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!