IWSG—A miraculous relief and future writing plans

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InsecureWritersSupportGroup
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and lets us share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears.

I found out at the beginning of September that mice got into my storage locker 900 miles away and ate some of the Easter candy in there. From that point on, I became consumed with worry about the fate of my irreplaceable notebooks, my journals from 1989–2008 (most of them in a big black computer bag) and at least 95% of the first draft of my still uncompleted 12-volume magnum opus Cinnimin (from October 1993–September 2010).

For the first week, I could barely sleep, and even began dreaming about my precious notebooks. I saw them in boxes in the storage locker, untouched, but in my waking life, I had visions of them chewed up by mice, decades of dedicated work destroyed, never to be replicated.

Finally, on Monday, my little brother got back to me after I followed up my initial text with well-chosen words to light a fire under him without making it seem like I expect him to be at my beck and call. Baruch Hashem (Thank God), he found both boxes of notebooks and the computer case.

I’ll feel a lot better when they’re back in my physical custody, but for now, it’s enough to know they’re safe.

Part IV of Cinnimin, written autumn 1993

For many years, I’ve been very aware of the fact that Cinnimin needs a lot of work when it’s finally transcribed, esp. the parts I wrote as a teenager. Even as a teen, from age fifteen on, I knew I’d significantly flesh a lot of things out when I had the luxury of a computer file which could be of any length and wasn’t confined by the parameters of a notebook. I deliberately underwrote many things.

Sagas I and II (the Forties and Fifties) need the most radical rewriting, and Sagas III and IV (the Sixties and Seventies) need a fair amount of work too. By the time I got to Saga V, I was an adult, and had developed into a more mature, stronger writer.

I’m also once again having nagging feelings about making my original generation of Atlantic City characters two years older. They’ve always deliberately been written as looking and acting older than they really are, as part of the satire, over the top humor, and je ne sais quoi of WTCOAC (We the Children of Atlantic City, a quasi-religion and secret society sort of like the Masons).

When I resurrected my long-shelved Anne Terrick in 2017, I moved her starting age from ten to almost thirteen, and don’t regret it. If I did the same for my Atlantic City characters, some things would have to be tweaked, but I don’t think the overall stories would suffer if, e.g., they’re in seventh instead of fifth grade when Pearl Harbor is bombed, or seventeen instead of fifteen when the war ends.

Toning down the content even further would destroy the satirical element, but keeping their ages might turn off a lot of people. E.g., Kit’s extremely precocious sexual début and her long list of lovers are a major part of her character, but if she starts at twelve instead of ten, the shock value is retained without coming off as creepy.

My yearly October spotlight on classic horror films kicks off on Friday with Georges Méliès as always. This year will also feature a few D.W. Griffith films, the 1919 German film Unheimliche Geschichten, a couple of lost films, German Expressionist films Waxworks and The Hands of Orlac, the 1939 remakes of The Cat and the Canary and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Hound of the Baskervilles (also 1939). The series will wrap up with Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff.

I also hope to finally finish A Dream Deferred in time for NaNo. I decided to move the subplots about Katya and Dmitriy’s friends Marusya and Sima all the way into the future sixth book, when they buy cheap, abandoned, side-by-side Victorian houses in Haight-Ashbury.

If all goes well, I’ll start the fifth book, From a Nightmare to a Dream: Out of Stalin’s Shadow, next month. I’m looking forward to outlining it.

IWSG—September odds and sods

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

If you could pick one place in the world to sit and write your next story, where would it be and why?

I’d love to have a little cottage in the Hebrides or Orkneys, with one window looking out at the sea and the other at a prehistoric monolith. Since discovering I have Scottish ancestry (both ordinary and from the Medieval kings and queens), I’ve become very proud of those branches of my family tree, and would love to visit the country. It’s an added bonus that there’s so much coastline, with so many islands.

When my finances allow it, I’m joining the Stewart Society, for those of us descended from the former ruling House of Stewart. One of the many perks of membership is a yearly gathering in September, in castles and other residences our ancestors lived in. With any luck, Scotland will finally have her independence back by my first visit.

Even better than a castle or cottage overlooking the sea would be an underwater house made of glass, with the beautiful, inspiring scenery of coral reefs and marine life. The sea calls to the very core of my soul, so much so I want to be buried at sea at the end of my days (hopefully not till 120).

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I’ve been working really hard on my contest entry for the next IWSG Anthology, and will have it ready for submission by Wednesday afternoon. It’s set in 737 Japan, during the Nara period. I’ve never written fantasy before, nor anything nearly that far back in history, but it’s good to stretch our creative muscles.

I’ve also been looking over The Twelfth Time before submitting it for hardcover copies, with another free title setup from IngramSpark. Since I changed the inside margins from 0.7″ to one inch, that means a lot of the kerning needs tightened.

I’ve found a handful of little errors, but 99% of what I’m doing is fixing kerning. Sometimes that entails rephrasing things or removing unnecessary words. I’ll also have to redo the table of contents to reflect the new page numbers.

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I’m also still grinding away on A Dream Deferred, and hoping to be finished by NaNo. A lot of things are coming together as the end finally approaches. It feels more and more right for the Konevs and their dearest friends to return to NY after so many years in Minnesota.

The more I think about it, their initial move was motivated by escapist daydreams, not a true calling to farming and small town life. They made a lot of poor decisions after immigrating, and instead of fixing the core problems soon after they became obvious, they felt locked into the situation and let it keep snowballing. Then their kids felt compelled to stay in farm country too, instead of building independent lives in another city.

Lyuba and Ivan, and their sons Fedya and Igor, will attend Columbia’s graduate school, while Eliisabet and Aleksey will pursue their own midlife bachelor’s degrees, and Tatyana’s family will move to the suburbanesque Queens Village, across the street from dear old friends. Ivan’s father will leave them quite a lot of money in his will near the end of the book, far more money than anyone ever suspected he had. He sinned horrifically against Ivan and Lyuba, and making sure his family will be taken care of financially is the only way left to show his love and try to make amends.

Plus, it also makes things much easier to have the majority of important characters in NYC instead of divided between two states, in addition to the characters in Toronto and Berkeley. All along, the story was pulling me towards this conclusion, but I couldn’t admit it till my own characters did.

Where would you like to write your next story? Have you ever discovered a longstanding aspect of a story was created for the wrong reasons? Have your characters ever started a fresh chapter of their lives in midlife?

IWSG—June odds and sods

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

 Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?

I’ve lived and breathed all things historical since childhood. History was always my favorite subject, and I never understood why so many people complain about it being boring and irrelevant. I loved learning about how people lived in other eras—clothes, food, toys, jobs, houses, pastimes, books, cars, world events.

My secondary love is soft sci-fi. It’s the opposite side of the coin from hist-fic, in that it images worlds in future eras. Both genres also require research. If your story is set in the far future, you have to know about all the predicted developments.

I know this is cliché, but I got interested in sci-fi when I discovered Isaac Asimov at age eleven. He had several stories in a book of sci-fi/futuristic stories we read in my fifth grade English class, including the first one. I was so enraptured by these imagined future worlds, I began reading all I could find about predicted future life (houses, foods, space colonies, undersea towns, leisure space travel, holographic movies, etc.).

I’m doing JuNoWriMo again, and got off to a very slow start due to my main focus being checking the updated file of my alternative history. I fully take the blame for not getting back to it at least several months earlier. Knowing I had to finish it by July was exactly what I needed for one final, major push to finish it already, but I didn’t allot enough time for stepping away to lose familiarity and develop fresh eyes.

Thus, even though I did read it through a few times, I found a LOT of little errors that slipped through. Nothing major, but just typos, misplaced words, missing words, things like that. That’s so unlike me. With all my other published books, I went through them so many times I got sick of looking at them, and only found a few tiny things here and there after the fact.

This was a very important lesson learnt, to always step aside for at least a few months before going back in to edit. Even if a book only needs fairly light editing, that can’t be accomplished properly if you’re flying through it under the gun and immediately went from typing the final word to editing. You’re still blind to your own errors.

I also began doing research for my story for the current IWSG Anthology contest. I’ve never written fantasy before, but there’s a first time for everything. Without giving too much away, my story will be set in 737 Japan, during the Nara period (the penultimate era of classical Japanese history). I’m excited to finally write an entire story in Japan, and to go much deeper back into history than I’ve ever gone before.

King Cerdic of Wessex, my 48-greats-grandpap and earliest verified ancestor, 4??–534

I recently discovered I’m a direct descendant of the Medieval Scottish and Anglo–Saxon kings, and would love to write a historical about my awesome 36-greats-grandpap King Alfred the Great. He was a fellow person of letters and scholar.

In spite of my royal lineage, I’m proudest to discover President Washington is one of my cousins. It’s an unbelievable honor to share blood with the father of my country.

Have you ever belatedly discovered a book wasn’t edited as well as it should’ve been? Would you write about one of your ancestors?

IWSG—February odds and sods

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InsecureWritersSupportGroup
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and gives participants a chance to share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

Besides writing, what other creative outlets do you have?

I’d never pretend to be professional-level, but I enjoy drawing with colored pencils, watercolor pencils, and pastels—Derwent’s Coloursoft, Artbars, and Inktense; Caran d’Ache Pablos and Neocolor II; Faber-Castell Polychromos; Koh-I-Noor woodless coloured pencils; Crayola’s Portfolio oil pastels; about a dozen Prismacolors; and Sennelier oil pastels. The lattermost were created for Picasso in 1949. When I have the money, I want to buy the complete set of Sennelier soft pastels, which were created for Degas.

My passion is for abstract and geometric art.

I also do cross-stitch and embroidery.

My mother started this for her parents after my uncle died in 1988, but put it away for years. (She made a few mistakes!) I finished it while recovering from my last leg surgery in 2006, and my grandparents were thrilled with it. They framed it and hung it on the wall of their condo. My grandma, now my only living grandparent, brought it with her when she moved to a retirement home.

I made a few mistakes of my own on this (Buddha should’ve been taller, and some objects should’ve been in slightly different spots), but no one would tell unless I explained my miscalculations.

Since I won a free title setup on IngramSpark for winning NaNo, I decided to make a hardcover for my first Russian historical. (I’ve long since had a block of five ISBNs for it from Canada’s IndieBookLauncher; this service is sadly no longer offered.) I went through it to make sure it’s as perfect as can be for this the fifth edition, and mostly made tiny tweaks and corrected a few typos that were created during the edits for the fourth edition.

At one point, I began to seriously wish I’d rewritten the first six chapters much more radically during my endless edits, revisions, and rewrites in 2011–14. I junked or radically rewrote 99% of the original 1993 material, but it still didn’t seem like I did enough.

Eventually, I stepped back and realized it’s better to bring my improved writing skills and lessons learnt into current and future books, not waste time frogging part of an already-published book and rewriting those chapters almost entirely from the ground up.

I’m very proud of how I wrote the first draft from ages 13–21, and how it reflects my writing voice, style, and abilities evolving through the years. The scant remainder of the original material is also a poignant reminder of my 128K Mac, on which I began it so many years ago.

Had I begun this book as an adult, I would’ve started it closer to the October Revolution, perhaps even in 1918, not soon after the February Revolution. I also probably would’ve set it in Petrograd, not Moskva. But it is what it is, and it wouldn’t be the same story if I suddenly changed things that are so integral to the overall story.

I’ve finally got Word on my newer computer, but decided to go back to Pages for my WIP. I might try again later, but I’ve grown so used to setting up Pages documents. When I C&Ped the one Word chapter back into the master Pages file, there were a bunch of formatting specs that needed fixed. I’ll use Word for new documents, but will keep Pages as my primary word processor.

My older computer uses Word 2003, so I’m quite out of step with the newest version!

Have you ever had late-coming doubts about a story? Would you be more forgiving of shortcomings in a book if you knew the author had written it at a very young age? Have you had difficulties adjusting to different word processors?

IWSG—2019 goals

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InsecureWritersSupportGroup
Today is the first Insecure Writer’s Support Group meeting of 2019. The IWSG virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and gives participants a chance to share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears.

For 2019, my writing goals include:

Finishing A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, my fourth book with my Russian characters. So far, Part II is coming along much faster than Part I did (not least because I haven’t taken any long hiatuses!). It’s set from September 1948–November 1952 in the Minnesota Twin Cities and Duluth areas, NYC, San Francisco/Berkeley, Toronto/Guelph, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Tokyo.

Do final polishings of and finally release the books formerly known as The Very First and The Very Next, the chronological first of my Atlantic City books, set in 1938 and 1939. Part II of the second book also includes chapters in Poland, Paris, and Portugal.

Possibly get back to work on my radical rewrite and restructuring of the book formerly known as The Very Last, set in 1940.

Make preliminary chapter-by-chapter notes for and begin writing my fifth Russian historical, From a Nightmare to a Dream: Out of Stalin’s Shadow, set from March 1953–sometime in 1956. I just came up with a great third major storyline, with the four characters serving with the Navy in the Korean War.

Blogging goals include:

Getting back to doing more writing guides, with topics including:

Writing about Birkat HaChamah (the blessing of the Sun which takes place every 28 years, and which served as the title of a short sci-fi story I wrote)

How much of your real life to incorporate into fiction

When and how to use wraparound narrative segments

When you should split a deliberately saga-length book into multiple volumes (not to be confused with turning it into entirely separate books)

Breeching for boys and long pants for young men in hist-fic

Dealing with accurate lifespans in hist-fic

Writing about the Vietnam draft lottery

I’ll also be doing more book reviews, and continuing to feature films and albums celebrating a landmark anniversary. I haven’t put this year’s list together yet, but I know it’ll include Tommy (1969), Gone with the Wind (1939), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Abbey Road (1969), The Cocoanuts (1929), A Hard Day’s Night (1964), and White Heat (1949).

Another blogging focus for this year will be resuming my long-running “A Primer on __________________ Names” series, with languages including Armenian, Italian, Greek, Aragonese, Basque, and Anglicization of immigrants’ names. When I’m positive I’m finally finished with this series, I’ll publish it in book form, with expanded commentary and lists.

On a non-writing note, I’d like to be down to 150 pounds by the end of this year. At the start of June 2017, I was close to 220 pounds on a frame just under five feet two inches in bare feet, and within spitting distance of being classified morbidly obese. As of December 2018, I’d gotten down to 164, only a few pounds away from merely being considered overweight.

With my body type, it’s laughable to think I could shrink down to 137, what the BMI claims is the highest “healthy” weight for my height, but I’ll settle for 150. I feel so much healthier after losing over 50 pounds!

P.S.: All my e-books are on sale for 99 cents at Amazon and Nook through 5 January! You can find the buy links here.