WeWriWa—Chanukah in Amsterdam

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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.

My first winter holiday snippet this year comes from And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away, which is set from 1940–46 in The Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies. Chapter 4, “Heroes and Cowards of History,” is set during the first Chanukah of the war.

Fourteen-year-old Jakob DeJonghe and his mother Luisa moved into the apartment of their friends Kees (Cornelius) and Gusta at the start of the book, after Jakob’s father was coerced into suicide by three Nazis and his little sister Emilia mysteriously disappeared. Jakob is quite angry about everything going on.

Chanukah party in Salonika, Greece, 1945

This year, Chanukah came “late,” compared to the Gregorian calendar. The first night was on Christmas Eve. While most of the people of Amsterdam had fancy Christmas trees in their windows and bright lights and decorations, Jakob’s new home had chanukiyot in the window. When he was a boy, Jakob had asked his father why the Christians had their big Christmas celebration on December fifth when the actual holiday was twenty days away, and Ruud had told him perhaps they were trying to make up for how their religion didn’t have so many holidays. Now Jakob wondered if Emilia had gotten presents from Sinterklaas earlier in the month, and if Heer Krusen and Vrouw Peerenboom, if they still had her, were raising her as a Christian.

“I never thought I’d live to see a day when we’d be in the same position as our ancestors during the first Chanukah,” Kees commented as he put a heaping spoonful of applesauce on his plate. “Then again, I also believed the last war was truly the war to end all wars.”

“We’ll emerge victorious soon enough,” Gusta said as she cut up a latke. “Only this time we have large, professional armies to save us, and don’t need to depend on a group like the Maccabees.”

IWSG—Another month of exhaustion

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group meets the first Wednesday of each month. Participants share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What publishing path are you considering/did you take, and why?

I was pursuing traditional publication in 2000–01, and again from 2011–14. Everything I’d read said all writers needed agents, and I took part in so many contests, pitchfests, and events like Gearing Up to Get an Agent and the Platform-Building Campaign.

Gradually, I came to realise I needed to be the mistress of my own destiny. I’ve nothing against the many writers who’ve chosen traditional publishing, but I personally like having total creative control. Most of my books, apart from my Atlantic City books, are also deliberately saga-length, with ensemble casts. I didn’t want to sit around waiting for 5–10 years to prove myself worthy of releasing a very long book.

I also don’t like the idea of waiting up to two years (or more) for a book to be published, after finding an agent. I enjoy setting my own release dates, and coinciding them with important dates to my characters.

After spending nearly an entire month checking four e-proofs and correcting a few stray typos and errors I caught, I went through my first Russian historical to create the fourth edition I’d wanted to work on for a long time. I also finally put my other books onto Nook and Kobo.

I also added a glossary and a “The Story Behind the Story” for And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth, about both my volumes with Jakob and Rachel. I’ve always considered it one story in two books, though I still agree with my decision to make the final year of the story into its own book. The focus of each is so different.

Then I went back to The Twelfth Time, the sequel to Swan, for a long, long-overdue final polishing. Its first draft was 406K, and I’d taken it down to 398K the last time I worked on it. I’m proud to have gotten it down to a more manageable 390K, plus about 4K of front and back matter. Does anyone expect a Russian novel to be short?!

The Twelfth Time releases on 6 September, Lyuba and Ivan’s wedding anniversary. They chose that date because it was the date they finally became lovers, and conceived their first blood child together. I wrote that book in 2011, and began editing it in 2014. I shouldn’t have been sitting on it for nearly this long!

I also love the Russian Land typeface I found (which is free for commercial use). It’s based on the Old Church Slavonic alphabet, the precursor to modern Cyrillic. This typeface is far more suitable for the mood and style of these books than the fancy types I was playing with prior, like Chopin, Lucien Schoenschrift, Tangerine, and Exmouth.

I immediately got to work on the final polishing of Journey Through a Dark Forest, which I’m hoping to finally release either late this year or sometime next year. All this rereading is really making me eager to finally go back full-time to my fourth Russian historical, and the remaining seven books in my epic series, which I’ve named The Ballad of Lyuba and Ivan.

I also finally put together a page with links to all my current author pages and books. Planned future releases are also listed. I have no one to blame but myself for my previous failure at marketing myself.

Anything exciting going on in your writing and publishing life lately?

Lessons learnt from post-publication polishing, Part IV

I didn’t expect to write a Part IV to this series over a year and a half later, but the topic just seemed right to continue.

I had to go through the four manuscripts I’m prepping for print editions, and it was a powerful reminder of how far I’ve come in my development as a writer, even in the last 5–10 years. We should all always endeavour to become better at our craft. If we’re still writing exactly the way we did at earlier stages, and see nothing wrong with that bygone style, something’s very wrong.

As I mentioned in the earlier installments of this series, I definitely would’ve written Little Ragdoll much differently were I only going back from scratch and memory now. It’s much more telly or omniscient, in a number of spots, than my writing has evolved into since.

But I really do feel it ultimately works with the type of story it is, esp. since one of its strongest inspirations is the 19th and early 20th century Five Little Peppers series. It also reads like a 1960s version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (which I hadn’t yet read when I wrote this book). Hardly books with a modern narrative style.

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At the time I turned my long short story/piece of backstory about Jakob DeJonghe and Rachel Roggenfelder into two full-length novels, I fully intended to query them. I deliberately wrote the first volume as YA, albeit mature upper YA. Hence, the fade to black in the wedding night scene (though they remain technical virgins to avoid creating a potential half-orphan).

Were I writing that book as adult lit that just happens to feature someone who ages from 14–20, I would’ve made it much longer, by at least 50K. I would’ve added a lot more chapters, or made the existing ones much longer and more detailed.

I’d also expand certain wraparound narrative segments into active scenes, just as I would’ve done with many of those kinds of passages in LR. While the estimated 125K is on the short side by my standards, it’s towards the upper limit of traditionally published YA in the modern era. That was as short and sweet as I could make it.

Likewise, the sequel also could’ve been much longer than only 104K. I could’ve easily planned for many more chapters, or made the existing chapters longer. But the focus is on a single young couple and their first true year as husband and wife, not a bunch of competing subplots with my Atlantic City characters.

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Things I never thought I’d admit: My ingrained habit of putting two spaces after a period (except for blog posts), when combined with justified text and Baskerville typeface, can create a number of unsightly, disproportionate gaps. I’ll continue typing the way I was taught, but when it comes time to format a manuscript for print, I’ll do a find/change.

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I don’t regret at all the post-publication polishing and light revising I did of LR early last year. That book truly needed it, and became stronger as a result. But there are many things about the inherent voice and style I can’t change so much time after writing it, without the entire structure collapsing.

Indie authors can do whatever they want with their own work, but there needs to come a time when one steps back and recognises a book is the strongest, most perfect it’ll ever get. What’s more important, going back again and again to revise or rewrite already-published books, or spending that time on writing new books where you no longer make those mistakes?

I learnt from my mistakes, and recognise them when I see them in older books. It doesn’t mean those previous books are inferior or poorly-written because they have, e.g., a lot of adverbs or some telly spots. It just means I wrote them at an earlier stage of my life.

IWSG—Exhausted

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group meets the first Wednesday of each month. Participants share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What pitfalls would you warn other writers to avoid on their publication journey?

Don’t jump into querying or publication too soon, or declare you’re done editing and revising too soon. I cringe when I see a hit to a post from 2011 or 2012, naïvely declaring I think I’m done editing something that was nowhere near done, or talking about querying the wrong agents or after barely any revising.

Think of it like slowly savouring gourmet chocolate vs. uncouthly gobbling a cheap cookie. You should never rush anything important.

Also, stay true to your own voice and style.

I’m so damn exhausted after preparing four of my five books for print editions! IngramSpark had free title setup during July, to mark their fifth anniversary, but scheduled 26 hours of system maintenance to begin 8:00 PM Central Time on the 31st. I barely made it under the wire!

IS has a very steep learning curve, though I don’t regret going with them over CreateSpace. IS has greater reach, being taken more seriously, and a higher maximum page count. But damn, was that a lot of hard work!

I chose not to put up Swan because it needs a revamped cover and light tweaking.

I’m really grateful my father provided so much help with my cover templates.

I’ve yet to check proofs, but after all the time I spent with these files, I doubt I left any typos or other little mistakes. I went back through my two books about Jakob and Rachel, and only had to do minor tweaking (mostly rooting out overused words and unnecessary pluperfect, esp. in the first book). I also specified Jakob’s father was buried in a copper coffin, to explain how he wasn’t in an unrecognisable state of decay after almost five years.

There were unfortunate errors with my revamped cover for LR, so I had to get a third cover. My revamped cover remains for the e-book, but it didn’t have enough pixels for good rescaling. It pulled pixels from other things, creating a muddied, fuzzy look. The artist also no longer has either the physical artwork or a digital copy.

I went with 6×9 trim for everything but my alternative history, which is 7×10. At 6×9, the page count was just too high for IS parameters. I figured 7×10 was a workable compromise. It’s not a standard size, but not wildly unheard-of either. As someone who reads many saga-length books, I’m cognizant of how page size translates to comfortable, long-term readability and ease of holding.

As I mentioned in several previous posts, once I’ve earned enough from my alternative history, I’ll use some of the money to make donations to the Hemophilia Federation of America and National Hemophilia Foundation, in memory of Aleksey. I didn’t write that book for myself.

When I break even with Little Ragdoll, I’ll use some of that money for a donation to The Bowery mission, which appears several times in the book. I most need to make back this $200:

I won Camp NaNo with a mix of my alternative history, my minor edits on the other books, blog posts, and A Dream Deferred. My goal was only 20K, and I knew I wouldn’t have a giant wordcount due to the timing.

Oh, and my trackpad quit working. At this point, my 11-year-old backup computer is in better shape than this one! My father gave me an external mouse he no longer needs. In addition to that, I enabled touch-clicking.

I’m still interested in doing guest posts to promote my alternative history!

IWSG—An upcoming release and owning my old-fashioned writing style

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

Every first Wednesday of the month, members of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group share worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears.

For those of you who missed Monday’s post, my long-delayed second volume about Jakob DeJonghe and Rachel Roggenfelder is scheduled to release on Saturday, 4 June. That date was chosen because it’s the date Jaap and Rachel reunite after 13 months apart (Erev Shavuot 1946). The title was taken from a line in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 (which Jakob reads to Rachel while she’s in labor in the penultimate chapter). The first volume’s title came from a line in Sonnet 145, so I thought it’d be fitting to use Shakespearean symbolism again.

Shakespeare was truly a writer for all time, the kind of writer I aspire to be remembered as. Though he very much wrote about people and concerns of his own time, the deeper meanings and the way he used words have resonated across time and cultures. I always think of the Akira Kurosawa films Ran and Throne of Blood as prime exhibits in how Shakespeare’s stories can seamlessly adapt to a much different cultural milieu.

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

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Synopsis:

Jakob thinks coming to America and reuniting with his beautiful Rachel is a dream come true, but he soon realizes America’s streets aren’t lined with gold and that people who don’t quite fit in aren’t always treated very nicely. As he’s struggling to adjust to life in America, Rachel struggles with insecurities over how her husband is little more than a stranger. And just when it seems her heart is no longer in turmoil, a new struggle arises—finding a midwife in a country where hospital birth has become the norm. Her search for a midwife isn’t helped by the conformist young wives’ social club she’s been roped into joining, full of women who already look down on her for keeping her surname, wanting to go to college, and enjoying sex.

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I own the fact that my writing style may strike some folks as old-fashioned or impersonal. I know third-person omniscient is very out of fashion in North America these days, so much so many folks genuinely don’t recognize what it is and assume I’m writing as a character, not about a character.

We all make decisions about how much information to directly state vs. force the reader to infer, just as we sometimes have to condense the non-essential events of a longer period of time into a wraparound narrative segment. I personally enjoy filling in the blanks in my own head, instead of always being told exactly how someone shivers in the cold or speaks after getting devastating news. It’s the same way everyone imagines the non-intertitle dialogue in silent films differently, based on our own experiences, personalities, and tastes.

Other folks can write long-drawn-out emotional reactions very effortlessly. The short-lived third version of the opening page of my first Max book was like nails on a chalkboard when I reread it. I hated it so much. It felt gross, pretentious, awkward, corny, silly, forced, fake, because that’s not my natural writing style at all.

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