IWSG—June odds and sods

InsecureWritersSupportGroupIt’s time for another meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The first Wednesday of each month, we share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

For how long do you shelve your first draft, before reading it and re-drafting? Is this dependent on your writing experience and the number of stories/books under your belt?

The books I wrote on MacWriteII, ClarisWorks, and AppleWorks were inaccessible to me for up to a decade, due to being either stuck on obsolete file formats on disks or on an older desktop I didn’t bring over all the files from. Obviously, I finally learnt how to convert and open all those file types.

The ones created or saved in MacWriteII have/had a lot of bizarre formatting issues caused by data migration; e.g., floating chunks of text that belong elsewhere in the document and need to be C&Ped back together in their proper order (often breaking off in the middle of words or sentences!), gibberish at the beginning, words I taught the ’93 Mac’s spellcheck, text from files on other disks, symbols in the middle of words, repeated letters, huge indents. That needed addressed before I could even begin editing and assigning them places in my long queue.

As I’ve said many times, it was a blessing in disguise that the original files of Little Ragdoll were held hostage for so many years. There was no way I could’ve salvaged even a halfway decent story by writing around this Grimms’ fairytale on acid. I needed a complete rewrite from scratch and memory, though I kept the same general outline.

Being away from a story for 5–10 years provides one with a whole new set of eyes. Now, I like to wait at least a few months before diving back in. When we begin editing and revising too soon, we’re often blind to mistakes both big and small.

I learnt a big lesson from my mad dash to the finish with And Aleksey Lived in 2018. Since there was almost no time between the day I wrote the last word in the final appendix and the release date, I had to fly through with proofreading. A lot of little errors also turned up in the first printed edition, which I thankfully was able to correct for free.

I’m doing JuNoWriMo for I believe the sixth year, though I’m not hopeful of reaching 50K. All part of the joy of being stuck in a home not my own, with the local libraries still not open to more than brief browsing, and in an open concept house that makes privacy all but impossible. </extreme sarcasm>

I’ll be using June to work on my radical rewrite of the book formerly known as The Very Last, start my new alternative history, and do my final proof-check of the third edition of Little Ragdoll. I also count blog posts as creative non-fiction.

After daydreaming about this for at least 20 years, I’ve finally begun the process of applying to make aliyah (move to Israel). I came up with a lot of stupid excuses and reasons to postpone it, and even let my now-ex talk me out of it. Unfortunately, I’ve aged out of a lot of great opportunities, like work-study programs and volunteering on most kibbutzim.

I’ll be discussing this much more in future posts. If all goes well and I’m approved, I should be there by next summer. Though I used to want to live in Haifa, my dream city now is Tiberias in the Lower Galilee.

In response to the awful events of May, I’ve changed my Twitter display name to my Hebrew name, Chana Esther Dafna.

What are your summer writing plans?

WeWriWa—Halloween party ends in mayhem


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 from the eighth book in my series focused on Max Seward, Jr., and his wacky family, set during autumn 1943.

Max’s cousin Elaine and their friend Quintina have organized a show-stopping school Halloween party, and Max himself has carved sixty jack-o-lanterns. All is going well till the local band starts taking off their costumes.

After these first five girls tackle their favorite bandmembers, it becomes a free-for-all as almost all the other girls rush the gym stage and pile onto the band too.

“There’s my heartthrob.” Kit yanked off the Stalin mask and raced over to Randy as he pulled off the spider head.

“And there’s mine.” Julieanna whipped off the Lenin mask and raced to Jakey as he draped the Dracula cape over the drums.

“That’s mine.” Violet tore off her Mussolini face and raced towards Bobby as he unghouled himself for the evening.

“And mine.” Cinnimin grabbed off the Hitler mask and made for Danny as he took off his football helmet.

“Oh my God, is that Pauly Richardson under the suit of shining knightly armor?” Mickey screamed, removing the disks from her eyes and tackling him to the ground.

I’d opened and converted the fourteen chapter files of this draft about two and a half years ago, but for some reason, the new master file kept crashing when I tried to open it. I had to go back onto my older computer (which has Word, unlike my newer computer), and went through the process all over again.

I’m so lucky that 10-year-old computer still works, I have an external disk drive, and those old files still open in spite of the hoops I have to jump through to convert and reformat them. This particular section seemed to need less extensive editing and rewriting than other parts of the Halloween chapter.

I was only fourteen when I handwrote the first draft, and about twenty when I transcribed it and made some changes. It’s yet another example of how my shorter books need far more extensive rewriting, editing, and restructuring than the books I deliberately wrote at saga-length!

What’s Up Wednesday

Snowman Button (final)

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

Still spending lots of quality time with the book I can’t name till my A to Z theme reveal for my names blog. This is one of my desert island books, and having a proper, modern translation has made all the difference in the world in loving it even more.

What I’m Writing

I’ve completed Chapter 114 of Journey Through a Dark Forest, and updated the table of contents yet again. Now there are 118 planned chapters plus the Epilogue. I think Chapter 115 will be another short chapter (by my standards). I’ve reached the 850K mark, and really, really hopeful my new 875K guesstimate will be my final prediction. Perhaps I can publish it in four “knots,” the way Aleksandr Isayevich, of blessèd memory, did with his massive Red Wheel saga.

Anastasiya really surprised me at the end of Chapter 114. After all the awful things she’s done and said over the last thirty years, she finally has a moment of humanity and thinks of someone other than herself when she’s forced to hold her grandson for some photographs after his baptism. She notices Rodimir (Rodik) strongly resembles her, and this in turn reminds her of her mother and grandmother. Finally, she’s crying for someone other than herself, and thinking of how this child is the eternity of her ancestors. She leaves to buy some gifts, and begs for family peace and a relationship with her grandson when she returns to the party.

My goal for this week is to finish Chapter 115. It’ll be set on Orthodox Christmas 1948, sort of a transition into the last few chapters.

What Works for Me

Learning how to write third-person omniscient which works well in the modern era is a delicate dance. I’ve got a post coming up in March about how NOT to write this POV, using eleven specific examples (e.g., God-mode; political, religious, social, or cultural commentary; making value judgments on characters; telling the reader how to think, feel, and react). They’re illustrated with examples from my own early drafts, with the date I wrote each in parentheses. This POV is much more flexible than first-person or third-person limited, but you still can’t jump all over the place with it or misuse your all-knowingness.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

I went back onto my old computer to get both version of my résumé (though the job market in my area is pretty dismal), and while I was there, I used Word 2004 to open, convert, and reformat the 14 files of my eighth Max’s House book. Once again, there was bizarre data migration in the converted files. This has happened to a number of other files I created in MacWriteII, lines from other files which aren’t even on that disk, and even strings of words I taught the spellcheck on the ’93 Mac. I’d love to know if there’s a logical reason for this!

It’s always a headache to reformat these converted files, since there are so many floating and misplaced text blocks I have to copy and paste back into their proper place, as well as unnecessarily duplicated lines and words, and then all the gibberish characters. Meanwhile I barely had a problem with the ClarisWorks files I converted and reformatted.

I’d seriously love to move back to Pittsburgh (particularly since Pitt’s library school is so much better than Albany’s), but with this brutal winter, I’m once again tempted to move to Florida, where my aunt and surviving grandparents live. Pittsburgh is in my blood and bones, but I’d love nothing more than never having to deal with snow and ice ever again.

2012 in Review

2012 made it 28 years since I’ve been writing, 29 years since I’ve been reading. I also finally belatedly went back to school for a master’s degree and got all my files off of my old eMac, and continued converting and reformatting my books that had been held hostage on obsolete file formats on disks for years.

When I started looking through my AppleWorks files, I got the brilliant idea to make the stories of my Shoah characters (both during and after the war) into a spin-off from my Atlantic City books. Prior, I’d written those stories to periodically insert into my Max’s House books taking place at the same time, as a sort of counterpoint and sobering alternate trajectory to the stories of the American teens, whose troubles pale in comparison to those of their European peers. I realized most of those stories were becoming far too long and involved, and deserved their own books.

The first one I tackled was the only completed story, a long short story/piece of backstory about my secondary character Major Jakob DeJonghe and his wife Rachel Roggenfelder. I saw so many places where the narrative could easily be expanded and fleshed out significantly, since there were a lot of wraparound narrative summaries to cover large portions of the timeline. It got so long that I decided to end it on a natural breaking point, and use the rest of the material for a second volume, about Jakob’s first year in America.

I really enjoyed writing both of those books, and Jaap quickly became one of my favorite male protagonists. The second volume also gave me a chance to write about the culture shocks experienced by Jakob and Rachel as new immigrants, and how so many people around them genuinely couldn’t understand how it’s normal in Holland for a woman to keep her surname and to give birth at home with a midwife. One of the book’s prominent storylines is Rachel’s search for a midwife in the era of twilight sleep.

I got a few requests from contests I entered the first volume in, but didn’t query it. I’m hoping to query it around in the new year, since I always had a very special feeling about it, and it’s really short by my standards. I also won a short story contest at the YA Stands blog for “Kálmán Runs Away,” a 7200-word story set in France in April 1946 and centered on a 16-year-old Hungarian couple.

I did a lot more editing, revising, polishing, and rewriting of my first Russian novel, and some little edits here and there on Little Ragdoll. I’d already done the majority of my editing and revising of the latter in 2011. I got some work done on Justine Grown Up, but had to put it on hiatus again because the spark just wasn’t burning brightly enough. I’m still going to eventually get back to work on it, but I’m not sure when. I’m also still hoping to find a few people to interview for the dramatic penultimate chapter, “Sing Blue Silver Snowstorm.”

I began my third Russian novel on 5 November and did a lot of work very quickly. I’m already up to a bit over 123,000 words, with my guesstimate for the completed book at 450,000. It could easily go up to 500,000, since it does cover 15 years and has so many characters and locations (Minnesota, Manhattan, Moskvá, Minsk, Kyiv, Siberia, Shanghai, Toronto, San Francisco, France, Germany, Poland, Sweden, a few more).


Some of the books I read in 2012 that I loved:

The Watch That Ends the Night, by Allan Wolf, a novel in verse about the Titanic. If I hadn’t been told that this was YA, I would’ve assumed it was a regular adult historical. (Seriously, only a handful of the characters are young people.) It gave me hope for the future of serious historical in modern YA.

The Ausländer, by Paul Dowswell. It was published in England, and also gave me hope for the future of serious historical YA. It’s a unique take on life in Nazi Germany, full of meticulous historical research and character development. Though it’s under 300 pages, it didn’t feel short or insubstantial at all.

My Family for the War, by Anne C. Voorhoeve. It was originally published in Germany as Liverpool Street, and follows a Kindertransport child from 1938-45, as she ages from 10 to 17. It was so refreshing to read a real Bildungsroman that follows a character during her entire coming of age period, a book that’s more about the journey of growing up in a tumultuous time period than fast-paced and plot-centric.

A Promise at Sobibór, by Philip Bialowitz. I met Mr. Bialowitz when he spoke at Saratoga a few years ago, and was just as impressed by his memoir as I was by his talk. He and his much-older brother Symcha are among the 53 known Sobibór survivors, and took part in the brave uprising and escape of 14 October 1943. This book was under 200 pages, but it didn’t feel short or rushed at all. It’s not about word or page count, but what you do with it that makes or breaks a story.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. This was one of those books I’d always known about, but for whatever reason, I never got around to reading it. It was well worth the wait. This is one of those books that’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life, with such memorable characters and scenes, so many emotional moments.

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. This was one of the non-fiction books I picked for my YA Lit class, and it really helped me to understand how so many otherwise normal, nice young people could’ve gotten so sucked into a culture of hatred and violence. In their minds, they were doing the right thing. It also told the stories of some young people who were brave enough to resist.

Annie on My Mind, by Nancy Garden. This was another book I’d known about for a long time, but just never got around to reading. It too was well worth the wait. It felt so refreshing to read a character-driven, slower-paced YA book with more literary language. I agree that it doesn’t read like a book set in the early Eighties or late Seventies, but that helps to give it a more timeless feel. A lot of YA books from bygone years now seem rather dated, products of a particular decade instead of a story for all time.

The Well of Loneliness, by Radclyffe Hall. While this is one of those books that I knew going in wasn’t going to have a happy ending (Annie was the first book with a gay couple to have a happy ending), I loved the prose and the story. It’s full of the old-fashioned, telling prose that would get ridiculed nowadays, but that was the style at the time (1928). I grew up reading books that told more than showed, so I’m used to that.


My beautiful vinyl collection only grew by two this year, Arena (1984) and Notorious (1986). It sucks no longer living within walking distance of a record store and being able to go there once a week (or more) to just browse for hours, breathing in the beautiful smell of vinyl. And you know you’re hopelessly timewarped when you finally fall for a band who got famous in your lifetime, and their first record is still over 30 years old by now. I just can’t win!

Letting Go Bloghop

My Alpha Male post is here.

To celebrate the release of her new adult contemporary romance novella If I Let You Go, Kyra Lennon is holding a bloghop with the theme of letting go. The winner will receive a $10 Amazon gift card. (And I love that font! It reminds me a bit of a slightly less-fancy version of my favorite fancy font, Edwardian Script.)

Here’s my entry, originally 892 words and edited down to 498.

I got the idea for my contemporary historical Bildungsroman Little Ragdoll in May of ’93, when I first heard the famous story behind The Four Seasons’ song “Rag Doll.”  In July, I began working on it.

In those days, I usually didn’t break up my books into smaller files.  I learnt a very valuable lesson when some kind of disk bug struck in the Spring of ’94.  I was so devastated I stopped working on it.

I carried Adicia’s story around in my head for years, always feeling I’d finish it someday.  In the intervening years, I even thought up Betsy van Niftrik and her parents.

Years passed, and computers no longer had disk drives.  And the newest Mac word processing program, AppleWorks, couldn’t open MacWriteII or ClarisWorks files.

I finally bit the bullet in November 2010, after having several dreams about it.  So many things came back to me, like Sarah.  It was meant to be, if I could carry that story around in my subconscious for 16.5 years.

Because I let go of my obsession with needing to have the original first draft to work from, I was able to craft a much stronger, more mature story, and take it in directions I never could’ve dreamt of at all of 13-14.

A few months after finishing the 397,000-word first draft, the discontinued original first draft was miraculously resurrected.  I’ve been thankful ever since that it was lost for so many years.  I needed to be forced to let go of it in order to take the story in the direction it needed to go.  I’d grown so much as a writer, and I wouldn’t have been served well to crawl back to the past.

There’s no way I could’ve salvaged a halfway-decent story from that mess.  The only things that remained the same were the names, ages, and basic outline.  Losing it let me do things like:

  • Make oldest sister Gemma more nuanced and sympathetic, instead of some queen bitch.
  • Significantly tone down youngest brother Tommy’s spoilt brattiness.  Now he grows very slowly over the 15 years of the story, and his major redeeming feature is his colorblindness.
  • Give Allen and Lenore’s love story more buildup, instead of getting them together so soon.
  • Put in some new characters and subplots, like Marjani, the mystery of who Julie’s mother is, and oldest brother Carlos’s trial.

As emotionally difficult and frustrating as it is, every writer should have that experience of a total rewrite at least once.  Sometimes a draft is so awful that you have to scrap it and reconstruct it almost completely.  Now down to 387,000 words (would’ve been a bit shorter if I hadn’t needed to write in left-handedness for a bunch of characters), this is one of the books I’m proudest of having written.

It was truly a combination of letting go and being unable to move on.  They existed alongside one another and made the final product stronger.