Posted in Atlantic City books, Writing

IWSG—September odds and sods

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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:

If you could choose one author, living or dead, to be your beta partner, who would it be and why?

I would love to work with Mark Twain! He’s long been one of my fave writers, since he was such an astute observer of humans and society, and very funny. We also have a lot of political and social views in common, and both love science and technology. It would be really fun to be his beta partner.

The book formerly known as The Very First released in e-book format on 23 August. I’d hoped to have a simultaneous print and e-book release, but the print edition (which has a different cover) should be ready to go within two weeks.

I’m saving my big release day post until then. It’ll discuss the reason for different covers, last-minute changes to the text, things I considered changing, and more. There’s no point in rushing, particularly since making changes to the text of a print book after the fact isn’t free or easy like it is with e-books.

For that reason, I haven’t yet put buy links on my “Where to find my books and author pages” page.

The hardcover edition of The Twelfth Time is now finally in production. Once I’m done checking the proof of the book formerly known as The Very First one final time, I’ll begin my final checks of the four volumes of Dark Forest.

I’m coming to feel that one of the reasons my progress on Dream Deferred, which seemed to be heading into the homestretch before permanent lockdown began, has ground to a near-complete standstill is that I’ve just been with these characters for too long at one stretch. I need a break from them to regain my passion and momentum.

Suffice it to say, I won’t be starting the fifth book in this saga, From a Nightmare to a Dream: Out of Stalin’s Shadow, anytime soon!

As I briefly mentioned in my DDAD post, my 34-year-old little brother disowned me in a fit of rage in early August because of this, my Facebook profile picture. He was quite abusive, hateful, insulting, and misogynistic in DMs, and kept cycling back to emotional language and ideology instead of addressing any of the specific issues I cited or recognising that many people outside his little Woke Stasi bubble share my views.

It really is painful to be treated so cruelly and disrespectfully by my own brother, but at least he mailed me my notebooks from my storage locker before this happened. Now that he’s convinced I’m a horrible bigot with terrible morals, he’ll only consider finish sending me the rest of my stuff for the sake of our parents.

I truly hope his creepy ménage falls apart and that he profusely apologises to our entire family for the awful way he’s treated all of us for a long time. He refers to his emotionally unstable girlfriend and her creepy husband as his “loving family,” while having almost nothing to do with his real family. I’m so angry at them for brainwashing him and turning him against us!

I’m still going back and forth on whether to slightly age up my Atlantic City characters or keep their long-established age, through 60 years’ worth of storylines, as-is. My heart wants to keep them as they’ve always been, since it’ll all even out once they’re in their mid-teens, but my head keeps nagging me about unrealistic cognitive development and things that feel super-sketchy even in over the top satire, like a 9-year-old girl dating a 15-year-old boy or a 6-year-old boy having a room full of pornographic filth of all types.

I think my NaNo project this year might be a resumption of my radical rewrite of the book formerly known as The Very Last, and starting my gut renovation of Almost As an Afterthought: The First Six Months of 1941. I’ll have to figure out my final decision by then!

Posted in 1950s, Fourth Russian novel, Historical fiction, Writing

WeWriWa—The need for peace

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

In honor of the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki today, and the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima on the sixth, I’m sharing something from my WIP, A Dream Deferred. One of the main storylines is radical journalist Katrin spending eight months in Japan in 1950 investigating the aftermath of the bombings, along with modern Japanese culture and politics. As soon as she returns to New York, she’s arrested by local HUAC officials, and eventually goes through two trials.

Sadly, the fifth anniversary memorials were cancelled by the Allied occupiers, so Katrin and her hosts have to hold a private ceremony.

hibakusha is an atomic bomb survivor. There are at least 165 known njiu hibakusha, people who survived both blasts.

As the clock strikes the fateful hour of remembrance of 8:15, Hidemi, Umina, and Katrin take a hammer in each hand and strike six large bronze meditation bells, on which are embossed messages of love, hope, and peace. Clear, sharp tones ring through the house, followed by higher-pitched, dirge-like reverberations rumbling through the house. The final resonance, as the vibrations slowly ebb away, lasts for a full minute.

As these sounds envelope the air, Katrin closes her eyes and thinks about the countless innocents who lost their lives five years ago at this very moment, throughout the course of that terrible day, and in the days, weeks, and months afterwards. Long after the fire of a million Suns rained down from the sky, that moment of 8:15 AM on August 6, 1945 is frozen in time for eternity, in the phantom shadows all over the city. The eerie spaces throughout Hiroshima also tell the story of the absence of presence and the presence of absence.

After the last vestige of sound has vanished into thin air, Katrin goes to a window with the Nakamuras and looks out at the wounded city. Allied soldiers are walking through the rubble-cluttered streets, alongside hibakusha, children born since the bombing, and native Hiroshimans who were elsewhere at the time of the bombing. Dogs, cats, raccoon dogs, birds, trees, plants, and flowers also occupy the landscape.

“As far as our city has fallen, it’s not in the totally decimated state it was five years ago,” Hidemi says.

The ten lines end here. The scene concludes below:

“In five more years, it may be almost completely rebuilt. Those red canna flowers were the first to bloom after the cataclysm. They gave all Hiroshimans hope, and represented regeneration of new life even in rubble and ashes. No plants had been expected to grow for seventy-five years, yet these beautiful flowers began blooming a month later, and burst into more and more life. The red canna flowers meant so much to us as we began the painful work of rebuilding our city. They reach full bloom around the anniversary, always reminding us of the power of regeneration against all odds. So much of life is like that, even if it’s usually not that extreme. We go through a series of highs and lows, always hoping the lows won’t be too bad or last too long, and that the highs will fill us with joy and remind us of why life is worth living and soldiering through, no matter what.”

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 Fourth Russian novel, New York City, Writing

How a poorly-planned storyline fell apart

When a storyline never advances past a vague idea, or you can’t decide which way exactly to take it, that’s a very strong sign it’s not meant to be. That was precisely what happened with my aborted storyline of the Konevs moving back to NYC in June 1952.

How did it fall apart, and why did I realize it? Let me count the ways.

1. They spend way more time talking about their exciting upcoming move, or in Ivan’s case resisting it, than actively planning it! Who the bloody hell commits to moving 1,000 miles away and enrolling in grad school without guaranteed housing lined up?

2. I kept going back and forth re: which neighborhood they should live in, and getting lost in rabbit holes of research. The West Village? The Upper West Side? Hamilton Heights? Morningside Heights? One of the districts within Victorian Flatbush? Staten Island?

3. Likewise with housing type. A penthouse? A luxury apartment? The mother-in-law suite in Katrin’s penthouse? A townhouse? A rowhouse? Sharing a townhouse with relatives? An estate in Victorian Flatbush?

4. I also kept going back and forth re: which schools everyone should attend. For the adults, should it be Columbia, City College, Brooklyn College, Columbia Teachers College, the Pratt Institute, NYU, Hunter, or Sarah Lawrence? For Sonyechka and Tamara, is Walden or New Lincoln a better fit?

5. Even if Lyuba sometimes said, well before this storyline, she wished the family still lived in New York, that wasn’t a true, active wish. Doesn’t everyone sometimes wonder about the path not taken? Deep down, she knows her life is in Minnesota now.

6. Speaking of, why would Tatyana and Nikolay uproot their six kids to move 1,000 miles away because they miss their friends? It’s like Plinio in Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game (his only novel I found a slog instead of a joy to read), whining to his former best friend Joseph Knecht about how they grew apart. This bothered him for 20 years?! Move on, dude!

You can never really go home again. People and places change, even if everyone’s still there and the cityscape is the same on the surface. We acquire different lifestyles as we age. Raising a family and working take priority over carefree fun.

7. It played right into the overly romanticized view of New York as the best of all possible cities, the only city worth anything.

8. Though it was rather subtle, the city was entering the first stages of its tragic decline in this era. Where would the Konevs go after the city began noticeably deteriorating?

9. The severe housing crisis created during the Depression only got worse after WWII. They would not have had first priority on one of the precious units available, and a detached house in the outer boroughs would’ve resulted in a long commute.

10. It felt like a preachy polemic about the superiority of urban apartment life over farm country and traditional houses.

11. It necessitated too many convenient plot twists and cluttery storylines justifying almost the entire Minnesota cast relocating en masse!

12. Everyone began talking like they were never really happy in Firebird Fields and couldn’t wait to wash their hands of farming. Despite the difficulties, they were so happy to finally be out of the congested city and have large houses, fresh air, clear skies, open spaces, and sunlight again!

13. Katya points out Lyuba substituted one daydream for another. Yes, it sucks that her life was turned upside-down by the Revolution, but in her early fifties, she can only do so much towards returning to the path her life otherwise would’ve taken. Who’s to say her New York life would automatically be so much more awesome the second time around?

14. Their New York friends and family have missed living close by, but never expressed such severe longing to be together again before! All of a sudden it’s a huge hardship and heartache.

15. Deep down, I couldn’t picture the Konevs as apartment people, even in a sprawling penthouse with two stories, a big terrace, great amenities, and a gorgeous courtyard. They only lived in communal housing when they had no choice.

16. Ditto living in a multi-story, fairly narrow townhouse sharing walls with other homes. Just not who they’ve ever been, despite staying in relatives’ townhouses when they visit.

17. Where would they put their dear horse Branimir, another Long Island stable?

18. On the flip side of the NYC lovefest was a Minnesota hatefest. Everyone talks like it’s a cultural and intellectual desert!

19. Can’t these people think outside the familiar? There’s no reason everyone needs to either stay in Minnesota or return to NYC if there’s truly a pressing need to move.

20. Though Nikolay resents how farming gave him an automatic draft exemption in WWII, he and Tatyana truly do love that simpler lifestyle.

21. The main plotlines of the future sixth book are based around Sonyechka and Tamara NOT living in the same city as their parents!

To be continued.

Posted in Fourth Russian novel, New York City, Writing

How an aborted storyline came together

My original plan for the ending of A Dream Deferred was for Lyuba and Ivan to return to Firebird Fields and farming after graduating from the University of Minnesota. Their youngest children, Sonyechka and Tamara, would resume the small local school.

And then the Konevs went to NYC for their friends Kat and Nikolas’s 30th anniversary, and everything changed.

During that week, Sonyechka and Tamara attend Father Spiridon’s church camp and become friends with Pravdina and Zikatra Mytnik, Oksana Zyuganova’s daughters.

Pravdina and Zikatra attend the radical Walden School, and attended the even more radical Summerhill in London. Sonyechka loves how intellectual, politically aware, cultured, and sophisticated they are.

Sonyechka and Tamara beg their parents for permission to stay an extra week instead of returning to Minnesota. During that week, Sonyechka gets a bug in her ear about the family relocating to NYC so her parents can attend grad school and she can attend Walden.

From that point forward, a chain reaction is set in motion, as one by one everyone in Minnesota begins declaring how they never truly felt at home in farm country and need to return to NYC to accomplish anything with their lives.

Except….

This plot-changing extra week in New York is never depicted! We only hear about it afterwards, when Sonyechka talks about how Pravdina suggested she impersonate her parents in graduate school applications. We also hear several times about how Sonyechka found Ilya’s senior portfolio project while giving Pravdina and Zikatra a tour.

Once Sonyechka comes home, suddenly Stefania Wolicka Academy, a very progressive school which gave her a full scholarship, is the worst school ever, far too freewheeling and not academically rigourous enough. Not that long ago, she lauded it as the best school ever!

Instead of significantly toning down how radical Stefania Wolicka is, I created a storyline about Irina, Sonyechka, and their friends (including the boys at next-door Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi Academy) losing their scholarships due to financial difficulties. They’d finish the year at a new Quaker school, and then go on to Walden after the entire Minnesota cast relocated.

This whole storyline was for naught, since Ivan’s prodigal father, in the thick of his latest attempt at repentance, comes to the rescue with full tuition for everyone for the rest of the school year. He follows this up with expensive birthday and Christmas presents, and letters far more good-natured and personal than usual, leading Lyuba and Ivan to wonder just where he’s getting all this money from and why he’s suddenly acting so charitable.

Lyuba and Ivan’s respective advisors strongly recommend grad school, and of course they heavily push for New York schools instead of staying where they already are. Because apparently the University of Minnesota is a no-name school with inferior programs and professors. </extreme sarcasm> Conveniently, they also have connections at Walden who’ll greenlight Sonyechka and Tamara’s acceptance.

It doesn’t take long for Lyuba to jump on this precious opportunity to get a master’s degree from Columbia and finally do something with her intellect. Her advisor thinks she’s brilliant enough for a Ph.D.

Prof. Eduard Novak, the father of Sonyechka’s best friend Kleopatra, also gets a letter from Columbia, inviting him to join their archaeology department thanks to the influence of an old friend. Prof. Novak had a nervous breakdown after surviving the brutal Croatian camp Jasenovac, but now he’s finally ready to return to public life.

In November, there’s a meeting in Firebird Fields, which has suddenly become an unincorporated community instead of a real town. Due to an increasing hemorrhage of population, they need to vote on gaining official town status, becoming a suburb of Duluth (a stone’s throw away), being annexed to Duluth, or remaining on their own.

This is all the push needed for Fedya to decide to apply to Columbia Teachers College to become an art teacher. He only returned to Minnesota out of blind duty and to avoid disappointing his parents, and Novomira never wanted to return.

Tatyana and Nikolay also start making plans to move.

While in New York during winter break, Lyuba’s real estate agent cousin Ginny shows them a former hotel in the West Village, being refurbished into luxury apartments for less by a philanthropist who wants to entice a more moneyed population back to the neighborhood.

This would never have happened during such a severe housing crisis! People would’ve been squatting in that hotel, or it would’ve been split into many SROs since the Depression.

Sonyechka sends a telegram to Dr. Scholl, suggesting Dr. Persida Kolarov (Kleopatra’s mother) for his new progressive clinic.

On Russian Christmas, Andrey accepts an offer to do his psychology Ph.D. residency at a new Manhattan practice specializing in Shoah survivors, since there are so many in the city.

Dmitriy gets furlough from Korea for Katya’s 26th birthday in March, and of course she gets pregnant. You guessed it, she must leave beautiful, sunny Berkeley to join her family in New York!

For good measure, let’s have the Kahns join the Konevs and Novaks too.

To be continued.