older relatives.  Gary, just turned fifteen, was dressed just as boringly, as a sailor.

Of all their costumes, Cinni liked best Sparky’s Gypsy costume and Barry’s toreador costume.  It reminded her of Rudolph Valentino’s suit of lights in Blood and Sand, in one of the vintage movie advertisements of her namesake which she’d collected over the years.  If Barry were this beautiful from a distance, she could only imagine how much more dashing he’d look when he came back later tonight and she’d be able to see him up-close and from the front.

***

Cinni spent the next few hours listening to the radio and reading movie magazines, ignoring her small pile of homework.  She almost always saved homework for the very last moment, as many times as her mother begged her to do it immediately instead of the night or morning before.  Only the Nobodies liked homework and did it right away.

Cinni didn’t have particularly hard homework, nothing more than a few worksheets with math problems or vocabulary lists in English, French, Italian, and Portuguese.  This was nothing that needed lots of time to complete, like a twenty-page research paper or complicated trigonometry problems.  Life should be about having fun, particularly now that the wolf had been chased away from the door.  She’d had enough hard times in the first few years of the decade, hardships enough to last for the rest of her life.

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Near the time the Smalls were expected to come home, Cinni left her amusements and went downstairs to wait on the davenport.  Lucinda was on one of the other cushions, bent over the spring dresses she’d begun making for her nieces and daughter several weeks ago.  Every year, Lucinda made the girls special spring dresses from repurposed materials found around the house.  Last year, they’d been made from quilts, and this year, they were being fashioned from curtains.

The materials in prior years had included pillowcases, lightweight blankets, bedsheets, silk shawls from London, scarves from Los Angeles, pillow shams, satin bonnets from Amsterdam, and cloth shower curtains.  Before the Stock Market Crash, the family’s spring wardrobe had come from expensive catalogues and upscale department stores.  It amazed Cinni how Lucinda could be frugal and ingenious in this way, but otherwise waste so much money on fancy house embellishments and overpriced clothes for herself.

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“You want a change of scenery from that boring little sewing room?” Cinni asked. “It musta been hard to lug that big old sewing machine here.”

Lucinda sighed. “How can I concentrate in there anymore, now that I have a roommate?  Samantha shows no signs of moving out, though I don’t know how she can bear to sleep on that little cot.  Your father told her she could share the attic with you and Sparky, but she likes my sewing room more.  Maybe she thinks she’s being some holy Christian martyr by depriving herself of a real bed.”

“Martyr, nothing!” Urma shouted from across the room. “My girl ain’t gonna share her sleeping quarters with some Yid!  Bad enough we have to share living quarters with five of ‘em indefinitely.  If she were younger, I’d insist she sleep in the bed Mortez and I got.  But a sewing room cot is still a bed, however pathetic.”

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“I’m going to need my sewing room back eventually.  I can handle a few days of being displaced, but I can’t keep sewing in other rooms, without any privacy.  Perhaps you and your daughter don’t understand that room is my castle, my special place all my own in this house.  I’ve always been happy to live with my dear sister’s family, but it’s nice to have a small room all my own, where I can go to be alone with my thoughts and not be bothered or distracted by anyone or anything else.”

“It’s true,” Cinni says. “Aunt Lucinda is constantly holed up in that precious sewing room of hers.  It’s her special place, and not very nice to intrude upon it.  I hope Sam ain’t gonna steal nothing from it, though it ain’t like Aunt Lucinda generally sews with fancy stuff like golden thread and silk cloth.”

“Stealing is against the Bible!” Urma thundered “My girl would never steal anything!  And why do you have such awful grammar?  I don’t want words like ‘ain’t’ and double negatives to rub off on my girl.  That’s not how proper, civilized people speak.”

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“It’s how my niece talks,” Lucinda said protectively, putting her arm around Cinni. “Most of the people in this neighborhood talk like that, even the rich people.  We live in a very strange neighborhood.  It’s hardly a crime to not speak the King’s English.  Cinni’s not hurting anyone by saying ‘ain’t’ or using double negatives most of the time.  She does use proper English sometimes, so it’s not like she’s ignorant of the existence of more refined grammar.  It’s the same way with how she speaks Russian with her father’s mother, and how my sister and I speak Polish with our parents.  You speak differently depending upon your audience.”

Urma screamed and made a hex sign. “You mean to say I’m not only sharing living space with five Yids, but also with sub-human Slavs?  I had no idea Mortez’s friend had a Pollack wife and was part Russian.”

“Yes, my sister and I are almost entirely of Polish blood, and damn proud of it.  Our maiden name is Radulski, and our birth names are Łucja and Katarzyna.  We’ve been in this country for a very long time, since the early days of Polish immigration.  H.G.’s mother is Russian, and he was born in St. Petersburg.  Since he came to America when he was only twelve, he doesn’t have a Russian accent anymore.”

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Urma was weeping. “I don’t want to live in this house anymore.  This is such a nightmare Mortez sprung on me.  I want to go back to D.C.  My sister Ursula would take us in, even if she’s got seven kids.  There’d only be eleven people in her home, as compared to seventeen here.”

“Well, it’s too late to move now,” Mortez spoke up softly. “I’m already looking for jobs here, and I’ve gotten attached to this city in the last few days.  It’s much less crowded and fast-paced than Washington.  Don’t make me move when I’ve barely started to get settled into a new place.  I’m happy here so far, and I wasn’t very happy in Washington.  This is one issue you can’t push me around regarding.  We’re staying in Atlantic City.”

Urma growled and stalked out of the room.

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“Why do you let your wife railroad over you so much?” Cinni asked after she was positive Urma was well out of earshot. “She’s even worse than the wives in Laurel and Hardy’s movies.  That’s just make-believe, and those wives ain’t really bullies or mean.  Your wife is a whole different type of henpecker.”

“She is who she is.  I can’t change that.  Sometimes we fall in love with a person with a really bad character flaw, and we have to ignore it because we love the person so much otherwise.”

“That’s more than just a character flaw like always being late or being a bad cook.  She’s outright mean, and a religious fanatic.”

“I agree, but I can’t do anything about it.  She wasn’t a fanatic when we were growing up.  That only happened after Samantha was born.  An intolerant fanatic wouldn’t have had a child out of wedlock, let alone gotten in the family way at just fifteen.”

“You can say ‘pregnant’ around me, Mr. Smart.  I ain’t some little glass flower who’s never heard that word before.  No matter what my mom thinks, I don’t consider words like ‘pregnant’ and ‘uterus’ dirty.  There are some words I refuse to say or write, but I don’t mind the milder, more basic words for adult things.”

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Mortez stared at her. “Aren’t you a young spitfire.  You remind me a bit of what Urma was like before that damned Minister Hodges corrupted her mind against reality and normalcy.  By the way, you don’t have to call me Mr. Smart.  My wife and I prefer to be called by our first names, even if it’s not considered proper etiquette.  It just feels so strange to go by titles when we’re not even thirty yet.  My father is Mr. Smart, but I’m just Mortez.”

“So, can I ask where your first name came from?  I’ve never heard that name before.  It sounds a little Spanish, but you can’t be Spanish with a last name like Smart.”

“My parents are of German descent, but not completely knowledgeable about the language.  They wanted to call me Moritz, but misremembered the name.  It was too late by the time they realized they’d made an embarrassing mistake.”

“That’s kinda like my name.  I know my name isn’t spelt properly, but I’m so used to the way my mom spelt it, the so-called real spelling looks odd to me.  The pronunciation is a lot more obvious with my so-called misspelling.  I’m glad my daddy’s mom didn’t get her way and name me Alexa, ‘cause that’d be too confusing in my circle of friends.  We already have an Alexandria Kate, and we couldn’t both have the same nicknames.” Cinni leapt up at the sound of the doorbell.

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To Cinni’s great delight, Barry was the first person behind the door.  He looked just as beautiful in the suit of lights as she suspected he would.  Best of all, he had a big smile for her, and what she almost thought were a special look in his eyes.

“This is yours,” Barry said, extending a large basket. “I’ve never given mishloach manot to Gentiles before, but everyone in your family deserves one for being so good to us.  Without your father, we’d still be in Europe, with God knows what kind of future.”

Cinni returned the smile and eagerly took the basket.  She headed back to the davenport with it, and delightedly discovered oranges, hamentaschen, saltwater taffy, gumdrops, chocolate-covered peanuts, a bottle of grape pop, and five silver dollars.

“I packed that one just for you,” Barry said, smiling at her again. “I know what a sweet tooth you have.  You’d never be happy with the mishloach manot we made for your parents and siblings.”

“Thank you very much.  You’re really swell to be so nice to someone your kid sister’s age.  I still can’t believe you let me be a guest of honor at your bar mitzvah.”

“I don’t care how young you are.  You’re a nice girl, and that’s all that matters.”

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Cinni looked through the contents of the basket over and over again, daydreaming about being old enough for a boyfriend in a few years and doing boy-girl things with Barry.  Forget about her fantasy crush on John.  Almost every girl in town had a crush on John, and at eighteen, he was far too old for her.  Even if Cinni were eighteen herself, she’d still think the age difference were too large, never mind that her belovèd father had been twenty-five to her mother’s eighteen at their wedding.  That was different and special, and had happened in another generation besides.  But Barry wasn’t that much older than she was.  Their age difference was large enough to be exciting, but not so large it would be inappropriate once their ages leveled out a bit more.  Only time could tell if her dream would come true someday.

“Happy Purim, Barry,” she said with a smile.

Writing about vintage candy (and other sweets)

I’ve always had a major sweet tooth, and love writing scenes with ice-cream, candy, chocolate, sundaes, and baked goods. It’s particularly fun to research vintage candies and sweets, and to create characters with a sweet tooth. My Cinnimin has a particularly intense sweet tooth, and is frequently shown indulging it. Her habit of keeping a bag of candy under her bed and in her purse must’ve been influenced by Claudia in The Baby-Sitters’ Club.

Here are some of the vintage candy ads and dessert recipes I’ve collected, with accompanying excerpts.
Dubble Bubble

1940:

Cinni bought the biggest container of popcorn, along with three chocolate egg creams, ten Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, a giant rainbow-swirl lolly, and a large bag of Dubble Bubble.  Max and Harry got popcorn, egg creams, and a big bag of Tootsie Rolls.  Sparky could only look at all the wonderful candy and treats, imagining what they must taste like.  This might not be a grand movie palace like she’d gotten used to, but it was hardly some hole in the wall.

Chiffon pie

1940:

Cinni went around to all the baskets of free samples, taking the biggest pieces and digging for crumbs.  A few of the samples were those dreaded, boring, adult sweets like lemon cookies, almond cake, and maple walnut rolls, but almost everything else pleased her palate—thumbprint cookies, chocolate chip bread, blueberry crumb cake, apricot coffeecake, chocolate cookies, cinnamon buns, raspberry bars, hot cross buns, brownies, cupcakes, chocolate éclairs, cherry danishes, fudge, macaroons, meringues, doughnuts, and cookies and cupcakes made to look like cartoon characters and sporting balls.

Strawberry meringue cake

1940:

With the house all to themselves, mostly, Babs and Cinni lay on the living room davenport listening to the radio.  When lunchtime came, Babs went into the kitchen and made them sandwiches with peanut butter, hot fudge, caramel sauce, and marshmallow crème.  She set them on a tray, then added two extra-large glasses of fruit punch with lots of sugar stirred in.

“What are you doing home from school so early?” Mr. Filliard asked when he ran across Babs on her way back to the living room. “I thought I heard the radio in the background, but I assumed it was your mother or aunt, or even that kooky Jasper.”

“Oh, Cinni didn’t feel well, and I took her home.  It’s not a big deal.  She’ll be better by tomorrow.”

“In that case, bring her some sweets.  I won’t hear of my pet child not having her every want catered to when she’s ill.” Mr. Filliard loaded up the tray with fudge, chocolate chip cookies, cherry pie, chocolate doughnuts, and strawberry danishes.

Grape LS

1939:

This is yours,” Barry said, extending a large basket. “I’ve never given mishloach manot to Gentiles before, but everyone in your family deserves one for being so good to us.  Without your father, we’d still be in Europe, with God knows what kind of future.”

Cinni returned the smile and eagerly took the basket.  She headed back to the davenport with it, and delightedly discovered oranges, hamentaschen, saltwater taffy, gumdrops, chocolate-covered peanuts, a bottle of grape pop, and five silver dollars.

“I packed that one just for you,” Barry said, smiling at her again. “I know what a sweet tooth you have.  You’d never be happy with the mishloach manot we made for your parents and siblings.”

Black Crows candy

1938:

Sparky stood back as Cinni, Violet, Tina, and Babs rang the bell and held out their pillowcases.  The woman who answered the door bent down for a large pail of candy and gave each girl a 5th Avenue bar, 3 Musketeers, Tootsie Rolls, and Snickers bars.  Sparky was a little hungry when she saw all the candy they were getting just for putting on costumes and showing up at someone’s house.

GPC vintage

1922:

Ivan comes home to laundry strung through the apartment, the smell of chicken dumpling soup, baby cries, two strangers in his living room, and his fiancée lying unresponsive on the davenport, a cold compress on her forehead.

“Papa, I’m very hungry,” Tatyana announces. “Did you buy me candy after you left work?  I didn’t eat any lunch.”

In a daze, Ivan opens his metal lunchpail and hands her two Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, with the wrappers open for her convenience. “Can someone care to explain to me what in the world happened today?”

Whitman's 1944

1942:

Yuriy turns into the first ice-cream parlor that appears and finds a green corner booth that almost matches his uniform.  He translates the menu for Inga, and she orders a sundae with chocolate ice-cream, hot fudge, cherries, and crushed candy bars, with an orange egg cream.  Yuriy orders a humbler strawberry ice-cream float.

Orange LS

1933:

Inside the theatre, Vsevolod gets Nadezhda a chocolate ice-cream soda with a cherry and whipped cream on top, and gets himself buttered, salted popcorn.  He wishes he could try all the candy on display to make up for twenty-six years of subsisting on reindeer meat, root vegetables, winter berries, and bread.

Writing about vintage bathing suits

Though I’ve always been proudly tomboyish and didn’t get a taste for clothes shopping till age 26, I really enjoy describing vintage clothes in my books. Clothes from previous decades are so fun. Since I love the beach, I particularly enjoy writing about vintage bathing suits. It’s also a perfect post topic for summer.

Here are some pictures of bathing suits from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, with accompanying excerpts.

Silver_Sheet_January_01_1923_-_GALLOPING_FISH.pdf

1923:

“Why would Katya show her bare ankles in public?” Anastasiya asks in horror. “It’s bad enough she sometimes wears pants and skirts showing her lower legs, even covered by heavy stockings.”

“I’ll be showing my ankles on Long Island and Coney Island, after I get back from my honeymoon.  Isn’t this a wonderful bathing suit Maarja got me?” Katrin giddily holds up a peacock green satin swimsuit, without the sleeves, long skirts, and wool fabric they’re accustomed to.

“Oh my goodness, it goes clear up to nearly your waist!”

“It reaches my thigh, dolt.  It’s not nearly as revealing as Annette Kellerman’s swimsuit, outlining her legs and crotch.  This is modern without being too scandalous.  Besides, I want to swim instead of sitting on the shore looking beautiful.”

Bathing_Beach_1920

1923:

Out on the beach, Anastasiya draws stares and loud gales of laughter due to her outdated bathing dress, a heavy black wool outfit with a hemline falling to her ankles and sleeves extending past her elbows.  It’s painfully severe and old-fashioned even by the standards of the typical bathing dress.  No matter what, Anastasiya refuses to show her ankles and elbows in public.  Her few concessions to practicality are her lack of bathing stockings, lace-up bathing slippers, and a cap.  Katrin meanwhile enjoys the flirting glances of other men, even though she has a wedding ring and is starting to become visibly pregnant.  Kittey, Viktoriya, Alya, and Anya also have modern, lightweight bathing suits which allow them to move freely and actually swim, while Kat, Eliisabet, and Lyuba have more demure bathing dresses, made of satin, with shoulder-length sleeves and hemlines just covering their knees.

The four men have the normal black tank tops falling to their mid-thighs, over snug-fitting shorts, made of ribbed cotton.  Ivan typically has the most conservative bathing suit, paranoid he’ll be arrested for indecency if the wind or water clings to him too tightly or blows anything out of place.  He’s also made sure his top isn’t loose and that the sleeves are as relatively long as possible, so no one will see any of the thirty whiplash scars still emblazoned all over his back.  The children meanwhile are running and toddling about in homemade bathing suits, unburdened by worries of looking either fashionable or immodest.

1930s bathing suits

1938:

The last day of August, Cinni got freshened up to go down to the beach, and then strutted around admiring herself in her red bathing suit.  She’d scored a particular coup in finagling her father to let her buy and wear a two-piece bathing suit.  Even if it didn’t show anything past what a normal bathing suit did, she loved the daring feeling of wearing two separate pieces.

1940s swimsuits

1945:

Darya climbs out of the pool first and slips into her blue rubber sandals.  She looks down at her red, white, and blue swimsuit, with a loose swing skirt instead of the tighter skirts her bathing suits have always had.  When she doesn’t have much of a body yet, a tighter skirt would only serve to accentuate everything she doesn’t have.  She already needs to have a swimsuit tie so the extra material doesn’t flop around.  The other three also have swimsuits with loose skirts.  Halina has a white swimsuit decorated with medium pink roses, Maja has a solid blue swimsuit, and Oliivia has a red two-piece swimsuit with white polka-dots.  Just two short months ago, none of them dreamt they’d have enough flesh on their bones or feel strong enough to wear swimsuits and go swimming.

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1946:

Yuriy walks back and forth through the men’s swimsuit section several times before finally settling on a bright blue piece, with enough fabric to ensure modesty.  He steps into the changing room to try it on, and feels satisfied when it’s nice and loose.  The last thing he wants is to have his masculine reflex paying a call when he’s out of the water.  Inga would be so horrified and offended she might never speak or write to him ever again.

1940s swimsuits ad

Yuriy gives thanks for the roomy fabric when he sees Inga in her bathing suit, a simple navy blue and white plaid style with ruching and a long swing skirt.  He’s never seen her body outlined so much before, and is already imagining what she looks like underneath.  This’ll sure help with all those dreams he has about taking her to bed.

IWSG—The perils of second-guessing

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

Every first Wednesday of the month, members of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group share worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears. I had one post written and scheduled, but decided to save those thoughts for a planned series of posts I’ll probably do in May.

I’m sorry to admit I was second-guessing certain things recently, based on some feedback I’d gotten, mostly about my dear Cinnimin Rebecca Filliard Kevorkian. I was looking at certain things and wondering if I should take that out or tone it down even further than it already was, if such and such a line or action would make my Cinni come across the wrong way.

Then I realized, everyone else who’s “met” Cinni over the years has loved her, and thought she’s a great character, very funny, full of sass, spunk, straight-shooting, attitude, go-gettingness, personality. They understood what makes her tick. Not everyone has to like all of our characters equally, or at all. It just means they’re not our target audience. I’ve never wanted to write characters like the Five Little Peppers, who are always unnaturally, unrealistically happy, good, helpful, sweet, loving, and cheerful, the kind of people who’d join hands and sing “Kumbaya.”

I can’t help thinking back to the time I wrote that shameful, short-lived third version of the opening of my first Max’s House book, based on feedback from people who really were trying to be helpful. I felt so dirty, forced, and fake while I was writing it, and reading it back over made me feel even more violated and phony. I was so much happier after I crafted the fourth version of the opening.

The problem was that that wasn’t how I write, either generally or in my Atlantic City books in particular. It was the way someone else wanted me to write, and it came across as so fake and goofy. It also made my darling Max seem like some simpering, mushy fool instead of the cocky little bastard I love so much, this guy who styles himself as catnip to women, a huge ladies’ man, a younger, blonde version of Clark Gable or Gary Cooper.

It’s like telling someone s/he should’ve put the tree on the left instead of right side of a painting, or made the elephant blue instead of pink, based on your own tastes and reactions. Great! Then you can do a painting like that if you like the idea so much!

I’m already used to my writing style not immediately clicking with some people. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to explain I write third-person omniscient, and that I as the narrator am stating something the current focus character wouldn’t know.

Radically changing a well-established character is the same as suddenly radically changing our overall writing style. It won’t feel natural or believable, and you won’t be writing your own story anymore. If you can’t recognize your own characters, there’s a serious problem.

IWSG—Toning down potentially negative character attributes?

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

Every first Wednesday of the month, members of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group share worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears.

Though my current writing priority is finishing my alternative history in time for a 12 August release, I’ve been doing some work here and there on my first three Atlantic City prequel books. (I haven’t begun the radical rewrite and restructuring of the fourth volume, and am really looking forward to that, particularly a near-complete rework of an extremely dramatic, life-or-death rescue scene.)

It’s come to my attention, and actually confirmed my own suspicions, courtesy of a small critique group within my local writers’ group, that some of my characters don’t come off so well, particularly when read out of order instead of from the jump. If this is what some people think of the third drafts, which significantly scaled down a lot of things I felt were too over the top or age-inappropriate, I know not enough dross was cut or reworked well enough.

When I created the original generation of my Atlantic City characters in sixth grade, in November ’91, my intention was to write a preteen and teen soap opera of sorts, a satire/spoof on modern-day young people who think they’re so grown-up and such little bad-asses already, and a story about realistic young people who weren’t all sugar and spice. I was sick and tired of unrealistically good characters who never cursed, disobeyed their parents, dealt with peer pressure, had premarital sex, smoked, drank, drove underage, fought with siblings, etc.

In creating my anti-goody-goodies, I kind of went way too far in the other direction. I don’t have any problems with well-behaved characters, but it’s just not interesting or realistic if someone’s 100000% squeaky-clean and sweet. I also hate people who give children’s and MG books low ratings because a character dares lie to parents, smoke one cigarette, or fight with a sibling. Normal children misbehave and test their limits! What kind of believable, compelling storylines come from characters who never do anything the least bit wrong, or who immediately apologize for tame “misbehavior” like jumping in rain puddles or picking flowers in a stranger’s yard?

I really can see a difference between the third drafts and the lingering material from the first and second drafts. Hearing my Cinnimin comes across like a bully and mean girl when that’s not what she’s about at all really surprised me. She’s got spunk, sass, and attitude her whole life, compounded by her early years as a spoilt daddy’s girl. She’s also let her title of Most Popular Girl, with all its duties and perks, go to her head. In the absence of family money, that’s the thing she can be proudest of and milk for all it’s worth. Finally, she only turns the attitude on specific people, for specific reasons. She’s not snarky and attitudinal to everyone, or out of nowhere.

Have you ever had to tone down a character’s behavior to be a little more audience-friendly and nuanced? Do you like characters with some attitude and cattiness? Would you want to critique material from a series if you haven’t read anything from the previous books?

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Based on some other feedback about my European characters connected to my Atlantic City people, I decided it’s a good idea to do a third draft of my Treblinka escape scene in July 1942. Certain aspects will still remain, but I really feel other parts either need to be cut or radically changed. There were scores of successful escapes in the camp’s chaotic early months, due to the gargantuan disorganization of “Dr.” Irmfried Eberl, but I still want my young characters’ escape to be as plausible as possible.

It felt so creepy when I wrote the first draft in August ’99, at age 19, and I want readers to have that same chilling feeling. As macabre and depressing as it is, that’s actually one of the scenes I’m proudest of having written, and I want it to shine as much as possible.

I’ve also started revising The Natural Splash of a Living Being, the first of several hiatused WIPs focused on dear little Amalia (Malchen) von Hinderburg. I’m immersed in my natural element when writing about these dark periods of history.