When starting over is a good thing

The miraculously resurrected, mostly unreformatted file containing the first part of the discontinued first draft of Adicia’s story is such a nightmare to wade through. Not just because of the extreme purple prose and heavy-handed narrative moralizing, preaching, and pontificating, but also because it’s the worst file yet I’ve pulled off of MacWriteII. All the others have been fairly straightforward to fix, with only double-spacing, auto-hyphenating, taking out extra spaces and hyphens resulting from how the files HAD been auto-hyphenated in another format, and misplaced text blocks to find and fix. This one not only has misplaced text blocks, but also frequent run-on letters (e.g., ssssssssssshe, miiiiiiidle, booooook) and completely fouled-up left margins.

I’m wondering if this is so because, despite the fact that the file itself was created on a ’93 Mac, most of it was written on a 128K Mac, the dear little computer I really miss. Sure it was way behind modern computers, and had a lot less memory and capabilities, but I feel sentimental for its sweetness, newness, and simplicity. I liked playing the old black and white games, like Alice in Wonderland, The Manhole, and Puppy Love. I had never known any other computer to feel I were missing out. That was what I knew. The IBMs and other non-Macs I used at school were poor imitations, though I vaguely remember how to navigate my way around vintage non-Macs from the Eighties and early Nineties.

Because the file is so damn old, and was created on such a dinosaur of a computer, on such a dinosaur version of a dinosaur word processing system, the translation is all kinds of fouled up. This was also the file I typed in Bookman, the font I thought best resembled a typewriter font, which I’d read was encouraged if one were typing a book on a computer instead of a typewriter. (The book containing that advice was written in the very early Nineties!) I’m old enough to have typed on a typewriter, both manual and electric versions, more than a few times, but for the life of me I don’t remember how to start one up. I would like to buy my own typewriter, preferably a purple Remington Portable. (Here are some typewriter-inspired computer fonts available for free download. Some of them are so pretty I’m almost tempted to betray my 18-year relationship with Palatino!)

It kind of makes me sad to think how kids nowadays would probably find the computer I grew up using to be old and boring, and not find the games fun enough because they’re slower, in black and white, and with less features. They’d also probably find the old MacWriteII and even ClarisWorks to be old and boring, but that’s why I loved them so much and why I still miss being able to type in them. Sure Word has more features, but it’s harder for me to navigate my way around and figure out how to do things that were a lot simpler to find and figure out on MacWriteII and ClarisWorks. It’s downright scary to think that the people entering college now have never known a time before the Internet or probably even cellphones. My childhood and adolescence of the Eighties and Nineties really is the stuff of historical fiction now!

Anyway, this is the original character list. I remembered too late, while writing the finished first draft after finally starting over, that Lenore’s surname had been Lennon. Oh well. I like her last name better as Hartlein, and I like how it’s one of my family names, my five-greats-grandma’s birth surname. (For reasons too off-topic to get into here, I really hate the term “maiden name.”) And I’ve already used the surname Lennon in my Atlantic City books, for Charlotte Lennon, Cinnimin’s 12-greats-grandma, and Jennifer Lennon-Zargovich, her 11-greats-grandma, who is currently periodically coming back as a ghost to haunt Cinni’s granddaughter Daphne. Jennifer first appeared to Daphne right before her ridiculous, very unpopular wedding at age 17 and urged her to call it off. Daphne made a comment that really pissed Jennifer off, and Jennifer placed her first curses on Daphne and the joke of a marriage. She’s not an evil spirit, just one who’s having fun torturing a very annoying, disagreeable person who acts like she’s living in Jennifer’s era and not the late Nineties.

I just love how naïve and heavy-handed my 13-year-old self was. The introduction isn’t meant to be funny, but it just seems so self-righteous and like I were taking myself too seriously. This is just one example of the heavy-handed moralizing that’s found throughout this mess of a discontinued first draft. Thank God I lost it for so many years, since I have no idea how the hell I would’ve found a way to even halfway salvage this mess when I began again last November. It had no real plot, it was painted in extreme shades of black and white, and it was like a Grimm’s fairytale on acid.

Little Ragdoll

by Carrie Ann Brown

7-17-93-20-Sun.

Dedicated to the girl I know only as Ragdoll.

Introduction

This novel was inspired by a story I heard on the radio.  The story was about a girl who was a poor little girl in New York City in 1964.  Ever since I heard that story, I feel I cannot do enough for her, even though I don’t even know her.  So I wrote this novel to be assured that she had a happy ending, even if she didn’t or her story is drastically different than the one in this novel.  It is all fictitious, except for the part that comes from the story on the radio.

Anyway, the theme in this novel is that beauty is only skin-deep.  The world many times won’t accept people who don’t look as beautiful as others, even if these people have the most genius minds in the world.  Our society is run by people who process a message to youths that beautiful people are better.  You see examples of this all around (e.g.  boys only asking out beautiful girls and laughing at girls who are fat or are bookworms).  That message is not a very good one.  Instead we should be sending young people a message that what’s on the inside counts more than superficial things.  We know we cannot undo what has already been done, but we can hope that someday in the future people will see the light.

And who really knows?  Maybe 50 years from now, when we are working toward a harmony of being universal citizens, you will look in a book of names and find the name “Ragdoll” as meaning “underlying beauty.” In the meantime, you can read this novel and maybe change your views on beauty and ugliness when you’re done reading it.  I hope you will.

Characters in this book:

Mrs. Troy, the mother of 9 children.  She wastes all her money on things for her sons and her eldest daughter and runs a falling-apart household in New York City.

Mr. Troy, the father of the children.  He is a miser and a drunk who spends all his money on alcohol and prostitutes.

Sarah Klaus, the nanny of the children who has just come from Germany and barely gets any money for her work.

Gema Troy, age 16, the eldest daughter who gets all the new clothing and things such as records and books.  Mrs. Troy comes to all her cheerleading practices and spoils hers.  All the boys like Gema.

Carlos Troy, age 15, the eldest son.  He gets high on all sorts of drugs he gets from his friends on the streets.  He gets all the new boys’ clothing and is spoiled by his father.

Allen Troy, age 14, the next in line.  He has every girl in school hanging over him and has a reputation for using drugs also.  Allen’s problem is that he really is scared of using the drugs and just started taking them to escape from his real life.  But he knows that if he ever stops taking them, his father, brother Carlos, friends, and girlfriends will all reject him for wanting to be seen as a really nice guy, not simply some stupid drug-user boy who can’t fight the feeling.

Lucine Troy, age 13, the next-born daughter.  She has a few boys notice her, because by the time she gets Gema’s clothing, it is still fairly good-looking.  She is fairly pretty.

Emeline Troy, age 12, and the nicest of the Troy girls.  She wants to be beautiful, but she knows that is impossible.

Ernestine Troy, age 8.  She is always living in fear of boys because boys at her school all hate her for being different.

Adicia Troy, age 5, and the main character.  By the time she gets her clothing, they are rags, and this causes her to be the laughing-stock of the town.  She wants people to like her, but everyone at school hangs out with beautiful rich children.

Tommy Troy, age 3.  He is a spoiled little baby who is always getting his way because his mother likes him best of all her children, next to Gema.

Justine Troy, 6 months old.   She doesn’t stand too good a chance in life because her family is becoming so poor they might be moved from their apartment to the ghetto because of unpaid rent.

Ricky Carson, the son of 2 very rich people who move into New York City around 1968.  He does not believe everybody’s negative thoughts about Adicia.

Jack Rogers, Adicia’s boyfriend in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.  He doesn’t really love her for who she really is, but he listens to her and buys her things, so to her that is better than nothing at all.

Girl, Ernestine’s best friend that she meets at the squat.  Girl teaches Ernestine all about real life and how to fight off the system.  From the moment that the 2 girls meet, they are instantly inseparable.  They do everything together, such as going to different churches, working at the same job for the same low pay, learning to read, shopping, celebrating holidays, going to concerts together, and eventually learning about life and reality together.

Lenore Lennon, a beautiful girl who was sexually abused by her father.  She runs away one night in late December of ‘61.  She and Allen meet in a bus stop waiting for their trains, and he instantly falls in love with her, although it takes some time before she loves him too.

Dolly, a very stuck-up little blonde girl who is always running into the Troys for some reason or the other.  She loves to shun and humiliate them in public.

Steel and paper anniversaries

Today, 18 November 2011, makes it 11 years (my steel anniversary) since I properly became acquainted with my favoritest album, The Who’s Quadrophenia, and one year since I bit the bullet and went back to start Adicia’s story over again. I suppose it’s a fortuitous day, since 18 is a very lucky number and represents life. My English birthday is also on the 18th, of December. (My Hebrew birthday is 29 Kislev 5740. I was born on the 5th night of Hanukah.)

Quad was one of the records my parents had in their pathetically small record collection, and one of the ones I always had my eye on for when I got my own record player. When I was in 8th grade, I started regularly looking at it and reading the lyrics and the story written from Jimmy’s POV, and looking at the pictures in the booklet. (You just can’t get full-sized insert extras with CDs or downloaded music, yet another reason I adore vinyl.)

And for the life of my I couldn’t figure out just what the word “quadropheniac” meant. I was the classic kid who read too much and understood too little. By trying to “understand” Quad, I didn’t understand it at all. I was also horrified by the lyrics of “Dr. Jimmy,” where it talks about wanting to rape a virgin. That song makes perfect sense in the context of the rock opera. Jimmy’s at the end of his rope and doesn’t care what he does or says anymore. It’s not saying he’s a disgusting rapist and normally goes around hoping to rape virgins who’ve already got boyfriends! (And as I got older, I came to really despise the very word “virginity,” since it’s such an abstract concept and a state of mind, not a physical state or something that should be defined in one way only. In many cultures, in the modern era, women are still losing their lives because they’re believed to not be “virgins.”)

When I finally bought a copy on CD ($16 at Mystery Train Records in Amherst, MA), and listened to it twice that day, I finally “got” Quad. It finally made sense when I stopped trying to make sense of it or fit it around my rigid, juvenile understanding of the world. And even now, no matter how many times I’ve heard it, it’s just as powerful as always, like I’m hearing it for the very first time. I could’ve really used it back in junior high, when I was struggling to understand what the hell it was supposed to be all about. It’s about a kid who doesn’t fit in and who sinks to a very low point because no one understands him or wants to help him. Then he finally realizes only Love matters, and he needs to go back home and try to start making things right. All the songs are just so perfect, and blend into one another so seamlessly. It’s one of the most powerful moments in rock when the four themes appear separately and then blend together faster and faster in “The Rock,” finally leading into the gut-wrenching closer “Love, Reign O’er Me.”

***

Today also makes it a year since I started over with Adicia’s story. As hard as it was to admit I’d have to start from scratch and reconstruct what I could from memory, I’m now glad I was forced to do it. Every serious writer should have the experience of starting over from scratch instead of merely rewriting or revising an earlier draft. It teaches you a lot, and helps you to let go of pre-conceived ideas of how a story should go. Just because it was written in a certain way and heading in a certain direction years earlier doesn’t mean that’s still the best thing for the story, or showcasing your best writing. I never dreamt I’d write something a bit longer than The Brothers Karamazov and have some of the plot developments I did, but I’m sure proud of it. I wrote the story that was locked inside my head, my heart, and my soul since I was 13 years old. The names and basic outline remained the same, but I changed a lot of other things. And the book is far better now because of it.

Wading through the miraculously resurrected discontinued first draft is a nightmare, and not just because of the extremely messed-up formatting, as will be discussed in a future scheduled post. (The gist is that it’s probably because it was created on an ’84 Mac, on a very old word processing format, and not a newer version of MacWriteII from a relatively more modern computer.) It’s just so freaking dark, disturbing, and depressing, and not because I was deliberately trying to write an edgy book. We get it. These people are poor. The parents and older brothers use drugs and do other unscrupulous things. That doesn’t mean we need tons of passages describing their poverty, drug use, drinking, and other scandalous behavior in as much seedy detail as possible!

Nothing in the discontinued first draft flows very well or sounds very realistic. The poor side of the rich part of town? Sitting on the roof of a tenement containing 900 people while the building is on fire and you’re waiting for the firemen? Gemma being a Satanist and keeping a bag of cats’ heads in her room? (Thank you, Beatrice Sparks, for giving me and many other impressionable young people a completely bogus idea of what Satanism really is!) I clearly had done no reading on Manhattan and its neighborhoods or history, for example. Why would there be a poor side of one of the rich neighborhoods? Now the Troys start out in the northern part of the Lower East Side, the area that had become more gentrified and home to more comparatively well-off people by the time the book opens. This area later broke off into the so-called East Village. And the idea that they’d be moved to a ghetto behind a wall for not paying rent? My understanding of a modern, American ghetto was so off. I was thinking of something like the Warsaw Ghetto, not merely a run-down part of town!

Sarah is also rather unmotherly towards the girls in the original. I was pretty pissed to see her equating a bikini with being a slut, in the first few pages, and saying you should be a hooker if you want to be a slut. Excuse me? Not that I think the word is without merit if it’s being used to describe someone (man OR woman) who’s been very promiscuous, but to say a young girl who you’re a nanny to wants to be a slut just because she wants to buy a bikini? What the hell? I was so naïve, ignorant, and judgmental! Actually, nobody is really all that likeable or even nuanced in this mess of a draft. It’s just a neverending cesspool of meanness, depression, degradation, and despair.

Here’s a lovely example of the type of over the top purple prose I used to describe their poverty:

They are careful going down the moldy stairwell.  Rats and mice live in the wood, and several children have been seriously injured on it.  Some of the apartments they pass on their way down have blankets in place of doors, and the smell of either cabbage, rotting flesh of dead people unable to be buried because of no money for funeral costs, or very strong Lysol, haunts each apartment.

When they go outside, they must be careful.  Every hour of the day, drug dealers are sure to be found.  There are also gangs of young boys, killers, rapists, and the superintendent, who is constantly checking up on the Troys.  He wants to get them out of the building because they haven’t paid their rent in years.  The money made by Mr. Troy, Allen, and Carlos goes to drugs, prostitutes, alcohol, cigarettes, Sarah’s slim salary, and huge allowances for Gema and Tommy.

Sarah holds the car door open for them.  There is no carseat, so Ernestine holds Justine on her lap.  The carseat was sold years ago to pay for a serious gambling debt.  The car itself is an absolute wreck.  It is rust.  It was once red, but nobody has ever really taken care of it.  They are lucky to even have a car.  Most families on the verge of going to the ghetto have no car.  The seats are all chewed up by rats.  The windows are gone.  The Troys use cardboard and masking tape in the winter.  The dashboard is almost gone.  The radio was sold several weeks ago to pay for Justine’s cough.  The wheels are salvaged from the dump.  The trunk is full of stolen things Mr. Troy uses to pawn to make more leisure money.  The horn is broken.  The wheel itself barely works.

As they drive off, they barely miss many potholes.  The road is all ripped up.  Dead animals and homeless people are in the middle of the road.  Road signs are covered in graffiti.  The scene has somewhat improved by the time they are at the shopping center.  The only thing that explains that is that the shopping center is on the rich side of the town.  The Troys live on the poor side of the rich side.

***

There’s much less focus now on the poverty and drug use. It’s a story about love, hope, and faith, not neverending misery. Why would anyone want to read any book filled with so much gloom and despair, with no redeeming qualities? And there’s also way too much focus on how the Troy sisters think they’re not beautiful and no one will ever love them or think they’re worth dating or being friends with. A little heavy-handed much? Though now that I think of it, I know I read a number of older books that indeed have that kind of intrusive, preachy, moralizing narrative voice. I was writing what I knew, besides only being thirteen. Now, the poverty and their degraded surroundings take a backseat to the love and hope shared by Adicia, her sisters, their one decent brother, and their friends.

Progress report

Over the past week, I didn’t do much work on my Russian novel sequel. I was more preoccupied with reformatting and doing some preliminary polishing and editing on the fourth, fifth, and sixth Max’s House books. Now I’m up to doing preliminary fixing on the sixth book. I did finish Chapter 39, “Second Visit to Minnesota,” which also covers the reunion of Lyuba’s missing stepsister Lyolya (Yelena) with her family in July of 1929. (Lyuba meets the man who becomes her stepfather in June of 1920, and he marries her mother in the spring of 1923. He’s been a father figure to her the entire time she’s known him, and has ten daughters from his first marriage. Over the course of the first book, he’s reunited with 8 of his daughters, and in the second book, one of the remaining two, whom the reader has known all along is alive, comes to America and eventually to New York.)

Now I’ll be starting Chapter 40, “Mrs. Kalvik’s Dire Warnings.” As Lyuba goes through the third trimester of her fifth pregnancy, her friend Katrin’s revered mother-in-law becomes a frequent visitor at Katrin’s Upper West Side penthouse. Mrs. Kalvik, who inspired Katrin and her husband Sandros to invest heavily in the Stock Market some years back, which in turn inspired Lyuba to put a fair amount of her own savings into stocks more recently, now starts warning about withdrawing their money. Katrin and Lyuba are going to withdraw all of their money from the bank, taking Mrs. Kalvik’s warnings seriously. And of course, the big historic event in Chapter 41 is going to be the Stock Market Crash.

So now it’s up to a bit under 342,000 words. By now I know it’s going to top out at a longer length than the first book, and I’m fine with that. I enjoy reading and writing sagas with large story arcs. Even my shorter books generally aren’t fast-paced and full of action and conflict. It’s just the style I’m used to. Now there are just four chapters left, plus the Epilogue.

I have a blog post scheduled for Thursday that goes into more detail about my probable heavy overhauling of the sixth Max’s House book, so I’ll only get into it in smaller detail here. I think I made a huge mistake in taking so much focus away from the real protagonists of the series for this book, and making it about Cinnimin and Levon’s blossoming love story. Yes, that was the subplot that was developed over the fourth and fifth books, but at least Max, Elaine, and their family were still the stars of the show. They still controlled the main plots and most of the action.

I also think I made a mistake by having the 1942-43 main story of the sixth book interlink with a story set in 2007, about Cinni’s granddaughter Livia and her clandestine marriage with Violet’s grandson Liam. Livia is Jewish and Liam is Wiccan, and Livia’s mother strongly opposed their relationship, and even hated how they were best friends before taking it to the next level. Instead of breaking up with Liam after graduation in 2003, she secretly married him and they ran away to the University of Wyoming, where no one could find them. Now they’re moving to Boston to do graduate studies, and will be living with Livia’s favorite cousin Vikki. They’re also going to stop by Atlantic City to secretly visit Cinni and some other people.

I think I knew all along why I made books four through six so Cinni-centric. I wrote these books some time after I’d completed Saga I of Cinnimin, and knew I hadn’t developed her relationship with Levon enough (esp. since he wasn’t even a figment of my imagination until 1995, thus necessitating he be written in at an earlier point). I guess I got scared by how many notebooks I’d already used to write Saga I, and so began rushing through the rest of it, leaving a number of awkward time gaps and rushed narratives. Whereas before I’d leisurely taken 10 or more pages to write a chapter-like section, now I was forcing them into rather small sections just to conserve paper. I figured I’d just go into more detail in the Max’s House and WTCOAC books set at the same time. But that compromises the whole narrative. I figure I can just take most of the Cinni-centric sections out of the Max’s House books and put them where they belong, in her OWN book, and then just write some new sections focusing on the real stars, Max and Elaine. The whole point of having three of the four series with overlapping timelines was to have a separate focus for each, not to depict the same events three different ways. I just didn’t do a good enough job of keeping them separated enough.

I also think it might be a good idea to entirely take out the Livia and Liam storyline and put into into a file for future use. That’s a pretty good story, even if there is too much backstory and infodump, to try to catch the reader up to all these events that happened between 1942 and 2007. It just gives away too many future stories and ruins a lot of surprises and dramatic tension. Then, when I get up to 2007 when I’m finally on Saga VII of Cinnimin, I can just copy and paste that into a file, or print the pages out and stick them into a notebook. I’m not entirely ready to give up handwriting Cinnimin. There’s just something to be said about amassing a big collection of notebooks over the years and having memories associated with each, looking back on how your handwriting has changed, knowing what’s in each notebook just by seeing the cover, etc.

After I finish the sequel to the Russian novel, I’m going to continue reformatting and editing the rest of the Max’s House books completed to date, and cursing the fact that I was so anti-Word I kept them in their MacWriteII format instead of saving them as Word documents. Yes, I’ll always prefer the older word processing programs and find them simpler to navigate, but after enough time of working in Word, I’m not so opposed to it and finding it so difficult to figure out. This time I know better than to immediately jump into another very long book with the same characters after finishing the current book. I’ll take a bit of a break before starting the third book in my Russian family saga. Maybe I’ll really start working on Justine Grown Up for NaNoWriMo.

Other progress reports from Writers Support 4U:

http://www.writersally.blogspot.com/

http://jc-martin.com/fighterwriter/

http://waibelworld.blogspot.com

http://NicoleZoltack.blogspot.com

http://susanfieldswriter.blogspot.com

http://skmayhew.blogspot.com/p/tuesday-wip-status.html

http://margoberendsen.blogspot.com

http://www.sherryauger.blogspot.com

http://www.susanoloier.blogspot.com

http://lynneawest.blogspot.com

More adventures in reformatting

I finished reformatting and doing some preliminary polishing of the fourth and fifth Max’s House books, and have now converted the five files making up the sixth book, Two Happy Endings. I was right to remember this one as being one of the longer MH books completed to date. The approximate word count, prior to doing much reformatting and polishing, is around 93,000. It covers December 1942 to June of 1943, and ends with Kit’s brother Saul getting a very angry surprise that’s a happy ending only for the hated Mrs. Green, being able to walk again after spending the last 21 months in a wheelchair.

Kit and Mrs. Green never exactly have the friendliest relationship, to say the least, and Kit was the one who put her mother in that wheelchair in the first place. Their acrimonious relationship is kind of a satire on the horrible parent-child relationships shown so often on Maury, only of course exaggerated for a black comedic effect and to satirize how horrible things can be between a parent and child who’ve never gotten along or had anything in common. I suppose my style of satirizing and irreverant, sometimes absurd and dark, humor could be compared to some of the stuff on a show like Family Guy. I know in real life Kit would be considered a juvenile delinquent, a huge bitch with a violent temper, and a sex-addicted slut and heartless serial cheater, but her character is over the top on purpose. It’s part of the reason why I love her.

Two Happy Endings got the lion’s share of the salvageable material from the horrid Proud to Be a Smart. I used some of the salvageable material in some of the other books too, but #6 seems to take the most of it. The book is also like two books in one, the interlinked stories of Cinni and Levon getting together in the early days of their relationship and Cinni and Kit’s shared granddaughter Livia and her husband Liam, Violet’s grandson, in 2007. Livia and Liam also defied convention by running away and getting married. Livia is Jewish and Liam is Wiccan, and they’re raising their girls as Jewitch (which is actually a pretty interesting religious combination, and far from unusual). Instead of waiting around for their friends or relatives to approve or apologize for having tried to break them up, they decided to make their own happy ending on their own terms. The 2007 story (which was quite a bit in the future when I wrote the first draft) is told in the present tense, but the predominating 1942-43 story is still in the past tense. The book was written between 16 August 1999 and 10 July 2000, and I have some pages printed out from it, to use as reference for parts of Saga VI of Cinnimin.

A lot of good stuff happens in #6, like the introduction of Peter Cunningham, the love of Kit’s life; Kit’s scandalous carryings-on with three boys at once, instead of the usual two; Max and Elaine throwing a huge New Year’s Eve party when the adults are away, topped off by Max wrecking his easily-angered father’s new car in a horrific freak accident with about 20 passengers stuffed inside; the annoying behavior of Liana and Eugenia Wilson, two of the current British kids the Greens are housing (from Birmingham, my great-great-grandma’s hometown); Kit getting fake glasses because she thinks it makes her look cool, and soon getting them destroyed by Sam, on orders from Violet; Violet getting pregnant by Gayle’s on-again, off-again boyfriend R.R., and her decision about what she’s going to do about it; and Violet finding out not only that her mother is finally pregnant with a third child, but that neighbor John Holiday has been spying on her and her sister Mandy and taking pictures of them in various states of undress. Kit also tells some good dirty jokes to the horrified Wilson girls in one section.

I think #5 could stand for a bit of lengthening. I went to special care to have minimal overlap between the Max’s House books and Saga I of Cinnimin, but now I think that leaves a rushed narration, or one with gaps. I suppose it’s not the end of the world to have exactly the same scenes and dialogues in both books, so long as that’s not done frequently. I could probably up it from around 51,000 words to perhaps 10,000 words more (maybe more, maybe less) if I took out those place-holder paragraphs in Part III and just depicted the events it says Cinni is telling Levon about over the fall of 1942. Events like Halloween, Violet’s birthday party, and the launching of AS into action, after all that planning and initiating they did over the spring.

In Part II, I also took a similar, rushed-narrative approach to Cinni’s birthday, which was depicted over many pages and quite some detail in her own book. In #5, it’s mostly told from Max’s POV, that he’s so busy making special plans to celebrate the year-anniversary of his and Al’s first time that he forgets it’s his best female friend’s birthday. Then he sits at the party as he and Al whisper about what a disgusting display Cinni is putting on, trying to one-up Elaine for the self-centered display she made at her own birthday in December. And, after all, Max and Elaine are the protagonists of the series, even if Cinni gets a lion’s share of the storylines in the fourth, fifth, and sixth books. They should get more action in their own series.

I know #6 is on the long side because it fits with the plot trajectory and the six-month timeline, unlike #3, which was just overwritten. I think #7, which has always been one of my favorites, might be somewhere around the length of #1. The first draft was handwritten, and written at a time when my writing was a bit larger and had bigger spaces between each word. And it’s always fun to write one of the Summer books.

I’m kind of glad I gave up too quickly on getting published a decade ago, since the future part of the storyline in #6 is now in the past, not the future. I can correct any errors there might be. The one error that’s already been corrected is Livia’s form of birth control. Norplant was off the market by 2007, so I switched her to Implanon. There also might be something about Livia’s cousin George talking about his namesake in the present tense, and George Harrison sadly passed from the material world a year and four months after I finished the first draft.

So-called rules I’ve broken

Since I’ve always been proud to be different from the so-called mainstream and have never been interested in conformity, I’m glad I did so much of my writing before I found out about all these modern so-called “rules” and “conventions” writers are supposed to adhere to if they want to increase their chances for success. I certainly don’t think that makes me better than other people, but I do feel kind of sad when I read blogs and message boards where other writers are talking about how stressed out they feel trying to get their books to adhere to certain conventions, like someone who wrote a 250,000 word saga and now is either cutting out lots of chapters and characters to get down to the sacred 100,000 word maximum, or cutting the book into a pretended trilogy or series. Obviously, my issues with modern-day word count policing are first and foremost in my complaints about modern-day “writing rules.” Some stories just take 500, 800, 1,200 pages to be told all the way through, just as others are perfectly told in only 150, 200, 300 pages.

Here are some so-called “rules” I’ve found out I’ve broken:

1. Don’t use a foreword, prologue, or introduction. I tend to agree with people who say prologues are often unnecessary, but there are still cases where a book needs an explanatory prologue, intro, or foreword. I have both a foreword and intro to The Very First, explaining briefly the concept and history of WTCOAC and ultimately tying it into the present day, and then showing the now-aged female characters getting together to tell the story of their youth. I felt those sections were needed, though as far as I can remember that’s the only time I’ve used a foreword or intro instead of jumping right into the story.

2. Epilogues aren’t much better than prologues. If it’s a very long book, why not use an epilogue tying up the remaining loose ends and showing the ultimate ending? I used an epilogue for Adicia’s story and my Russian novel, and will be having them in the Russian novel sequel and the third book in the series. There are also two afterwords/epilogues in Cinnimin, one showing Cinni being escorted to the other world by her 12-greats-grandma Charlotte and being reunited with all her friends and relatives, and then showing Levon and their three oldest sons and their wives entering the other world together three years later. It used to be common practice to have both a prologue and epilogue.

3. You have to use chapters. None of the books in the WTCOAC series were made with any chapters, and none of the early Max’s House books have them either, not till I got to the ninth book. They have sections, sometimes parts. I just didn’t see the need to make chapters, even though there are of course section breaks. They’re not just endlessly-flowing narratives with no breaks.

4. Chapters have to be within a certain length. Plenty of the chapters in my Russian novel (esp. the earliest ones) and its sequel are over 10,000 words. Some of the chapters in Adicia’s story are also pretty long. But all my chapters have section breaks; some of the longer chapters in my Russian novel have up to 20 different sections. And a lot of the chapters in the introductory WTCOAC series are deliberately short, esp. in The Very Next and the fourth book.

5. Never start with backstory or expository narrative setup. Some of my books start with dialogue or action, but I never dive right into the thick of action like many books nowadays seem to. Why can’t you gradually ease the reader in by setting up the situation and the characters? That way you have a sense of who these people are and what their story is. I was just reformatting Part I of Max’s House #4: The Start of AS, and thought it worked well to start with two long paragraphs of backstory about the Kevorkians. It ends, of course, with Levon and his siblings standing in front of the Seward mansion in May of 1942 and saying he’s about to meet the future third Mrs. Kevorkian (Cinni), and his life will never be the same again. Why not gradually set up the story? I really dislike this modern trend of opening in the thick of action, no idea who these people are or what’s really going on.

6. Don’t use too many main characters or secondary characters. I’ve never had a hard time keeping track of all my main characters, or even the secondary characters. I just know who they are. I also have many pages of family trees and lists of birthdates and stuff for the characters in Cinnimin, to keep track of all the different generations in each family and who’s going to marry whom in the future. There’s a reason for each character to be there, even if some aren’t as important as others. Just like in the Russian books, the orphanage girls and the characters otherwise still in the Soviet Union are meant to show an alternate trajectory the main characters’ lives might’ve taken had things gone differently for them. They all ultimately tie in with the main characters, of course.

7. Show, don’t tell. Sometimes telling actually is more to the point than showing something over a lot of pages. And sometimes you have no choice but to just tell, since you can’t work certain information into the story or dialogue without sounding really artificial and fake. Normal people, for example, don’t go around talking about how certain cities have changed ownership several times or their entire family background. I’m used to the old books that have such things expressed in explanatory narratives and backstories.

8. Don’t deliberately make a series. Too bad. I can’t unwrite my four series, now can I? Series books were very popular when I created the WTCOAC characters, and I thought it would be fun to make my own series. And I fell so much in love with Max that I decided, only a few weeks into writing the dreadful Proud to Be a Smart, that he and his unique family should have their own series too. And then I jumped back to 1938 to write the prequel series about the characters as preteens, and for whatever reason decided to expand Cinnimin to cover her whole life from Pearl Harbor Day on, not just to write about her youth in the Forties and her college years in the Fifties. I’d continue writing these series even if I never were traditionally published. I understand agents and editors want the first book to sell before they’ll take a chance on three, five, ten, twenty, forty more books about the same characters, but a lot of writers write because they love it, not because they’re necessarily thinking of becoming rich, famous, and successful. Why not write an entire series or family saga simply because you love the characters and enjoy telling their stories?

9. Certain age groups are a trickier sell. I had no idea it’s considered harder to sell books about college-aged people and people in their early teens. Oh well, I enjoy writing about people of all ages, and I always read books I thought were interesting. I never thought it were beneath me at, say, fourteen to read about characters who were still in elementary school. If the material is mature enough, who cares if you’re reading about characters who are younger than you? Why must we box up literature in age categories anyway? But then again, I’m the one who did most of my YA reading as a preteen and then pretty much skipped right to adult books around fourteen. I was always a very advanced reader, but even when I hadn’t yet graduated to adult literature yet, I never thought it was supposed to be lame and babyish to read about characters who weren’t my same age. Not all books featuring kids in elementary school are written at a lower reading level.

10. Historical fiction is a harder sell, esp. in YA. I always preferred historical fiction and old books written before my time, and history was always my favorite subject. It seemed only natural I’d write historical fiction myself, and since I began writing when I was so young, it was also only natural to write about fellow young people. What was I going to do, write about adults when I had no experience with adult life or what it felt like to be an adult? And even now, the idea of writing a book that’s contemporary seems so boring. Even Saga VI of Cinnimin, which is now creeping very close to the present day, is still what I’d consider late contemporary historical fiction, being up to the late Nineties now. The Internet for civilians is still fairly new, the attempted impeachment of President Clinton is a current news story, James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard were recently lynched, etc. Those events are now considered history, and by the time I get up to the second decade of the Aughts, our current news stories will probably be considered historical too. I like reading about real people in real situations, which is why I’ve never been into fantasy and why I’m not at all interested in paranormal. The only fantasy books I can recall having read are the Narnia series and A Wrinkle in Time.

11. If you’re writing about characters of a certain age, you have to make the story fit the mold of the genre for that age group. There are so many examples of books featuring MG/JA-aged characters that have been marketed as YA because of the maturity of the material, and many books with teen characters that have been marketed to a younger crowd because of a simpler writing style and less serious material. There are also books with teen characters that have done better in the adult market, since they’re not about typical teen things. I know I just can’t age my WTCOAC characters by even two years. That would involve a significant rewrite of just about all the books in each series, and I’d have to figure out something else for them to do in the years they’re supposed to be in college or high school. They graduate 13th grade in 1950 (their school, which has all grades under one roof, offers a 13th grade option and even Final Year, sorta like doing community college while not really at college), and graduate college in 1954.

Their first babies are born in 1951. It’s a major plotline how Lazarus gets Sparky in trouble in September 1950, when they’re only 19, and is too scared to propose to her until after she’s spent three months nagging him and even using one of her exes to try to make him jealous and force him to man up and do the right thing. If they were 21 or 22 and therefore already married, it would make no sense. And it’s also a major deal how Lazarus’s little sister Malchen isn’t quite 11 years old when they and the Roblenskies are discovered hiding in the woods in September 1943. Her survival of six camps with oldest Roblenska sister Jadwiga is made even more gut-wrenching and moving because she’s only 12 and a half at the liberation. If she were 14 or 15 at liberation, her story wouldn’t have that extra riveting level, since it was a lot more common for people of that age to survive.

12. It’s most popular to use first-person narration in YA. I never got into first-person, except for when I was writing a book in journal form, set during the early 1840s. It’s completely foreign to me. I’ll always prefer third-person omniscient. One exception is the alternative history I’ve got in hiatus, about the history of Russia in the 20th century when the Tsar’s execution was stopped at the last minute, the Whites won the Civil War, and Aleksey became Tsar sometime during the Twenties. It’s going to be told in five parts, if I remember correctly, each by a different young lady in a different era, detailing what it’s like to know and live under the rule of the beloved Tsar Aleksey.

13. And again, I don’t see anything wrong about long books, if the length is merited by the type of story being told. I knew Max’s House #3 was overwritten when I pulled it off of MacWriteII and started reformatting, editing, and rewriting it. I just knew, so many years later, that I’d used too many pages to tell a story that perhaps merited 300 pages or so, not pushing 400. But when I reread my Russian novel for the first time in almost a decade, I was riveted by it. After all that time had passed, I still realized it had such a large story arc and was such a deliberate saga that it needed over 800 pages (when double-spacing is taken out and normal-sized pages are used) to be properly told. It wouldn’t be a novel anymore, wouldn’t have the same story, had I stupidly decided to start slashing away just to make it all of 400 pages long, or to artificially split it into two, before the story had been resolved. Since when was 400 pages (100,000 words) considered long, even too long, for an adult novel? Les Misérables is a long novel, not something that’s only 400 pages!