IWSG and What’s Up Wednesday

My Horny Hump Day post is here.

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

It’s time for the first meeting of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group this year.

I’ve finally stopped waffling and come to the conclusion that I’m not a YA writer in the modern, U.S. sense of the word. I’ve always most enjoyed writing about young people, but it’s become more and more obvious, based on contests, following trends, and such, that my stories are more adult in nature, and just happen to be about young people.

I’ve gotten a lot of good comments and feedback when I’ve entered Jakob’s story in contests and query critiques, but one thing that prevented a number of people from selecting it as a finalist was the length, and the narrative voice. 120K is actually a drop in the bucket by my adult standards, and this particular book is a lot closer to third-person limited than I usually do. Jakob remains the pivotal character throughout, and there’s never a scene where he’s not present. For example, when his mother Luisa is being abused at the police station before they go to Westerbork, he can only hear what’s going on in the other room, and then sees the evidence when Luisa is let go.

Traditionally, historical has been a lengthy genre. I usually look askance at historicals that aren’t at least 400 pages, though there are wonderful exceptions. I get the feeling that a lot of agents who list historical in a big laundry list of interests aren’t really passionate about it. If you were, you’d understand that it normally requires a fair bit of length for worldbuilding, not to mention how most historical novels are set over a number of years, not just a few months.

Jakob’s story ended up a bit over 120K, because that was the length that naturally unfolded for it. Cutting out at least 30,000 words just to make it shorter would make it not the same story anymore. It’s the same way that my Atlantic City books tend to be under 70K, because that length works best for the types of stories they are. Within each genre, there’s a continuum of normal, like 60K for a police procedural or YA contemporary, and over 300K for a lot of classic historicals and fantasies.

Also, I’m just really disappointed in a lot of YA historicals from the last 10 years or so. The best ones I’ve encountered tend to come from outside the U.S., where the focus is on a young person fully experiencing history, not a teen who just happens to be living through history. Don’t even get me started on the Gossip Girl in period clothes trend.

WUW Winter

What I’m Writing

Past the 555,000-word mark in my WIP, and up to Chapter 72, “Shelter in Shanghai.” In the last chapter, Lyuba, Ivan, Eliisabet, and Aleksey became grandparents to little Kira Tvardovskaya-Koneva, and the chapter before was the polio chapter. It was pretty emotionally challenging to end the chapter in the iron lung ward, as I had to research what an iron lung sounds like and then put myself in 12-year-old Violetta’s semi-conscious mind as she’s being taken into this place and put in that grotesque breathing machine.

Two of the girls, Beatrisa and Platosha, got non-paralytic polio and were able to walk again within a week, but the other two, Violetta and her sister Flora, were paralysed. In later chapters, little Flora will take a ballet class taught by Lyuba’s stepsister Lyolya, who knows what it’s like to have a mobility injury and gradually relearn how to walk and dance. Lyolya is about due to retire as a ballerina anyway, so teaching little polio survivors how to dance as part of their rehabilitation is a really nice touch.

Violetta is going to date and marry Lyuba and Ivan’s son Igor in the future fourth book (1948-52), so her being a polio survivor creates some good storylines. Being the sinistral chauvinist I am, I also made her left hand and arm untouched by paralysis. Though her paralysis isn’t permanent, her right side will be too damaged to remain her dominant side.

What I’m Reading

I saw The Age of Innocence in a classics display at the nearest library, and decided to revisit it 20 years later. In 8th grade, I basically just read the dialogue and short narrative passages, and still got an A+ on my social-studies book report. As an adult, I can appreciate the writing style and storyline much better, though I still think there are way too many descriptive passages and backstories bogging down the action, as well as far too much telling.

What Inspires Me

I’ve got an upcoming blog series called “Diseases and Historical Fiction.” Part I, to go live on the 13th, is a general debunking of the vaccine-denialist cult and their complete ignorance of history and hatred/abuse of children with ASDs. In the final paragraph, I’m officially outing myself, and that prospect no longer frightens me. God chose to wire my brain a little differently, and that’s just part of who I am. The fact that these people would see me as damaged, defective, cursed, nonexistent as an adult, or soulless enrages me, and I don’t think it’s right to continue hiding in the crowd just because I learnt how to more or less pass as “normal.”

What Else I’ve Been Up To

I was playing around a bit with my title page for Little Ragdoll, and changed the typeface a few more times. The original Edwardian Script seemed too fancy for the type of story it was, and Monotype Corsiva, Lucida Handwriting, Lucida Calligraphy, and Snell Roundhand felt a bit dull, not too creative or inspired. I initially loved Handwriting Dakota, since it matches the typeface in the Wordle I made, but I had to look it up to make sure Dakota isn’t considered amateurish or overused by serious typographers. I’d hate to unintentionally use something as disreputable as Comic Sans or Papyrus!

I ultimately found a typeface called Journal, which is recommended as one of several substitutes for Dakota. It conveys the same feel of casual handwriting, is still very similar to the Wordle typeface, looks better-designed (no slanting, and the characters are closer together and more proportionate), and really does match the story of a young girl, her sisters, and their friends growing up poor in Manhattan during the Sixties and early Seventies. I made the title dark blue, Adicia’s favourite colour.

LR Title Page

2013 in review

I probably wrote at least 500,000 words in my WIP this year, Journey Through a Dark Forest: Lyuba and Ivan in the Age of Anxiety. It was begun last November, and hopefully might take another six months for the first draft to be done. In between, I also did some more editing on my first Russian historical and some of my Max’s House books. In August, I skipped ahead in the hiatused Justine Grown Up to write the chapter “Irene and Amelia Redecorate Their Room.”

I downloaded a bunch of new typefaces, some of them for the A to Z Challenge in April. Others are calligraphy fonts for title pages, and others are typewriter fonts. I think my favourites are Janson (a gorgeous, venerable serif typeface), Cassandre Graphika (from a 1956 typewriter), and Tangerine (a not-overly-fancy calligraphy font).

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Most of the books I read were for my Children’s Lit class, both required and chosen. I didn’t really dig most of the required books, in spite of their positive reputations, but it’s no surprise I tend not to like books with tons of hype. I prefer older books, and modern books which are more under the radar.

Some of the books I loved:

Bunny and the Beast, written by Molly Coxe and illustrated by Pamela Silin-Palmer. At first I was annoyed that Beast was an unfairly-maligned Pit Bull, but then I realised it was meant positively, not yet another excuse to stereotype and demonise Pits. The illustrations are gorgeous.

The Dragon Prince, written by Lawrence Yep and illustrated by Kam Mak. This is the Southern Chinese version of Beauty and the Beast, and beautifully-illustrated. I haven’t read a whole lot of Chinese fiction, either historical or contemporary, which is something I need to correct. (If I ever decide to write a Chinese historical, my characters will be Hakka or Manchu, not Han, so my women and girls won’t have to bind their feet!)

A Time for Courage:  The Suffragette Diary of Kathleen Bowen, by Kathryn Lasky. Too many people these days forget how relatively recently women got the right to vote, and what a painful, long struggle it was to get that basic right men took for granted. It was seen as indecent, immoral, unnatural for women to want to vote and do more with their lives than make social calls, run a household, and have children.

The Fences Between Us, by Kirby Larson. Like the above, this is also a Dear America book, and set during WWII. It’s based on the true story of Rev. Emory Andrews, the pastor of a Japanese Baptist church who chose to accompany his Seattle flock to an internment camp in Idaho. Though I kind of wish the book had been narrated by Betty Sato, not the pastor’s made-up daughter Piper. (And come on, who would’ve named a girl Piper in 1929?!)

The Skull of Truth, by Bruce Coville. We had to read two fantasy books, and I ended up loving the MG book I found. I’m more liable to get into fantasy if it’s real-world-based, not epic high fantasy. This book was so funny and fast-paced, with some very important lessons about when to tell the truth and when not to share an opinion.

Kaleidoscope Eyes, by Jen Bryant. This upper MG novel in verse is set during 1968, and involves three friends searching for treasure believed to have been buried by Captain Kidd in 1699. It’s refreshing to find a Sixties historical that doesn’t revolve around Vietnam, and I loved how it wasn’t immediately revealed how Malcolm happens to be African-American. It’s so cringe-worthy how each and every Babysitters’ Club book introduces Jessi with a really awkward, self-conscious mention of her race.

Lily Renée, Escape Artist:  From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer, written by Trina Robbins and illustrated by Mo Oh. This graphic novel tells the little-known story of a girl who left Austria for England on a Kindertransport as a teen, suffered with an abusive foster mother, found a variety of jobs after running away, and ultimately made her way to America while the ports were still open. She struggled in New York for awhile, but ultimately her artistic talents made her a respected comic book artist.

Breaking Stalin’s Nose, written and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin. This book rightfully won a Newbery. The entire time, my hair was standing on end at how chillingly accurately the climate of fear and paranoia of the Great Terror was depicted. This was also one of the increasingly rare times I felt first-person present tense worked with the story, instead of immediately making me tune out.

So Far from the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Kawashima Watkins. I love Japanese historicals, and don’t get a chance to read enough of them. This book is challenged and attacked by many people because Yoko was from a well-off Japanese family living in Korea during WWII. They had to flee for their lives back to Japan in the Summer of 1945, to avoid capture by the vengeful Koreans and invading Russians. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, My Brother, My Sister, and I.

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Once again, it was a slow year for adding to my vinyl collection. I only got five vinyl LPs this year—Big Thing (1988); So Red the Rose (1985), one of my last presents from my walking DSM ex; The Who by Numbers (1975), which I’ve already owned on CD since 15 March 2001; The Power Station (1985); and Genesis (1983). I also got the most important of my records out of storage from my ex’s vile parents’ cellar.

I now have 39 albums made in my lifetime, 13 from people or bands who actually got famous in my lifetime instead of long before I was born. I’m well aware that over half of that number comes from the same band plus two spin-offs, but give me some credit for slowly moving into the modern era!

What’s Up Wednesday

WUW

What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly hop/meme with four simple headings. Anyone can write a post and add the link to Jaime’s blog.

What I’m Writing

I wrote my paper on the changing role of research and academic libraries, switching from Didot to Baskerville to keep to the five pages asked for while still fitting in everything I wanted to say. The footnotes were left in 10-point Didot. It’s a lovely typeface, and I’d like to use it for some future paper. I’ve also got two other small papers to do for Records Management.

I’m up to 531,100 words in my WIP, and decided to reign in Chapter 67 while it was still mid-length (by my standards, 7000s), and use the rest of the planned material in a new chapter. Chapter 68 covers April-June 1942, and is called “Homefront Services and Sacrifices.” Time to research the details and timeline of rationing, victory gardens, women’s factory work, and women’s auxiliary military services.

What I’m Reading

Once again, I’ve only really had time to read journal articles for my classes.

What Inspires Me

25 November was my 22nd anniversary of starting my first Atlantic City book, the beyond-embarrassing Proud to Be a Smart. Even if the writing was bad, the characters weren’t quite there yet, and the storylines were ridiculous, there was something special there. The original members of that first generation and I literally grew up together. I’ve known them since we were eleven years old.

I’m glad I never “moved on” from these characters and stories I hatched when I was just a preteen. Staying with them so long has done wonders for their growth and development. The way I write them now is the way you can only write someone you’ve known for 0ver 20 years. And when I edit, revise, and rewrite the older drafts that were worth salvaging, I know how to correct inconsistent or out of character actions.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

My professor for Organization of Information came to me after class last week to say how impressed she was by my portfolio, which ran to over 70 pages. She said it was “almost too good,” and praised my attention to detail and all the personal examples, opinions, and critical analyses. And to think I put off the majority of that portfolio, two months of work, till about a week before the due date!

I also got an 8 out of 8 on the paper about information-seeking behaviour. I wrote about how I researched American tourism to Iran and how to go about visiting both Israel and Iran without getting into trouble. (You need two passports if you want to visit both within the same period.) She said I can use her for a recommendation when I formally apply to the program. And to think this started off as my most boring class!

Apparently my new roommate’s parents, whom I’ve never met, really approve of me. She said she was Skyping with them one night, and they saw my records behind her. The one that’s propped up at the moment is Seven and the Ragged Tiger (whose 30th birthday was 20 November), and it turns out they’re fellow Duranies. They told her I obviously have awesome taste in music. Sometimes it pays to not have current tastes!

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Scrambled eggs with tomatoes and coconut curry tempeh slices. Tempeh is one of the best foods I’ve ever discovered. It’s so much easier (at least outside of some small towns) to be a vegan or stricter vegetarian than it was even ten years ago. At the moment, I’m primarily eating an ovo vegetarian diet, with very limited dairy products.

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Hadn’t taken a family picture in awhile. Keith is the dog, and the two Pound Purries on top of Simon are John and Paul. John is the grey cat with a few missing whiskers and a missing mouth, and Paul is the little caramel-coloured guy. I know I got John second-hand in 1993, but I can’t remember the circumstances of getting Paul. I want to say he was secondhand too.

Stuffed animal meme

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Davy with his twin sister Davina. Hard to believe they’re the same age, twenty-five. It’s obvious which one I love more!

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I found this mug when I was at the Christmas Tree Shops with my crazy ex-roommate back in September. I generously offered to buy her the Libra mug (since she felt $2.99 was out of budget), but she declined. When I told my mother this woman is a Libra, she said she resented that and didn’t feel my roommate were a calm, balanced fellow Libra at all!

Tea is my hot beverage of choice. Never got a taste for coffee, and only drank it five times in my life—on my 13th birthday in 1992, twice when I accidentally hit the wrong button on a hot water machine and didn’t want to waste it, when I was hosted by Bedouins in the Negev, and when I was hosted by Druze in Haifa. The last two times, I didn’t want to offend my lovely hosts by refusing. I recently found out the Brummie branch of my family tree wasn’t British British, but recent immigrants from Germany, though I still choose to attribute my love of tea in part to having a little British blood.

Must head over to Teavana soon for some of their awesome loose or blooming tea!

Finally, Chanukah begins Wednesday night. My Hebrew birthday is the 5th night, regarded as the holiest, most special night.

A to Z Reflections Post

A-Z 2013

Now that the A to Z Challenge is over for another year, it’s time for participants to write about their experience—what they liked, what they didn’t like, positive discoveries, negative discoveries, how the Challenge could be better next year, how they handled it, etc. Participants have until 9 May to write this post and link to it on the main site.

I discovered a lot of interesting new book and writing blogs, and was very glad the list was organized by categories this year. I also didn’t really encounter the hated captchas on any of the blogs I commented on. This year I was very proud to keep all of my posts under 1,000 words, and that I even edited a few posts for length before they went live. I’ll never be the type of person whose average post is all of 300 words, but at least I’m no longer routinely writing posts between 1,000-1,600 words!

I was kind of surprised at how many people didn’t schedule their posts in advance, and so bowed out early or had a hard time coming up with topics on some days. I wrote all of my posts before April except T and X, though originally I had written a T post but decided, as the month wore on, to use something different. I’d like to move the first T post out of my drafts folder eventually!

While clicking through the list, I found a number of blogs that never started the Challenge, as well as blogs that stopped early. With over a thousand people on the list, I suppose it was hard to cull it down to only the active participants. I was also a bit disappointed that a number of bloggers never returned visits. I’m not necessarily expecting a return visit on that very day, since I didn’t always get to return visits on the same day, but it seems kind of contrary to the spirit of the Challenge to never reciprocate with the other participants.

My stats (including links to each post, and not including my own replies to comments):

Allen and Lenore’s Romance (American Typewriter) had 22 hits and 10 comments.

Brouhaha at the Buffet (Bookman) had 13 hits and 5 comments.

Crossing the Point of No Return (Calisto MT) had 25 hits and 7 comments.

Daphne and Rózsika (Didot) had 15 hits and 6 comments.

Ellis Island (Euphemia) had 24 hits and 8 comments.

Facing the Music in Minnesota (Footlight MT Light) had 13 hits and 3 comments.

Goodbye to the Motherland (Georgia) had 19 hits and 7 comments.

High Holy Days (Helvetica) had 9 hits and 4 comments.

Ins and Outs of Prohibition (Imprint MT Shadow) had 10 hits and 4 comments.

Jakob’s Leap of Faith (Janson) had 14 hits and 6 comments.

Katrin Discovers Anastasiya’s Secret (King) had 12 hits and 4 comments.

Lyuba Hits Rock Bottom (Lucida) had 2 hits and 0 comments.

Meet Ammiel and Micah (MS Sans Serif) had 7 hits and 2 comments.

Naina and Katya in North America (News Gothic) had 13 hits and 4 comments.

The Odd One Out (Optima) had 12 hits and 5 comments.

Paternity Warfare (Palatino) had 10 hits and 4 comments.

Quintina’s Birthday (Quay Sans) had 10 hits and 3 comments.

Rendezvous with Destiny (Rockwell) had 3 hits and 1 comment.

The Sacrifice of Gemma (Skia) had 11 hits and 4 comments.

Trading in His Shelter for Danger (Tahoma) had 8 hits and 3 comments. And if anyone were wondering, the song I took the title from was “The Seventh Stranger.”

Union with a Snake (Underwood Champion) had 13 hits and 5 comments.

Valentine and Ajax (Verdana) had 11 hits and 4 comments.

Who Will Stand, Who Will Fall? (Weekdays Roman Slant) had 20 hits and 8 comments.

A Xenial Welcome (Xenon Medium) had 19 hits and 7 comments.

Young Wives of Wildwood (Young) had 23 hits and 9 comments.

Zofia Stirs Up Trouble (Zapf Elliptical) had 13 hits and 5 comments.

Of the fonts used, 8 were ones I downloaded, 14 were serif fonts, 12 were sans-serif fonts, and 3 were typewriter-style fonts. Of the decades covered, 10 took place in the 1920s, 1 took place in the 1930s, 6 took place in the 1940s, 1 took place in the 1950s, 3 took place in the 1960s, and 5 took place in the 1990s.

Four were written in the 1990s, 7 were written in the Aughts, and 15 were written in this decade. Seven were from Atlantic City books, 11 were from my Russian novels, 3 were from my contemporary historical family saga, and 5 were about my Shoah characters, both during and after the War. I wrote 13 in Word 2004 on this computer, handwrote 6, wrote 1 in AppleWorks on a 2004 eMac, wrote 1 in Word98 on a ’96 Mac, wrote 2 in MacWriteII on the ’93 Mac, and wrote 3 in ClarisWorks on ’96 and ’99 Macs.

I’ve already got ideas for themes for at least two more years!

Zofia Stirs Up Trouble (Zapf Elliptical)

Font: Zapf Elliptical 711 BT

Chapter: “Zofia Stirs Up Trouble”

Book: Newark Love Story

Written: 2007

File format: AppleWorks

Computer created on: 2004 eMac

Last year’s A to Z theme started with Allen and ended with Zofia, so it’s kind of fitting that this year’s theme is also bookended by them. Zofia is such an entitled, delusional, often mean-spirited bitch, like Anastasiya, but that’s part of what makes her so fun to write. I can predict exactly what she’s going to do, say, or think even before she does it.

Zofia is a young Shoah survivor, born in Warsaw in 1931, but that doesn’t give her carte blanche to do whatever she wants. Not everyone who survived was a saint. It would be beyond inaccurate to depict every single survivor as a good, moral, loving person. Zofia certainly didn’t earn her own survival. Her sister Maria saved her ass on more than one occasion.

It’s now February 1952, and the Roblensky siblings have come to Newark for third-born Jozef’s wedding to Svetlana Juric. Svetlana, who survived the brutal Croatian Ustashi camp Jasenovac with her mother and four sisters, was raped a number of times and later slept with a number of the sadistic overlords to save her family from deportation and to get them better rations. Jozef knows she was an innocent victim and did it to protect her loved ones, but Zofia is convinced Svetlana is a whore and is horrified Jozef is marrying her. In the wake of this discovery, Zofia is even more of a troublemaker than usual and acts up so much she’s eventually barred from the wedding.

Some highlights:

“This must be Zofia.” Mrs. Juric took a long hard look at the third-oldest Roblenska sister in her low-cut skintight blue blouse and a skirt coming up well past her knees.

Zofia would have no part in traipsing around a city she didn’t even know.  After fifteen minutes, she whined that her feet were tired and headed back to the empty apartment.  She went into Dalibor’s room, shut the door, picked up the latest issue of Life, and started reading.  An hour later she heard her brother and his fiancée coming into the apartment but didn’t give herself away.  When they went into another room and shut the door, she slipped off her high heels and skulked off to listen in at the door.

“Welcome to our family,” Elizabeth gushed. “We’re so glad to be adding another sister, particularly one who might soon be making us aunts and uncles.  And according to Jozek, you’re quite the intellectual.  I love a woman who isn’t afraid to be smart and who likes things like museums, art, and literature.”

“How can you marry this woman, Jozek?” Zofia began crying. “If only our parents knew their second-oldest son would grow up to marry a whore.”

“I listened at the door, Jozef.  You didn’t know I was in the house when you came in.  I’m so ashamed and embarrassed that you want to marry a whore, let alone a whore who willingly copulated with the enemy.”

Jozef slapped her so hard her jaw ached. “First of all, only God has the right to judge.  Second, this woman is going to be my wife and your sister-in-law, so you had better respect her.  Third, you had no right to be eavesdropping on our personal conversation.  I am your older brother and you need to respect me and my future wife.”

“How dare you strike me!” Zofia was in shock from anyone standing up to her with more than words. “And who are you to tell me what to do?  You no longer even live in our house, and you’re only two years my elder!  Hoch mir nicht ken chaynik!”

He slapped her even harder across the other side of her face. “Any more questions, you pathetic inhuman excuse for life?  I swear to God, Mania should’ve left you behind in the bunker!  Get out of this house right now unless you want me to do something even worse to you!”

“Don’t worry, whatever it is, I’ll accept your wife no matter what,” Elizabeth said. “As we all know, I’m not a virgin myself and don’t intend to keep that a secret from my eventual husband.”

“That’s just what she told me,” Maria nodded. “Don’t worry, we’ll accept them as our nieces and nephews.  We won’t have any doubt that Jozef is the father, though Zosia is welcome to live in a land of unreality.”

This afternoon she was dressed even more scandalously, in a mink-edged pink silk blouse showing more than cleavage, green suede heels even higher and spikier than her other pair, red fishnets, heavier makeup, and a black leather skirt well above her fingertips.

“Special as in modest, demure, and classy?  You dress like a prostitute most of the time anyway, so why should tomorrow night be any different?” Jadwiga asked.

Zofia stalked out of the room offended, still wearing her scandalous clothes.  Nobody else in their party would let her in their rooms either, so she resorted to sleeping on a pile of towels in the laundry room, uncaring she was putting clean towels onto the dirty floor.

At 6:30, Zofia was discovered.  She was outraged to be jerked awake by a bunch of angry maids and the hotel manager, who thought she was a prostitute, a thief, or someone who’d tried to be cute by staying overnight without paying.  In her exhausted huff, she gave Samuel’s name.

Samuel was irate when he was called down to the laundry room, before he could even get dressed or say the morning prayers with his little brothers, just to positively identity Zofia.

“Mania really should’ve left you for the Nazis to find and finish off.  I have nothing further to say to you.” Samuel dropped her onto the floor like a limp ragdoll and stalked away. “And don’t be surprised if, when we get home, you’re suddenly asked to move out.”