WeWriWa—Jakob’s jackfruit chanukiyah

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

My second Chanukah snippet this year comes from And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth, the sequel to And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away. It’s now December 1946, and 20-year-old Jakob DeJonghe and Rachel Roggenfelder are enjoying winter vacation at the Cape Cod cottage they honeymooned at in summer.

Jakob and Rachel civilly married in The Netherlands in May 1945, but almost immediately had to separate due to Jakob’s continuing military commitment and Rachel’s expedited immigration to America. They were finally reunited in June 1946 and had their long-awaited religious wedding that month. Rachel is now 24 weeks pregnant.

All this time later, I can’t remember if I deliberately gave them the names of a famous couple, or if it were a romantic coincidence.

Chanukah 1943 in the Westerbork detention camp

Rachel watched her husband going into their bedroom and coming back with a strange-looking chanukiyah. She couldn’t figure out what in the world it was made out of, and why he’d bought such a thing. It looked like a child’s school art project.

“I made it in the Indies last year. It’s made of hollowed-out jackfruit. It meant more to me than an expensive thing from a fancy store. Would you like to use it for our first Chanukah together?”

She reached out for it and turned it over in her hands. “I can’t believe you kept this makeshift thing. It must’ve meant a lot to you if you kept it all this time.”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow.

“Isn’t it beautiful? I made it all by myself, and took care so all the fruit was gone. I didn’t want it to rot or mold and get me a reprimand from my commanding officer.”

“Very creative and original. The two Chanukahs I spent at Westerbork, the inmates made them from hollowed-out potatoes and turnips. I don’t think anyone came there with a real one, at least not one they were willing to display openly. I’ll never understand that camp, so many contradictions and hypocrisies.”

“The only thing I understand about that place was that I found my dream girl there after I thought I’d never see you again.” He slipped his hand under her blouse and traced his fingertips along her ever-increasing breasts.

IWSG—Another month of exhaustion

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The Insecure Writer’s Support Group meets the first Wednesday of each month. Participants share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What publishing path are you considering/did you take, and why?

I was pursuing traditional publication in 2000–01, and again from 2011–14. Everything I’d read said all writers needed agents, and I took part in so many contests, pitchfests, and events like Gearing Up to Get an Agent and the Platform-Building Campaign.

Gradually, I came to realise I needed to be the mistress of my own destiny. I’ve nothing against the many writers who’ve chosen traditional publishing, but I personally like having total creative control. Most of my books, apart from my Atlantic City books, are also deliberately saga-length, with ensemble casts. I didn’t want to sit around waiting for 5–10 years to prove myself worthy of releasing a very long book.

I also don’t like the idea of waiting up to two years (or more) for a book to be published, after finding an agent. I enjoy setting my own release dates, and coinciding them with important dates to my characters.

After spending nearly an entire month checking four e-proofs and correcting a few stray typos and errors I caught, I went through my first Russian historical to create the fourth edition I’d wanted to work on for a long time. I also finally put my other books onto Nook and Kobo.

I also added a glossary and a “The Story Behind the Story” for And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth, about both my volumes with Jakob and Rachel. I’ve always considered it one story in two books, though I still agree with my decision to make the final year of the story into its own book. The focus of each is so different.

Then I went back to The Twelfth Time, the sequel to Swan, for a long, long-overdue final polishing. Its first draft was 406K, and I’d taken it down to 398K the last time I worked on it. I’m proud to have gotten it down to a more manageable 390K, plus about 4K of front and back matter. Does anyone expect a Russian novel to be short?!

The Twelfth Time releases on 6 September, Lyuba and Ivan’s wedding anniversary. They chose that date because it was the date they finally became lovers, and conceived their first blood child together. I wrote that book in 2011, and began editing it in 2014. I shouldn’t have been sitting on it for nearly this long!

I also love the Russian Land typeface I found (which is free for commercial use). It’s based on the Old Church Slavonic alphabet, the precursor to modern Cyrillic. This typeface is far more suitable for the mood and style of these books than the fancy types I was playing with prior, like Chopin, Lucien Schoenschrift, Tangerine, and Exmouth.

I immediately got to work on the final polishing of Journey Through a Dark Forest, which I’m hoping to finally release either late this year or sometime next year. All this rereading is really making me eager to finally go back full-time to my fourth Russian historical, and the remaining seven books in my epic series, which I’ve named The Ballad of Lyuba and Ivan.

I also finally put together a page with links to all my current author pages and books. Planned future releases are also listed. I have no one to blame but myself for my previous failure at marketing myself.

Anything exciting going on in your writing and publishing life lately?

IWSG—Exhausted

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group meets the first Wednesday of each month. Participants share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What pitfalls would you warn other writers to avoid on their publication journey?

Don’t jump into querying or publication too soon, or declare you’re done editing and revising too soon. I cringe when I see a hit to a post from 2011 or 2012, naïvely declaring I think I’m done editing something that was nowhere near done, or talking about querying the wrong agents or after barely any revising.

Think of it like slowly savouring gourmet chocolate vs. uncouthly gobbling a cheap cookie. You should never rush anything important.

Also, stay true to your own voice and style.

I’m so damn exhausted after preparing four of my five books for print editions! IngramSpark had free title setup during July, to mark their fifth anniversary, but scheduled 26 hours of system maintenance to begin 8:00 PM Central Time on the 31st. I barely made it under the wire!

IS has a very steep learning curve, though I don’t regret going with them over CreateSpace. IS has greater reach, being taken more seriously, and a higher maximum page count. But damn, was that a lot of hard work!

I chose not to put up Swan because it needs a revamped cover and light tweaking.

I’m really grateful my father provided so much help with my cover templates.

I’ve yet to check proofs, but after all the time I spent with these files, I doubt I left any typos or other little mistakes. I went back through my two books about Jakob and Rachel, and only had to do minor tweaking (mostly rooting out overused words and unnecessary pluperfect, esp. in the first book). I also specified Jakob’s father was buried in a copper coffin, to explain how he wasn’t in an unrecognisable state of decay after almost five years.

There were unfortunate errors with my revamped cover for LR, so I had to get a third cover. My revamped cover remains for the e-book, but it didn’t have enough pixels for good rescaling. It pulled pixels from other things, creating a muddied, fuzzy look. The artist also no longer has either the physical artwork or a digital copy.

I went with 6×9 trim for everything but my alternative history, which is 7×10. At 6×9, the page count was just too high for IS parameters. I figured 7×10 was a workable compromise. It’s not a standard size, but not wildly unheard-of either. As someone who reads many saga-length books, I’m cognizant of how page size translates to comfortable, long-term readability and ease of holding.

As I mentioned in several previous posts, once I’ve earned enough from my alternative history, I’ll use some of the money to make donations to the Hemophilia Federation of America and National Hemophilia Foundation, in memory of Aleksey. I didn’t write that book for myself.

When I break even with Little Ragdoll, I’ll use some of that money for a donation to The Bowery mission, which appears several times in the book. I most need to make back this $200:

I won Camp NaNo with a mix of my alternative history, my minor edits on the other books, blog posts, and A Dream Deferred. My goal was only 20K, and I knew I wouldn’t have a giant wordcount due to the timing.

Oh, and my trackpad quit working. At this point, my 11-year-old backup computer is in better shape than this one! My father gave me an external mouse he no longer needs. In addition to that, I enabled touch-clicking.

I’m still interested in doing guest posts to promote my alternative history!

IWSG—An upcoming release and owning my old-fashioned writing style

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

Every first Wednesday of the month, members of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group share worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears.

For those of you who missed Monday’s post, my long-delayed second volume about Jakob DeJonghe and Rachel Roggenfelder is scheduled to release on Saturday, 4 June. That date was chosen because it’s the date Jaap and Rachel reunite after 13 months apart (Erev Shavuot 1946). The title was taken from a line in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 (which Jakob reads to Rachel while she’s in labor in the penultimate chapter). The first volume’s title came from a line in Sonnet 145, so I thought it’d be fitting to use Shakespearean symbolism again.

Shakespeare was truly a writer for all time, the kind of writer I aspire to be remembered as. Though he very much wrote about people and concerns of his own time, the deeper meanings and the way he used words have resonated across time and cultures. I always think of the Akira Kurosawa films Ran and Throne of Blood as prime exhibits in how Shakespeare’s stories can seamlessly adapt to a much different cultural milieu.

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

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Synopsis:

Jakob thinks coming to America and reuniting with his beautiful Rachel is a dream come true, but he soon realizes America’s streets aren’t lined with gold and that people who don’t quite fit in aren’t always treated very nicely. As he’s struggling to adjust to life in America, Rachel struggles with insecurities over how her husband is little more than a stranger. And just when it seems her heart is no longer in turmoil, a new struggle arises—finding a midwife in a country where hospital birth has become the norm. Her search for a midwife isn’t helped by the conformist young wives’ social club she’s been roped into joining, full of women who already look down on her for keeping her surname, wanting to go to college, and enjoying sex.

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I own the fact that my writing style may strike some folks as old-fashioned or impersonal. I know third-person omniscient is very out of fashion in North America these days, so much so many folks genuinely don’t recognize what it is and assume I’m writing as a character, not about a character.

We all make decisions about how much information to directly state vs. force the reader to infer, just as we sometimes have to condense the non-essential events of a longer period of time into a wraparound narrative segment. I personally enjoy filling in the blanks in my own head, instead of always being told exactly how someone shivers in the cold or speaks after getting devastating news. It’s the same way everyone imagines the non-intertitle dialogue in silent films differently, based on our own experiences, personalities, and tastes.

Other folks can write long-drawn-out emotional reactions very effortlessly. The short-lived third version of the opening page of my first Max book was like nails on a chalkboard when I reread it. I hated it so much. It felt gross, pretentious, awkward, corny, silly, forced, fake, because that’s not my natural writing style at all.

Very exciting news!

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With gratitude to Hashem, my long-delayed second volume about young couple Jakob DeJonghe and Rachel Roggenfelder is scheduled for release on 4 June, Saturday. It should’ve released at least a year ago, but what’s done is done. I let myself get stuck in an unhealthy holding pattern because I was so humiliated and upset over my complete lack of sales.

I like to have release dates which are important to my characters (birthdays, anniversaries, historical events, etc.), and luckily, I found a really good one for this. 4 June 1946 is the date Jakob and Rachel reunite after 13 months apart. That day was Erev Shavuot in 1946, though Shavuot is 11–13 June this year. We’re still in the thick of counting the Omer, which is my favoritest mitzvah. Counting the Omer is so, so special to me, particularly since I let myself fall away from it in 2005 and didn’t come back for several years. I was so depressed over being a family of one and feeling so ignored by the local Jewish community. I felt like Dante waking up in the Wood of Error, no idea how he got there or lost the way so badly.

I’m extremely superstitious about auspicious and inauspicious dates (by my personal reference of what constitutes a lucky vs. unlucky date). For example, in hindsight, I think I had so many problems healing my third lobe piercings because I got them done on the anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Hungary. And while my navel seems to be healing pretty nicely at the 6-month mark, I never would’ve gotten it done on 24 November had I known that was Freddie Mercury’s Jahrzeit (death anniversary). As I’ve said, I’m a lowercase skeptic, not a rigid uppercase Skeptic.

Synopsis:

Jakob thinks coming to America and reuniting with his beautiful Rachel is a dream come true, but he soon realizes America’s streets aren’t lined with gold and that people who don’t quite fit in aren’t always treated very nicely. As he’s struggling to adjust to life in America, Rachel struggles with insecurities over how her husband is little more than a stranger. And just when it seems her heart is no longer in turmoil, a new struggle arises—finding a midwife in a country where hospital birth has become the norm. Her search for a midwife isn’t helped by the conformist young wives’ social club she’s been roped into joining, full of women who already look down on her for keeping her surname, wanting to go to college, and enjoying sex.

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By my standards, it’s really short (all of 104K), and a much quieter, more intimate storyline than my usual wont. There’s no huge ensemble cast or grand, epic, sweeping story arc. Several of my Atlantic City characters briefly appear or are mentioned, but this isn’t their story. Even the Brandts are secondary characters, not leading characters in their own right. This is a story about one young couple, not all of their friends and acquaintances.

There are a number of sex scenes, many of which I featured here when the Horny Hump Day bloghop was still running. There’s also a strong promotion of natural childbirth and evidence-based prenatal care (which naturally flows from Jakob and Rachel’s Dutch values), so this isn’t the book for you if you cheerlead for hospital birth and only hospital birth, lots of drugs, and never questioning the doctor about anything. I always promote natural childbirth and midwifery in my books, in a way which naturally flows with the pre-existing storylines and characters. It’s just how things are done in most of my characters’ native cultures.

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I do have plans for further volumes about Jakob and Rachel in the Fifties and Sixties, with storylines about their going to college, their quest to give their daughter a real bat mitzvah before that was the norm, and the rubella epidemic of 1964. In the concluding volume in 1981, they’ll finally discover what happened to Jaap’s baby sister Emilia when she disappeared in 1940.