IWSG—Powering towards the finish line

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The Insecure Writer’s Support Group meets the first Wednesday of each month. Participants share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What’s harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?

Sometimes titles come easily to me, in bursts of Divine inspiration or hitting upon a great idea drawn from literature, song lyrics, or symbolism/themes from the book. Other times, it’s a little harder. I’ve had a Devil of a time retitling my Atlantic City books, both already written and planned! So many of the original working titles are so corny, cliché, generic, insipid, after school special-worthy.

As a name nerd, it’s very easy to find names. I like choosing names (both surnames and forenames) either with symbolic meaning to the characters, or that aren’t overly common. My secondary blog is all about names.

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I’ve been powering through to the finish line of my alternative history, which I’m very nervous but confident of having ready by my planned 17 July release date. I’d originally hoped to have it ready for a 12 August 2016 release, what would’ve been my primary protagonist’s 112th birthday, but I was pulled away from it and towards other things.

Now I realize it was hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence) I wasn’t finished at that time. What could be a more appropriately bittersweet release date than his real-life 100th Jahrzeit (death anniversary)?

My JuNoWriMo wordcounts so far are much healthier than last year. I always count fiction, blog posts, and journal entries. This was my progress as of midnight on 6 June:

While powering through Part IV, I decided to have Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria come for two secret meetings in 1943 and ultimately defect to the Allied side. Bulgaria switched sides in 1944, but in real life, Boris died in August 1943. I support the theory he was killed with a slow-working poison, due to the circumstances raging at that time. Hitler was furious at him for repeatedly refusing to declare war on the USSR and deport Bulgarian Jewry.

The only reasons Boris joined the Axis were to regain lost Bulgarian land (and with it national pride), and to save his kingdom from foreign invasion and occupation. He was no fascist or anti-Semite. Since he’s one of my heroes, I saved him and gave him premonitions about being poisoned. He refuses to eat or drink anything at that final stormy meeting with Hitler.

I’ve joined a new writing group in the area I’ve been stuck in since last June. I really like it, though I very much miss the people and camaraderie of my writing group back home in NY. I also feel vindicated at how everyone in the critique groups I’ve been in so far loves my Cinnimin.

Out of everyone who’s “met” her over the years, only two people have ever said they didn’t like her and misread her as a mean-spirited bully. I know we can’t expect every single person to love each one of our characters, but it can shake one’s confidence. For awhile, I seriously considered toning/watering her down even further, but realized she wouldn’t be my Cinni anymore if I took away her sassy, smart-ass attitude.

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For the second time this year, I had an issue with my computer charger. The charger I got with this refurbished computer in August 2014 became frayed in several spots, and finally stopped working in January. Against my own better judgment, I got a cheap third-party replacement instead of the $79 Apple one.

That charger began erratically working in late May, and finally stopped charging altogether. I also got a Service Battery message. Thankfully, my 11-year-old MacBook Pro still works very well, other than the broken left vent fan. Every time I have tech issues, I go back to my older computer.

I got a replacement charger, and didn’t need to get a new battery as well. I’ve heard far more horrific tales about these third-party chargers, like fires and zapped hard drives. Lesson learnt.

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IWSG—Plans for 2018

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

Welcome to the first installment of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group for 2018!

A total stranger recently misinterpreted one of my Tweets and jumped on me like an attack dog, assuming both my religion and politics. She never apologized after I explained several times I was writing from the POV of a character and that this is a writers’ hop.

I also recently did a guest post about Dr. John Money and David Reimer for 4thWaveNow.

I was recently in the odd, difficult position of having to pass on an offer of interest. Though I haven’t taken part in any trad-pub contests in a few years, I took a chance and pitched the book formerly known as The Very First during the latest Pitch Madness.

I was excited to get one like from the managing editor of a publishing house, but further research revealed this would be a very bad fit. Though I’ve significantly watered down or removed the age-inappropriate content I only included to be controversial, there are still a few spots they wouldn’t consider “clean.”

Removing or radically reworking them just to curry favor and potentially get published would alter the story in unacceptable ways. It would distort and misrepresent my voice.

That publishing house is also an imprint of a very conservative religion’s book company, and has a censorship board. G-rated content isn’t who I am at all. My character Cinni says several times that real life isn’t like a Norman Rockwell painting, and that that kind of life never existed for many Americans.

I thought I only had to finish up my unplanned chapter on The War of the Worlds radio broadcast and do some final polishing, but I instead saw an awesome opening to add two additional chapters after what I always thought was the ending.

Though I’ve carefully edited this book to feel more suited to upper MG, the ending felt too simplistic, easy, sudden, more suited to a younger readership.

The new chapters are about Sparky’s first Thanksgiving, and the experience of being Jewish when everyone around her celebrates Christmas. There’s also an Epilogue in January 1939, at her favorite brother Barry’s bar mitzvah. The new and improved reason for the nickname Sparky will be revealed then.

My guesstimate for the final length is 80K, which is super-short by my standards. The hot mess of a first draft was only 38K.

I also need to finish my alternative history about the rule of Tsar Aleksey II. My initial plan was to release it on what would’ve been his 112th birthday, 12 August 2016, but that obviously didn’t work out. A release date of 17 July 2018 would be so appropriately bittersweet, since that’s his real-life 100th Jahrzeit (death anniversary).

Getting back to work on my fourth Russian novel would also be awesome.

My planned blog posts for the year will again feature films and albums celebrating landmark anniversaries, including:

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
October (1928)
The Crowd (1928)
The Great Train Robbery (1903)
Duck Soup (1933)
Thriller (1983)
Colour by Numbers (1983)
The Birds, the Bees, and The Monkees (1968)
The Wedding Album (1993), this year’s feature for Duran Duran Appreciation Day

My October series on classic horror films will include The Invisible Man (1933), West of Zanzibar (1928), The Fall of the House of Usher (1928), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), and several Georges Méliès films.

I’m also going to feature the radio play of The War of the Worlds (1938). As I recently discovered, the so-called mass panic was far, far, far less widespread than we’ve been led to believe. It’s also an awesome story perfect for Halloween.

Finally, as you might’ve seen in my second banner, I’ve added an index page cataloguing my posts by nine major topics—book reviews, film reviews, album reviews, misc. book-related, misc. film-related, misc. music-related, historical topics, writing advice, and names.

What are your writing and editing plans for this year?

WeWriWa—1939 becomes 1940

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s lines are the ending of the book formerly known as The Very Next, my chronological second Atlantic City book.

It’s the end of 1939, and Cinnimin Filliard’s family goes upstairs and outside to take part in a local New Year’s tradition of setting off an egg full of fireworks. Two years later, this tradition goes horribly wrong when Cinni’s frenemy Violet stuffs the egg with stink bombs instead of fireworks!

This has been slightly edited to fit ten lines.

A minute before midnight, everyone crowded onto the fire escape.  It was neighborhood tradition to stuff a large plaster egg full of fireworks, light a fuse, and send it plummeting to earth so it would explode at exactly the moment the old and new year changed places.  This year, the Filliards had stuffed their egg with purple fireworks.

Cinni proudly held the egg as Babs struck a long match and held it to the fuse, and at a signal from Mr. Filliard, Cinni let go, throwing it with as much force as she could, to ensure it exploded better than anyone else’s egg.  Her family always won the unofficial block competition, and best of all, this year the Vallis had joined them, so there was one less egg to compete against.

“Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.  Happy 1940!”

The purple fireworks showering in all directions gave Cinni hope the new decade would be much happier than the depressing decade which was now the stuff of history books, no matter how ominous future signs were.  It was like the butterfly emerging from Pandora’s Box and giving the chained, tortured Prometheus hope in spite of everything.  Life is nothing without hope.

2017 in Review (Writing and life)

My wordcounts were in the toilet for much of this year. I’m shocked I got just under 81K for NaNo, even as a rebel working on several different things. 47K of that came from my WIP about my long-shelved character Anne Terrick. After about 25 years, it’s very surreal to write an entire book in first-person again, but diary form just feels right for this story.

I managed to get some decent work done on Part II of The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, even if I lost the roughly 2,000–5,000 words closing the penultimate chapter and in the rewrite of the final chapter. Baruch Hashem, I didn’t lost as much as I’d feared, and a number of things came back to me in the ensuing days.

I also have excerpts from those lost words in my Twitter feed, from all the themed weekly writing hops I do. It won’t be the first time I’ve had no choice but to go back from scratch and memory to rewrite and reconstruct something.

Though I waited till four days before the deadline, and almost gave up on the second day, I’m glad I went for it and wrote a story for this year’s IWSG anthology contest. Sci-fi is my next-fave genre, though I don’t give it nearly as much attention as I give historical. It ended up a bit over 5K.

I also got some good work done on my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University. A lot of great secondary characters and subplots introduced themselves this year. I’ve just had to accept that this volume isn’t one of the ones which has been writing me more than I’ve been writing it, and that it won’t be finished as quickly as normal.

I’m surprised to see I wrote a bit over 90K on Dream Deferred this year. It felt like much less, giving my depression and lagging wordcounts.

I’m now back to working on the book formerly known as The Very First, which I’ll write more about in my January IWSG post. I’d thought I only had to finish up the chapter I’d belatedly added about the 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast, but I saw a great opening to add two new chapters concluding the year, and an Epilogue in January 1939, at Barry’s bar mitzvah.

I’ve lost about 30 pounds since June. The weight I’d ballooned up to made my UMass weight look healthy. I still can’t believe I was that heavy and lived, even with my bone structure!

I’m not happy at how I was shanghaied and blocked from moving home to Pittsburgh like I’d been excitedly planning to, but I remain hopeful I’ll be there by the end of 2018 and resuming my master’s program. I know I’ve been out of school for a few years, but I was far from the only student who was very unhappy with UAlbany’s library science program.

My 17-year-old leafy baby, Kalanit, started the year just as depressed as I was. Her leaves were dull and drooping over the sides of her pot, and she hadn’t had any new growths for a few years. After she survived her longest car ride ever, 900 miles, and was put into a new pot for the first time ever, she came back with a vengeance.

Kalanit’s roots had started to become impacted, but a larger pot and fresh soil worked miracles. She grew and grew like crazy, with a new baby almost every time I turned around. I’ll have to have a future post with pictures of Kalanit to show just how amazing her recovery has been.

A lot of people have expressed astonishment when they find out I’ve kept a spider plant alive for 17 years. She’s been on a number of car rides and in a number of residences, including the four different rooms I lived in during my two years at UMass.

Kalanit may soon need a larger pot, and possibly to be split up for the first time in years!

WeWriWa—Enjoying a Thanksgiving feast

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a few pages after last week’s, when Cinni invited Harry to be her family’s Thanksgiving guest after he was thrown out of the soup kitchen for fighting with his thuggish older brother.

No one was home when they arrived at Cinni’s house, so Cinni went next door to her easily-annoyed neighbor Mr. Valli to ask for help with cooking. Cinni discovered her family went to the Vallis for Thanksgiving dinner.

Cinni’s mother is quite displeased she was out so long getting a turkey. She’s much happier after seeing all the food Cinni and Sparky won, but discovering there’s yet another guest to cook for upsets her again. Finally, she starts cooking before it gets any later.

This has been slightly edited to fit 10 lines.

Mrs. Filliard fumed as she hoisted the turkey out of the wagon and pulled the stuffing out of the refrigerator.  While she prepared the turkey and other food under the Smalls’ careful directions, Cinni, Sparky, and Harry went into the living room to read comic books and listen to the radio.

It was 10:30 when supper was called, wonderful smells wafting all through the house.  These were the kinds of smells which were supposed to permeate the air much earlier on Thanksgiving, but better late than never.

“This is the greatest thing anyone’s ever done for me,” Harry said as he took a seat. “Remember, Cin, one day I’ll pay you back for tonight.  Don’t think I ain’t thankful just ‘cause I ain’t in a position to do something so nice anytime soon.”

“Of course I know you’re thankful, Harry; unlike some people, you know what being thankful’s all about.”

The Smalls intoned a blessing over the feast arrayed before them, and then everyone dug in.  It was the sweetest, most delicious Thanksgiving meal Cinni had ever had.