The Torch Passes (Tahoma)

Since I didn’t get around to writing an original post for Monday, let’s finally move out a 2013 post that languished in my drafts folder after I decided not to use it as part of that year’s A to Z.

Font: Tahoma

Year created: 1994

Chapter: “The Torch Passes”

Book: Cinnimin

Written: 23 July 1996-10 April 1997


This is Part XVI (16) in my current table of contents for my magnum opus, set from 11 December 1960-1 April 1963. Not including Parts I put on hiatus because of writer’s block or focusing on other projects, this is the one that took me the longest at a single stretch to write. Seriously, I could’ve carried a pregnancy to full term in the time it took me to write this! Even the notebook is depressing, without any covers. This was not a happy time in my life, the summer of ’96 and my junior year of high school.

But I do like it because so much happens here, many things setting the seeds for future storylines. Some new characters are also introduced, foremost among them the immigrant Laurel-Esterházy family from Blackpool, England and Győr, Hungary. Ophelia Laurel will eventually marry Cinni’s son Serop, and several other people in the family (the second generation as well) will marry into Cinni’s family and other important town families. Even some of the ones who don’t [marry into these families] become important characters, like Kathi and poor ill-fated Lauren, who’s going to die of AIDS at the stroke of the new millennium.

Some really stupid storylines met their well-deserved death here, like Cinni’s loopy Stalinist phase (don’t even ask), Cinni’s association with the weird Russian immigrant Bouncer at The Club, and young Anastasia reading banned Soviet books in secret. New ones, more germane to a real family/town saga, began taking shape. And, of course, the torch began passing from Cinni’s generation to her children and her friends’ children.

Some highlights:

“Henry, may I borrow these velvet handcuffs?” Julieanna asked as she casually walked into the bathroom, savoring their horrified looks at being caught in the act.

[Kit] burned an extremely important paper Rob was working on for his spastic boss once she got back home. Then she finished off an entire cheesecake his secretary had made him for a Christmas gift.

“Well, I was cold, and baby was shivering, so I decided to start a fire. I saw those papers in the box of logs, so I thought they were a rough draft which you wanted disposed of, Robert!”

Luke was crying. “I look like Hitler from the waist down! Thanks a lot, you pagan Commie!”

[After Helouise has walked in on her before JFK’s inauguration and refuses to leave] “Close the door! My excretionary life ain’t nonea your business!” Sam started crying.

“Close the door! I’m sorta involved in a private matter!”

“What did you do, drink nonstop before you got in here? You’re still making!”

“You just spent seventeen minutes making onto a photo of President Kennedy!” Helouise was appalled. “Give me that bag, freak!”

Sam was so scared she started urinating again. Helouise was seething.

Julieanna gave the finger to every person attempting to slow her down and bumped several cars off the road before she finally drove through the wall of the emergency room and knocked a man on an oxygen tank into the wall.

[After her soap actor husband Kevin has said the reason he hasn’t slept with her in six years is because of a “bit too real” car accident on the show] “Oh, the hell I did mind! I have wanted a second child for three or four years now!” Julieanna started crying.

[After Kit springs a surprise visit on him in Amsterdam, all four of her small children and her lover in tow] “Why don’t you ever do things like normal people?” Gary demanded, at the desk now. “There are psychologists in England too!”

“This is crazy Kit Green, her lover, and her four kids,” Gary whispered. “She came from England to see me, then drove around Amsterdam for three hours looking for my office!”

[During the Most Popular Girl competition for the new generation, which Cinni has rigged so Anastasia will win and Bélgica will lose by a landslide] “I wonder why Bélgica ain’t practiced more,” Cinnimin said calmly. “She’s doin’ ghastly!”

“Poor sportsmanship,” Lucinda announced. “A fourth negative ten! Tens for all the others. Shall we disqualify Bélgica?”

“Lookit these judges!” Bélgica was crying again. “Your mom, your aunt, onea your stepsisters, your cousin, and onea your stepsisters-in-law!”

[Kit and Sam have found themselves roommates after having babies on the same day] Kit pressed a button, making Sam’s bed shoot up and down. Adolfa slipped to the floor and screamed, while Sam’s water spilled onto her pillows. She was fuming.

Sam was humiliated by the laughter of everyone in the room. Tears of rage in her eyes, she ran to the bathroom, slipped on amniotic fluid, and broke her leg. Needless to say, she spent quite a few months abed.

WeWriWa—Art class turkeys


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This year, my Thanksgiving-themed snippets come from Chapter 19, “Happy Thanksgiving,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

In first period art class, new immigrant Sparky (real name Katherine) has encountered the concept of Thanksgiving for the first time, and her rebellious friend Kit has made a turkey with very non-traditional colors. Their frenemy Adeline got into an argument with Kit about the realism of such a turkey, and Kit made sure to get the last word in.

Kit gave her turkey large turquoise eyes with generous drops from her paintbrush.

Sparky looked at Cinni’s turkey and tried to copy the colors, shapes, and placements of the feathers and various other body parts.  So their turkeys wouldn’t look exactly alike, Sparky didn’t put her feathers in the same order.  Cinni’s turkey alternated red, yellow, and orange feathers from left to right, while Sparky alternated yellow, red, and orange feathers.  Sparky also made her turkey a bit bigger, and put more detail into it.

“How come you never told me about this holiday?” Sparky asked at the conclusion of art class.

“I thought you knew about it.  My daddy says a bunch of countries have Thanksgiving, even if it ain’t exactly the same as the American version.  You knew about Halloween.”

WeWriWa—Kit’s avant-garde turkey


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This year, my Thanksgiving-themed snippets come from Chapter 19, “Happy Thanksgiving,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

In first period art class, new immigrant Sparky (real name Katherine, born Katharina) is very confused to encounter the concept of Thanksgiving. Her best friend Cinnimin, whom she lives with, gives a basic explanation. True to form, their rebellious friend Kit decides to make a very non-traditional turkey.

At the next table over, Kit was defiantly using her watercolors to paint the white construction paper purple, green, bright pink, turquoise, teal, and blue.  She completely ignored the brown and black paper, and assembled her turkey only from pieces of the orange, yellow, red, and painted papers.

“That doesn’t look like a real turkey,” Adeline whispered. “Your folks won’t be very happy to see that.”

“My daddy will love it.  He loves everything I do.” Kit dipped a wooden stick into the bowl of homemade adhesive and applied it to the bottom of her feathers. “Abstract art is neater than boring paintings of angels, flowers, and lakes.”

WeWriWa—Halloween party ends in mayhem


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes from the eighth book in my series focused on Max Seward, Jr., and his wacky family, set during autumn 1943.

Max’s cousin Elaine and their friend Quintina have organized a show-stopping school Halloween party, and Max himself has carved sixty jack-o-lanterns. All is going well till the local band starts taking off their costumes.

After these first five girls tackle their favorite bandmembers, it becomes a free-for-all as almost all the other girls rush the gym stage and pile onto the band too.

“There’s my heartthrob.” Kit yanked off the Stalin mask and raced over to Randy as he pulled off the spider head.

“And there’s mine.” Julieanna whipped off the Lenin mask and raced to Jakey as he draped the Dracula cape over the drums.

“That’s mine.” Violet tore off her Mussolini face and raced towards Bobby as he unghouled himself for the evening.

“And mine.” Cinnimin grabbed off the Hitler mask and made for Danny as he took off his football helmet.

“Oh my God, is that Pauly Richardson under the suit of shining knightly armor?” Mickey screamed, removing the disks from her eyes and tackling him to the ground.

I’d opened and converted the fourteen chapter files of this draft about two and a half years ago, but for some reason, the new master file kept crashing when I tried to open it. I had to go back onto my older computer (which has Word, unlike my newer computer), and went through the process all over again.

I’m so lucky that 10-year-old computer still works, I have an external disk drive, and those old files still open in spite of the hoops I have to jump through to convert and reformat them. This particular section seemed to need less extensive editing and rewriting than other parts of the Halloween chapter.

I was only fourteen when I handwrote the first draft, and about twenty when I transcribed it and made some changes. It’s yet another example of how my shorter books need far more extensive rewriting, editing, and restructuring than the books I deliberately wrote at saga-length!

How to salvage an old idea or manuscript

While some writers laugh or cringe in embarrassment at their oldest stories, we can really learn from everything we write. There’s no rule saying you must abandon a project just because you started it when you were really young or at a very early stage of your growth as a writer. Growing up with the original generation of my Atlantic City characters was a beautiful blessing, since I know them inside and out and developed right along with them. If I’d abandoned them midway through my teens, I never would’ve been able to take these characters and their storylines to the creative heights they deserved.

Suggestions on how to transform an old project from juvenile and cringeworthy to mature and professional:

1. Have you stayed with the characters over time? I can see where and how I need to fix my oldest drafts with my Atlantic City characters, since I’ve been with them for over 20 years. When you know a character well, you can understand better why an earlier incarnation isn’t working, and how to improve it. You know, for example, that this person would never do that, but would’ve done this instead.

2. Perhaps just the basic idea is worth salvaging, and you just weren’t ready to write this story the way it needed to be written before. I honestly thought I’d never work with my 18th and 19th century characters again, but now I’m really excited about resurrecting them and their stories over 20 years after I shelved them. I figure they were meant to be if I never forgot about them during all these years. Now that I’m an adult, I can write their stories so much better than I was as a preteen and child.

3. What are the strongest points of this story? My first draft of the first book in my Max’s House series was all over the place in terms of storylines, and ended up focusing on the wrong things. During the creation of the second and third drafts, I came to focus more on the core storylines—the forced overnight adjustment to a new stepmother and three stepsisters; Max’s cousin Elaine desperately trying and failing to make friends after she moves to town; and the adventures Max, his older sister Tiffany, and Elaine have on summer vacation, after they’re sent home as punishment for mouthing off to the new stepmother. The future fourth draft will focus even more on these three key interconnected storylines, and cut out all the cluttery, pointless scenes of Max and his friends just hanging out doing nothing.

4. Are there glimmers of a previously unrecognized conflict, storyline, backstory, characterization? There were so many great odds and sods scattered about in my first Russian historical, which I later honed in on and transformed into integral parts of the plot, backstory, motivations, character development. For example, Lyuba’s original preference for Boris became a pretended preference, motivated by how her mother drilled into her the importance of marrying for money and social station. In my Atlantic City books, Cinnimin takes her title of Most Popular Girl way too seriously, and thinks next door neighbor Violet is trying to steal her crown, because she’s really insecure and vulnerable deep down. With her family’s reduced financial station, that’s the one thing she can be proud of.

5. If there isn’t any apparent reason for something, work it into the book from the start. While my Atlantic City character Kit’s dysfunctional relationship with her mother has long been written as so deliberately over the top as to be intended as dark comedy, there originally wasn’t any reason why Kit hated her mother, and had some quite scary, abnormal rage towards her. She just seemed like some angry girl with a huge chip on her shoulder, and it came across as rather disturbing and psychotic, not darkly comedic. Now there’s a substantial, understandable reason why Kit, her sister Lovella, and her brother Saul hate their mother so much. They’re also encouraged by their father, who only married his distant cousin to keep a family secret from leaking out and eventually becomes completely estranged from this increasingly mentally unbalanced woman.

Kit really isn’t a bad, unsympathetic person. Keep in mind, this is the same person who later has two kids with hemophilia and one kid with autism. If she were truly heartless and soulless, she’d never be able to be such a loving, understanding mother towards them, or any of her other kids. She just has a strong Achilles heel in the form of her mother.

6. Don’t be afraid to junk garbage or radically rewrite and restructure something! It’s like scalpeling off rotting, diseased flesh to let new flesh grow in its place, or reworking a tattoo that no longer reflects your former belief system or artistic vision.