What’s Up Wednesday


It’s been awhile since I did a WUW post, since I was busy with the April A to Z Challenge.

What I’m Reading

After watching the most chilling scenes from War and Remembrance on YouTube, I was inspired to go back to Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War, the book which precedes War and Remembrance. Luckily, I found both of them in one of my unpacked book crates still waiting for another bookshelf. I got The Winds of War for only a buck at Mystery Train Records in Amherst, but didn’t get that far into it when I’d started reading it before. I’m pretty sure I began it around the time of my accident, and so had more important priorities afterwards, besides not even being able to go upstairs for a few months.

This is the kind of historical I’m used to reading, the kind which inspired my own writing. For me, a real historical spans many years, has an ensemble cast, has a wide, sweeping arc and trajectory, and is nice and meaty. I can only imagine the horrified remarks Mr. Wouk (may he live and be well) would get were he starting to write today. “I cringed at your word count!” “Watch that word count!” “There’s no one main character!” “Too much telling!” “Too much backstory in the opening chapters!”

What I’m Writing

I finally bit the bullet and rewrote the opening pages of Little Ragdoll, along with changing the chapter title. It reads so much better now, without all that explanatory backstory clogging up and slowing down the story. I also rewrote or reworked a number of other pieces of the chapter, and now the dialogue sounds so much more natural and realistic. I also moved something that had been dialogue from Chapter 5 into a narrative passage in Chapter 1.

I had enough of going through Little Ragdoll, since barely anything was left to edit or change, so I went back to my WIP for a little while. Now up to somewhat over 603,000 words, and Chapter 78. I changed the name from “Journey to England” to “The Strangling Angel and the White Plague.” It’s shaped up to be more about Darya, Oliivia, and their new friends Halina and Maja than my soldiers going to England in preparation for D-Day next year.

I was nice to the girls and took them out of Oswiecim to a Polish farm taken over by the SS but still managed by a Polish family. Maja, sick with diphtheria (which ran rampant in 1943 Europe), and Darya, sick with TB, are taken to safety inside, and Oliivia and Halina will be chosen as indoor servants. Darya’s going to realise she’s not conceiving after her marriage in Part IV, due to something that happened in the camps, and I finally hit upon TB spreading to the pelvic organs and leaving scar tissue. It’s a big cause of female infertility in the developing world.

Then I went back to a final polishing of Jakob’s story, which is set to release Friday. The majority of my edits were in reflecting the fact that Dutch women are historically Lucy Stoners (i.e., retain their birth surnames after marriage). No more references to a couple as “the Names,” or referring to Luisa and Gusta with their husbands’ names. A woman changing her surname upon marriage is largely a convention of the English-speaking world, and fairly recent at that.

What Inspires Me

In April, I was extremely proud to help with getting Chili’s to drop its planned fundraiser with the vaccine-denialist, pro-Andrew Wakefield group National Autism Association. The pro-science crowd really rallied together and sent a loud and clear, well-argued position. I also recently took part in a Twitter chat with the hashtag #CDCvax, and was again very pleased and proud to see so many pro-science voices and great rebuttals of all the vaccine-denialist, autism-hating nonsense. The sun is hopefully setting on the vaccine-denialist, autism-hating cult.

These people have brought back measles, mumps, whooping cough, and now even diphtheria, aka The Strangling Angel. They bully and name-call, and make themselves look completely out of touch with reality. They ask the same stock questions over and over, ignoring the answers because they contradict their POV. They use such hateful language to talk about their own children. They invalidate the existence, experience, and feelings of adults with ASDs. They think deadly diseases are no big deal. They have zero understanding of basic science and history.

And for the record, I view Asperger’s as a beautiful gift and blessing from God. I really believe I have that to thank for my writing talent from such a young age, my prolific memory, my incredible intelligence, and my interest in things like silent film, classic rock and pop, world languages and religions, all things Russian, and history. My brain was wired this way before birth, and it’s not damage, a defect, or a curse.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

My paternal grandma passed away on 24 April, at age 86. Now I only have one set of grandparents left. It’s kind of hard to get used to the fact that you’re running out of grandparents, and that someone you were always close to isn’t in the material world anymore. I wish she could’ve lived to see me finally become a published writer. As time goes on, I have to seriously consider the fact that any children I might manage to have could have no living great-grandparents. I was lucky enough to share my lifetime with five, though I only really have memories of two, my mother’s father’s parents.

What’s Up Wednesday


What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly hop/meme with four simple headings. Anyone can write a post and add the link to Jaime’s blog.

What I’m Reading

As if all the other issues with Graham Nash’s autobiography weren’t enough, there’s actually a line where he seriously laments the fact that more young people these days aren’t dropping acid anymore. He thinks it’s because they’re afraid to look inside themselves. You really don’t need a filter on your mouth or keyboard when you’re famous, do you?

Seriously, this book is like night and day with the last celebrity autobiography I recall reading, John Taylor’s In the Pleasure Groove. I wouldn’t rate John’s book 5 stars, but at least I lost no respect for him while reading it, he knew how to write without lacing his prose with F words and other unnecessary vulgarities, he wasn’t constantly bragging on himself, he didn’t kiss and tell (particularly respectable considering how many women you know he slept with in the Eighties), he didn’t write about women in degrading, piggish language, and he didn’t celebrate his past drug use.

What I’m Writing

I’m thrilled to have gotten Little Ragdoll down to under 365,000 words and 869 pages so far during this round of editing. That’s a huge amount of progress considering the first draft was a staggering 397K and for the longest time it was only shrunken down to 387K, with perhaps 2,000 new words added when I wrote in left-handedness for 13 characters. Given how my brain isn’t wired neurotypically, it isn’t always easy for me to figure out right away if something is overstated, not natural-sounding dialogue, too much oversharing or not the right time to relay certain information, awkwardly conveying information through staged-sounding dialogue, etc. I can’t wait to go through another round of edits and revisions after this one is done, so I can see if it can be shrunken a little bit more. This will never be a slim volume, but at least I’ve gotten rid of a lot of the verbiage that made it so bloated originally.

One of the big chunks I slashed out was a section that starts several paragraphs into Part IV, catching the reader up on what’s happened in the last two years. I kept having the increasing feeling that it pulls the reader out of the action and slows down the narrative. Really, the most important things in those long catch-up paragraphs are conveyed during the next few chapters anyway. It’s not a secret that Adicia’s older sisters and some of her friends have since moved Upstate, that Lucine is now married, or that Allen (whose lottery number was 110) escaped the draft by going to community college.

What Inspires Me

I discovered The Rap Critic in October, and have been watching more and more of his videos lately. Some of his videos are such comedic gold I’ve watched them several times. While it’s always entertaining to watch him give a scathing review to an outright horrible song and video, or to a bland, unimaginative, generic party song, he does review some songs he likes too. There are even Best Of lists for 2011, 2012, and 2013.

I’ve checked out some of these songs he praised on YouTube, both modern and older songs, and have been really impressed. It’s completely changed my feelings towards the genre. It’s really refreshing to discover that not all rappers are gangsta rappers, or just producing generic brag raps and club songs. There are still original, creative, intelligent, thoughtful rappers with a social conscience, unafraid to tackle difficult topics, respectful towards women. It also helps that The Rap Critic is well-spoken and intelligent himself, and demands the same from his music.

What Else I’m Up To

Studying for the GRE, and hopefully continuing to reawaken the math skills I once had. The area I have the most issues with actually isn’t algebra, geometry, or word problems, but rather multiplication tables. I was an A math student in elementary school and knew my times tables cold up to the 12s, but since I haven’t used them in so long, I honestly forget a lot of them.

I had some things framed, and after I pick the frames and glass up, I’m going to borrow a screwdriver to fasten them in and hang them on my wall. The woman at the framing center was totally cool with how I like older music, though it makes me feel so old given that one of the posters I had framed is from my own lifetime! It’s a couple of years younger than I am.

The ethics of splitting up a long book

Perhaps due in part to my non-neurotypical brain wiring, I’ve never understood the modern, U.S. line of thinking that claims books must be a certain size, particularly from people who haven’t been published before. Not only am I used to being different from the others and not going along with the crowd, but I’m used to historicals and classic literature that are routinely well over 400 pages.

Books can be overwritten at any size. My most overwritten books, in need of the most serious edits, revisions, and rewrites, are all under 100,000 words, whereas I deliberately planned my doorstoppers as long, complex sagas and thus wrote and plotted them much more carefully. But once you get past a certain length, it’s generally safe to say the length is deliberate. A simple YA contemporary or cozy mystery couldn’t be 350,000 words, because those genres lend themselves to brevity. Historicals, fantasy, sci-fi, and literary fiction, however, often do lend themselves to length.

It’s easier said than done to “just” split up a deliberately long book. If you’ve never written a saga, you can’t really understand what goes into writing it, and why it wouldn’t be nearly the same story anymore if you hacked out hundreds of pages or passed it off as a pretended trilogy or series. The dramatic momentum is lost if the plot is divided up piecemeal over several books.

With my first Russian historical, the title has significance for the entire book. The last line, spoken by Serafima Lebedeva in Siberia, even includes the title. When Part I ends, most of the main characters are sailing to America, and Lyuba and Ivan are finally engaged, but so much else is still up in the air. Part II leads to Lyuba and Ivan’s marriage and their day-long courtroom showdown with Boris to strip him of his paternal rights to Tatyana. From the time I went back to working on it in the fall of ’96, at age sixteen, I carefully plotted how it would unfold. It’s not long by accident.

It also wouldn’t make sense to split it into two, since there’s a sequel (even longer) with its own plot trajectory and storylines. That too was very carefully planned, plotted, and written. I’ve actually seriously been considering publishing the third book in four volumes, but not only because of the mammoth length (probably going to end up around 700,000 words). Each Part reads like a self-sustaining story, with a focus on different characters and storylines. There are natural breaks, no real loss of momentum or chopping up the plot piecemeal. Also, I’d make it clear they’re four volumes of the same book, not four different books.

At one point, while querying Adicia’s story, I kowtowed and pretended Parts I and II were the first book of a trilogy. It just doesn’t work split up. While Part IV and the Epilogue could work as a separate book, they only make sense and flow well as the dramatic, relatively fast-paced conclusion to everything that came before. Better to have one long book than several short books that feel incomplete.

I created Jakob’s story from a long short story/piece of backstory about a longtime secondary character. My original intention was to follow the timeline of 10 October 1940-14 April 1947, from the forced suicide of Jaap’s father to the naming ceremony of his firstborn child Vera in America. But length was a big consideration, since I thought it was YA. A natural breaking point opened up at the most fitting, beautiful point, when Jaap and his mother are sailing to America in May 1946. I even found a way to tie in the significance of the title to the ending.

The rest of the material was used for a second volume, about Jakob’s first year in America, his first proper year of marriage to Rachel. This turned out to be an excellent call. The first volume concerns the War and that difficult first postwar year. The second volume is concerned with acclimating to marriage and life in America, including many culture clashes and Rachel’s search for a midwife in the era of twilight sleep. It makes sense to separate them.

The decision to split up a long book should be done on a case-to-case basis, not because someone was made to feel like books over a certain length are automatically way too long. Finding a natural break in a deliberately long book is a lot different from artificially splitting it up for no other reason than to be short and please someone else’s taste.

IWSG and What’s Up Wednesday

My Horny Hump Day post is here.


The Insecure Writer’s Support Group convenes the first Wednesday of every month, and gives participants an opportunity to vent, share struggles and triumphs, and just commiserate in general. I’ve decided to start indie publishing this year, and I’d like to lead with Jakob’s story, in large part because it’s so short by my standards, and in past tense. Then I can put out my much-longer, present tense books.

I started using present tense in 1993, YEARS before it was trendy or common, but I have a lingering fear that some people will write me off as an amateur mindlessly following a trend. Most of my writing is in past tense, and using present for those specific books was a carefully considered decision. It’s a huge compliment when someone says s/he only belatedly realised those stories are in present tense, and no wonder s/he felt so immediately pulled in with such emotional intensity.

What do you think of the latest font I changed the title page to? It’s called Wellingborough Flourish, and is part of a six-font family I downloaded from MyFonts. Wellingborough fonts are all free through 5 February, an amazing savings of over $50.

Jaap title

It’s really special that this year is the 50th anniversary of the song “Rag Doll,” whose story was the inspiration for Little Ragdoll. That was such an amazing experience, this story just effortlessly spilling out of me after 16.5 years of keeping it in my head and heart.

I have to finish Appendix D (information about the toys and games which appear) and see about copyright. Most of my quotes are public domain—The Velveteen Rabbit, The Divine Comedy, an intertitle from Moran of the Lady Letty, Candide, Siddhartha, Ovid’s Amorum, The Tao Te Ching, and an intertitle from The Sheik.

I think I’d need permission to use lyrics from the George Harrison songs “Crackerbox Palace” and “Be Here Now,” and the Simon and Garfunkel song “Blessed.” I also quote from “Benedictus,” but the lyrics are nothing more than the line “Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini” from the Latin Mass. Old prayers aren’t copyrighted.

I also quote from George’s song “If Not for You” at the start of my Russian novel, so if I find contact information for whomever owns the copyright to his songs, I’d need to ask permission for all three.

Do I have any volunteers to critique or beta my work? Have you ever dealt with copyright issues? Should I be concerned about negative reception because of how I use (third-person) present tense outside of the genre where it’s most commonly found? Is it the best decision to indie publish rather than start trying again with the querying rat race and contest circuit? Why are long, serious historicals no longer the norm in traditional publishing?

WUW Winter

What I’m Reading

One of my library books is H.G. Adler’s Panorama, a stream-of-consciousness, autographical novel starting in WWI-era Bohemia and ending after the Shoah. Finally, a serious historical with meat on its bones. It was written in 1968, but only translated from German in 2010. I was looking at Lisa See’s Chinese historicals too, but quickly realised they wouldn’t be my cup of tea. Reading negative reviews later confirmed my initial impression. Bland, immature writing, glossing over important events, too much telling, wrong POV for historical, too short, not enough depth or complexity.

What I’m Writing

I’m at about the 590,000-word mark in my WIP, still Chapter 76. Most of the past week I’ve spent researching, assembling, and writing my posts for the April Blogging from A to Z Challenge. I hope my readers like my theme and the posts as much as I’m enjoying preparing them!

I think it would be best to leave a little gap between Chapter 77, “Journey to England,” and Chapter 78, “Day of All Days,” instead of coming up with unplanned filler chapters. There might be 5-6 more chapters left in Part III from 78 on, and the drama and intensity will come thick and fast. Still not looking forward to one of my two Marines losing his arm at Saipan!

What Inspires Me

The awesomeness of the pro-vaccination community, and how tirelessly my intelligent, science-minded friends work to combat misinformation, scare tactic propaganda, strawman arguments, and all the other nonsense constantly spewed by the vaccine-denialist cult.

What Else I’m Up To

I finally belatedly added a lot of grave pictures and interments from 2008 to Find A Grave. They were from Montefiore Cemetery in Queens and West Cemetery in Amherst, MA. Some of the West Cemetery graves had already been entered, but a few were missing pictures, which I happily provided. I also was excited to provide headstone pictures (both original and modern replacement) for Zephaniah Swift Moore, the first president of Amherst College. It’s pretty cool to get to add a photo to a famous interment. I’ve also written 75 famous biographies, including Curly and Moe Howard, Lon Chaney, Sr., Niels Bohr, John Entwistle, Paul Klee, and Fritz Lang.

Can You Handle the Truth? and What’s Up Wednesday

18 Truths

In order to mark the coming release of her second book, 18 Truths, Jamie Ayres is holding a blogfest centred on the classic Two Truths and a Lie game. There are 18 fantabulous prizes up for grabs.

See if you can guess my lie.

I’m allergic to cockroaches.

My estimated due date was one day after a tragic event in the history of my favourite band (The Who).

I know how to play the dulcian, a late Medieval/early Renaissance instrument that’s like a more melancholy bassoon.

WUW Winter

What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly hop/meme with four simple headings. Anyone can write a post and add the link to Jaime’s blog.

What I’m Writing

I’ve gotten to about 575,ooo words in my WIP, Chapter 74, “Novomira Does It All.” Chapter 73, “Inga in America,” is the longest chapter of Part III so far, at a bit over 11,000 words. Chapter 74 will include the birth of Feliks, the second grandchild for Lyuba, Ivan, Eliisabet, and Aleksey, as well as Ivan’s first blood grandchild. Novomira is committed to finishing her senior year at Barnard instead of dropping out and coming home with the baby. She wants to set a good example to her younger sister Nina, a Barnard freshwoman. Since she’s been living with Vera, she’s lucky enough to have a wetnurse during the day, as Vera just had her second child in November 1941.

It’s safe to say that at this point, I’ve given up the idea of capping it in at 600K. If it tops 700K, I’ll eat my hat. I think the safest bet is to publish it in four volumes, since each Part reads like its own story, with a focus on different characters and storylines.

Part I focuses on Lyuba’s difficult seventh pregnancy, the love story of Vera and Vsevolod, and the reunion of Nadezhda and Pavel after 12 years apart. Part II is focused on Tatyana’s rejection of Ivan while she lives with Boris in Harlem, while the Soviet characters struggle to survive the Great Terror and escape to America and Iran. Part III focuses on World War II, and Part IV will be about the aftermath of the war on everyone’s lives. In the Epilogue, “Back to an Ordinary World,” Lyuba and Ivan have a renewal ceremony on their 25th anniversary, on the eve of their finally heading off to university.

What I’m Reading

Sadly, not too much.

What Inspires Me

I was thinking about how it must be a sign of maturity that I’ve become more skeptical and less crunchy as I’ve gotten older. There are things I immediately, unquestioningly accepted as a teen and in my twenties that I’d never accept so readily these days. I’d want to see confirmation from other sources, and not just believe some sensationalistic, fear-mongering tv show or one-sided, crunchier than thou website.

Mind you, there are still things I believe in and will staunchly defend, such as Astrology, reincarnation, life after death, and homebirth. I can’t dismiss or be skeptical about everything. Being skeptical for the sake of skepticism is just as bad uncritically believing everything. Not all skeptics are militant atheists who deride anything not recognised by modern scientists. Some things will never have a scientific explanation, and don’t pretend to be scientific. The evidence comes from other avenues.

What Else I’m Up To

I started the new onomastics blog I’ve been thinking about for awhile. It’s called Onomastics Outside the Box, and will focus on classical eccentric, classical unusual, and international names. I initially had it in the Mac OS Classic theme, but it didn’t really match the theme.  I’m much happier with the My Life theme I replaced it with, and the blue colour scheme.

I also had a really awesome surprise last week. It didn’t dawn on me till I was looking through my virtual cemetery for children and young people at Find A Grave that one of my photos was used for a recent pro-vaccination meme. What an amazing, awesome coincidence. I’d seen the first drafts of the meme, but didn’t realise right away that that was one of my graves. It’s a grave of 12 children in the same family in St. Vincent’s Cemetery in Latrobe, PA. The 1884 group probably were victims of the diphtheria epidemic that hit the state that year. The final meme says “Childhood Before Vaccines.”


And yes, I know this still won’t convince the vaccine-denialist cult. They’ll continue giggling and patting themselves on the back, convinced they know more than the entire scientific community because of garbage on Natural “News,” Tenpenny, and Mercola. Their special little snowflakes will easily survive diphtheria, polio, measles, whooping cough, and flu with lemon juice, breastmilk, Vitamin C, kale smoothies, echinacea, and expensive water (I mean, homeopathy). They’ll continue to swear by a discredited fraud and former Playboy bunny. I refuse to let this cult take us back to the days when a gravestone like this was common, when childhood mortality was an accepted fact of life and parents expected to lose some of their kids.