Ready. Set. Write! Week Two



Alison MillerKaty UppermanJaime Morrow, and Erin Funk are once again hosting the summerlong Ready. Set. Write! initiative. Each week there will be a few headings, with short responses to allow for more writing time.

  • How I did on last week’s goal(s)

Baruch Hashem, I finished up my book cover, figured out how to edit in the title and byline using Gimp instead of waiting a day to use my father’s Photoshop, and had everything ready by my release date of the 20th. That was the largest artwork I did since I was sixteen. I also finished up the last little bits of stuff in the Appendices and “The Story Behind the Story.”

  • My goal(s) for this week

Get my vendor account verified with Nook so I can put Little Ragdoll up there. I’ve already registered everything else, and went through a quick, steep learning curve with Calibre and the EPUB format. I replaced the Kindle ISBN with the EPUB ISBN, temporarily changed the text into Times New Roman (the least of the three evils allowed), and went through the document to put in section instead of page breaks for chapters.

  • A favorite line from my story OR a word or phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised

I put a few more paragraphs into “The Story Behind the Story.” One of those paragraphs talks about the jaw-droppingly horrifying, depressing original version of Julie (née Karin). Here’s a typical sweet, sincere Julie moment:

“You mean watch television?” Julie asks excitedly. “Sure, I’d watch anything on television, even if it was just a station pattern!”

  • The biggest challenge I faced this week

It was seriously ridiculous how long it took to figure out how to get to the option of “Remove space between paragraphs” in Calibre! I had to delete the book from my Calibre several times, and replace the manuscript at Nook even more times, on my way to figuring out how to get rid of all that unnecessary space which was added in the EPUB conversion. Baruch Hashem, I’ve been around computers for 30 years, almost as long as I can remember, so this kind of stuff is ultimately fun to learn and figure out, even if it sometimes takes a few hours to learn a new skill.

  • Something I love about my WIP

I love how all the characters developed in distinct, much-better ways when I went back from scratch and memory 16.5 years later. Probably the most stunning transformations were those of oldest sister Gemma and spoilt little brother Tommy, who both end up redeeming themselves. Gemma sacrifices herself in that forced marriage to an abusive man at age eighteen, knowing she’ll eventually escape and show her little sisters they don’t have to have that same fate, while Tommy grows up more slowly.

50th Anniversary Special


In celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ arrival in America (7 February) and their first appearance on Ed Sullivan (9 February), I decided to share the entirety of Chapter 25, “Ernestine and Girl Are Beatlemaniacs,” from Little Ragdoll. I posted the Ed Sullivan section for Sweet Saturday Samples awhile ago, but not the whole chapter. That was also before I wrote in left-handedness for a number of the characters, so that original post was missing the children’s excited discovery that Paul is a lefty.

Ernestine, Girl, and Betsy are almost 12; Julie is almost 10; Boy is 9; Baby is almost 7; and Infant is almost 5.


“Wanna come over to my place and watch Ed Sullivan?” Betsy asks Ernestine as they’re playing Aggravation, which Betsy brought over for them to play this Sunday afternoon.

“You mean watch television?” Julie asks excitedly. “Sure, I’d watch anything on television, even if it was just a station pattern!”

“I’ve never watched television except for in store windows,” Ernestine says longingly. “Isn’t Ed Sullivan a variety show, from what I’ve heard?”

“He has on musical acts.  It’s on every Sunday at eight o’clock.  Tonight he’s having on a British group called The Beatles.  They have the number one record in America right now.  I have their single.  It’s called ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand,’ and it’s very good.  I can bring it over and play it on your record player now, unless you wanna wait for the show tonight.”

“We haven’t even thought about buying popular records yet,” Girl says. “We’ve been waiting to break even with our begging and odd job money before buying stuff we don’t need to get by.”

“I don’t wanna miss it.  I’ve been waiting to see this group in person since December.  All of you are welcome to come over tonight to watch it with me.  My parents will make us popcorn and egg creams.”

“It might be fun,” Ernestine concedes. “We do need a break from being miniature grownups sometimes.”

“What kinda music do they make?” Boy asks. “I hope it ain’t like this boring Pat Boone stuff the former owners left behind.”

“They do rock music,” Betsy says. “Like The Beach Boys or The Four Seasons.  You remember we’ve listened to some of those records when you’ve been over to my place, and you liked them.”

“I remember my oldest sister Gemma useta play Elvis records sometimes,” Ernestine says. “Our parents thought he sounded like a cat in heat, whatever that means.  Gemma’s ex-husband said he couldn’t sing or act his way out of a paper bag, which is a funny expression I don’t know the meaning of either.  She had some popular records by Negro singers too, even though our parents don’t approve of Negroes.”

“Oh, they don’t sound like Elvis.  I’m not such a big Elvis fan myself.  My favorites are still The Four Seasons.  Elvis seems like a nice guy, but his old records aren’t my style.  The records he cuts now are kinda boring, like he sold out to the people who useta complain he was too rough around the edges.”

“Your parents are pretty neat for letting you buy and listen to popular rock music,” Girl says. “I’ve heard a lot of parents don’t approve of modern popular music.”

“My parents don’t even care yous guys are squatting.  They’re very open-minded and progressive about almost everything.”

Infant reaches for a grape in the bowl of fruit on the coffeetable. “Will we really get to watch a real television tonight?”

“Yes, we’ll watch television for the first time in our lives,” Girl tells her smilingly. “We’re going to watch a popular music group from England.”

“Where’s England?” Baby asks.

“It’s across the ocean from us,” Ernestine says. “It’s an island that’s part of Europe.  There are two other countries on the same island, Scotland and Wales.  England is in the middle.  Together with Northern Ireland, they make up Great Britain.  Betsy, do you know where in England this group is from?”

“Liverpool.  It’s a sailing city on the coast and along the Mersey River.”

“I don’t remember if I’ve ever heard a British accent before,” Girl says. “I only remember that one of the grownups at the squat once said an English person can make a shopping list sound like Shakespeare.”

“What’s Shakespeare?” Infant asks.

“He was the greatest writer of all time, at least in the English language,” Ernestine says. “At least that’s what I’ve heard.  Emeline and Lucine had to read some of his sonnets and plays in their English classes, and they said it was almost impossible to understand what he was saying without a lot of footnotes.  He wrote in a form of English we don’t use anymore.  Emeline said his appeal over the centuries is more about how he was a writer for all time, with characters and stories that seem real in any era or place.”

“English people also drop their Rs and use long As,” Betsy says. “They have some funny pronunciations of words too, my mother said, like how they say ‘aluminum’ with five syllables instead of four, and pronounce schedule ‘shedule.’”

“Do you know how old they are?” Julie asks.

“I’ve seen some pictures.  They’re pretty young.  Early twenties, I think.  They’re pretty cute too.”

“So they’re a little older than Allen,” Ernestine says.

“Your big brother is cute.  Do you have any other brothers where he came from?”

“My oldest brother Carlos is gonna be twenty-one this month.  He’s a cripple.  Then I have a little brother, Tommy, who turns eight this month.  He’s the spoilt brat of spoilt brats.  Allen’s the only one with a lick of sense or decency.”

“Isn’t Carlos a Spanish name?  What’s the story with giving him a name that doesn’t match with the rest of your names?”

“Who knows what my mother was thinking when she named him.  She doesn’t even like Spanish people, though apparently she doesn’t hate them enough to have refrained from using a Spanish name for her oldest son.”

“Why is he crippled?  Did he catch polio, or was he born crippled?”

“He was in an accident at work in July of ’62.  A car fell on top of him and crushed his spinal column.  He was going in and out of his senses for a long time and only regained his senses a couple of months ago.  I hear he’s going crazy now on account of realizing what happened to him and that he’ll be in a wheelchair the rest of his sorry life.”

“He’s not just any cripple, but paralyzed too,” Girl jumps in. “Paralyzed people can’t even move their legs or anything else below where they was paralyzed.  If you’re paralyzed at the very top of your spine, that means you can’t even move your arms and don’t feel nothing below the neck.”

“Carlos was supposed to be arrested for arson, petty theft, and drugs, but the cops can’t do anything when he’s a helpless hospital patient.  I feel bad for him for being crippled so young, but he was never gonna amount to anything anyway.  It’s not some huge loss to society that he’s a permanent cripple and invalid.  All he did was sell drugs and work low-paying jobs where he tried to get away with stealing.  He was fired from his first job for eating cereal off the conveyer belt, and at his second job, the one where he had the accident, he was found out for stealing stuff from people’s cars.”

“No wonder you don’t want anything to do with certain people in your family,” Betsy says. “I’d move out young too if I were you.”

“Is there enough room for all of us to watch television?” Baby asks. “A davenport only seats three or four people, and the rest of us would have to sit on the floor.  I don’t wanna sit on the floor my very first time watching television.”

“My dad sits in his recliner and my mom has her own cushioned chair.  Julie, Ernestine, and Girl can sit on the davenport with me, and we can find some soft cushions for Boy, Baby, and Infant to sit on.”

“I can’t wait!” Infant says excitedly.


A little before 8:00 that night, the six of them trot across the hall and into the van Niftriks’ apartment to watch Ed Sullivan.  Betsy shows Girl, Ernestine, and Julie some newspaper articles she cut out about the British group that’s going to be on the show tonight.  The girls think they kind of look similar, since they all have brown hair and the same haircut, but they agree with Betsy that they are pretty cute.  Betsy is a little surprised they have haircuts on the long side for a man, but Ernestine tells her there were a number of men with hair that long back in the West Village and Greenwich Village.  Mrs. Troy would probably lecture them about being interested in male singers with long hair, but thankfully she’s not here now to spoil their fun.  Someone who was born in 1923 doesn’t know jack about what’s popular nowadays, anyway.

“Here they are!” Betsy shouts as Mr. Sullivan is introducing them.

She and the other three girls on the davenport sit at rapt attention as the band begins their first song, “All My Loving.” Girl’s eyes light up when she realizes the bass player is a lefty, and she turns to Ernestine and her siblings with a huge smile.  Ernestine and the younger Ryans are thrilled to see one of their own in such a public venue, and to see some grownups who stayed true to their left-handedness instead of giving in to attempts to shame and bully them out of their natural inclination.

Ernestine thinks it’s pretty rude how the majority of the girls in the studio audience are screaming.  Even if you really like a band and are excited to see them perform, that’s no excuse for screaming nonstop.  They’re probably screaming over the entire performance and making it hard for the band to hear themselves play, and are missing the entire show because all they’re doing is screaming.

During the next song, a cover of what Mrs. van Niftrik says is a Broadway tune, “Till There Was You,” there are close-ups of each member of the band, providing each one’s name.  Ernestine rolls her eyes when a caption appears under John’s name, saying, “Sorry girls, he’s married.” As though any of the girls in the audience or watching at home stand a chance of marrying someone that much older and that famous.  She and Girl both think he’s the handsomest, besides, married man or not.  The others are cute, but John seems to have a more mature face, like a handsome adult man, not a man still carrying the look of a cute, soft-faced boy into early adulthood.  Girl also feels a special energy coming from him, an aura she has a very good feeling about.

After the third song, “She Loves You,” there’s a commercial break, and then a magician named Fred Kaps performs some tricks.  Infant and Baby are more interested in the magic tricks than in The Beatles.  Boy seems more interested in the tricks too, feeling the musical stars of the evening are more for girls.

Performing next are some of the members of the play Oliver!  After the opening musical act, Ernestine and her friends can’t help but feel bored and anxious for The Beatles to return.  A day ago, they never would’ve been so picky about what they did or didn’t watch on television, never having watched it before, but now everything seems somehow different, like a special kind of magic has been worked upon them by these cute visitors from across the ocean.

Finally The Beatles return and sing “I Saw Her Standing There.” Julie decides she thinks Paul is the cutest one during this song.  Their final song of the evening is the one Betsy told them about, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Ernestine, Julie, and Girl think it does sound fantastic, and hope they can buy their own copy if they can hustle up enough money after they’ve bought some food for the week.

The final performers of the night are Wells and The Four Fays, who do some kind of comedy routine.  The four girls on the davenport barely care about them at this point.  All they can think about are the four cute young British musicians who just stole their hearts and did something to them they can’t find words to explain.  All they know is they feel really different now.

“I don’t feel sad anymore,” Ernestine announces. “There’s been such a black cloud hanging over everyone since we lost President Kennedy, but now it’s like the bad spell has been broken.”

“I think I feel the same way,” Betsy agrees.

“Do they have a full LP do you know?” Girl asks. “After tonight, I could listen to those fellows singing the phonebook!”

“They have an album called Meet The Beatles.  I’ve been saving up my money so I can buy it.  LPs are about three bucks, two bucks more than a single, but I like them so much I don’t care how much I have to pay.”

“When can we see them again?” Julie begs.

“I think they’re going to be on again next week.”

“Can we come over again next Sunday night, Mr. and Mrs. van Niftrik?” Girl asks.

“You girls are welcome anytime you like,” Mrs. van Niftrik tells them.

“Do you have a favorite yet, Betsy?” Ernestine asks. “I like John.”

“So do I!” Girl says. “We haven’t been best friends for almost two years for nothing!  It’s like we’re sharing a brain at this point!”

“I don’t know who my favorite is yet,” Betsy says. “I think I’ll have to see them again and read a little more about them before I make my decision.”

“Paul is cute,” Julie says. “He has pretty eyes.”

“I didn’t know you was into that girly stuff,” Boy says.

“What, just because we don’t do other girly stuff doesn’t mean we can’t do one girly thing in our lives?” Girl challenges him. “Why can’t we fawn over cute guys in a band?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you looking this happy, Julie,” Ernestine says. “I guess the special magic these guys brought over the ocean with them healed even you.”

“Maybe we can even see them in concert!” Betsy says. “I’m sure they’ll be playing here in New York.  After all, they’re right here in the city as we speak, right in the CBS studio.”

“Maybe if they’re here over the summer, you can go to a show as a summer vacation present,” Mr. van Niftrik says. “You do deserve something nice as a reward for your upcoming sixth grade graduation.”

“That would be the best present ever, Dad!”

“We’ll start stepping up our begging and odd jobs to earn money for our own concert tickets!” Girl says with bright eyes.

She, Ernestine, Julie, and Betsy look around at one another with happy expressions and the same special feeling in their souls.  They have no idea exactly what just happened, but they do know they’re never going to be the same again after tonight.

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.

Renaming characters revisited


(This is the full length of the post I’d originally had scheduled for May.)

I’ve long been a name nerd, but before the advent of the Internet, I was pretty limited in the places I could find interesting, unique, lesser-used names. I also wasn’t helped by how my family’s encyclopedia were from 1965 and extremely out of date. Even the “updated” yearbooks we had with that set only went up to the very early Seventies. And factor in how I was the classic kid who read too much and understood too little.

Case in point: Since I’d read a lot about the Romanovs and the closely-related other Russian royals and nobility, I knew that many of them went by Western versions of their names. Thus, it followed that I believed it would be perfectly normal and historically and culturally accurate for some non-royal Russians to also prefer the Western versions of their own names. As such a passionate Russophile, I’m rather shocked it took me till last year to finally realize how silly that was. Even an upper-middle-class Russian who was fairly Westernized would still have had a normal Russian name, unless there were some extraordinary, compelling reason to use a foreign version of his or her name.

At first it was difficult, after my find/changes, to get used to seeing and thinking of my offending characters as Lyubov (Lyuba), Katariina (Katrin), Pyotr, and Eliisabet, instead of Amy, Catherine, Peter, and Elizabeth. Even Lyuba’s lovely aunt Margaret finally had her name changed to Margarita. In my earliest period of working on the book, in fact, I was even worse. Nikolas was called Nicholas (changed to Nickolas during the transitional period of writing supplemental stories in a notebook), Nikolay was Nikolai, Tatyana was Tatiana, Alya (Aleksandra) was Al, and Ivan’s mother (who becomes the mother-in-law from Hell in the sequel) was Anne.

Now I can’t think of them as anything but. The only characters who got to keep their non-Russian names were Nikolas and Lyuba’s cousin Ginny. Now it’s explained that Nikolas, a head in the clouds intellectual who prefers reading philosophy books to social events and sporting, has been going by the Greek form of his real name Nikolay since he was 12 years old and fell in love with the ancient Greek philosophers. (Yes, I know the real Greek form is actually Nikolaos, but even Nikolas isn’t that out of touch with reality!) And his nickname went from Nicky to Kolya. For Ginny, whose real name has always been Mikhail, it was explained that it was his childish mispronunciation of his parents’ baby nickname for him, Genie.

Other characters who changed their names were Malchen (Amalia) von Hinderburg, Julie Spirnak (now Laska), and Elizabeth Roblenska. The fourth-oldest Roblensky sibling is still called Elizabeth, and has been since she came to America in 1945, but in the scenes set in Europe during the war, I’m slowly changing her name to the real Polish form, Elzbieta. She’ll definitely be called Elzbieta and only Elzbieta during the book I’m going to write about her experiences during the war in Poland, Denmark, and Sweden, Righteous Unorthodoxy.

Malchen was originally called Honey, and her and Lazarus’s surname was Gray. Um, what? At least their friends the Brandts have the excuse of changing their surname to Small temporarily to avoid anti-German sentiments in their new country during wartime! And as I discovered while going through the miraculously resurrected file of the first part of the discontinued first draft of Adicia’s story, my sweet little Julie was originally called Karin. I didn’t even remember her having a name, or if I’d planned to use her after her initial, typically over the top, Grimm’s fairytale on acid-like scene. When I was renaming her and getting plans in my head to make her into an important secondary character, the name Julie just came to me. Names usually don’t just pop into my head and seem that perfect.

And in my future third Russian novel and the as-yet-mostly-unplotted fourth volume, the names of some of Tatyana and Nikolay’s children will have to change. Back in ’93, I wrote some scene set in 1991, of a very elderly Lyuba and Ivan coming back home and seeing a young couple who remind them of themselves during the Civil War. It’s mentioned that Tatyana and Nikolay have 7 kids, Yelena, Vera, Shura, Vova, Valya, Iosif, and Nadezhda.

Now I can’t use Yelena, Vera, and Nadezhda, since those are two of Lyuba’s dear stepsisters and her dear stepcousin. Their family also has a dear friend who lives in Toronto named Lena. I don’t like duplicating names within the same family. Way too confusing. I of course wrote that long before those characters were a gleam in my eye. But it’s a lovely tribute to older/deceased relatives to use the names Shura, Vova, and Iosif. Tatyana’s biological paternal grandma is named Aleksandriya and called Shura, Lyuba’s maternal grandfather was Iosif, and Nikolay’s paternal grandfather was Vladimir (Vova).

Have you ever renamed your characters?


Words on Paper

Wednesdays in the Blog Me MAYbe Blogfest are themed “May I ask you a question?” This week my question is “Have you ever renamed your characters?” I had a longer version of this post prepared (somewhat over 800 words), but decided to publish that at a later date and just write the basics today.

Characters who have undergone name changes:

Lyubov Ilyinichna Koneva (Lyuba), originally Amy Leonovna Zhukova. After Lyuba finally marries Ivan and becomes a Koneva, she also changes her patronymic from Leontiyevna to Ilyinichna, in honor of her wonderful stepfather.

Katariina Kaarelovna Kalvik-Nikonova (Katrin), originally Catherine Kaarelovna Nikona and sometimes called Cath or Cathie by Anastasiya.

Pyotr Stepanovich Litvinov, originally Peter.

Eliisabet Martovna Kutuzova, originally Elizabeth and sometimes called Liz or Lizzy.

Margarita Iosifovna Herzena (Lyuba’s aunt), originally Margaret.

Amalia (Malchen) von Hinderburg, originally Honey Gray. (Whatever.)

Julie Claire Spirnak (now Laska), originally called Karin.

Elizabeth Roblenska is kind of a special case. Her name has legally been Elizabeth since she came to America in June of 1945, but in her European scenes and the book I’m going to write focused only on her, her name is Elzbieta.

In my future third Russian novel and the as-yet-mostly-unplotted fourth volume, the names of some of Tatyana and Nikolay’s children will have to change from Yelena, Vera, and Nadezhda, since those are two of Lyuba’s dear stepsisters and her dear stepcousin. Their family also has a dear friend who lives in Toronto named Lena. I don’t like duplicating names within the same family. Way too confusing. The new names will be Kira, Lidiya, and Serafima.