PonyFest14 and What’s Up Wednesday

Rebecca Enzor is once again hosting her fun yearly PonyFest, wherein the winner gets a custom-designed pony based on a book character. This year, I made ponies based on three of the main characters from my first Russian historical, You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan. Finally, after so many years, the release is slated for 7 November. I edited my ponies a little, since the original versions had too many clothes.

My haunted, vulnerable Lyuba with such a traumatic past, and trying to be so strong as the world she knew goes up in flames. All she wants to do is live happily ever after with her best friend Ivan, but her fear of being with a nice guy makes everything a lot more complicated. For Lyuba, the abnormal is her normal. She and Ivan are both wounded souls with similar traumatic childhoods and scars where no one can see them.

My Katrin (Katariina), a born firecracker and hell-raiser. She’s an ardent Estonian nationalist, Socialist, radical, and advocate for progressive causes. At the same time, she also loves her pretty, fashionable clothes and having quite a lot of money.

Nastya's Pony II

Katrin’s best friend Anastasiya, Lyuba’s antagonist, who isn’t as light-headed as she gives the impression of. She’s tough enough to survive seven months in a Siberian labor camp, and in America in 1923, realises her lifelong dream of starting her own salon and becoming a very successful fashion designer. This woman is one contradiction after another, such as how she still plasters her wall in pictures of her celebrity crushes when she’s a powerful businesswoman.

Brief tagline:

Best friends Ivan Konev and Boris Malenkov become bitter enemies fighting over the woman they both love, Lyuba Zhukova, and who should be the legal father of the daughter Lyuba has with Boris, as the Russian Civil War rages and they navigate their new lives in America.

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What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly hop/meme with four simple headings. Anyone can write a post and add the link to Jaime’s blog or Erin’s blog.

What I’m Reading

Haven’t yet decided which library book to tackle next.

What I’m Writing

Thank God, I finished the latest round of editing, revising, rewriting, and polishing Swan, and am well into the next round. This will be the final intense round before copyediting and then spot-checking through Kindle Preview. Before I began from the start, I went through and fixed up a couple of scenes and places which were bugging me too much to wait.

Thanks to all the hard work I did last time, and of course during the countless edits and revisions in the past, before I got sick of looking at it, it’s going much more smoothly now. This has really restored my confidence in my ability to edit even work I thought I was sick of looking at. That time away made me painfully aware of many weak points either in need of deletion or significant fleshing-out or reworking.

One of the things I did in between this round and last was changing some of the details of the end of Part I. Now Ivan goes back for Lyuba in a collapsible lifeboat, instead of swimming in the Gulf of Finland in the chilly March weather, and he and Lyuba are directed into the Church of Saints Simeon and Hanna by their unlikely rescuer. It was bugging me more and more how they hide under the water and swim back to the boat. (Lyuba didn’t board the boat because her passport was stuck inside a vase, which Ivan accidentally broke the night before.)

Besides, I just had to use the Tallinn setting in the short time it was there. The harbour is right by the beautiful, incredibly well-preserved Medieval Old Town, and Ahtri Street has a lovely Russian Orthodox church right on the waterfront. Perfect, much more realistic and appropriate place for their narrow escape before heading back to the boat.

I also had to rework large portions of Chapters 31 and 32 twice in a row, which was very frustrating. It just wasn’t realistic on any level, and based too strongly on my immature ideas from age thirteen. I was 20-21 when I wrote those chapters, yet I was too afraid to move it in an altered direction. I’m much happier with it now, particularly since I replaced the xenophobic hospital doctor with the kindly, radical Dr. Scholl. Now he appears in all three of my Russian novels so far.

What Works for Me

When you’re editing a very old manuscript, don’t be afraid to junk large portions of it. All that time away will make you much less emotionally attached to it. I just cringe when I think about a lot of the garbage I took out of Swan. About 99% of the original 1993 material was either excised or radically rewritten. Good riddance!

What Else I’ve Been Up To

Got a lovely piece of hate mail through my Contact Me form, from an extremely abusive, misogynistic, immature individual who made himself sound like a junior high bully instead of an adult. He was duly reported and blocked, and I had to add a warning to the Contact Me form. His rant was brought on because his special snowflake is named Kaden, and he was outraged I didn’t blow the glitter and daisies. I did a search of my posts, and only found comments about how I hate predated naming trends and how to give your characters believable names for their era.

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Davy and His Secondhand Friends

catanthology

Kyra Lennon has generously volunteered to host a cat-themed blogfest to support Teignbridge and Totnes Cats Protection. The stories will be collected into an anthology. All entrants will be entered to win a $10 Amazon Gift Card. Everyone will be sharing a cat-themed story or poem, maximum 2,500 words.

This is a story about my very own Velveteen Rabbit, Davy, and a few of his friends. My froggy Simon had his surgery last October, and made a speedy, complete recovery. I hope it’s up to snuff.

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Once upon a time, a grandmother made red tabby twins for her eight-year-old granddaughter.  They were fraternal twins, a queen and a tom.  The tom was quickly named Davy, after Davy Jones, and the queen was named Davina.  The Girl believed, as many children do, that twins are supposed to have matching or rhyming names, and so gave the queen a feminine form of the tom’s name.

Davy was always loved much more than Davina.  When Davy was still young, he went on a boat ride on Lake George, on a paddlewheeler boat called The Minne-Ha-Ha.  That was much nicer than the time he was sent to the emergency room when he was fifteen.  The Girl, who was no longer a girl, had asked for him for comfort, and there he was sent.  He was so special he’d even been the subject of a speech the Girl had given in a public speaking class when she was twenty.  Every year, he showed his age more and more, while Davina still looked as young as the day she’d been made.

The Girl loved collecting stuffed animals, perhaps because she had no pets of her own.  When Davy was five years old and still young-looking, he got a new friend, a grey cat named John who’d come to the Girl secondhand.  Not so long afterwards, she got another secondhand cat, a small caramel-coloured tabby named Paul.  By the time Davy was in his twenties, his friends also included a Husky named Keith, a tiger named Roger, a chipmunk named Jerome, a very small French Bulldog named Roscoe, a very small fellow red tabby named Manfred, a pale brown dog named Jack (who doubled as a neck pillow), a big tuxedo cat named George, and an absolutely gigantic frog named Simon.

Since the Girl was in her thirties, she didn’t really play with her old friends anymore.  They just sat on the bed, and had a lot of time to talk while she was out, or busy doing other things.

“Aren’t you jealous of that frog?” John asked. “He’s only been with us for a few years, and he already got plastic surgery.  The Girl even performed the surgery on his namesake’s birthday, while his namesake sang in the background.  You’re a lot older and more valuable, and you’ve never had surgery or gone to an animal hospital.  Maybe if the Girl had fixed you a lot sooner, you wouldn’t be so worn-out now.  Even I’m not nearly as worn-out as you.”

“She’s always cuddling and kissing on that frog,” Paul agreed. “What has he done to displace you?  And she’s loved our namesakes a whole lot longer.”

“You don’t have very good memories,” Davy said. “She has researched stuffed animal hospitals.  The one time she got a response, she was told I can’t be repaired since I’m not plush like yous guys.  Simon only had a tear in his side, with some stuffing poking out.  That can easily be fixed.  You can’t easily fix yellowed fabric and threadbare patches.  It’s who I am at this age.”

John looked down at his paw and rubbed it across his nose. “I’ve gotten used to my missing whiskers and toe dividers, but I still look mostly normal without them.  You don’t look anything like you used to.” He stretched out in the autumn sunshine, happily remembering that day when the Girl, aged thirteen, had reached into the barrel of free stuffed animals by the checkout and pulled him and Roscoe out.  He’d had such a good life with the Girl, after his previous owner had thrown him away.

“I look how I look.  The Girl doesn’t care how I look.  I know she still loves me most of all, even if she mostly cuddles the frog now.  He’s still soft and cuddly, and won’t easily rip if he’s cuddled too hard or picked up the wrong way.  Only toys who don’t easily break or wear out get to become Real, and once you’re Real, only people who don’t know you think you’re ugly.”

Paul swatted at a dragonfly. “If the Girl ever has children, I don’t want her to give us to them.  They deserve their own toys to make Real, not someone else’s hand-me-downs.  Although we know she’d never give you to a child when you’re so fragile and old.”

Davy gave a glance back to their building, where Simon was recovering from his recent surgery. “The Girl is really sorry she left me alone that night she went back to her parents’ house to feel safe.  She was really worried the scary person would come into the room while she was gone and hurt me.  I’m so fragile, I’d easily be torn apart.”

“She took the frog and not you,” John said. “Why aren’t you more upset about that?”

“The second time she went to her parents’ house to be safe, she left both of us.  That was a really scary night, but I felt safe with Simon watching over me.  He’s my frog brother.  The Girl wouldn’t leave me alone with him so much if she didn’t think he were capable of looking after me.  He’s a very good babysitter and frog brother.  We had lots of nice conversations while you two were still in storage.”

“He makes me feel like a dwarf,” Paul complained. “I know I’m still kitten-sized even now that I’m over twenty years old, but he’s the biggest stuffed animal she’s ever brought home.”

“You’re still bigger than Manfred and Roscoe,” Davy reminded him.

“Normal stuffed animals aren’t that big.  I bet he’ll keep his age better than any of us too, since big animals age slower than small animals.”

“Plush eventually wears down.  It takes longer than it does for fabric like mine, but it’ll happen.  He’s already well on the way to becoming Real, after the Girl thought he was important enough to give surgery to.”

The late October air grew chilly, and the three old friends headed back inside.  They all moved much slower than they used to, but they weren’t ready to hobble off to the cat old age home quite yet.  They still had plenty of life in them, and had every reason to believe they’d still have more adventures together.

Davy curled up on the bed and looked at Simon’s incision site, which was healing nicely.  The Girl had done such a good job, it didn’t even look like there were any stitches.

“Have you had enough to eat?” Davy asked. “You need to eat a lot when you’re recovering from surgery, to get your strength back.  When I was with the Girl after her first surgery, she needed a lot of food to get back her energy and health.”

“I caught plenty of flies.  Each one was more delicious than the last.”

“Cats are smarter than frogs,” John said. “We don’t eat flies.  We eat substantial food.  Flies must taste disgusting.”

“It’s how frogs were made.  Flies taste as good to me as fish must taste to you.”

“I’m glad I’m not a frog,” Paul said.

“And I’m glad I’m not a cat.  Frogs are more interesting than cats.”

Keith, the dog, rose from his place on the floor to bark at a car driving by. “My species has been with humans longer than yours, but that doesn’t mean I think I’m superior.  We were each created with different purposes, and we’re here to fulfill that purpose, not wish we were different or to feel superior to everyone else.”

Davy moved to a sunny spot in the window to warm his old bones. “The most important thing is that we’re all Real, in our own special way, and we know we’re not fated to be stuffed under the bed, given away, or thrown out.”

Just then the Girl came in, and the animals moved back to their original places.  Today all three cats got a scratch behind the ears, and a cuddle.  The Girl had never had children of her own, so these were the closest substitutes.

Davy felt so much love radiating from those hands.  Even if the Girl paid more attention to Simon because he was newer, bigger, and cuddlier, Davy knew he would always be first in her heart.  Only the best-loved toys can hope to become Real, and by the time that Magickal process is complete, it no longer matters that the toy looks old and worn.  Only Love matters.

***

My other babies!

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Carrie-Anne Brownian, who also writes as Ursula Hartlein, earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in History and Russian and East European Studies, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in library science. Her areas of historical expertise are Russian history, the World War II/Shoah era, and 20th century American history. Her ultimate goal is to one day have a Ph.D. in Russian history, with a focus on GULAG and the Great Terror.

She has had work published in the anthologies Campaigner Challenges 2011, edited by Katharina Gerlach and Rachael Harrie, and Overcoming Adversity: An Anthology for Andrew, edited by Nick Wilford. As Ursula Hartlein, she has published And Jakob Flew
The Fiend Away
, a WWII Bildungsroman, and as Carrie-Anne Brownian, she has published Little Ragdoll, a Bildungsroman spanning the years 1959-74. An epic Russian historical, You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan, written as Ursula Hartlein, is slated for a November 2014 release.

I give permission for this work to be used in the anthology.

I can be found at https://carrieannebrownian.wordpress.com/.

IWSG—Trying Another Contest and Minuscule Sales

My Horny Hump Day post is here.

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

It’s time again for the monthly meeting of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, which convenes the first Wednesday of every month.

I’ve decided to go for it and try entering this year’s PitchWars, hosted by Brenda Drake. While I’m still confident that going indie is the best venue for many of my books, it can’t hurt to try a contest with one of my shorter books. I’m not anti-agent, even if it seems a lot of traditionally published books in recent years are kind of cookie-cutter and bland, not very distinctive or line-breaking.

I’ve found a few mentors on the list who are interested in historical MG, which I really think could still fit The Very First. It’s only 60,000 words, set over only three months, and has young characters dealing with rather un-adult situations. Sparky (real name Katherine) struggles to learn how to become a real American girl without compromising her Jewish faith, while her new best friend Cinni learns there’s more than one way to be a real American.

I have to roll my eyes at how the agents who dogpiled me in a pitchfest somewhere else a few years ago took issue with a Jewish girl named Katherine. Um, yeah, because it was totally unheard of for German Jews to give their kids secular names instead of hideous shtetl monikers like Faiga, Shternie, and Gitty! And they had no room to harp on that if they’ve liked or represented contemporaries with clearly predated naming trends, like Aidan, Kayden, Mikayla, and Madison!

Also huge eyeroll at how they said it seemed a lot like American Girl. Yeah, the concept might be similar, but it certainly wasn’t inspired at all by American Girl, and the book is a lot longer and more complex than the short American Girl stories! I know I’m biased, but I think it’s a cute, sweet story, and I’m really proud of how I undertook that significant rewrite and restructuring. It’s a myth that absolutely ALL books need rewritten to be good, but this is one of the books which really benefitted from a huge shake-up!

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I’m still seeing very pitiful sales from the two books I’ve got out, and absolutely no sales from Kobo or Nook. The paltry sales I’ve made since May all come from Kindle. I’m realistic enough to understand not everyone who’s congratulated or wished me well plans to buy my books, but I kind of expect people who’ve expressed interest in reading them to have bought them. Are people waiting for physical copies?

I can see from the links clicked section of my sidebar that people have clearly been looking at the Amazon, Kobo, and Nook pages, yet I’m not seeing any sort of corresponding sales increases. I’m sticking to the prices of $4.99 and $7.99, based on the length. I’m not going to put myself in the $2.99 ghetto, or give my hard work away for only 99 cents.

A lot of people say one shouldn’t expect sales to pick up till at least the third book. And as a music-lover, I think of how a band can be floundering, not hitting it big or having really sunk in popularity, and then along comes an album like Tommy or a song like “Ordinary World” to save them. Maybe my first Russian historical will be the one to save me in November, or the first book released next year?

Can You Handle the Truth? and What’s Up Wednesday

18 Truths

In order to mark the coming release of her second book, 18 Truths, Jamie Ayres is holding a blogfest centred on the classic Two Truths and a Lie game. There are 18 fantabulous prizes up for grabs.

See if you can guess my lie.

I’m allergic to cockroaches.

My estimated due date was one day after a tragic event in the history of my favourite band (The Who).

I know how to play the dulcian, a late Medieval/early Renaissance instrument that’s like a more melancholy bassoon.

WUW Winter

What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly hop/meme with four simple headings. Anyone can write a post and add the link to Jaime’s blog.

What I’m Writing

I’ve gotten to about 575,ooo words in my WIP, Chapter 74, “Novomira Does It All.” Chapter 73, “Inga in America,” is the longest chapter of Part III so far, at a bit over 11,000 words. Chapter 74 will include the birth of Feliks, the second grandchild for Lyuba, Ivan, Eliisabet, and Aleksey, as well as Ivan’s first blood grandchild. Novomira is committed to finishing her senior year at Barnard instead of dropping out and coming home with the baby. She wants to set a good example to her younger sister Nina, a Barnard freshwoman. Since she’s been living with Vera, she’s lucky enough to have a wetnurse during the day, as Vera just had her second child in November 1941.

It’s safe to say that at this point, I’ve given up the idea of capping it in at 600K. If it tops 700K, I’ll eat my hat. I think the safest bet is to publish it in four volumes, since each Part reads like its own story, with a focus on different characters and storylines.

Part I focuses on Lyuba’s difficult seventh pregnancy, the love story of Vera and Vsevolod, and the reunion of Nadezhda and Pavel after 12 years apart. Part II is focused on Tatyana’s rejection of Ivan while she lives with Boris in Harlem, while the Soviet characters struggle to survive the Great Terror and escape to America and Iran. Part III focuses on World War II, and Part IV will be about the aftermath of the war on everyone’s lives. In the Epilogue, “Back to an Ordinary World,” Lyuba and Ivan have a renewal ceremony on their 25th anniversary, on the eve of their finally heading off to university.

What I’m Reading

Sadly, not too much.

What Inspires Me

I was thinking about how it must be a sign of maturity that I’ve become more skeptical and less crunchy as I’ve gotten older. There are things I immediately, unquestioningly accepted as a teen and in my twenties that I’d never accept so readily these days. I’d want to see confirmation from other sources, and not just believe some sensationalistic, fear-mongering tv show or one-sided, crunchier than thou website.

Mind you, there are still things I believe in and will staunchly defend, such as Astrology, reincarnation, life after death, and homebirth. I can’t dismiss or be skeptical about everything. Being skeptical for the sake of skepticism is just as bad uncritically believing everything. Not all skeptics are militant atheists who deride anything not recognised by modern scientists. Some things will never have a scientific explanation, and don’t pretend to be scientific. The evidence comes from other avenues.

What Else I’m Up To

I started the new onomastics blog I’ve been thinking about for awhile. It’s called Onomastics Outside the Box, and will focus on classical eccentric, classical unusual, and international names. I initially had it in the Mac OS Classic theme, but it didn’t really match the theme.  I’m much happier with the My Life theme I replaced it with, and the blue colour scheme.

I also had a really awesome surprise last week. It didn’t dawn on me till I was looking through my virtual cemetery for children and young people at Find A Grave that one of my photos was used for a recent pro-vaccination meme. What an amazing, awesome coincidence. I’d seen the first drafts of the meme, but didn’t realise right away that that was one of my graves. It’s a grave of 12 children in the same family in St. Vincent’s Cemetery in Latrobe, PA. The 1884 group probably were victims of the diphtheria epidemic that hit the state that year. The final meme says “Childhood Before Vaccines.”

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And yes, I know this still won’t convince the vaccine-denialist cult. They’ll continue giggling and patting themselves on the back, convinced they know more than the entire scientific community because of garbage on Natural “News,” Tenpenny, and Mercola. Their special little snowflakes will easily survive diphtheria, polio, measles, whooping cough, and flu with lemon juice, breastmilk, Vitamin C, kale smoothies, echinacea, and expensive water (I mean, homeopathy). They’ll continue to swear by a discredited fraud and former Playboy bunny. I refuse to let this cult take us back to the days when a gravestone like this was common, when childhood mortality was an accepted fact of life and parents expected to lose some of their kids.

Cheersfest for Arlee Bird

Cheersfest 2013

Following the success of last year’s Cheers, Cavanaugh roast, the tradition is continuing this year with Arlee “Lee” Bird, founder of the April A to Z Challenge and a prolific blogger. Once again, the hosts are Mark KoopmansMorgan ShamyDavid Powers KingStephen Tremp, and Ninja Captain Alex.

Lee will choose two winners to receive:

  • An autographed color photo of Arlee Bird appearing as the Court Wizard in the World of Fantasy Players. Also included in the first prize pack are an assortment of promotional materials from Lee’s show biz days with a personal letter and a brief history of his entertainment career.
  • A personalized blog graphics design from Jeremy at Being Retro. (Jeremy will design a header, badge, button, banner, or whatever might appeal to the winner.)

Participants simply answer four questions in no more than 20 words each, and write a flash fiction of 100 words or less, using the words

  • Bird
  • Juggler
  • Challenge
  • Brown Jacket
  • Tossing

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  • Why did Lee come up with the A-Z Challenge?

As a way to meet other bloggers, and motivate others to regularly find something to blog about.

  • If someone dreams about being a juggler, what does it mean?

Successfully, your life is in balance. If objects drop, we may be juggling more responsibilities than we should be.

  • Is a post by Mr. Bird worth two in the bush?

It sure is.

  • Who could play Lee in a documentary? (Living or dead.)

W.C. Fields

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I decided to make my flash piece a freeverse past life poem, which I haven’t done in years. The only time I ever touch first-person present tense is when I write as Oda.

Returning to the world of the living
is a challenge.
At times I feel like a juggler,
constantly forced to balance so many things
and surrounded by people
who do not understand.
No amount of words can ever transmit
the scents, the sounds, the sights, the tastes, the emotions.
If only I could be like a bird, flying free outside, unencumbered by pain and suffering.
Give me time to transition back to a world that will never be ordinary again.
Or will I be forever tossing about, a species apart,
huddled in a brown jacket’s symbolic embrace?

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For Bonus Points:

  • In +/- 40 words, can you come up with a caption for Lee’s Facebook picture?

Juggling

A vintage picture of a dapper juggler, appearing to be from the Seventies or early Eighties. He looks very pleased with his juggling abilities.

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Unrelated but important post-script:  On this day in 1979, nine days before I was born, the World Health Organisation declared smallpox eradicated. I’m so thankful my lifetime has never included this frightening disease, and hope to God it never finds a way to come back. Hopefully polio will be next to be eradicated, followed by diseases that were all but eliminated in the West until a certain science-denialist cult arose 10-15 years ago.