What’s Up Wednesday

Snowman Button (final)

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 or Erin’s blog.

What I’m Reading

Still spending lots of quality time with the book I can’t name till my A to Z theme reveal for my names blog. This is one of my desert island books, and having a proper, modern translation has made all the difference in the world in loving it even more.

What I’m Writing

I’ve completed Chapter 114 of Journey Through a Dark Forest, and updated the table of contents yet again. Now there are 118 planned chapters plus the Epilogue. I think Chapter 115 will be another short chapter (by my standards). I’ve reached the 850K mark, and really, really hopeful my new 875K guesstimate will be my final prediction. Perhaps I can publish it in four “knots,” the way Aleksandr Isayevich, of blessèd memory, did with his massive Red Wheel saga.

Anastasiya really surprised me at the end of Chapter 114. After all the awful things she’s done and said over the last thirty years, she finally has a moment of humanity and thinks of someone other than herself when she’s forced to hold her grandson for some photographs after his baptism. She notices Rodimir (Rodik) strongly resembles her, and this in turn reminds her of her mother and grandmother. Finally, she’s crying for someone other than herself, and thinking of how this child is the eternity of her ancestors. She leaves to buy some gifts, and begs for family peace and a relationship with her grandson when she returns to the party.

My goal for this week is to finish Chapter 115. It’ll be set on Orthodox Christmas 1948, sort of a transition into the last few chapters.

What Works for Me

Learning how to write third-person omniscient which works well in the modern era is a delicate dance. I’ve got a post coming up in March about how NOT to write this POV, using eleven specific examples (e.g., God-mode; political, religious, social, or cultural commentary; making value judgments on characters; telling the reader how to think, feel, and react). They’re illustrated with examples from my own early drafts, with the date I wrote each in parentheses. This POV is much more flexible than first-person or third-person limited, but you still can’t jump all over the place with it or misuse your all-knowingness.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

I went back onto my old computer to get both version of my résumé (though the job market in my area is pretty dismal), and while I was there, I used Word 2004 to open, convert, and reformat the 14 files of my eighth Max’s House book. Once again, there was bizarre data migration in the converted files. This has happened to a number of other files I created in MacWriteII, lines from other files which aren’t even on that disk, and even strings of words I taught the spellcheck on the ’93 Mac. I’d love to know if there’s a logical reason for this!

It’s always a headache to reformat these converted files, since there are so many floating and misplaced text blocks I have to copy and paste back into their proper place, as well as unnecessarily duplicated lines and words, and then all the gibberish characters. Meanwhile I barely had a problem with the ClarisWorks files I converted and reformatted.

I’d seriously love to move back to Pittsburgh (particularly since Pitt’s library school is so much better than Albany’s), but with this brutal winter, I’m once again tempted to move to Florida, where my aunt and surviving grandparents live. Pittsburgh is in my blood and bones, but I’d love nothing more than never having to deal with snow and ice ever again.

Letting Go Bloghop

My Alpha Male post is here.

To celebrate the release of her new adult contemporary romance novella If I Let You Go, Kyra Lennon is holding a bloghop with the theme of letting go. The winner will receive a $10 Amazon gift card. (And I love that font! It reminds me a bit of a slightly less-fancy version of my favorite fancy font, Edwardian Script.)

Here’s my entry, originally 892 words and edited down to 498.

I got the idea for my contemporary historical Bildungsroman Little Ragdoll in May of ’93, when I first heard the famous story behind The Four Seasons’ song “Rag Doll.”  In July, I began working on it.

In those days, I usually didn’t break up my books into smaller files.  I learnt a very valuable lesson when some kind of disk bug struck in the Spring of ’94.  I was so devastated I stopped working on it.

I carried Adicia’s story around in my head for years, always feeling I’d finish it someday.  In the intervening years, I even thought up Betsy van Niftrik and her parents.

Years passed, and computers no longer had disk drives.  And the newest Mac word processing program, AppleWorks, couldn’t open MacWriteII or ClarisWorks files.

I finally bit the bullet in November 2010, after having several dreams about it.  So many things came back to me, like Sarah.  It was meant to be, if I could carry that story around in my subconscious for 16.5 years.

Because I let go of my obsession with needing to have the original first draft to work from, I was able to craft a much stronger, more mature story, and take it in directions I never could’ve dreamt of at all of 13-14.

A few months after finishing the 397,000-word first draft, the discontinued original first draft was miraculously resurrected.  I’ve been thankful ever since that it was lost for so many years.  I needed to be forced to let go of it in order to take the story in the direction it needed to go.  I’d grown so much as a writer, and I wouldn’t have been served well to crawl back to the past.

There’s no way I could’ve salvaged a halfway-decent story from that mess.  The only things that remained the same were the names, ages, and basic outline.  Losing it let me do things like:

  • Make oldest sister Gemma more nuanced and sympathetic, instead of some queen bitch.
  • Significantly tone down youngest brother Tommy’s spoilt brattiness.  Now he grows very slowly over the 15 years of the story, and his major redeeming feature is his colorblindness.
  • Give Allen and Lenore’s love story more buildup, instead of getting them together so soon.
  • Put in some new characters and subplots, like Marjani, the mystery of who Julie’s mother is, and oldest brother Carlos’s trial.

As emotionally difficult and frustrating as it is, every writer should have that experience of a total rewrite at least once.  Sometimes a draft is so awful that you have to scrap it and reconstruct it almost completely.  Now down to 387,000 words (would’ve been a bit shorter if I hadn’t needed to write in left-handedness for a bunch of characters), this is one of the books I’m proudest of having written.

It was truly a combination of letting go and being unable to move on.  They existed alongside one another and made the final product stronger.

Some writing and music tidbits

Words on Paper

Tuesdays in Blog Me MAYbe are themed “May I tell you something about myself?” Here are some tidbits about my tastes in writing, my characters, and my tastes in music:

I HATE Word with the fire of a billion Suns, though I’ve lazily kept using it even after re-installing Pages just out of force of bad habit, and because I like how it autocorrects typos, and how you can teach it new autocorrects based on your most common typos of words not already in their system. But I hate how you can’t get into the dictionary of words you added during spell-checks, and remove them if the dictionary gets too big, or if you realize you added a misspelling. I loved being able to do that in the older programs.

If it were possible, I’d track down old copies of ClarisWorks or MacWriteII and install them with my external disk drive. I’d even love to go back to using a vintage Nineties computer just so I can have all the old familiar programs back. Yes, they were technologically inferior, but I loved how they had all the basic stuff right on the top bar of the document, and in a few basic menus. You didn’t have to hunt all over to find out how to do things, or wade through twenty different menus and formatting bars.

The character I’ve been with the longest now is Henry Unicorn-Mitchell. I created him sometime in the late Eighties, when I was still mostly doing picture books. I suppose I liked him so much I decided to use him again when I started my first Atlantic City book in November ’91. Now that I think about it, it’s entirely possible I also created some of his friends along with him, like Harry, Dan, and Dave (in much different incarnations, of course).

Though after participating in the Dust It Off Bloghop, I’ve begun to reconsider my decision to permanently shelve my old character Anne Terrick, who was created even before Henry and called Ann-Ann (or An-An, maybe). I kid you not, her actual name was really originally Ann-Ann. Perhaps all her story needed all along was some major retooling. I wouldn’t have matured as a writer if I hadn’t let her story go and realized it needed too much surgery to bother with, but I could still retain the same character and general concept while making a much better, stronger, more realistic, more historically accurate saga told in journal form.

After all, my first Russian novel lost a lot of the original 1993 material and took on a much different plot trajectory, but that didn’t change the same general storyline I had in my head. It just got more mature and developed a lot more twists and turns. The junk was tossed and the glimmers of gold were brought to the surface and radically reworked. It was really a stroke of genius that I hit upon the idea of Lyuba ending up with Ivan instead, and eventually of them having secretly been in love all along. Otherwise, I’m not so sure that book could’ve been saved or become what it eventually did.

The newest vinyl in my album collection is Join Together, a triple album of The Who’s 1989 25th anniversary tour. I also have a large commemorative magazine documenting that tour, found in the vintage music magazines section of Amherst’s Mystery Train Records.

The most current album in my collection (in CD form) is George Harrison’s posthumous swan song Brainwashed. I have very mixed feelings about this album and rated it 3.5 stars on my old Angelfire site. Too many of the songs are too downtempo, don’t really go anywhere musically, and sound all the same. (I’m obviously not going to hold it against George for sounding kind of weak on some of the tracks, knowing he was very sick at the time.) There are only a couple of tracks I really love, like the title track, “Any Road,” and “Marwa Blues.”

Currently the oldest records in my vinyl collection are from 1964. I’ve got Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. and a bunch of those crappy Capitol repackagings of The Beatles’ early catalogue.

I’ve got, like, seven albums made in my lifetime from people who got famous in my lifetime, out of 33 albums I own that were made in my lifetime. And both of those bands are now eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so my tastes aren’t that modern. (Okay, technically they’re from three bands, but one of those bands was just a spin-off and not an entirely new entity.)

The most recent addition to my vinyl collection is So Red the Rose (1985), which was a present from my so-called fiancé/boyfriend/whatever he still peripherally is to me.

Progress report

After putting Justine Grown Up on hiatus for over a month so I could focus on editing and polishing Little Ragdoll (as well as writing in left-handedness for 13 of the characters, something I’m still embarrassed and shocked I left out) and doing some more extensive edits, revisions, and rewrites of my Russian novel, I got back to work on it. After losing momentum, it took awhile to get back to speed, but I got over the bump and started back in earnest.

I wrote several thousand new words in Chapter 13, “Crossing the Point of No Return.” David has finally found out that Justine is a virgin and that he’s the first guy who’s gone past first base with her. He’s also told her he loves her, the first time he’s said that to any of his girlfriends, though Justine hasn’t said it back yet. Justine’s 21st birthday is going to be 2 March 1980, only a few weeks away, and Justine (who’s currently having her first weekend at David’s apartment, on the sofa bed) is going to make her sexual debut then. (I freaking HATE the term “losing your virginity,” and how the very idea of “virginity” has survived into the 21st century, but that’s a topic for another post.)

This chapter, and the next chapter, “One-Track Minds,” will be full of lots of sexy, erotic making out and various types of sex. Even though I’m not a romance or erotica writer, I’ve really grown to lose my former hangups and inhibitions about writing sex and makeout scenes that go beyond PG-13 or vague, tasteful descriptions and suggestions. When it fits into the plot, and since I do write a lot of love stories, why not go for it and be tastefully sexy? Once you’ve crossed your own point of no return and have started writing them without reservations, it becomes easier and easier to do.

Who knows, perhaps I was just hung up for so long because I was an antique virgin and didn’t have firsthand experience for longer than most people. At least I started writing sexier, more R-rated sex and makeout scenes before I made my own belated sexual debut.

Anyway, I put Justine’s story back on hiatus, but only for a little while, so I could finally get back to my significant rewrite of The Very First so I can enter it for March Madness Agent Pitch Match, which is only open to completed young adult and preteen manuscripts. I was surprised when I converted it out of MacWriteII last year and discovered my old-fashioned word counting estimation was a fair bit off. It wasn’t 43,000 words, it was only 38,000, and as I came to realize, it needed a very significant rewrite and restructuring.

Baruch Hashem, I only need to finish up Chapter 14, “Happy Halloween,” and write the bulk of Chapter 15, “Happy Birthday, Max,” and it’ll be done. (Chapter 16, “Happy Birthday, Sparky,” was already written, and is meant to be the shortest chapter.) I got it up to 51,000 words, and I’d assumed even my rewrites would still land it at novella-length. Perhaps by the time I finish it in the next two days, it’ll be around 55,000, the length of one of my shorter Max’s House books! Now I can’t wait to see what I can do with revising and fleshing out The Very Next, which currently stands at around 35,000 words!

And in other great news, I went back to Cinnimin and am slowly but surely getting back to speed on it. A lot of great stuff is going to happen in Part LVI, also called “Crossing the Point of No Return,” for much the same reasons as I named the chapter in Justine’s story. I hate that my people have been stuck in the fall of 1998 for over a year now, while I was working on other things. And there’s going to be lots of intense action and drama in the penultimate Part of Saga VI, “Requiem for a School.” It’s a good thing I’ve had all these stories memorized in my head for so many years and that remembering all these details has always been like second nature to me.

Perhaps one of the reasons I had it on hiatus for so long was that I’m not looking forward to writing the final Part of Saga VI, “And Lauren Lived.” Shortly after the new millennium dawns, my beloved Lauren Irene Laurel is going to die of AIDS. She got HIV in the Spring of 1985 and now has full-blown AIDS and is slowly getting sicker, so it’s not like her death is going to be a surprise, but it’s still not something I’m going to enjoy doing. I got misty-eyed when I was writing the old-age death scenes for Butler Reagan and Cinni’s stepsister-in-law Eleanor; it’s going to be even harder to write a death scene for a character I’ve been with since I was 17 years old, a woman who’s not even going to be 50 years old at her death. And her only child Brenna (born a month before she got HIV, and herself completely disease-free) is only going to be a month away from her 15th birthday. At least my dear, sweet Brenna has a nice love story to look forward to when she’s in college, a happy ever after story with Reuven Brandt, one of Barry’s grandsons who lives in Boston.

Platform-Building Campaign

I’m temporarily interrupting my current series on silent film to make a post announcing my participation in Rachael Harrie’s Fourth Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign. I took part in the third campaign in the fall. Even though I was, as usual, in a small minority for writing historical fiction, it was fun to participate. This campaign is only going to be a mini-campaign, so it’ll wrap up mid-March and only include two challenges.

It’s also a great way to network, increase followers, learn new things, challenge oneself in what type of writing one usually does (the challenges called for flash fiction, something that’s always eluded me since I’m so verbose!), and expose oneself to different types of writing. I found out about a lot of contests and bloghops through the last campaign, and read some interesting blogs.

In a way I’m kind of glad my old Angelfire site is no more (no matter how righteously angry I have a right to be at that pathological wingnut and her sycophantic friends for having it deleted), since it didn’t have a venue for people to leave comments other than in the guestbook, and the whole look of the typical Angelfire website is rather old-fashioned by now. Now I can build a viable platform for myself instead of making myself look like someone stuck in 2002 in terms of web design and presence! (Yes, this from the person who HATES Word with a fiery passion and would just about give her left arm to be able to write in MacWriteII or ClarisWorks again!)

And that’s probably the shortest posting by far I’ve ever made. My average length here seems to be about 800-1500 words, and on my Angelfire site, my essays typically ran much longer.