Posted in Writing

IWSG—2020 writing goals

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
Today is the first Insecure Writer’s Support Group meeting of 2020. The first Wednesday of each month, we share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What started you on your writing journey? Was it a particular book, movie, story, or series? Was it a teacher/coach/spouse/friend/parent? Did you just “know” suddenly you wanted to write?

I’ve been writing since age four, as long as I’ve known how to write. It’s just something I’ve always done, the way other people have a calling to medicine, art, or religious life. Thus, it’s hard for me to relate to people who only began writing in response to certain series surrounded by massive amounts of hype.

My 2020 writing goals:

1. Finally finish A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University already! I’d love to be done by April Camp NaNo.

2. Do a first round of edits on the above. Shortly before NaNo, I outlined the timelines and events of the chapters set around the beginning of academic years, and was relieved I won’t need to do nearly as much frogging as I feared. It’s more a matter of moving some events into other chapters vs. radically rewriting and restructuring everything. Again, I take full blame for not doing my research and assuming U.S. schools always began in early September.

3. Finish second-edition edits on Journey Through a Dark Forest for the print editions of all four volumes. If I continue shaving about 3,000 words off each volume (mostly motivated by needing to tighten up unsightly gaps created by increasing the inside margins), it’ll shrink down to under 850K. It’s already shrunk from 861K to 855K.

4. Resume radical rewriting and restructuring of my Atlantic City books, which I left off in 2015 with the book formerly known as The Very Last. Other projects took precedent, and I was frustrated by finding such a dearth of detailed info on the 1940 World’s Fair in Lisbon and not being in the mood to write about the 1939–40 World’s Fair all over again so soon after featuring it in Dark Forest.

5. One final edit of the books formerly known as The Very First and The Very Next and publish them. I can’t wait to finally reveal the new and improved titles! It’d also be a dream come true if I won the Sydney Taylor Book Award for TVF.

6. Outline and begin writing From a Nightmare to a Dream: Out of Stalin’s Shadow, my fifth Russian historical.

7. Review and approve proof of The Twelfth Time for hardcover edition. Which cover do you prefer?

2020 blogging goals:

1. Finish my GWTW series. I have two more installments planned.

2. Resume my hiatused “A primer on ________________ names” series. I have 25 more topics planned. When this series is complete, I’ll pull all these posts together as a book with expanded commentaries and names lists.

3. More writing guides. Topics include breeching and long pants, wraparound narrative segments, Jewish denominations, menarche, dysmenorrhea, Victorian postmortem photos, and how much of your real life to incorporate into fiction.

4. Review Pete Townshend’s remaining solo albums in May, in honor of his 75th birthday.

5. Book reviews including The Wind Done Gone, The Member of the Wedding, The Winds of War, and My Sergei.

6. Film reviews including Little Caesar, the 1939 remake of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, All Quiet on the Western Front, the Marx Brothers’ Go West, and director Oscar Michaeux’s Within Our Gates.

7. Album reviews including The Who by Numbers, Live at Leeds, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Plastic Ono Band.

8. A month devoted to pet topics. E.g., fave dog breeds, fave lizard species, dog breeds in my books, pets I’d love to own.

Personal goals:

1. Stay put in my current weight range of 147–53, with an eye towards a 140–45 range. I was close to 220 pounds at the start of June 2017, and am very proud I’ve lost about 70 pounds. My goal was 150, but getting down a bit lower would be a fantastic bonus.

2. Get out of this place I’ve unhappily been stuck in since June 2017. I haven’t abandoned hope of going home to Pittsburgh and resuming graduate school. It might not be my time yet to have a human baby, but I look forward to getting some furry and scaly babies.

Posted in Editing, Fourth Russian novel, Rewriting, Writing

2019 in review (Writing)

Going in, I hoped 2019 might be the year I finally finished my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, but it wasn’t to be. I did, however, bring the story up to late April 1952. The main text only has two more months to go, and the Epilogue will take place in autumn 1952. Originally, the plan was for it to only be set over Thanksgiving, but now I have two or three episodes in mind.

This book will require more editing and revising than usual at this stage of my development. I blame this on not outlining new storylines as they came up. Most I was able to mentally keep track of and naturally weave into the overall story, but others just got away from me and ultimately ended in media res.

I’ll have to remove the short-lived storyline about, out of nowhere, the Koneva girls and their friends suddenly being deeply unhappy with the radical Stefania Wolicka Academy and longing for a more structured, traditional education. They were supposed to lose their scholarships due to dwindling finances and finish the year at a free Quaker school, but then Ivan’s prodigal father sends money to rescue them.

I went back and forth on whether Sonyechka and Tamara should attend New Lincoln or Walden School after moving to NYC, and ultimately decided on Walden, the school their friends the Zyuganovs are at. Likewise, I kept going back and forth re: which neighborhood the Konevs should live in, and feel it fits best if they move to the fictional Tranquility Towers in the West Village. I just can’t see them uptown, nor in a townhouse.

Another dropped storyline was Lyuba applying to Columbia for a master’s degree. Several characters have already attended Columbia, but the radical City College, Harvard on the Hudson, fits more with who Lyuba is.

I also dropped the storyline about some of my Barnard ladies leaving the school in protest and switching to Sarah Lawrence mid-semester. They’ll still leave the school after this academic year, but two will go to the free art school Cooper Union, while others will switch to City College. I’m no longer sure Sarah Lawrence is a better fit for any of them, as radical as it is.

I broke up three of my couples—Susanna and Vilorik (who lost their anencephalic baby-to-be in the eighteenth week), Léa and Rhonwen, Tolya and Yasha. They no longer felt right together. As for Léa’s family, I think I’ve decided against moving them to NYC. It makes narrative sense for the Konevs to want to return to the city, and their friends the Novaks, but the only Kahn I developed beyond a secondary character is Léa. They’re not essential to the continuing story.

The storyline about Katya and Dmitriy’s friends Sima and Marusya will be moved into the future sixth book. It’s developed far too quickly and then dropped almost as quickly. If I keep them at all, it’ll be as friends who might have a connection to Katya’s family.

I went through The Twelfth Time for a hardcover edition, and managed to take away several thousand more words, shrinking it down to 980 pages (including front and back matter). I thought it couldn’t be done after increasing the inside margins from 0.7″ to one inch.

Most recently, I went through Volume I of Journey Through a Dark Forest for its own print edition, and managed to shave off 3,000 words. This wasn’t necessary editing so much as having to reword some things and take out superfluous words to tighten up the kerning. When I changed the inside margins, it became necessary to go through the entire book and remove as many unsightly gaps as possible.

It’s really weird to me to see one of my adult books at under 400 pages! Now the total length is 858K. We’ll see if the other three volumes will have similar shrinkage when I’m through with them.

I added some new words, mostly to correct the inaccurate picture I painted of the duplex Pavel and Nadezhda share with Svetlana. In NYC, a duplex refers to two floor-through apartments, sometimes with two floors per each family, NOT side-by-side units!

Two of my 2020 posts will be on NYC architecture and housing styles, and architectural styles in general. It’s embarrassing that for the longest time, I wrote my Manhattan characters’ homes as traditional detached houses instead of multi-story, narrow edifices. Even in the early 20th century, that wasn’t realistic!

At the end of April, my story “Charleston Masquerade” was published in the IWSG anthology Masquerade: Oddly Suited. I’m really looking forward to returning to these long-shelved 18th century characters and writing their family saga.

I also wrote a story for this year’s IWSG contest, “The Search for Shoki,” set in 737 Japan. Though I wasn’t a winner, I’m glad I tried something new, historical fantasy. I’d be game for writing a full book set in the Nara period. There are barely any Japanese historicals with that setting.

Finally, I began looking ahead to a radical rewrite and revision of the first book in my Max’s House series. Unsurprisingly, the strongest material is the all-new stuff I added in 1999, 2011, and on and off during this decade. I’ll only be keeping the 1991–93 material as a bare-bones outline to avoid a complete rewrite.

Posted in Atlantic City books, Editing, Rewriting, Writing

IWSG—A miraculous relief and future writing plans

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.

Posted in Fourth Russian novel, Writing

IWSG—September odds and sods

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?

Posted in Writing

IWSG—June odds and sods

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?