Radical relationship revamps

It was a blessing in disguise that I put my radical rewrite of the book formerly known as The Very Last on hiatus in mid-2015. At the time, I was frustrated because I couldn’t locate enough information about the Portuguese World Exposition of 1940, and I felt exhausted at the thought of researching and writing about the 1939–40 World’s Fair only a few years after doing it for Dark Forest. Now I realize I couldn’t have rewritten that book the way it needed to be had I continued on in 2015.

Though I wasn’t shy about cutting out garbage, adding new and improved material, and tweaking storylines by 2015, I still had a major blind spot regarding certain things. This included Kit’s relationship with a much-older boy who originally had a crush on her sister Conny.

A big part of Kit’s character is that she’s like a young Samantha Jones, but now I’m too disturbed by her dating a high school boy when she’s in elementary school. Even if she’s aged up two years, she’d still only be eleven.

Originally, Conny’s future husband, an 18-year-old violinist named Thomas McCartney from Andover, England, showed up on the Greens’ doorstep on 1 June 1940, and he and 15-year-old Conny were instantly taken with one another. Kit decided to tag along to their first date with a date of her own, Jerry Wasserstein, a Catholic boy from Ohio Avenue.

This date went so well, Conny and Tom had sex in the guesthouse while Mr. and Mrs. Green were away. Kit led Jerry into her parents’ bedroom, took down their “boring” paintings and replaced them with erotic art, and went to third base with him on the bed. They fell asleep partly-clothed.

In the morning, cops showed up (having been alerted by the stores where Conny bought sexy clothes and condoms) and made all four of them parade naked through the city as punishment for illicit sexual activity (Conny and Tom) and shocking, disreputable conduct (Kit and Jerry).

WHAT?!

Beyond the obvious creepiness (to say the very least!) of a 15-year-old dating and getting physical with a preteen, Conny and Tom’s meeting, and his immediate move into the guesthouse, is so unrealistic. I was starting to rewrite that chapter with the changed detail of him showing up at the Greens’ doorstep because Kit’s lifelong rival Violet gave the address as a flophouse, but even that felt silly. Don’t even ask about the evil twin storyline which results in Tom leaving town and being presumed dead until 1957!

The storylines about Kit and Conny’s dating drama were somewhat better-incorporated in the first and second drafts of 1997 and 1999, but since I cut out a lot of cluttery chapters and seriously toned down Kit and Jerry’s relationship, they feel more like a tacked-on afterthought. Their beaux also aren’t even developed very well.

Many people, regardless of religion, are familiar with I Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I reasoned as a child; but when I became an adult, I put away childish things.” This is a sentiment everyone can relate to, and it’s particularly relevant to how my writing changed as my cognitive development reached its final stage.

However, probably not so many people are as familiar with the line following it, “For we now see obscurely through a mirror, and then face to face; now I know in part, and then I will fully know, as I was also known.” Becoming an adult isn’t just about putting away childish things, but attaining the kind of wisdom and hindsight that only come from years of life experience.

When I edited the third draft of How Kätchen Became Sparky in 2011–12, in my early thirties, I knew enough to significantly tone down a lot of the wildly age-inappropriate content. It was toned down even further during the fourth draft of 2014–15, and more still during the fifth and final version of 2017–18. I also deliberately made the characters’ age ambiguous.

Things I thought were funny or hard-hitting satire as a teen and in my early twenties horrified me once I was in my thirties. Germane to this post, Kit and Jerry’s relationship screams child abuse and taking advantage of a minor. Even if Kit were to lie about her age or Jerry were to assume she were 13 (the age she looks and acts) and never be corrected, that still wouldn’t make it right.

At 42, I understand so much more about child safeguarding, and don’t want to give any impression I approve of such a massively inappropriate situation. I kid you not, in the first two drafts, Kit and Jerry frequently drew and photographed one another naked and in sexual situations. One of these “artworks” was inspired by a scene in a Victorian erotic novella, Kit urinating into Jerry’s mouth.

Unfortunately, this does mean losing a lot of great dialogue and scenes with the Greens, esp. Kit’s unhappily married parents (who are also third-cousins), but maybe I can recycle them in other books. I’m also planning to reuse some of them in the chapter “The Wrath of Conny,” which will take a much different track than originally written. (I just had to keep that chapter title!)

Conny and Tom will still start dating in this book, but under much different circumstances, and with the twist that she’s lying to him about her age. In place of Jerry, Kit may start dating her original first boyfriend Haakon much earlier.

The one time Kit does date an older boy, Robert Valli, they run into serious irreconcilable differences immediately, largely because they’re at such different places in life. Why would Jerry be any different?

WeWriWa—Shocking revelation

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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. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m sharing from my alternative history, with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari, and will give them an eventual happy ending, with lots of Sturm und Drang.

This comes shortly after last week’s excerpt, when Dante, newly widowed, found Beatrice walking down the street alone at night. When she collapsed outside his house, he picked her up and immediately realized she has a high fever. She said her husband beat her before leaving for Cyprus on business, and that he also discovered and destroyed the herbal concoctions she secretly used for birth control.

Now comes an even more shocking revelation.

“You’re safe here, Bice,” I said in a shaking voice. “I won’t let de ’Bardi take you away when he returns. If I have to, I’ll hide you in another city until you’re widowed. Maybe your father will agree to help with getting an annulment.”

“He thinks I’ve been committing adultery with you.” Her voice had faded to almost a whisper. “That’s why he beat me.”

I almost dropped her upon hearing this revelation. Of all the things anyone could believably accuse me of, adultery was beyond the beyond.  Beatrice and I had never been alone during her entire marriage, and when we exchanged words at church, in the street, or at her family’s celebrations to which I was invited, we only spoke of mundane, respectable things.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

Not one personal word suggesting an inappropriate relationship passed our lips, though almost everyone in Fiorenza knew we’d been close friends since childhood. Neither did we send letters to one another. Perhaps the look of adoration in my eyes betrayed my true feelings, but there was no other evidence which would prove such an accusation.

“Francesco, Tana, come inside,” I called through the back door. “We’ll have to stargaze another night. A terrible calamity has occurred. There’s no time to explain.”

My siblings ran into the house and stopped abruptly when they saw me carrying Beatrice.

“Can we do anything to help?” Tana asked.

“You can summon Galfrido and ask him to fetch Dr. Salvetti. Tell him it’s urgent.”

WeWriWa—Presents from the Lindmaas

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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. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

This week will be my last Christmas-themed excerpt, in honor of the recent Orthodox Christmas. It comes from Chapter 90, “Cruel Christmas,” from A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, the fourth book about my Russian-born characters. It’s set during January 1951.

Milena Kalvik, age 26, is the nanny of Tarmo and Meri Lindmaa. Their father Vahur, a widower about to turn 33, lost his wife in the final bombing of Tallinn, Estonia in 1944. Meri is particularly attached to Milena, never having known her birth mother. She was born in a posthumous C-section two months prematurely, and has a very unusual scar on her face from the rushed surgery done in the dark with only a knife.

Milena has had feelings for Vahur almost since they met, and adores his children, but doesn’t think he could ever reciprocate.

The Lindmaas are Taaraists, followers of Estonia’s original religion Taarausk (Taaraism), which is built around Nature worship. Taara is their supreme god.

Milena fetches the gifts she bought for Vahur, Meri, and Tarmo. Though they don’t celebrate Christmas, it felt wrong to not give them anything in return. For Tarmo and Meri, she bought James Thurber’s The 13 Clocks and Anne Parrish’s The Story of Appleby Capple, respectively. Vahur’s present is a painted necktie with Bengal tigers.

“I hope you like our gifts,” Meri says. “Tarmo and I spent a lot of time making them. It was easier to do when you don’t live with us anymore.”

Milena unwraps a set of four coasters from Tarmo, painted with geometric patterns in a rainbow of colors, and a green, heart-shaped ceramic candy dish from Meri. Her heart skips a beat when she discovers a rough-cut pearl necklace from Vahur.

“You didn’t have to get me something so personal,” Milena protests.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

“I’m only your children’s nanny. The other jewelry you’ve gotten me is unprecedented enough.”

“Why shouldn’t I honor such a special person with pearls?” Vahur smiles at her. “I’ve never seen you wearing pearls, and thought you deserved your own, in a unique style. So many other ladies wear basic, boring white pearls, but how many wear rough-cut pearls? It’s special, just like you.” Vahur takes it out of the box and fastens it around Milena’s neck. “Every lady deserves pearls from a man, and since no one else did it, I took it upon myself.”

“So you feel sorry for me because I’m an old maid?”

“Perish the thought. Taara’s keeping you single so long because your husband’s very special and worth waiting for. It takes more time to match some people. Not everyone is lucky enough to find a soulmate at all of sixteen or twenty. You’ll appreciate him more when he reveals himself.”

Milena’s heart flutters at that choice of phrase. She can’t let herself believe Vahur is speaking about himself, but the possibility exists. Her heart beats even faster when Vahur helps her on with her winter wraps and takes her arm.

WeWriWa—Welcoming 1980

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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. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

For my New Year’s snippet, I’m sharing from Chapter 11, “New Year’s Eve Delight,” of my long-hiatused WIP Justine Grown Up, the third book in my contemporary historical family saga about the Troys and the Ryans, and a modern retelling of sorts of Margaret Sidney’s Phronsie Pepper. It’s now New Year’s Eve 1979, and instead of spending the entire holiday sharing private romantic moments, Justine and David are forced to endure the negative running commentary of older siblings who still see them as children.

David’s term of endearment for Justine, cuisle mo chroí (COOSH-la ma cree), means “pulse of my heart” in Irish.

Working synopsis:

Justine’s jealous feelings at the birth of Julie’s first child are quickly turned around when she reconnects with David, now twenty-five and a Ph.D. student. Unfortunately, her older siblings and their friends have a hard time seeing her, after years of being the precious family baby, as a grownup woman who’s old enough for marriage, motherhood, and moving out with her new family. But then, when her young nieces become Duranies, an unexpected opportunity opens up for Justine to finally prove once and for all to her family that she’s a responsible, capable, mature adult.

When the tray of food is passed around to her, she takes a handful of nuts and a few crackers.

“Would you like something to drink with that?” David asks.

“Watch it,” Adicia says. “Justine won’t be twenty-one till March. Have you ever given her alcohol before?”

“Of course not! I rarely drink myself, but it’s nice to have a little on holidays and special occasions.”

“You’ve let me have champagne and wine before on New Year’s Eve,” Justine says.

“Yeah, but I’m your sister, not an older boyfriend who’s slept his way across Europe!”

“I slept with a handful of women, not the entire female population!” David says.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

Justine grudgingly accepts the orange egg cream David brings her in place of champagne. During the remaining few minutes of the decade, she sits snuggled up against him, trying to tune out the rest of their families. If they were in Times Square, she’d probably be kissing her new boyfriend, but for now she’ll have to settle for a hug to greet 1980.

“Don’t worry,” David whispers. “We’ll be back in Albany soon enough and can have all the privacy we want. In the meantime, the anticipation will make it better.”

“I hope so.”

He hugs her again. “Welcome to 1980, cuisle mo chroí.”

WeWriWa—The party ends

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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. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing from a brand-new project, an alternative history with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari at a party held by her parents.

This comes right after last week’s excerpt, when a group of young Maggerini (May Day singers) came to the courtyard to perform. Now the happy mood of the party is broken by the necessity of leaving prematurely.

The word “windows” was frequently used to refer to eyes in Medieval Italy.

Babbo came up behind me and put his hand on my back. “Dante, we must return home. Unlike certain other people here, we haven’t the luxury of spending all day at a party. Work can’t entirely stop for the sake of Calendimaggio.”

I bent my head slightly. “Yes, Babbo.” As badly as I wished to remain here the rest of the day and prolong my closeness to Beatrice, I wanted even more to avoid tasting the sting of the birch and transforming a joyous day into a ruined, unhappy day. “May I bid farewell to my friends first?”

“Of course, but don’t take too much time doing it or let anyone pull you into a long conversation. I have important business to resume, and you have Latin to study.”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

To my great delight, when I turned to my right, I found Beatrice’s lovely emerald windows directly fixed upon me. An angelic smile graced her countenance.

“It was very nice meeting you and your family, Bice. I hope we’re able to visit again soon.”

“I enjoyed meeting you too. I’m surprised we never met before when we live in the same neighborhood and also both have summer villas in Fiesole.” She adjusted the violet crown I’d set upon her head. “Ricovero and I will put in a good word about you with our parents. I don’t think they’ll disapprove of you visiting us again.”

I smiled at her and nodded. “The next time I visit, I’ll bring a little gift to thank your parents for their hospitality. God should bless your family in all things.”

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