IWSG—Another month of exhaustion

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 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?

Advertisements

WeWriWa—Eliisabet’s advice

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet immediately follows last week’s, when 17-year-old Lyuba Zhukova privately lamented her ball escort to her friend Eliisabet.

Lyuba’s two best friends, Boris Malenkov and Ivan Konev, have taken turns escorting her to balls since they were gymnasium students, but since Boris acted up in April and was punished with the new-fangled detention, Ivan took his place for their final gymnasium ball before they were expelled. Not only does this mean Boris now gets to escort her to a ball, but Lyuba also promised Boris would have two turns in a row next time.

Lyuba’s friend Eliisabet Kutuzova, always very understanding and full of practical advice, tries to convince her to follow her heart.

“It’s long past time you were honest with both of them. If you really prefer Ivan, it’s dishonest to have them switch turns and pretend you only like both of them as friends. I can see it all over your face. That’s the man you love. If you lead Malenkov on, things might get more complicated than you bargained for. It’s easier to level with someone before things go too far than it is to jilt someone who thinks he’s your beau.”

“Just yesterday we were about to run away to get married and leave for America, but that creep Basil sprung a surprise visit on us and ruined everything. Vanya may have only ever kissed me, but he’s as incredible as a man who’s had a thousand prior girlfriends. I wish I were in his arms right now, doing all the things we used to do during our secret romance in the spring.”

You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan (1917-24):

Seventeen-year-old Lyuba Zhukova is left behind in Russia when her mother and aunt immigrate to America, forcing her to go into hiding from the Bolsheviks and sometimes flee at a moment’s notice.  By the time the Civil War has turned in favor of the Reds, Lyuba has also become an unwed mother.  But she still has her best friend and soulmate Ivan Konev, a band of friends, and a cousin, and together they’re determined to survive the Bolsheviks and escape to America.

As Lyuba runs for her life during the terror and uncertainty of the Civil War, she’s committed to protecting her daughter and staying together with Ivan, her on-again, off-again boyfriend in addition to her best friend and the man who’s raised her child as his own since the night she was born.  The race to get out of Russia, into Estonia, and over to America intensifies after Ivan commits a murder to protect her and becomes a wanted criminal.

Once in America, Lyuba discovers the streets aren’t lined with gold and that she’s just another Lower East Side tenement-dweller.  Ivan brings in dirt wages from an iron factory, forcing them to largely live off the savings they brought from Russia and to indefinitely defer their dream of having their own farm in the Midwest.  And though the Red Terror is just a nightmarish memory, Lyuba is still scarred in ways that have long prevented her and Ivan from becoming husband and wife and living happily ever after.  Can she ever heal from her traumatic past and have the life she always dreamt of with the man she loves before Ivan gets tired of waiting?

My swan soars again (and then heads for the rocks)

I’m quite pleased to announce I finally did the light post-publication polishing I’d long wanted to do for my first Russian historical. I mostly removed overused words and phrases (e.g., even, at least, just, besides), cleaned up some clumsy wording, and deleted some lines, along with adding a number of new lines and paragraphs. This makes it the fourth edition.

The second edition merely replaced the legally incorrect title Tsarevich with Tsesarevich and added a brief paragraph about that in “A note on Russian pronunciation and names” in the front matter. The third edition stripped it of all those pedantic accent marks I’d pointlessly used for years.

I may be making some slight changes to the revamped cover, but this is the core image I want to use. I was also lucky enough to get a large enough image for a full cover (front, back, and spine).

I don’t regret the experience of making the original cover, but I quickly came to realize it wasn’t the kind of professional image I wanted to project. On its own, it’s a nice piece of art for myself, and those are probably the best human figures I’ve ever drawn. My human figures have always had a flat, cartoon-like appearance (by choice), but within that style, they’re light years beyond the kinds of people I used to draw!

I’ve also since fallen out of love with Chopin Script (which replaced Edwardian ITC after I changed my primary computer). It’s way too overused as a fancy typeface. The new typeface is called Russian Land, part of a three-font family. It’s based on the Old Church Slavonic alphabet, the precursor to modern Cyrillic.

A word of advice to all authors, indie or traditional: Getting stuck on the idea of your cover having to feature a certain scene, or depict your characters close to 100% of your mental image of them, can hurt you. Think about broader themes and moods.

26 August was my 17th anniversary of finishing the first draft of this book. I wrote it from 31 January 1993–26 August 2001. Starting in 1995, I went back and regularly editing and fleshed-out previous material. I also did some editing and expansion from 2001–02, but then didn’t touch it again till April 2011.

Three and a half years of intense editing, revising, rewriting, and polishing followed. This is the book I’m proudest of having written, not least because I wrote it from ages 13–21. In spite of all the deleted and radically rewritten material from the earliest years, there’s a marked progression documenting my evolution as a storyteller.

How many people can say they wrote a book on six different computers over a total of twelve years, in at least eleven different buildings, with five different word processing programs plus some handwritten material that made its way in?

Where did I get the inspiration to write such a long saga, or figure out how to ultimately tie all these subplots and characters together? I doubt I would’ve been able to write this story so well, the way it needed told, as a full adult!

These are two images I’m considering for the cover of The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks, the sequel. It was long overdue for its final polishing and release. Indeed, it’d been so long since I last seriously looked at it, I’d totally forgotten I’d written a “The Story Behind the Story” for it, and that there’s a chapter entitled “Lonely in Their Nightmares” (which, very appropriately, comes right after “Union with a Snake”).

The dedication makes the inspiration for those chapter titles pretty obvious!

I’d like to have all my proof-checking and this release done by the end of September, so I can finally get back to my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University. With any luck, it’ll be finished within a year, so I can get to work on the fifth volume, From a Nightmare to a Dream: Out of Stalin’s Shadow. I’m also very excited for the sixth and seventh volumes, and the two prequels.

WeWriWa—Trapped in two charades

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. To mark the 17th anniversary of the date I finally finished the first draft of my first Russian historical, I’m sharing an excerpt from that this week. I’m also happy to finally have a better cover, though it may change slightly.

This excerpt comes from very early in Chapter 3, “Trapped in Two Charades.” Lyuba, her younger cousin Ginny (real name Mikhail), and her friends are going to a ball shortly after the October Revolution, organized by passionate Socialist and Estonian nationalist Katrin (who hasn’t yet become one of Lyuba’s closest friends).

Lyuba and Ivan were about to run away together the other day, after Lyuba finally admitted she still loves him, but their plans were ruined by an unwanted visitor. Now a series of even worse complications are about to begin and keep them away from resuming their romantic relationship.

Lyuba hates the idea of having to be escorted by Boris, and how she let Boris have two turns in a row because their usual arrangement was thrown off in April. Not every man can be as handsome, tall, and strong as Ivan, but that doesn’t mean she wants to be seen on the arm of someone who’s short for a man, chubby, with large eyes, sickly-colored pasty skin, and terrible manners. To try to repulse Boris, she’s worn an ordinary lilac wool dress instead of something fancy like her purple velvet ballgown.

“Do you have to be escorted by Boris?” Eliisabet whispers as the men climb into the sleigh. “I see how you look at Ivan when you think no one else is looking, and I know you had a clandestine romance in the spring.”

“It’s a long-standing arrangement we’ve had since gymnasium,” Lyuba says in resignation. “They always took turns taking me, and since Boris had detention the last time, Ivan took over for him. If Boris hadn’t had detention, Vanya would’ve taken me tonight.”

The full-size image to be used for the complete cover

I wrote this book from 31 January 1993–26 August 2001, and also simultaneously did a lot of editing and expanding starting in 1995. I did some more editing and expansion during 2001–02, but then didn’t touch it again till April 2011, when I finally was able to open and convert all those MacWriteII and ClarisWorks files held hostage on disks. I spent the next three and a half years editing, revising, rewriting, and polishing it.

Just recently, I did some long-overdue light polishing for a new edition, which includes a number of new lines and passages. Most of what I did was just taking out overused words and phrases, and fixing some wording.

All these years later, I can’t believe I was really 13–21 when I wrote the first draft! I junked or radically rewrote 99% of the original 1993 material, and also did a lot of significant revisions and deletions of the 1996–97 material (from the second major phase), but I don’t know if I would’ve come up with the underlying story at another time in my life. The first seven chapters were a hot mess, but I somehow radically transformed it into the book I’m proudest of having written.

It began its life on a 128K Mac. Part of my family’s first computer will always live on in this book. One of the dedications is to that long-gone machine that was treated like a member of the family.

St. Vladimir

St. Vladimir, Grand Prince of Kyiv (ca. 958–15 July 1015), was the sixth Ryurikovich ruler of Kyivan Rus. He was the youngest son of Prince Svyatoslav and his servant-turned-wife Malusha.

In 969, Svyatoslav moved his capital to Pereyaslavets (modern-day Nufǎru, Romania). To his oldest son, Yaropolk, he gave Velikiy Novgorod (Great Novgorod), and to Vladimir he gave Kyiv.

Svyatoslav was slain by Pechenegs in 972, and in 976, a fratricidal war erupted between Yaropolk and his younger brother Oleg, Prince of the Drevlyans (an East Slavic tribe). After Yaropolk killed Oleg in battle, Vladimir fled to their relative Haakon Sigurdsson, Norway’s ruler.

Haakon sent many warriors to fight against Yaropolk. When Vladimir returned from Norway the next year, he marched against Yaropolk.

On his way to Kyiv, Vladimir sent ambassadors to Prince Rogvolod of Polatsk (an ancient East Slavic city) to sue for the hand of his daughter, Princess Rogneda (962–1002), who was engaged to Yaropolk.

When Rogneda refused, Vladimir attacked Polatsk, raped Rogneda in front of her parents, and murdered her parents and two of her brothers.

Vladimir secured both Polatsk and Smolensk, and took Kyiv in 978. Upon his conquest of the city, he invited Yaropolk to negotiations at which he was murdered.

Vladimir was proclaimed Grand Prince of all Kyivan Rus.

Vladimir expanded Kyivan Rus far beyond its former borders. He gained Red Ruthenia (Chervona Rus), and the territories of the Yatvingians, Radimiches, and Volga Bulgars.

He had 800 concubines, and at least nine daughters and twelve sons from his seven legitimate wives.

Though Vladimir’s grandma Olga had converted to Christianity and begun Christianizing Kyivan Rus, Vladimir was an unrepentant pagan. He erected many statues and shrines to pagan deities, elevated thunder god Perun to supreme deity, instituted human sacrifices, destroyed many churches, and murdered many clergy.

When a Christian Varangian named Fyodor refused to give his son Ioann for sacrifice, a mob descended upon his house. Fyodor and Ioann, both seasoned soldiers, met the mob with weapons in hand.

The mob, realizing they’d be overpowered in a fair fight, smashed up the entire property, rushed at Fyodor and Ioann, and murdered them. They became Russia’s first recognized Christian martyrs.

Vladimir thought long and hard about this. In 987, he sent envoys to study the major religions and report back on their findings. The envoys also returned with representatives of these faiths.

Vladimir rejected Islam because he couldn’t give up pork or drinking, and didn’t want to be circumcised. He rejected Judaism because he felt the destruction of Jerusalem was “evidence” we’d been “abandoned” by God.

Vladimir found no beauty in Catholicism, but was very impressed by the beauty of Orthodox Christianity.

Vladimir agreed to become Orthodox in exchange for the hand of Anna Porphyrogenita, sister of Emperor Basil II of Byzantium. (Porphyrogenita, “born in the purple,” was an honorific for someone born to a Byzantine emperor after he’d taken the throne.)

Kyivan Rus and Byzantium were enemies, but after the wedding, Vladimir agreed to send 6,000 troops to protect Byzantium from a rebels’ siege. The revolt was put down.

Upon his return to Kyiv, Vladimir compelled his subjects into a mass baptism in the Dnepr River, and burnt all the pagan statues he’d erected.

After the mass conversion, Vladimir formed a great council from his boyars, gave his subject principalities to his twelve legitimate sons, founded the city of Belgorod (Bilhorod Kyivskyy), and embarked on a short-lived campaign against the White Croats.

Though his conversion was politically motivated, Vladimir nevertheless became very charitable towards the less fortunate. He gave them food and drink, and journeyed to those who couldn’t reach him.

He married one final time, to Otto the Great’s daughter (possibly Rechlinda Otona).

In 1014, he began gathering troops against his son Yaroslav the Wise. They’d long had a strained relationship, and when Yaroslav refused to pay tribute to his brother Boris, heir apparent, it was the last straw.

Vladimir’s illness and death prevented a war. His dismembered body parts were distributed to his many sacred foundations and venerated as relics.

Several cities, schools, and churches in Russia and Ukraine are named for Vladimir. He also appears in many folk legends and ballads. His feast day is 15 July.

An ikon of St. Vladimir is one of the things my character Ivan Konev throws into a valise before he escapes into his root cellar to hide from vigilante Bolsheviks who’ve broken into his house in April 1917.

That ikon becomes very dear to Ivan and his future wife Lyuba. They believe Vladimir protected them during the Civil War. When their oldest son Fedya goes to fight in WWII, they lend him the ikon.