IWSG (Poor Sales and Censorship Worries)

Happy Shavuot!

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.

Suffice it to say I’ve been really disappointed to check my sales and discover my recent release hasn’t sold very well at all. I thought I’d have at least 10-20 sales, but apparently I’m not well-known enough, don’t write in a hot, trendy, commercial genre, and failed at generating buzz, marketing myself, and connecting with other bloggers to promote my launch. I just don’t have the connections to get 20-30 people to reveal my cover, help me with a launch party or giveaway, or host me for a virtual book tour.

There are certain bloggers I’ve tried to network with in the writing/book blogosphere, but they’ve never reciprocated my numerous visits and comments. I’ve kind of stopped visiting these blogs so frequently, since they clearly won’t make the effort to network back.

I cancelled a scheduled three-day free promotion, because I was just getting too uncomfortable by what I read about them. I’m not yet in a realistic position to do that successfully, and don’t want to give my hard work away for free. I’m sticking to my guns with pricing it at $4.99, given the length (128,o00 words plus some back matter) and all the research which went into it. Little Ragdoll will be $7.99 as an ebook, since it’s 360,000 words plus the appendices.

I plan to use Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for at least one of my books, so hopefully I’ll pick up more exposure that way.


Sometimes you just have to remind yourself that you don’t always get famous the first time you put yourself out there, as in the case of the record above. It says nothing about your talent or appeal, just that you didn’t market yourself enough, not enough people know about you, or it’s the wrong product at the wrong time. After you make a bigger splash, your new fans will happily go back and buy your début.


This is probably a moot worry now, given my complete lack of success, but if certain people read Little Ragdoll, I’m sure they’ll be very censor-happy. There’s a strong theme about how the other half lives, and the stark differences between the classes. What’s normal and respectable for a poor or working-class person is considered indecent or shocking for a middle- or upper-class person. As Allen reflects:

….All he knows is the lot of them aren’t the types of people polite society want to be associated with or even acknowledge the existence of.  Young people from their world would never be portrayed in a movie, television show, or book.  The anti-vice societies would jump all over that, as though their real lives are an offense against decency.

It’s not like a book comes with a list of what potentially offensive things happen on what pages. Mrs. Troy uses a number of racial and religious slurs. Ernestine and Deirdre (née Girl) make comments critical about a certain denomination. There are numerous scenes where Mrs. Troy, Allen, and Carlos use drugs, though Allen later quits cold turkey after a huge scare. And of course, the turn Ernestine and Deirdre’s relationship eventually takes.

I’m also worried of what my pro-science, skeptic friends might think if they read it. Homebirth is featured very positively, both on and off the pages, and Gemma, Mrs. Doyle, and Mrs. van Niftrik are very unhappy with the hospital birth experience of the era. But I’d like to think the message is ultimately about choices in childbirth, not a one size fits all model. It’s a condemnation of the horrific, abusive practices of the twilight sleep era, not hospital birth itself. Gemma chooses a hospital for her second birth in 1973, in her second marriage, with more modern, humane drugs, and is very happy about it. Lucine has a drug-free hospital birth in 1972, with her husband in attendance, and is also happy with it.

And of course, it’s extremely anti-Vietnam War, though it’s against the war, not the servicemen. The big plot twist in Part IV is when Ricky is drafted. Why would I depict that war positively when the overwhelming American attitude was against the war, and when I myself agree we had no business over there for so long?

WeWriWa—A Frightening Birth

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, where participants share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. Today’s excerpt comes from Chapter 41, “Roman’s Legacy,” of my current WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest. It’s January 1938, and young widow Inessa Zyuganova has gone to a hospital to deliver her third child, who was conceived shortly before her husband Roman was murdered.

Her delivery is under the direction of a very progressive, radical doctor, and has gone against just about all established protocol of the twilight sleep era. Inessa gets to wear her own clothes, walk around the room, change positions, have friends and family in the delivery room, eat and drink, and have nitrous oxide (what the Brits and Australians call gas and air) for pain relief in lieu of the usual cocktail of morphine, scopolamine, and Demerol. The moment of birth is just what she feared might happen, the very reason she wanted a hospital.


She feels too discombobulated to have much of an appetite, but knows it’s important to have enough strength and stamina for the hard work of labor.  As transition progresses through the evening, she leans against Natálya’s lap as a sort of human birthing stool, with Valentína holding her from the front.  The familiar, instinctual urge to push descends upon her at nine o’clock at night, and she drops onto her knees and reaches down for the small being slowly emerging from her.  After all she’s been through, she won’t hear of letting anyone else catch this baby.

Inéssa’s heart stops at the sight of the small, blue, unresponsive baby she brings up to her chest.  Everything around her becomes a blur as Dr. Scholl shouts for oxygen and Svetlána pushes the oxygen mask over the infant’s mouth and nose.  Inéssa has no idea how much time has elapsed before the infant on her chest finally pinks up and begins crying.  The sound of a baby’s cries have never sounded more beautiful.


The baby is 4 pounds, 8 ounces, in spite of being full-term, and named Roman, Romek for short, after the father he’ll never know.

Next week I’m making a little detour to the Eighties, in honor of a special holiday, and then returning to the 1930s. You’ll get to meet cute little Velira, the daughter of the man who saved Inessa’s life at the Polish border.

WeWriWa—An Unusual Delivery

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, where participants share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. Today’s excerpt comes from Chapter 41, “Roman’s Legacy,” of my current WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest. It’s January 1938, and young widow Inessa Zyuganova has gone into labor with her third child. Since she’s consistently measured smaller than normal and had concerning heart tones, along with her traumatic injuries and resulting pain relief drugs, she’s elected to birth in a hospital for the first time.

The receptionist is flabbergasted at how she’s brought company for the delivery room, and a midwife in addition to a doctor. Dr. Scholl, Inessa’s very progressive doctor, makes the situation clear to the receptionist in no uncertain terms. He moved away from hospital practice in large part because he didn’t agree with the non-evidence-based obstetrics that came into vogue during the twilight sleep era.


“This is a proper modern hospital.  We don’t have old-country midwives here.  No woman in her right mind would see both a doctor and midwife.”

“Mrs. Kuzmitch has been in practice for thirty-five years.  After she came to this country, she received formal training at the Bellevue Hospital School for Midwives and later took additional classes at Manhattan Midwifery School.  Now my patient, her nurse and midwife, and her friends are going to go into the room she’s booked.  Doctors get final say in what goes on in the delivery room.  Spinster receptionists don’t.”

Sweet Saturday Samples

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples comes from Chapter 35 of Little Ragdoll, “Welcoming a New Troy.” While Allen and Lenore are having their first meeting with their prospective midwife in March of 1967, Adicia and her sisters make a joyful discovery in the midwife’s photo album.


“Pleased to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Troy,” she says, shaking their hands. “I’m Veronica Zoravkov and I hope I can be your midwife when the time comes.  I’ll give you a chance to talk with me about what you’d like out of your birth experience, what your expectations are, and what your plans are if you need to be transferred to the hospital, but first introduce me to everybody.  Are all these girls going to be present at the birth?”

“I ain’t no girl!” Boy protests. “Just ‘cause I’m the only guy in a group of girls don’t mean my maleness don’t count!”

“These are my younger sisters, Ernestine, Adicia, and Justine,” Allen indicates. “Those are my sisters’ friends, Julie and the Ryans.  Their parents called them Girl, Boy, Baby, and Infant, though they decided on some real names, I think, for when they go into wider society when they’re older.”

“Deirdre,” Girl reminds him. “My brother is David, Baby is Fiona, and Infant is Aoife, or Eva.”

“Are you a Miss or a Mrs.?” Adicia asks.

“Just call me Veronica.  We’re all friends here.  I probably won’t answer if you call me Mrs. Zoravkov anyway, since only people who don’t personally know me address me by my title instead of my first name.”

“Is that a Russian name?” Julie asks.

“Bulgarian.  My maiden name was Bulgarian too.  I wanted to marry another Bulgarian-American to keep my heritage alive instead of diluting it, since I’m so proud of where I come from.”

“Where’s Bulgaria?” Infant asks. “Is it very far away?”

“It’s on the Black Sea,” Ernestine says. “It’s in Southeastern Europe, in an area called the Balkans.  It borders Romania, Greece, and Yugoslavia.”

“What’s in your picture book?” Justine asks. “Can we look at it?”

“They’re pictures of past clients and their babies. If your brother and sister-in-law choose me and everything goes well, their pictures will be in here too come June.  It’s meant to reassure my prospective clients that normal people just like them have had their babies with a midwife, and that everything turns out alright in the majority of cases.  Of course, if the baby’s breech, we’ll have to take you to the hospital.”

“What’s a breech?” Baby asks.

“It’s when the baby is facing the wrong way,” Girl explains. “Babies are supposed to be born head-first, but sometimes they come out with their feet or rear end facing first.”

While Allen and Lenore are chatting with Veronica, the girls look at the pictures in the album.  A number of times they express surprise that the newly-born babies look rather unattractive instead of all cute, cuddly, and cleaned-up.  The people in the pictures look like normal people, just as Veronica said.  They don’t look like oddballs, but rather people they might pass in the street and not assume any anti-establishment thoughts about.

Allen looks over at them questioningly when there hasn’t been a peep out of them for more than several minutes.  Adicia, Ernestine, and Justine in particular are bent over one page, looking intently at one photograph.

“What’s so interesting?” he asks. “Something we should be alarmed about?”

“Sarah!” Adicia shouts. “It’s Sarah!  She’s in a picture!”

“You’ll have to tell me more details,” Veronica says. “Sarah is a common enough name that I know I’ve delivered more than a few.  Most of my Sarahs didn’t pronounce it with a long A, though.”

“Sarah Katz, our nanny till our mean mother fired her in June of ’62! She was born in Germany and came to America in ’47.  I know it’s our Sarah.  Even the tattoo on this woman’s arm has the same numbers as our Sarah’s tattoo.”

Ernestine brings the book over to show Allen, and his jaw drops when he too recognizes the face of the woman who helped to raise him since he was three years old.  Since he wasn’t as close to her as his sisters were, he wouldn’t know if the tattoo bears the exact same numbers, but he does see a serial number tattooed on this woman’s left forearm.

“I remember that woman.  Her name is Sarah with a long A, and her last name is still Katz.  I think she’s the only woman I’ve ever delivered who had a different last name from her husband.  She said after all she went through under the Nazis, may they all burn in Hell for what they did to so many innocent people, she couldn’t dream of giving up the identity she had when she survived.  She also said she was the only member of her family to survive, so it was doubly important to her to hold onto her original name.  Her husband’s name is Henry Rosen, short for Heinrich.  She was one of the oldest first-time mothers I’ve ever worked with.  I delivered her son Friedrich in August of ’65, when she was thirty-eight.  She called him Fritz for short, after her father.  She’s expecting another child now, and wants me to deliver her again.”

“Sarah finally found a husband and had her own baby!” Justine says happily. “Our mother wouldn’t let her even go back to school.  The bad guys in Germany kicked her out of public school when she was fourteen, so she never went to high school or college.  And then she had to spend all her time taking care of us, so she was never able to really do anything else.  Our mother wouldn’t have let her go on dates, get married, or have a baby anyway.”

Progress Report

Baruch Hashem (Blessèd is God), I finished my WIP on 29 April and am now using the rest of the material from the original long short story/piece of backstory as a second volume. I changed the working title from And Jakob Limped to And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away. Since the first book took its title from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 145, a beautiful tribute to his wife Anne, I’d like to title the second book after another favorite Sonnet, 29, which is a very popular wedding reading. Perhaps And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth.

I was planning to just write through to the end of the material and outline, and then perhaps see if there were a natural, fitting break somewhere in there. After all, I’m no stranger to writing long historical sagas and sticking up for the fact that not all books have storylines that can be fully developed and resolved within 300 pages. But I really do have my heart set on querying this as young adult (albeit historical young adult, which is a much different breed from the more common YA books of today), and I was trying to keep length in mind.

I was thrilled when the most natural, perfect break opened up, and in such a way as to tie the ending in with the title’s significance. This is really one of my favoritest endings I’ve written to date, so full of hope, satisfaction, fulfillment. And though there are still some things up in the air, particularly how Jakob’s wife Rachel is waiting for him in America and doesn’t even know he’s coming earlier than expected, it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger.

It pisses me off when I read a book that ends with so much unresolved, lots of loose ends, an infuriating cliffhanger. Even if a book is the first of a planned trilogy or series, or if there’s a sequel coming, you should ALWAYS tie things up by the end. Each book should have its own storyline, and even if there are plot threads meant to be continued, at least resolve them satisfactorily or don’t make them into a huge cliffhanger. That’s the main reason why I eventually wised up and stopped querying Parts I and II of Adicia’s story as Book One of a pretended trilogy. It just doesn’t work split up, and though Part IV and the Epilogue read like their own book, they really don’t make much sense without the first three-quarters of the book.

So I ended it a tad bit above the 120,000-word mark, taking out stuff like asterisks denoting section breaks in chapters, chapter titles, and the titles of the parts of the book. The perfect length for a story covering five and a half years and only one main character, with closer to third-person limited than I usually go. Normally I’m all about third-person omniscient. People are used to historicals being longer anyway. I’d wonder at any historical novel meant for people over the age of 12 only being 300 pages.

I don’t know how long the second volume will be, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be longer than the first book. It’s going to have its own set of storylines, and only cover a bit under a year, with an Epilogue in Hebron in the fall of 1981. This second volume will not only just have the material from the original long short story, but also some really good plotlines I thought of relating to Jakob’s first year in America.

This time, Jakob and Rachel will both be the protagonists, much like Lyuba and Ivan are the double protagonists of my Russian novels. While Jakob is learning how to get along in America, and realizing how big a gap there is between him and Americans who only had a homefront, not an occupation and a war on their soil, Rachel is struggling to find a midwife. She’s shocked to learn that almost no women in America still birth at home and use midwives, and won’t hear of having a male doctor or being knocked out in the hospital like Barry’s wife Jet.

Rachel also can’t believe how Americanized Jet has become, so unlike a normal Dutch woman who keeps her last name and views birth as a normal physiological process. I’m going to have the two couples move to Cape May, and Rachel and Jet will join a group of young wives who meet while their husbands are at work. Rachel will be the most liberal, progressive woman in the group, shocking them with her views on subjects such as surname autonomy, birthing practices, and a woman enjoying sex of all kinds. Many people outside the group will also have difficulties with this feminist woman ahead of her time, at least by American standards.

Oh, and on his third day in America, while he was still in New York, Jakob racked up a huge credit bill at Macy’s and a Judaica store. He’s also going to buy a Delahaye car on credit once he’s in New Jersey, and houses for both himself and Rachel and for his mother Luisa. Now he’ll have to work extra-hard to pay off all these bills he was so flippant about before he realized that America’s vast riches aren’t freely given to everyone.

After this, I’ll have to finally get back to poor neglected Justine. I’m really eager to write the dramatic chapter “Sing Blue Silver Snowstorm,” and I can’t get to that penultimate chapter overnight!

Other progress reports: