The Sacrifice of Gemma (Skia)

Font: Skia (Greek for “shadow”)

Year created: 1994

Chapter: “The Sacrifice of Gemma”

Book: Little Ragdoll

Written: 4-7 December 2010

Computer created on: 2008 15-inch MacBook Pro

File format: Word 2004

I really, really had been hoping to have finished Justine Grown Up by now so I could spotlight “Sing Blue Silver Snowstorm” on the S day, but I feel I made the right call to put that WIP on hiatus. But if you happened to be at the Duran Duran show in Hartford on 13 March 1984, “please, please tell me now!” I’d love to interview you so I can get firsthand details for the dramatic penultimate chapter.

So I went with Chapter 10 of Little Ragdoll. Oldest sister Gemma takes the lead here for the first time in the book. In the book’s earlier incarnation, Gemma was some one-dimensional snobby bitch who deserved to be forcibly married to some much-older abusive man. But in recasting these events so many years later, I really began to feel for her, and she emerged as a sympathetic character.

After she underhandedly divorced Francesco and aired all their dirty laundry at a family gathering in Part II, she was not permanently written out as I’d originally planned. I’d grown to kind of admire and like her, and wanted her to fulfill her deferred dream of going to college and to someday marry for love and have children she wanted. Given the circumstances she’s been raised in, the oldest of nine unplanned children in a poor Lower East Side family, how could I hate her for wanting to get above her raising and spending all her free time working or with her friends? And it was just juvenile how I’d hated her for being a cheerleader. Stereotyping much?

Some highlights, so to speak:

“Whose car is that parked outside our tenement?” Gemma asks as they’re walking up Essex Street. “It’s not bad. You think we have a new neighbor?”

When they get to their tenement on the eighth floor, a greasy-looking man with a cold, hard face is standing in the living room and talking to their parents and Mrs. Troy’s former co-worker Mrs. Rossi from the third floor.  He turns to Gemma and smiles at her in a way that makes her sick to her stomach and gives her a foreboding of something very bad about to happen.

“Get used to saying, writing, and spelling it, since you’re gonna be saying and writing it a lot in the near future,” Francesco smiles. “Don’t you modern women wear clothes anymore?  I don’t want my future wife walking around wearing a bikini.  Go put some decent clothes on.” He walks over to her and smacks her on the behind very loudly. “Hustle it up, woman.”

“You heard your future master, girl.  Go to your room, change outta that revealing thing, and put on decent clothes,” Mr. Troy says.

“No woman of mine is gonna go to college.” Francesco spits on the floor, narrowly missing one of the chickens, who’ve finally begun to lay a few eggs. “What kind of disreputable institution is this that they admit girls?  Next thing you know, they’ll be teachin’ cows to drive!”

“I don’t approve of higher education for women.” Francesco slaps her on the behind again. “Nor do I approve of bikinis.  After you change, I’ll go through all your clothes and pick out the stuff I won’t allow you to bring to our new home together.”

Francesco smiles a partly toothless grin at her when she emerges.  Gemma wants to vomit when he coarsely grabs her face and forces a French kiss on her.  While this is happening, her parents and Mrs. Rossi are standing by without saying a word or even moving to pull Francesco off her.  Suddenly her happy day at the Hamilton Fish Park Pool seems like a distant memory that happened to someone else entirely.

Gemma stifles another urge to vomit. “I know I’ve said I’d like to marry an older guy, but I meant five or six years older, not twenty years older!  He’s old enough to be my father!”

“I saw posters on your walls and records next to your bed,” Francesco says, spitting on the floor again. “Those won’t be coming with you when you move in with me.  Elvis can’t sing or act his way out of a paper bag, and the only man you need to be dreaming about will be me, not Elvis, William Holden, Cary Grant, or Rock Hudson.  You won’t even have time to go to the movies or listen to your trash records when you’re running a household and birthing babies.”

Gemma grabs the papers and rushes into her room.  Her stomach lurches when she opens the box.  Francesco bought her a bunch of ugly, utilitarian, grandma-style bras and underwear, presumably to replace the pretty ones she has now.  The list of demands is handwritten in very sloppy printing.  Gemma isn’t too surprised to find Francesco doesn’t know how to write cursive, though she thinks her youngest sisters can print better than that, despite being at least thirty years his junior.

Lucine can’t decide whether to laugh or cry as she starts reading. “He wants you to clip his fingernails and toenails, brush his hair, bathe him, dress him, and light his cigarettes?”

“It doesn’t matter what the mother superior thinks.  She’s only a woman,” Father Raimundo says coldly. “I override her.  Why I could order all the nuns to walk around naked down Houston Street, and they’d have to obey me.”

Gemma grins and bears it as she’s walked down the aisle by her father, knowing she really is literally being given away to become Francesco’s property.  There’s nothing she can do about it now but plot revenge while pretending to smile and keep sweet.

Rendezvous with Destiny (Rockwell)

Font: Rockwell

Year created: 1934

Chapter: “Rendezvous with Destiny”

Book: Little Ragdoll

Written: 28 December 2010 (later had some lines added in while I was going back and writing in left-handedness for a number of the characters)

Computer created on: 2008 15-inch MacBook Pro

File format: Word 2004

This is Chapter 26 of one of my three great life works, the books I’m proudest of having written. My magnum opus is the handwritten Cinnimin, to eventually be 12 volumes, the other is my first Russian historical novel, and the third is this one, a contemporary historical family saga inspired by a true story.

When I first heard the story behind the famous Four Seasons’ song “Rag Doll,” in the Spring of 1993, I became obsessed with giving that poor little girl a happy ending and writing a book about a girl whom she could’ve been. I’m now glad I lost the original first draft for so many years, since it finally forced me to go back and start over from scratch and memory. The finished product is so much stronger than it would’ve been had I been forced to work around the mess I created at age 13-14.

This was the chapter I’d been writing towards for the entire book up to that point, though it’s far from over. I tried to loosely base some of the book around lyrics from the song, and Adicia (named after the Greek goddess of injustice by her black-hearted mother) still hasn’t met the rich boy who loves her just the way she is and defies his family to be with her. It’s a Bildungsroman, more about growth, change, and development over a tumultuous period in contemporary history, not so much plot-centric. The most plot-centric section is Part IV, which rather reads like it could stand alone.

Some highlights:

“Window-washing,” Girl says. “I’ve scored so much money from it I’ve been able to buy Beatles’ records after we’ve bought our food supply for the week.”

“It’s not such a far walk,” Ernestine says. “Yous guys walk here to see us often enough.  All you need to get started is a bucket of soapy water and a sponge or rag.  We can even demonstrate to you how to do it on onea the cars parked down on the street.”

“Do I need two buckets?” Adicia asks. “I don’t want people to get angry at me if I wash their windshields with the same dirty water I used on thirty or fifty other cars that same day.”

“You think I might get extra dough if I washed a limo or some fancy rich person’s car?” Adicia asks.

“Who could get mad at some poor street kid?” Julie asks. “They’ll know by our ragged clothes and dirty faces that we’re not privileged uptown kids and that we’re one of them.  Who could say no to giving one of us urchins some spare change?  I got a whole dollar a few times too.”

Ernestine looks at her best friend’s free-swinging breasts and laughs. “I know something else you need to buy with your car-washing money, and that’s a bra.  You could get arrested for indecent exposure if you walk around in public much longer with those things swinging around like that.”

At most she’s gotten a dollar bill when people don’t have change, but usually she gets a quarter or a half-dollar.  Some people have been cheapskates and only given her a dime, but they’re far and few between.  Her favorite place to get business, though, is one light that seems to always last for a good three minutes.  With the cars forced to stop for that long, she has more time than usual to wash the windows.  She tries to impress the drivers by how seriously she undertakes her endeavor, instead of trying to smile at them and make small talk.  If they smile at her, though, she’ll return the smile.

As the light changes, she stands back and waits for him to give her her fair due.  She sees him reaching into his pockets to search for change, then hesitating when he pulls out a bill.  Adicia hopes he doesn’t want to cheap her out by giving her nothing or only change if a dollar bill is all he’s got.  Then, with cars starting to honk at him to get moving, he hands her the bill and starts to drive away.

“No way!” Ernestine gasps in astonishment when Adicia pulls out the ten-dollar bill. “Some guy in a fancy car gave you ten whole bucks just for washing his windshield?”

“Maybe he’s a celebrity who’s in town for the opening of his new movie or play,” Girl says. “Or maybe he’s a new resident with a little money.  Boy, I hope the rest of us run into him too, and often.”

Adicia reaches over for the record on the top of the pile, Rag Doll, by The Four Seasons.  The face of one of the bandmembers looks oddly familiar, though she can’t quite place where in the world she would’ve seen any famous person before.  Then, as she keeps staring at it, it dawns on her.

Adicia sits shaking and confused while she waits what feels like forever to Betsy to come back from across the hall.  While the Rag Doll record is playing, she pores through Betsy’s extensive scrapbook of The Four Seasons, looking at every picture and news clipping carefully.  Her heart is racing by the time she gets to the last page.

“You washed a millionaire’s windshield!” Ernestine says. “No wonder he gave you ten bucks!”

“Maybe he’ll drive through again and give me fifty bucks next time,” Adicia says hopefully.

Quintina’s Birthday (Quay Sans)

Font: Quay Sans

Year created: 1990

Chapter: “Quintina’s Birthday”

Book: Third book in my Max’s House series (terrible, unoriginal, inaccurate working title is Resolutions)

Written: Early 1995

Handwritten; later transcribed into MacWriteII on ’93 Mac

My earliest Max’s House books need a lot of work, and this one is no exception. I’d guess this particular one was somewhere below 90,000 words when I finally converted and reformatted the six files I’d transcribed from the handwritten original. This is pretty damn long for one of these books. Now, I’ve gotten it down to around 74,000 words, and that’s still too long. This book, and the 6th and 8th books, are by far the most overwritten and in need of radical rewriting and restructuring. So many scenes are so freaking pointless and cluttery.

This, though, is one of my favorite pieces of the original material. Quintina and her family were initially based on a friend of mine and her family, perhaps a bit more strongly than some of my other characters who were only based on friends and acquaintances in terms of physical appearance. But the Holidays gradually evolved into their own people.

Mr. Seward and Bambi have recently come home from the hospital not with their first baby together, but with five of them. After getting over their initial anger and horror, Max and his cousin Elaine contacted a new-fangled TV producer/director to cash in on the quints. So many years later, this storyline seems like an eerie premonition of “reality” TV. The show is a bomb from day one, and the producer/director is all kinds of creepy and controlling, but the Sewards are unable to get out of this commitment just yet.

So to try to relax, Elaine heads off for Quintina’s birthday party. It’s a girls-only party, but Tina’s brothers Gyll (i.e., Gil) and John sabotage everything and make this not only a far from relaxing party, but a birthday party that won’t soon be forgotten.

Some highlights:

[Quintina] wailed as her brothers grabbed the guests’ board games, opened them, and dumped the contents all over the street below.

“Ooh!” John grabbed her cake and had a great time pretending to drop that too. “Shall I tell Mom you said that?”

[After her brothers are forced to go outside to pick up the games] Quintina leaned through the window and gave them the finger. “Mommy, John’s making faces!”

“‘Dear Sex Therapist,’” John read in a squeaky voice. “‘I was stalked.  Shall I see a professional, or—’”

“Cool!  A dare card!” John picked up a card for Teen Chat. “Gyll, run naked into the street and scream: ‘I’m in love with another man!’”

“John, who guest starred as Ida for a week on Steam Line when the real Ida was getting tested for syphilis?”

Mrs. Holiday piled enough cake and junk food onto each paper plate to feed the entire Army.

“Don’t sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ It’s corny,” Quintina ordered.

“Happy birthday—” her brothers began loudly and obnoxiously.

She spilled milk down the front of John’s slacks.  Soon they were screaming and fighting, again.

“First we vote on the band,” Mrs. Holiday said. “Seven choices, and vote only once.  The winning band comes through the door.”

“Who wants Frank Sinatra?”

Violet jumped out of her chair, danced around the room, and let out a SCREAM, thinking her beloved Blue Eyes was at the door.

“That ain’t fair!” Julieanna screamed. “I wanted to vote for Frankie too!  You let us vote again or else!”

“Let’s vote, again.  The Balls can leave.” She went to the door and sent them away.

“So then we have a three-way tie this time?”

“I will send away The Lovechildren, The Guns, and cancel the date with Sinatra.”

“NO!” Violet wailed.

Their mother shut the door and came back in.  Then she double-taped the muzzles in place.

“Who wants Frank Sinatra?”

Guess who went orgasmic for the fifth time in a row?

“A double tie now?  I will cancel the date with Frank.”

“Then we won’t vote,” Violet sulked.

“Yeah.  If Frankie doesn’t play, we leave,” Julieanna announced.

“Violet is the deciding vote.  Violet, we have voted six times now!”

Violet didn’t give a flying damn.

“Quintina will decide for you then!”

Violet could care less.

“I cast Violet’s deciding vote,” Quintina said. “The Abortions!”

[Tina’s favorite member, 18-year-old Pauly, who goes to their school] He got down on his hands and knees in front of her as Danny sang “Exploring.” “Maybe when you’re older, if we’re both single, I might date you.  I like you, for a kid!” He autographed a paper, gave it to her, and went onstage.

Paternity Warfare (Palatino)

Font: My belovèd Palatino, of course!

Created: 1948

Personal experience: Used almost completely exclusively since late September ’93. The ’93 Mac didn’t have Bookman, so I chose what looked like the next-closest thing. It’s been my font soulmate ever since.

Chapter: “Paternity Warfare”

Book: You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan

Written: 1998 or 1999

Computer created on: I think it was the ’96 or ’97 Mac we had.

File format: ClarisWorks

This is Chapter 15 of my first Russian historical novel, my favorite chapter and also the shortest, in only the upper 4000s. (By my standards, short=lower 4000s/upper 5000s, midrange=7000s/8000s, long=10,000+.) Though I lost all my formatting when I finally was able to open and convert these old files, I still remembered that certain parts of Ivan’s dialogue were in bold italics. He was that livid when Boris popped in on his second illegal visit home, trying to steal Tatyana.

There’s no contest as to Tatyana’s paternity, as Ivan is a virgin till September 1921, when he’s 23 years old, and Tatyana was conceived in April 1918. But Ivan is the man who’s raised her since the night she was born. Boris abandoned Lyuba shortly before she went into active labor, and was beating her constantly during the pregnancy. Tatyana was really the result of a rape, though Lyuba doesn’t like to think of it in those terms since Boris didn’t hold her up at knifepoint and wasn’t a stranger. Off-screen, so to speak, Boris got Lyuba drunk and drugged when it became clear she didn’t want to be intimate, and the next morning she woke up naked next to Boris, with a massive headache and blood running down her legs.

During this chapter, Lyuba is in town working at the Godunov cousins’ brothel, and has left Tatyana in the care of the man she considers her father, Ivan. Ivan isn’t having any of it when Boris shows up in the middle of the night.

The croup remedy Ivan uses to help Tatyana was something I learnt from the Spanish professor I had at community college.

Some highlights:

Eliisabet drops her fork. “Holy Mother of God, I knew there was some secret reason why she kept insisting she couldn’t be with you and had to stay with Borís!  She talked in vague generalities about being afraid of staying with a nice guy, but I never dreamt it was anywhere in that perverted league!  No wonder she feels more familiar with being abused and disrespected by men!”

“I don’t know how to do that!” Iván carries her outside to the outhouse, unpins the diaper, and sets her down on the hole in the ground.

“You don’t need to wear winter gloves.  It’s not like you’ll get Bubonic Plague from changing a diaper!” Kat laughs.

It is all falling apart.  Iván has never gone long without a woman to take care of him.  He suffers through two more diaper changes, three naps, and two more feedings before he sets Tatyana down in the crib for the night, only to be jerked awake at two in the morning by her croup.  Cursing to himself, he grabs her and dashes into the bathroom to turn the shower on.  He’s hardly thrilled when it comes back again the next night.  He sits on the floor with her and cries for two hours.

Iván turns white in fury. “You!  Who gave you permission to enter this house!  You dared to come back here illegally a second time!  This is my child!  You abandoned her before she was born!  Get the hell out!” He sets Tatyana down on the floor as soon as she starts breathing normally again and storms toward Borís, hitting him with the back of his hand.

“This bastard Borís has come back to wreck more havoc in our lives!” Iván gives his former best friend a push backwards down the stairs. “Get the hell out of this house before I kill you, you dryan, you súkin syn, you worthless piece of govnó!”

“You see what you did?” Iván scoops her up and rocks her back and forth. “It’ll all be over soon, my precious little tsarévna.  Just as soon as that man gets out of this house.  He wants to take you away from me, but there’s no way in the world I would ever give my angelic little girl away to anybody!”

By now Iván has grabbed Borís by the throat and is banging his head against the floor, ignoring his gasps for breath.  The other people in the band have come running from their beds by now to see what the noise is all about.

Borís looks at Tatyana with tears in his eyes. “You can always go to bed with Lyuba and get her pregnant, and then you’ll have a child of your own!  Let me have my child!  You can even have five or six kids with her, just give me back my child!”

Blushing, Borís turns away and heads back for the abandoned resort where he’s been staying.  He chokes ahead of time on the stench of beer, wine, vomit, urine, govnó, and blood that’ll be sure to greet him once he enters the old resort where bands of wild children and their older counterparts are staying, stacked up like sardines, and always afraid to leave anything unattended, for fear of it being stolen by an unscrupulous bandmember.

The Odd One Out (Optima)

Font: Optima

Year created: 1954

Chapter: “The Odd One Out”

Book: And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth

Written: Summer 2012 (didn’t make separate chapter files for this book, so I don’t have exact working dates)

Computer created on: 2008 15-inch MacBook Pro

File format: Word 2004

This is the 14th chapter of the second volume I wrote about Jakob DeJonghe and Rachel Roggenfelder. When I was expanding my long short story/piece of backstory about Jakob, I didn’t realize I’d use somewhat over 120,000 words for it. So I decided to use the rest of the material for a second volume about his first year in America, and his first real year of being married to Rachel, instead of writing yet another saga. A natural breaking point opened up at the most perfect moment, and I’m glad I made the call to do this story in two volumes, each with its own storyline, instead of forcing it to be a saga.

Rachel was roped into joining an insufferable new social club, Young Wives of Wildwood (to be covered on the Y day), by her quasi-friend and fellow Dutch immigrant Henriette (Jet) Vos. Rachel has absolutely nothing in common with these women, who are all written as parodies of conformist postwar housewives, but she continues going so Jet won’t be alone. She also goes somewhat to be entertained, and to try to expose them to an alternate point of view.

This is where you can write a character out of step with her time and still be historically accurate, since Rachel is the product of her liberal Dutch upbringing. Where she’s from, it’s normal to birth at home with a midwife, keep your name, get a higher education, and have intellectual thoughts. The culture clashes she and Jakob experience throughout the book are a big part of the storyline.

During the chapter, she and Jakob go on a winter vacation to their honeymoon cottage in Cape Cod, and experience more culture clashes at the grocery store. But they do have a wonderful first Chanukah together, without worrying about impressing these conformist drones.

Some highlights:

“Did you not understand when I said from beginning that I do not smoke and that I do not appreciate being forced to breathe in dangerous smoke when I am pregnant?  Jet is pregnant too, and doesn’t smoke either.” Rachel put her hand over her mouth and nose, coughing in a very exaggerated fashion.

“I’m not surprised your husband doesn’t smoke,” Mrs. Gilbert muttered. “We already know he’s not much of a man by how he let you keep your maiden name.”

“Are you really that abnormal?” a Mrs. Douglas gasped. “Only men are supposed to reach, you know, the height of ecstasy.  Believe me, I tried, and it never happened.  Not that I ever wanted it.  Only perverted, deviant women want or initiate that vulgar thing.”

“Well, I’m glad you think so.  All those bored housewives think I’m too fat for this point in pregnancy.  God forbid a woman gain a normal, healthy weight instead of starving herself to please some anti-woman doctor who got his training from a delusional sadist.”

Jakob took in his wife’s body eagerly when she shed her coat and boots in the bedroom. “I can’t wait to see how much more succulent your cantaloupes will be by the birth.  You were already nice and curvy before, but now you’ve got an even more womanly body.”

“Yes, a number of those insipid housewives still can’t believe I’m Jewish by birth, and that there was no intermarriage that I know of in my family.  They’re equally shocked by Jet’s blonde hair and blue eyes.  I didn’t want to waste my breath by trying to explain the concept of Diaspora to them, how it created people who look like all different things.  They’d probably just accuse me of reading too much for my own good.”

“Have you come back to Hyannis for the winter season?” Mrs. Taylor asked icily, not even attempting to disguise her disdain. “I suppose you’re like all normal Americans and have started celebrating Christmas.  I know many Mosaics who put up Christmas trees and hang stockings.”

“My parents taught me when I had four years and I asked where babies come from.  I never thought the word uterus was dirty or a difficult concept.  I can’t imagine how confused and scared I would’ve been as small child if I’d been told babies develop in the stomach.”