Posted in Editing, Fourth Russian novel, Rewriting, Writing

Redirecting an aborted storyline

Though I had to abandon the storyline about the Konevs moving back to NYC in June 1952, creating it wasn’t a complete waste. It helped me to discover the real reasons they settled in rural Minnesota and were so adamant about their kids always living on their isolated, compound-like property. After their traumatic childhoods and the additional trauma of the Civil War, could they really be blamed?

It also brought my attention to a lot of compelling themes, like making peace with letting go of a daydream, establishing independent adult lives in a place of one’s own choosing instead of feeling duty-bound to stay close to family, life being customized instead of standard-issue, letting life take us where it’s meant to instead of adhering to set in stone items on an arbitrary checklist, never being too late to take another fork in the road.

From the ruins of this storyline arose much stronger replacements which truly work with who these characters are:

1. Stefania Wolicka Academy’s radical pedagogy will be significantly toned down. It’ll still use a lot of hands-on, non-traditional learning methods, and students will still be able to choose many of their own classes and assignments, but it won’t be 99% self-teaching and doing whatever they want.

2. Towards that end, Lyuba will be offered a position teaching Russian history and literature to the high school girls.

3. Lyuba will also use her history degree to start an interview archive (both written and recorded) with everyday people.

4. Ivan will take more art classes at the Minneapolis School of Art (now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design). He unfortunately began the University of Minnesota right when its art program switched focus to the business side of art instead of the fine arts aspect, so his formal art education is a bit lacking.

5. The Konevs will move into an abandoned Victorian estate on St. Paul’s Summit Ave., near the intersection with Mississippi River Blvd. They get the big house of their dreams, with a yard large enough for their horse Branimir, and a gorgeous view of the river.

6. On the same block will be several families of fellow black sheep artists and intellectuals from Greece, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. They also have daughters Sonyechka and Tamara’s ages. It’s high time the Konevs became friends with people outside their immediate family and longtime best friends.

7. The Konevs will meet the Hungarian family on the train back to Minnesota after Igor and Ilya’s New York weddings, and they’ll help Sonyechka to understand not all artists and intellectuals want to live in NYC.

8. Andrey’s psychology Ph.D. residency will be in San Francisco, which absorbed a large population of Shoah survivors. That solves the problem of Katya and her son Rodik being all alone while Dmitriy’s deployed. Who better for her to live with than her favorite sister Darya?

9. Since Fedya is likewise very close to Darya, he and Novomira will also start their new lives in San Francisco. Fedya will study at the San Francisco Art Institute.

10. Tatyana and Nikolay will scale back their farm and join forces with other farmers to start a grocery store like Amherst’s Atkins or Albany’s Honest Weight Food Co-op.

11. On the initiative of their firstborn Kira, they’ll also become a farm sanctuary by any other name.

12. A suburb will be created near the then-largely rural, undeveloped neighborhood of Duluth Heights, providing a much-needed source of new friends for Tatyana and Nikolay’s family and a financial lifeline for Firebird Fields. The new neighbors will be mostly fellow Russian–Americans, with some Serbians, Ukrainians, and Finns.

13. Aleksey will go full-time with his woodworking business and sell his creations in the arts and crafts section of the new grocery store.

14. Eliisabet will attend Duluth’s College of St. Scholastica for her much-belated bachelor’s degree.

15. Igor and Violetta will fall in love with Denver and eventually move there. It’s such a beautiful city, with so many wonderful things to paint, and a thriving arts scene. Equally-lovely Boulder and Colorado Springs are also nearby.

16. Firebird Fields will transition away from an agricultural focus.

17. I’ll also develop the town in much greater detail. Apart from a scene at the skating rink in Dark Forest, a few graduation scenes at the school, and mentions of local businesses, it never really came alive as a living, breathing, thriving small town.

18. Nikolas will stay in NYC to open a law practice with Andrey Zyuganov and Anahita Sadeghi.

19. His wife Kat will attend Brooklyn College for her much-belated bachelor’s degree.

20. Prof. Novak will join the University of Minnesota’s anthropology department, which was fairly small in this era.

Posted in Writing

IWSG—June odds and sods

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
It’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:

Writers have secrets! What are one or two of yours, something readers would never know from your work?

There’s a possibility the keratoconus in my right eye will continue worsening and eventually leave me legally blind. If that happens, I’ll forego corneal transplant and rock eyepatches with quirky patterns, beautiful fabrics, and gorgeous colors.

I’m doing JuNoWriMo again, with no expectation of overachieving or even getting 50K thanks to lockdown. To avoid my cyclical depression being triggered by more poor wordcounts, I switched to checking proofs of my books awaiting the okay for print runs.

I found about 10–12 little things in The Twelfth Time, and a handful in the first two volumes of Dark Forest. Most embarrassing in the latter was one I found right off the bat, in my note at the beginning. I hope that was a C&P gone horribly awry, since I’m positive I corrected all four to include the new wordcount of the second edition! Only Volume IV was correct.

I also took advantage of a free title setup IngramSpark offered through the end of May, for the book formerly known as The Very First. An August release is planned. I’d really appreciate any help in getting the word out, esp. since I’d love to be nominated for the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

The book formerly known as The Very Next will get one final edit after JuNo, and then I’ll finish the radical rewrite of the book formerly known as The Very Last.

My main priority remains finishing A Dream Deferred already! I thought about it some more, and decided it still works for Lyuba and Ivan’s oldest two kids to relocate their families back to NYC. It also still makes sense for their friend Nikolas to remain in the city to open a law practice in the tradition of Clarence Darrow.

Lyuba, Ivan, and their youngest children will, however, remain in St. Paul, and their son-in-law Andrey (husband of Darya) will do his Ph.D. psychology residency in San Francisco. This works beautifully, since Darya’s favorite sister Katya lives there. Fourth sister Irina will also move her quirky fashion company there.

It’s a really bad trope when an entire cast relocates together, unless it’s part of a storyline like immigration or the Oregon Trail. It’s also high time for the Konevs to realise it’s not healthy to be so joined at the hip.

I’ll be exploring this more in future posts.

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I also think I might have to move another storyline into the future fifth book. Almost immediately, I lost track of how Part IV is supposed to be about bringing storylines to their conclusions, not introducing a whole slew of new ones. It drains attention away from the core storylines and creates too much sprawl.

Zhdana and Susanna’s accidental pregnancies were part of my stupid plan to get most of the cast into the same apartment. Susanna and Vilorik will still break up, and Zhdana and Tomik will still have their little 26-week miracle Chudomira, but there’s no reason they have to happen here.

Since Dr. Scholl plans to retire in 1953, why not have Zhdana get pregnant late in that year? Dr. Scholl would never abandon a patient partway through her pregnancy, let alone a high-risk one. It would be so bittersweetly fitting if the final baby he delivers is Chudomira.

Would you be willing to help with promotion for TVF? Ever lost control of a WIP or tried to stuff in too many storylines?

Posted in Editing, Rewriting, Russian novel sequel

Walking through more second edition edits

My second edition edits for The Twelfth Time were even less extensive than the ones for Journey Through a Dark Forest, but noteworthy enough to make mention of. Most, however, entailed tightening kerning to remove unsightly gaps, or slightly rephrasing things or removing words when kerning tightening failed. A few times, I also excised lines that suddenly came across as overly wordy or unnecessary.

1. A contradictory line from Rostislav, shortly after he and Lyolya arrive in San Francisco, about never seeing a moving picture or automobile in person, then pondering whether any of his fave actors are still making films. WHAT! Perhaps I intended it to mean actors he liked reading about and seeing photos of in newspapers, but that still seems off. I changed it to Lyolya wondering this.

2. Again, more accurate descriptions of housing. E.g., Lyuba’s mother and stepfather move to a four-story townhouse (which is still humble by townhouse standards); Boris lives in a two-story former carriage house; Alla and Daniil live in a three-story (including the garden level) mews house on a private lane. Despite seeing many photos of NYC houses, I nevertheless persisted in a mental image of shrunken-down bungalows or detached houses!

3. Adding a few lines to say Lyuba and Katrin’s bank has the very progressive, highly unusual policy of letting women do business without a man’s permission or co-signature.

4. For the first time, going into more detail about Katrin’s building. She and most of her friends always use the service entrance and lift, eschewing the grand courtyard and lobby on the other side. The building is called The Fourier, after esteemed Utopian Socialist Charles Fourier, and a very early cooperative. Very rarely for the era, the manager lets women buy apartments without a male co-signature.

Though there are many luxury units, there are also apartments for normal people. Even the rich residents are the type rejected by the UES, and many other UWS luxury buildings—Blacks, Jews, Catholics, nouveau riche, political radicals, atheists, Asians, Eastern and Southern Europeans, women living alone.

5. After Katrin invites Lyuba to attend her weekly Socialist meetings in the penthouse, Viktoriya extends an additional invitation to the daily discussions and film screenings on the first and second floors. The lobby has schedules of the many community events.

6. When Naina and Katya arrive at the penthouse, Katrin says there are amenities like a pool, restaurants, and a hairdressing salon, which she rarely takes advantage of but which they’re welcome to explore while her family’s away at Matryona’s wedding tomorrow.

7. Replacing references to scholarships and tuition at Hunter College and Soviet universities to gratitude they’re free. Marvellously, CUNY schools were free until the city very narrowly escaped bankruptcy in the 1970s, and the USSR’s constitution guaranteed free education. However, I did retain the detail of six of Inessa’s cousins being at a private Communist boarding school which her uncle hasn’t enough money to send all of his kids to. There were a rare few Soviet schools which cost money, which doubtless would’ve included a fancy private academy.

8. Since coming to the realisation it was a mistake for the Konevs to leave NY for rural Minnesota, I added in a few lines here and there making it even more obvious this isn’t who they, or their closest friends, really are. Katrin says she would’ve recommended getting their feet wet with small-scale farming first, and then, if they truly liked it, moving to a more rural area locally. Not blindly committing themselves to something they’ve never done before, a thousand miles away.

9. Katya’s big stuffed parrot is now named Pesto.

10. Fixing the grades Inessa’s youngest cousins and little adoptive sister Valentina are in. For some reason, I had them a year ahead of the grades lining up with their birthdays.

Posted in Editing, Historical fiction, Rewriting, Third Russian novel, Writing

Walking through second edition edits

As it turned out, prepping Journey Through a Dark Forest for its print edition entailed more than tightening up the kerning to remove awkward gaps and catching the odd overlooked typo or minor error here and there. The changes are nowhere near exhaustive, since this wasn’t a rewrite, but they’re noteworthy enough to walk through.

In no particular order:

1. As I’ve been writing A Dream Deferred, it emerged that the Konevs and their best friends moved to rural Minnesota and stayed there so long for all the wrong reasons. Not only that, they made their oldest kids feel compelled to run right home to become farmers themselves after graduating university. Thus, their kids now say they wish they could stay in NYC and are only returning to Minnesota out of duty or outright parental pressure. Others comment on what a bad decision this is.

2. Tatyana’s ocelots, whom Boris gives her as a baptismal anniversary gift in 1937, are now named Nyx and Hemera, after the primordial Greek goddesses of night and day, respectively. Nyx is light and Hemera is dark. Pet characters need names too, even if they don’t constantly appear!

3. Fedya’s clown doll is now named Koko, after Max Fleischer’s very popular clown cartoon series.

4. Darya’s beloved doll from St. Paul is now called Alisa, and the stuffed bunny she got on her first birthday is Cadbury. Obviously, the Cadbury Bunny didn’t exist back then, but they’ve been making Easter chocolates since the 19th century. Doll and stuffed animal characters also deserve names. It’s one thing if they’re only mentioned once, but it’s so impersonal to keep calling them, e.g., “Jane’s doll” or “his tiger.”

5. Katya’s dear old stuffed parrot likewise needs a name.

6. Correcting the depiction of a Manhattan duplex from side-by-side to upstairs and downstairs two-story units.

7. Correcting depictions of other Manhattan architecture to make it clear these houses have multiple stories, stoops instead of verandas, and that Boris’s Harlem brownstone has three, not only two, stories. I have an upcoming post on writing about NYC architecture and housing styles.

8. Reworking Chapter 44, “Martian Panic,” to make it even more obvious only a TINY minority was not just duped but terrified by The War of the Worlds.

9. Inessa now offers Vitya (her future second husband) sympathies on the arrest of his wife after their first proper meeting, and says some of her cousins gave their kids invented Soviet names like Vitya and his wife. As originally written, Inessa says she likes some of those names, but doesn’t know anyone who used them. Huge discrepancy with how all eighteen of her first-cousins once-removed who come to America in 1950 have such names! Inessa also names a few of those cousins.

10. Fedya’s university was changed from Columbia to Cooper Union and back again. Though Columbia didn’t offer a BFA till 1947, Cooper Union only offered art certificates in this era. Absolutely no shame in getting a certificate instead of a degree, but it implies fewer than four years of study, and Lyuba and Ivan place great importance on their kids getting university degrees.

Another reason I changed it back to Columbia was because its 1948 graduation date, vs. any other NYC school, is the only one that works with the timeline of the final chapters. Too much frogging and radical reconstruction otherwise.

11. Reworking sections based around too-early semester start dates in autumn 1942 and spring 1946. I initially moved up the former dates until discovering that too would involve too much frogging and reconstruction. Novomira will have to go into labor her first day back at Barnard, not during a test a few weeks later. For the latter, Fedya will meet with his advisor instead of starting the semester “late” and going about his first day of classes. That semester started on 12 February.

12. A few little tweaks with the Cast of Characters to include or correct birthdates and delete characters who never appear in that volume.

13. While writing A Dream Deferred, I began picturing Lyuba and Ivan’s next-youngest child Sonyechka as blonde and wavy-haired, despite her initial description as raven-haired. There’s now a mention of all her hair falling out at six months (which is very common) and growing back wavy and very dark blonde, to Lyuba’s great shock. Her eyes are also described as very dark blue.

14. After the Siyanchuks and Duranichevs move to Queens Village, Patya tells his daughter Karina she’ll go to the independent Garden School in Jackson Heights. Originally, he said she’d now go to public school.

15. The first book Katya reads on her way back to California in 1946 is now If He Hollers Let Him Go. I had such a sour experience with The Member of the Wedding!

16. Liliana’s nickname was changed from Lilka to Lilya.

17. Dusya’s full name was changed from Nadezhda to Avdotya. I couldn’t find any strong evidence Dusya is a nickname for Nadezhda.

18. Alla’s husband is no longer called Karmov, but Daniil. It felt wrong to call this one character by his surname when no one else is referred to that way.

Posted in Editing, Rewriting

IWSG—February odds and sods

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
It’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:

Has a single photo or work of art ever inspired a story? What was it and did you finish it?

No entire stories I can recall, though photos of things like houses and vintage couples have inspired aspects of my stories.

After spending the end of December and all January working on second edition edits for Journey Through a Dark Forest, I’m now ready to begin spot-checking the proof of The Twelfth Time before approving it for the hardcover run. Simultaneously, I’ll finish up the two sections of Dark Forest I left to get back to. They’re the most frustrating, since they’re premised on Barnard and Columbia, respectively, starting a bit earlier than they really did in autumn 1942 and spring 1946.

I initially moved up the dates in the first instance, and the dates in the next chapter, but later realised that conflicts with Darya referencing her first time at church in four years coincides with the fourth anniversary of her and Oliivia’s deportation from Drancy. I could remove that reference, but it feels more powerful to retain it.

Monday’s post will be a walkthrough of all the changes I made and why.

I also have to find a cover for the book formerly known as The Very First and do a final light edit of it. Initially I formatted it at 5×8, but it just felt too small, even if it created a larger spine. I changed it to 5.5×8.5, which brings it to just shy of 300 pages. Despite the doorstopper length of most of my adult books, my Atlantic City books are meant to be short and sweet.

Also on my to-do list is buying a block of ISBNs. I really wish the Canada-based IndieBookLauncher still sold blocks of five (for one book each) for $25. The Australian branch of Bowker sells ten for $88, plus a $55 new publisher registration fee for people who haven’t previously bought from them, but I don’t know if non-Australians can use their service.

I also am still super-loath to give any money to Bowker when they’re such a greedy monopoly. Not officially being listed as the publisher of my books doesn’t bother me nearly as much as financially rewarding that company. Indie authors typically don’t have cash to burn on ID numbers!

Yes, it’s really “not bad” to drop over a grand on 1,000 ISBNs you’ll probably never use when that money would be better-spent on things like marketing, cover art, editing, and author swag. How much did Bowker pay this dude to write such a ridiculous, out of touch comment?

I’m thinking of buying four each for Dark Forest, Dream Deferred (also to be published in four volumes), and my Atlantic City prequel series. I bought my ISBNs for three other books through a legit third-party site that charges far lower than greedy Bowker.

Simultaneous to all this, I’m continuing to work towards the finish line of Dream Deferred. Hopefully the timing will work out so I’ll finish proofing Dark Forest around the same time, and can begin my first round of edits of Dream Deferred with everything fresh in my memory. I can’t wait to start tackling that project!