IWSG—August odds and sods

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:

Has your writing ever taken you by surprise? For example, a positive and belated response to a submission you’d forgotten about or an ending you never saw coming?

As I’ve written about before, I was not prepared for the depth of emotion I felt when writing the final days and death of Leonid Savvin in Journey Through a Dark Forest. He’d been written as an annoying, conceited pain since I created him in ’93, but 20 years later, I got incredibly choked-up as his long-planned death approached.

In the end, Leonid redeemed himself by making the ultimate sacrifice to save his adopted daughter Karla, his elderly parents, his baby sister Nelya, and his niece Inga from being arrested and tortured as enemies of the people themselves. He also tells his sister Georgiya he loves her, hugs her, and kisses her for the first time during their final meeting, and gives her a note to keep her spirits alive in Siberia.

This unexpected emotional connection will enable me to better write Leonid in the second of the two future prequels. There’s also a stunning development related to him to be revealed in the seventh book, and hinted at in the fifth.

I won Camp NaNo on Day 9, with a very lowball goal. I think this is my best Camp month ever! Towards the end, I went back to Word as my primary word processor. I needed to transition back in after years away. However, the master files for the three volumes are in Pages.

Much to my annoyance, I’ve discovered Dream Deferred will need a much more extensive editing and revision than usual, because:

I stupidly assumed universities always started in early September. In 1948–52, the schools in this book, and many others, began in late September and early October. This requires moving events around.

Overnight, Irina and Sonyechka go from declaring Stefania Wolicka Academy, a radical private school that gave them full scholarships, is the best school ever, to lamenting the lack of traditional, structured education. There’s no triggering event to explain why they’re suddenly annoyed with being allowed to choose almost their entire course of study.

The subplots with Katya and Dmitriy’s fellow Naval couple Marusya and Sima seem so pointless, cluttery, dumped on the page. All the other subplots naturally weave into the overall story, are plotted well, and would leave noticeable gaps if expunged, but the story wouldn’t miss a thing if this one were moved into the fifth book. At most, I might keep Marusya and Sima as friends with a possible family connection.

I like the theme that emerged in Part III, many things not being what they seemed for so long. Those seeming quick-fix miracles and safe bubbles away from ugly problems were too good to be true. Nothing about the Konevs’ life in St. Paul represents who they really are, and neither did their move to rural Minnesota all those years ago. It feels right for new chapters of their lives to beckon elsewhere.

I’m rather in arrears re: my planned film posts. During the remainder of August, I hope to cover 1929 films The Cocoanuts, Blackmail, Coquette, Un Chien Andalou, and Hallelujah! Next month I’ll have a series celebrating the 70th birthday of a film so white-hot it merits a rare 6 out of 5 stars rating. I also hope to have a September series on the 80th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz.

I’ve also continued doing my genealogical research, and found even more illustrious ancestors in another branch of my Boring line—nobility, aristocracy, and royalty of Medieval France, England, and Kyivan Rus. King Henri I of France married Princess Anna Yaroslavovna, which makes me a direct descendant of Prince Ryurik, the Viking prince who founded the Ryurikovich Dynasty.

I also finally found verified Irish ancestry!

Have you ever discovered problems with a book as you were writing it? Did you ever make a mistake based on poor research or assumptions?

IWSG—July odds and sods

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:

What personal traits have you written into your character(s)?

I’ve spoken before about how Emeline Rosalie Troy is my Doppelgänger. We’re not identical (e.g., I only wish I’d gone to Vassar!), but I deliberately, strongly based her after myself when I went back to Little Ragdoll from scratch and memory in November 2010.

We both had hyperlexia at age three, with the adult, uncensored version of Grimms’ Fairytales; we both love Hermann Hesse; we were very advanced readers from a young age; we share interests including world religions and languages, history, and philosophy; we had menarche a month before our twelfth birthdays; we’re very drawn to the story of Krishna; we didn’t have our first relationship till age 28; and George is our favourite Beatle.

Writing Chapter 6, “Halloween Wedding Gone Awry,” of my hiatused WIP Justine Grown Up planted a seed which gave me the courage to eventually, finally pull the plug on my dead-end, dysfunctional, mentally and emotionally abusive relationship with Sergey. During the first, much longer section of the chapter, Emeline’s having this back-and-forth with her sisters, sisters-in-law, and surrogate mother Sarah, expressing the same grievances boiling in my own mind as everyone tells her exactly what I was told.

I had a rather slow start to JuNoWriMo, thanks to doing one final check of Swan before approving the final version for hardcover production, but I pulled out and overachieved after all. Nothing like my mammoth 100K+ of last year, but good enough for me considering. One day, I wrote over 6K.

I’m also doing really well so far with Camp NaNo. I’d like to finally be done with A Dream Deferred by the NaNo. As for the issue with the subplot I mentioned in a previous post, I think it might be better to move part of it into the future fifth book. It’s just too rushed and dumped on the page, and then dropped.

Several characters mention the reality of a reunion with a long-presumed dead loved one after decades of separation. The love and gratitude are strong, but one can’t immediately resume the same kind of loving bond. Sometimes a reunion is meant more for closure. Each person has one’s own life, and writing letters and occasionally visiting are all that’s needed.

I’ve continued making lots of awesome genealogical discoveries, including finally breaking down some longstanding brick walls. My maternal grandma, my only surviving grandparent, will be so happy to learn the names of our Italian ancestors and see pictures of her aunts and uncles.

I’m also thrilled to learn my great-great-grandma Josephine (née Maria Giuseppa) was an only child born when her mother was 47. There was obviously no IVF in 1859, so this was a medical miracle. It gives me hope that Samuel or Anastasiya will exist before time runs out.

If something is meant to happen, it’ll happen. Everything arrives at the right time, to paraphrase a line in “All Things Must Pass.” Marriage, parenthood, and publication might not occur by the so-called normal age, but good things are well worth the wait.

P.S.: I’ve begun actively maintaining my Instagram page. Most of my posts are of my artwork, book covers, and the garden, and it means a lot to me that so many people have liked my art.

IWSG—May odds and sods

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and gives participants a chance to share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What was an early experience where you learnt language had power?

I don’t think I can pinpoint any exact experiences. It was probably more like a gradual realisation than one big epiphany. To point to individual examples, perhaps when I read adult non-fiction books on the Shoah and Pres. Lincoln’s assassination at age eight, long before I was intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically ready to handle such material, and came away profoundly disturbed and haunted.

A happier example is my experience with Ida Vos’s Hide and Seek at age twelve. It was a revelation to discover books could be written in present tense (in that case, third-person). That stylistic decision make the action seem so much more immediate, gripping, intense, uncertain, evoking an entirely different mood than past tense. I chose to make my first Russian historical present tense because of that experience.

I met my lowball Camp NaNo goal on Day 18, though I didn’t overachieve nearly as much as I usually do. Going in, I suspected I might have a slower April, in part because I’ve been using quite a lot of my library time on genealogy research instead of writing. It’s just so exciting, and I can’t use those databases at home without paying.

As promised, I’ll introduce some of my illustrious ancestors in future posts. Though I’m by and large descended from nobodies, one branch of my family tree has knights on it, including members of the Cromwell family. Another direct ancestor founded Lancaster, Massachusetts and is also a common ancestor to the Bush family.

Shortly before Camp NaNo began, I came to the conclusion it’s best to split A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University into three volumes. The chapter-by-chapter notes I made in 2015 never included the subplots and characters which organically unfolded during the actual writing process. Their inclusion has made the wordcount increase quite a bit past my initial conservative guesstimate of 400K.

More and more, I feel one of those unplanned subplots was either a complete mistake or needs more time to simmer. Long story short, Katya and Dmitriy befriend another young Naval couple, Dagmara (Marusya) and Zosim (Sima), who strongly seem to have a connection to Katya’s family.

Sima turns out to be the firstborn son of Katya’s step-great-uncle Grigoriy Golitsyn, a prince by birth. After so many years of private pain, Mr. Golitsyn begins expressing doubts about the former Vitya’s death, owing to his little body mysteriously vanishing between the time Mr. Golitsyn and his friends ran away to the time they came back to their home to gather important possessions.

Additionally, Marusya turns out to be the unknown baby sister of Katya’s godfather Aleksey. Their parents escaped the USSR and settled in Los Angeles, neither having any reason to believe the other had survived. After building up this storyline, the resolution seems too rushed and just dumped on the page, after which it’s never spoken of again.

The reunion of Mr. Golitsyn and his long-lost son is too precious to excise, esp. since it’s only intended as a minor subplot, but if I want to keep the other part of it, I have to move the resolution up or hold it back till the future fifth book.

This year’s IWSG anthology, which features ten stories including mine, released yesterday. We’ve put a lot of hard work into building buzz and promoting it. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to join in the live Q&A panel on the 11th, since I don’t use my computer on Shabbos. I’ll be happy to answer any questions fielded my way, though.

WeWriWa—A surprise present


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m currently sharing from my WIP, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University. This week’s snippet comes early in the next chapter after “Lyuba’s Golden Jubilee.”

It’s now several days after 11-year-old Sonyechka had her hand skated over at Rockefeller Rink, and she and her family are on their way to family friend Katrin’s 50th birthday party at the Waldorf-Astoria. A deliveryman stopped them in the hall, with a surprise present for Sonyechka.

Sonyechka takes the parcel and skips back to her room. As soon as Irina unlocks it, she goes inside and pulls off the deep blue wrapping paper. A stuffed hippo, with deep brown plush fur, awaits her, along with a short note.

To Miss Sofya Koneva,

I hope your hand feels better really quickly. I thought you might like this to make you feel better. Hippos are really tough animals, and you were really tough to not scream or cry when that jerk ran over your hand. My parents told me your birthday was Friday, so this is a belated birthday present too.


Adrian Furtsev

“He must really like you!” Irina teases. “No older boy gets a girl your age a present when he doesn’t have to.”

WeWriWa—A secret connection


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m currently sharing from Chapter 52, “Lyuba’s Golden Jubilee,” of my WIP, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University. It’s December 1949, and newly-11-year-old Sonyechka has been knocked over and had her hand skated over at Rockefeller Rink.

This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, when Sonyechka’s helper Adrian complimented her and her sister Irina on their fancy, custom-dyed skates and told Sonyechka he hopes her hand heals soon. Now Irina, who’s old enough to understand certain things and keep important secrets, realizes just who Adrian and Poliksena are.

As Adrian skates after Poliksena, it dawns on Irina that these must be the shunned Anya and Alya’s children. She doesn’t envy them, having to keep so many secrets at all times, spin plausible cover stories, and avoid other topics altogether.

“What a nice young man,” Platosha says. “I wonder how he and his sister know our family.”

“Probably from church,” Irina lies. “It’s probably one of those cases where someone remembers or knows you a lot better than you do them. I’d surely remember someone with an unusual name like Poliksena.”

“That’s the kind of boy you need to date when you’re old enough, Sonyechka,” Beatrisa says. “Adrian is very mature for his age. I assume he’s about fifteen.”

Anya and Alya are longtime friends of Lyuba’s who were shunned from their circle after their lesbian relationship was discovered on Coney Island in 1923. In 1927, out of desperation, Lyuba came to them to beg for financial help, and was told they’d forgive her and give her money regularly if she came for weekly visits and genuinely rekindled their friendship. All these years, Lyuba and her four oldest children have kept their friendship a secret from everyone.

A gay friend provided the material for an artificial insemination at a radical underground clinic, and they publicly pass Adrian and Poliksena off as children they adopted in Prague. A few extremely trusted people know they’re natural children, but not about the lesbian relationship.