IWSG—Hopeful for improved wordcounts

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In memory of my old friend Fiona, who would’ve turned 37 today. In her memory, I gave the name Fiona to my character Baby Ryan when she and her siblings take legal names, and also used her surname for another family in my contemporary historical family saga about the Troys and Ryans.

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group convenes the first Wednesday of every month, and lets participants share their worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears. This month, I finally remembered to include the monthly question!

What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?

I’ve been annoyed by so many things while revisiting books I loved when I was younger! I know standards were different in the past, and that I’m not the best one to talk given my rather old-fashioned style, but even I cringe at things like:

A lack of contractions
Infodumpy, “As you know, Bob” dialogue, esp. when it’s used to convey important backstory and/or historical details
Purple prose
Way too many adverbs (like, 5-10 per page), esp. when paired with non-standard speaking verbs (screamed explosively, snapped quizzically, nodded methodically, whispered knowingly)
Lack of front or back matter with stuff like a family tree, list of characters, pronunciation guide (for foreign names and words), and glossary
Overuse of “that”
Introducing way too many characters way too quickly, esp. if they’re not important
First-person where third-person would’ve made the story much stronger

My July wordcount was embarrassingly low by my standards yet again. Due to all the extenuating circumstances I’ve discussed, I had to set my July Camp NaNo goal at only 10K. It took almost the entire month to finally break even. I’m not proud of how low my final total was, but I did have a very strong finish.

Unlike JuNoWriMo, this only counted words from my WIP, not together with blog posts. I also included words from my glossary (mostly various types of foreign cuisine), table of contents, and cast of characters.

That, my final wordcount for the last day, is what I’m typically capable of. I normally write several thousand words a day, sometimes 5,000 or more. While I respect that some writers have a slower pace, or might only want to work on a paragraph a day, that’s not my style at all. I naturally write very prolifically, and when my wordcounts are only a few hundred words a day (if that), it’s a sign something’s very, very wrong.

I came up with some great ideas for more subplots, chapter sections, and secondary characters for this book. These subplots include Sonyechka’s experience in fifth grade, and Tamara’s in second, based on my own. I’m planning a future blog post on how closely you should base characters and storylines on real life.

I’m really excited about the final quarter (or so) of Part I. Since I write so long, I like to let things build for a really long time before things start coming to a dramatic head. I’m also really pleased with all the unplanned secondary characters and subplots I came up with, though I’m still dissatisfied with how I’ve been executing one of those subplots.

Have you ever worked on a book where you weren’t consistently strong with motivation, creativity, and/or wordcount? Does it sometimes take until a certain amount of time into a period of working on a book (if you’re doing it in separated stages) for the writing to take off?

P.S.: To mark next week’s special holiday, I’ll be fêting Rio on its 35th anniversary. I’ve really been looking forward to writing those posts, and hope my readers enjoy them just as much!

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IWSG—Poor wordcounts continue

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InsecureWritersSupportGroup

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group convenes the first Wednesday of every month, and lets participants share their worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears.

I decided to take part in JuNoWriMo again after all, knowing I’d mostly be doing creative non-fiction in the form of blog posts. For most of the month, I doubted I’d crack 10K, and then I decided I’d consider it a win if I got 15K.

My total was embarrassingly low by my standards, though I didn’t have a desk for almost the entire month, coupled with stress, moving (NOT to my desired location!), and having very little privacy.

I set my July Camp NaNo goal even lower, a mere 10K. Not only are those other factors continuing, but some me-me-me jerk ruined my car on July first when I was on my way to synagogue. (Unfortunately, I’m trapped in a housing development in suburbia, and thus no longer have the option of walking to shul.)

This jerk zoomed right into my lane and tore the entire front bumper clear off. It’s a miracle no one ran into it after it flew into the road. He claimed he thought there was plenty of space to get in front of me, though he was right next to my car and squeezing me out of my lane!

I can’t believe my ten-and-a-half-year-old car survived a journey of over 900 miles from NY to SC, only for some negligent driver to get me into an accident a month later.

I went to a used bookstore recently, and finally found a much more updated translation of The Divine Comedy and La Vita Nuova. The hardcover in the back (which was cheaper) is an older version, but I loved that it has the classic Gustave Doré woodcuts.

My first and foremost literary idol and inspiration will always be my favorite writer, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, but Dante is a very close second place. His intense otherworldly journey, a reflection of how he’d lost the way in his own life, is a constant reminder to me that no matter how far we fall, how badly we’re lost, there’s always hope of finding our way out of that dark forest and towards “the Love that moves the Sun and the other stars.”

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I’m trying to work on my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, for my July Camp project. I wish I’d begun it right when the passion struck and I wrote out my rough draft of chapter-by-chapter notes in the summer of 2015, instead of saving it for that year’s NaNo, but it is what it is.

Hopefully, the first draft will finally be finished within two more years. I did spend eight and a half years on my first Russian historical, over three major working periods, and then took about three and a half more editing, revising, and polishing it a decade later. I’ll be doing some more light revisions on it in the near future, to go along with an updated cover.

How has your summer been treating you in regards to writing or life?

IWSG—Intensified roadblocks

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InsecureWritersSupportGroup

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group convenes the first Wednesday of every month, and lets participants share their worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears.

Due to my recent move, in which I was essentially shanghaied by my parents and prevented from moving right back to my hometown of Pittsburgh (in spite of being a grown adult), I’m not in the most ideal place to get a lot of writing done this summer. I fervently hope to be out of South Carolina by the High Holy Days and settled into Pittsburgh on my own terms.

I don’t particularly plan on belatedly joining in with JuNoWriMo this year. While I could always put in overtime to make up for starting so late, I honestly don’t see myself as making 50K of anything this month. Last year, it was a huge struggle to get within spitting distance of 50K, and I counted blog posts, a survey, and journal entries together with my fictional writing.

My struggle during last JuNoWriMo was so real, I set my July Camp NaNo goal down to 30K. I ended up making over twice that, with the pressure off. More recently, I struggled to make my pitifully low 20K goal during April Camp NaNo. With my flagging mental health and issues with depression, my normal level of productivity just plummeted.

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In more positive news, I created some unplanned new characters for my fourth Russian historical. Three adult brothers, their parents, and the oldest brother’s two children escaped from Estonia after the Soviets reoccupied their country in September 1944, spent four and a half years in Sweden, and came to New York in April 1949.

The brothers are the future husbands of three of radical Katrin’s daughters. The oldest brother lost his first wife in the final bombing of Tallinn, and his younger child, daughter Meri, had to be delivered two months prematurely, in a postmortem C-section. Due to the doctor’s haste and not even being in a hospital, Meri got a scar in the middle of her forehead and top of her nose, curling under her right eye, and continuing to her ear.

Since the first book I ever read was Grimms’ Fairytales, at age three, I’ve always naturally come by macabre storylines and events like that. I’m drawn to dark subjects and periods of history, as much as I love a good happily ever after.

I also came up with a future husband for Bogdana, whom I’d originally planned to match with leg amputee Nestor. Her fellow is a Slovenian–American who’ll come to her rescue after a certain medical crisis which took the lives of many women in this era. He lost his own first wife to this medical situation.

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I have a feeling this November’s NaNo will be A Dream Deferred for the third time. Once I’m in a better place mentally, emotionally, and geographically, I trust my usual writing productivity levels will resume.

IWSG—Lagging productivity

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InsecureWritersSupportGroup

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group convenes the first Wednesday of the month. Participants share their worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears. I forgot to post last month, due to A to Z taking precedence, and travelling to NYC for my rabbi’s oldest daughter’s wedding.

This month, the IWSG question is:

What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

I absolutely love research! Special favourites include vintage clothes, advertisements, childbirth, food, and slang. I also love looking at street maps to see where everything is in my settings. Other topics include what it’s like to be an amputee, Orthodox Christianity, and 1940s prosthetics.

After realising all my Russian male characters would’ve been uncircumcised, I did secondhand research on what it feels like to have intercourse with a guy like that. I wanted that level of authenticity in my sex scenes.

I technically won Camp NaNo, but this is NOT my best work. My productivity levels are normally so much higher. I had to lower my goal from 50K to 35K to 20K, and only broke even on Day 23. There were a few days early on when I didn’t write at all, though I still took screenshots of each day’s final progress when I did write. I like having that record.

Mitigating factors included the eight days of Pesach, my flagging mental health, my wrecked sleep cycles, and starting to make plans to move home to Pittsburgh against my parents’ insistence I join them in South Carolina for a few months. I’ve been stuck in this unhealthy holding pattern for far too long, and even my 17-year-old spider plant Kalanit is suffering.

I’m really unhappy with an unplanned subplot regarding Katya and Dmitriy’s new friends Dagmara (Marusya) and her husband Sima (Zosim). It started out so well, but developed far too quickly, and feels detached, like it’s just dumped in there instead of naturally-connected. It also feels very deus ex machina, in spite of its great potential.

When I read back over my first Russian historical in 2011, nine years after I’d last had access to it, I was so impressed at how expertly I’d woven all these storylines together and then finally linked them all up. The stories of the orphanage girls (esp. the Lebedeva sisters and Inessa) and Lena Yeltsina’s family are an integral part of the overall story, not just thrown in there every few chapters without any lead-in or foreshadowing.

However, I’m a lot happier with one of my other unplanned secondary characters, former Marine Captain Nestor Sevastyanovich Ugolnikov. I originally planned to give him to Bogdana Sheltsova, but then I realised he’s a much better match with Yustina Yeltsina-Baronova. But first, he has to overcome his belief that no woman would want a guy who’s missing a leg.

(FYI: You NEVER call someone “an ex-Marine”! It’s always “former Marine.” Semper fi means something!)

I also finally have a new cover for Little Ragdoll. My artist kept it based on the original reference photo. There was an odd technical issue, where Amazon wouldn’t accept the cover’s size, and the enlarged files she sent me kept being read as too small and the same size as before. I finally had to go onto my older computer to resize it myself in Gimp.

WeWriWa—Twelve-dish Christmas supper

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weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. To mark the recent Russian Orthodox Christmas, this snippet comes from my fourth Russian novel, in a scene featuring the traditional twelve-dish supper of Christmas Eve (6 January). This is the beginning of 1949.

NYU freshmen and Irish twins Igor and Ilya are living with their great-aunt Valeriya and her second husband, Grigoriy Golitsyn (a prince by birth). Their guests are Valeriya and Mr. Golitsyn’s oldest child together, Vasya; his wife Dusya; and their children, 6-year-old Stella and 2-year-old Nora. Also present is Valeriya and Mr. Golitsyn’s daughter Vasilisa, who’s seriously dating another prince by birth.

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After the Troparion, Mr. Golitsyn takes out a blue and white bowl of honey and makes the sign of the cross on each person’s forehead in turn, starting with Valeriya and ending with Nora.

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, may you all have sweetness and many good things in life and in the new year,” he pronounces after Nora has been anointed.

Valeriya lights a large yellow candle in the center of the table, contained in a red and white porcelain dish, symbolizing the star of Bethlehem.  Then Stella stands up on her chair and reads the Nativity story from the Gospel of Matthew.  The youngest child is traditionally supposed to read it, but Nora doesn’t know how to read anything yet.  Finally, Mr. Golitsyn asks for God’s blessings on the wine, bread, and food, breaks the round, twisted kalach bread, and distributes it to the other eight people.

The first proper meal of the supper is kutya, cooked barley kasha sweetened with chopped walnuts, honey, dried cranberries, and poppy seeds.  Also around the table are caviar, mushroom soup, fish soup with dumplings, cabbage soup, pickled mushrooms, pirozhki, stuffed carp, baked trout, draniki, pickled cabbage, boiled potatoes with dill from Vasya and Dusya, raspberry tea, wine, blueberry vareniki, walnut pudding, and assorted dried fruits.

Happy_Christmas_2

Draniki are potato pancakes; pirozhki are baked or fried buns stuffed with things like mushrooms and beef; and vareniki are kind of like blintzes or crêpes, dough pockets stuffed with either savory or sweet foods. The Troparion is a one-stanza hymn, with many different forms.