Combining and splitting decisions

As someone who naturally and deliberately writes my adult books at saga length, I’ve developed a very keen sense of when a book’s length is justified by the story vs. when it’s just an overwritten sprawl (coughtheinvisiblebridgecough). I’ve also developed a strong sense of when a long story needs split up into multiple books or volumes.

On the flip side, when it comes to my Atlantic City books, I’ve found several places where these short books need combined, since they lead right into one another instead of feeling like true self-contained stories within a series.

                          

As I’ve discussed many times, I still feel I made the right decision in putting out And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away and And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth as two distinct books. The most perfect ending opened up, and I was able to turn the rest of the source material into a second book about Jakob and Rachel’s first proper year of marriage and Jakob’s first year in America. Each book truly has its own focus, and wouldn’t feel the same if it were just one long book with an uninterrupted story.

Granted, I was trying for traditional publishing at the time and was aware the first book had reached the uppermost limits for both YA and historical, at a bit over 120K. The second book also has a much more New Adult feel and a number of sex scenes, in comparison to the fade to black on the wedding night scene in the first book. But Fate obviously compelled me to make the right decision about how to present this story.

                        

I was also originally trying for traditional publication with Little Ragdoll, and was shocked to discover how frowned-upon sagas are nowadays, esp. from first-time authors and in YA. At the time, I hadn’t yet realised this is truly an adult book that just happens to feature young people in the leading roles. In other words, a Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story like Great Expectations and Little Women.

Thus, I began querying it and submitting pages as a pretended trilogy, and came up with query letters and synopses for all three books (Parts I and II, Part III, Part IV and the Epilogue). However, I soon came to feel dirty and like a huge fraud for diluting my vision and intention. I always meant it as one long, continuous story, not split up three ways. And while Part IV does read the most like its own standalone book, it also only makes sense and feels right as the conclusion of everything that came before. Adicia finally has no choice but to act instead of passively being acted upon, and emerges from that ordeal a much stronger person than anyone, least of all she herself, ever saw her as.

When it came to Swan, I was always very firm about this story being one entire book. It would make no sense to put out Parts I and II as two different books when so much is still up in the air at the conclusion of Part I. The only thing resolved (for the moment) is that Lyuba and Ivan are finally engaged. I also wrote The Twelfth Time as its sequel, not the third book in the family saga.

Plus, the title has significance for the entire book, and appears in the final line.

People at Absolute Write really got on my hide about the length (330K) and tried to convince me to make it into a series or two books. They also thought it was a historical romance instead of a novel that just happens to prominently feature a love story. One person got really offended when he read a blog post I wrote explaining and defending my wordcount and genre, accusing me of being oppositional and not taking anyone’s advice.

Yeah, it’s almost like writers know their own stories far better than random Internet strangers obsessed with “the rules”! Hist-fic is also traditionally very long, with 120K being the bare minimum for a story spanning many years and with a large ensemble cast.

                         

                         

Dark Forest ended up so long, way past my initial guesstimate of 500K, I had to put it out as one book in four volumes. It perfectly worked out so each part read like its own story, with a focus on different characters and storylines. Of course they all lead into one another, but there’s no sense of ending in media res.

I’ll do the same for Dream Deferred, which also ballooned up way past my conservative guesstimate of 300K. Even after cutting aborted storylines that don’t belong there, it’ll still be extremely long. Thankfully, this book too will feel natural in four volumes instead of forcibly chopped up.

Ultimately, it comes down to gut feelings and your own creative vision. Would this work as a single very long book, one book published in several volumes, or two or more separate books? And would a few novella-length books feel stronger if they were combined into one longer volume?

A phenomenal anniversary for my beautiful swan


Twenty years ago today, 26 August 2001, I finished Chapter 41 of Swan (later entitled “Who Will Stand, Who Will Fall?” after a line in the chorus of the George Harrison song “The Lord Loves the One [That Loves the Lord]”), wrote the Epilogue, and typed “The End.”

I was 21 years old, and had been working on this book for almost the entirety of my teen years, plus my entire adulthood up to that point. Yes, there was a break from working on the novel proper from October ’93 to September ’96, but in between, I wrote several prequel short stories and additional scenes to be inserted into the book, as well as doing longhand editing of a printout of the entire story up to that point.

Soon after closing out of the final document of this massive doorstopper, I saw on aohell that the singer Aaliyah had just died in a plane crash. Though I don’t really follow contemporary pop culture, I’ll always remember that event and its date because it’s linked so closely to the end of my first draft.

All these years later, it’s stunning to think back on how young I was when I wrote the first draft, and yet how well I wrote it. Yes, I ended up junking or radically rewriting at least 95% of the original 1993 material, but there were so many places in my juvenile initial vision that perfectly led into a more mature direction and an actual plot with a real focus.

The material from the second major phase, my junior year of high school, didn’t need quite so many severe edits and excisions, but it did require more than light, surface tweaking. By that point, I’d begun making and working from short chapter-by-chapter notes and following a real storyline.

The material from the third and final major phase of the first draft, late ’98 through to the end, needed the least amount of editing. The vast majority of these chapters are largely unchanged but for adding and expanding certain scenes. I look back and marvel at how a good chunk of that was the work of a teenager! In my very late teens and thus technically an adult, but nevertheless still a teen.

And without any elaborate advance plotting and planning, I managed to ultimately link up all these groups of characters and their stories—the main cast, the orphanage girls, the middle Lebedeva sisters, Lena Yeltsina, Natalya Yeltsina, Mrs. Yeltsina and her older daughters. How did I do that?! I doubt I’d be able to pull off such a feat, or even write the book itself so well, if I were just starting out now.

Technology moved on, and I was unable to access any of my files on disks for almost an entire decade, even after buying an external disk drive. Finally, in April 2011, I figured out how to open and convert these documents in obsolete file formats.

When I typed “The End” at 21, I naïvely believed I only needed to really edit the earliest chapters. How very wrong I was! The entire manuscript received multiple edits, revisions, and rewrites over the next three and a half years.

Then I made various edits for a second, third, fourth, and finally fifth edition. Nothing too radical, mostly just some new, brief additions here and there. One of the later editions also involved replacing the cover. Though I remain proud of how those are the best human figures I’ve ever drawn, I’m now embarrassed I ever thought that looked professional.

My entire life long, this will stand as one of the books I’m proudest of having written, one of the books closest to my heart. We grew up together, and it wonderfully demonstrates my writing style during many distinct phases of my development.

Meet Naina, Katya, and Karla

I’m returning to moving out old posts indefinitely stored in my drafts folder. Originally one of a batch of 20 posts I put together and stored in my drafts folder for the now-long-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop on 24 June 2012, this comes from my first Russian historical and has been changed a fair bit. The published version doesn’t use the pedantic accent marks used here, for starts, and some things have been fleshed out while others (like the pointless roll-calling) have been removed. In the published version, sadistic Mrs. Zyuganova also pushes Klara into the snow, not the mud, seeing as it’s December in Minsk.

***

Possibly my favorite subplots in my Russian novels revolve around my orphanage girls. I’d read about how children of “enemies of the people” were treated in orphanages during the Civil War in Felice Holman’s The Wild Children, which I read shortly before beginning the first book in early 1993, but I wasn’t inspired to create a whole series of subplots set in orphanages and playing out over three books till my second major period of working on the first novel.

When I was introduced to what became my favoritest movie, The Inner Circle, in the summer of ’96, and then resumed work on the novel that November [actually September], I knew I had to have orphanage characters too. They include Vera, Natalya, and Fyodora, some of Lyuba’s future stepsisters, and Anya and Leontiy, the children of the couple who took Lyuba and her friends into hiding. Some of the other important orphanage girls include Belarusian Inessa and trio Katya, Naina, and Karla. Naina is the niece of Sonya Gorbachëva, an important secondary character.

Naina and Inessa have always been my favorite of the orphanage girls. Inessa is a very intelligent, headstrong young girl who’s only there because her parents were arrested for an honest, petty mistake, and Naina is as sharp as nails in spite of her young age. Naina first appears in December of 1919, and at barely eight years old is toting a gun.

***

“These three will stay in this bunk to make up for the three who departed.” Mrs. Zyuganova leads three new girls into the quarters. “Names, ages, and nationalities?”

“Naína Antónovna Yezhova, age eight, from Pétrograd.”

“Nice necklace. It’s mine now.” She grabs a citrine necklace hanging around Naína’s neck.

Naína slaps her hands away, reaches under her dress, and pulls a gun on Mrs. Zyuganova. “No it’s not. My mátushka gave it to me when I was four. Steal it and I shoot you. My papa gave me one of his handguns before I was taken away, and I’m not afraid to use it.”

Mrs. Zyuganova struggles to collect herself. “Next?”

“Yekaterína Kárlovna Chernomyrdina, age twelve, from L’viv.”

“L’vov,” Mrs. Zyuganova growls.

“No, it’s really L’viv!”

“Kárla.”

“Last name and patronymic?”

“I’m two and from Yaroslavl.”

“Last name and patronymic?”

“I don’t know!”

Mrs. Zyuganova picks Kárla up and throws her into a wall. Then she begins beating her.

“Stop beating her!” Naína bites Mrs. Zyuganova. “She’s only two years old! She is Kárla Maksímovna Gorbachëva. She’s my cousin, and if you hurt her again I will kill you. Remember, I’ve got a gun, and I know how to shoot. It’s not just for show.”

“Quiet that tiny one down!” Mrs. Zyuganova screams.

Naína takes Kárla into another room.

“No, you can’t leave the room you’re assigned to!”

“I am well accustomed to the rules of orphanages by now. I don’t like you. In fact, I don’t think we’ll be sticking around much longer. Just try to stop us. You know you can always get three fresh victims where you found us.”

Mrs. Zyuganova spits in disgust. “We’re ready to round people up to cars. Boys first. Leontiy Ryudolfovich Godimov, Andréy Samuelovich Bródskiy, Ósip Yuriyevich Khrushchëv, Iósif Vasíliyevich Klykachëv, Maksím…”

They go into the car obediently.

“Girls next. Natálya and Fyodora Ilyínichna Lebedeva, Yeléna Vasíliyevna Klykachëva, Svetlána Yuriyevna Khrushchëva, Valentína L’vóvna Kuchma, Irína Samuelovna Bródskaya, Ínna Aleksándrovna Zhirínovskaya, and Ólga Leonídovna Kérenskaya.”

“My brother is on that transport!” Klára howls.

“Tough luck. If you sneak on I’ll beat you. Oh. I would love to get rid of Inéssa my traitor niece. Off you go!”

“Fédya!  Fédya!” Klára screams.

Mrs. Zyuganova pushes Klára into the mud. “Would anybody like to sell his or her place to little Klára Mikháylovna Nadleshina?”

“I would!  I would!” Inéssa screams.

“Stay on that train, Inéssa! I want to get rid of you!”

Inéssa runs to the man approaching and flings herself into his arms. “Dyadya Díma! Take me away and adopt me! I’ve been in this orphanage since my parents got arrested, and Tyotya Dásha beats me sometimes! Adopt me!”

Mr. Zyuganov’s forehead is thrust forward, like a ram’s. He has red-brown hair and gray eyes. “Dásha, is this true?”

“Yes it’s true, now adopt me, Dyadya Díma!”

“Dásha, I saw him! The Leader! He’s promised to bring fair work conditions to the mines in Belarus! Soon you won’t have to work in this hospital anymore!”

“This isn’t a hospital! It’s a phony orphanage! Adopt me!”

“Of course, I’ll adopt my niece if her parents are jailed enemies of the people—”

Mrs. Zyuganova yanks Inéssa from her uncle’s arms and throws her into the girls’ cattlecar. “Goodbye, my traitor niece. I hope they treat you even worse at the new place.”

Klára runs with the train and boosts herself up into the window. Ánya, Véra, and Natálya run with her and boost themselves up next. They all tumble on top of the three newest arrivals.

“We hid under the baggage holds,” Naína says. “We’re very sneaky. After seeing how she treated Kárla, I had to say no and move onto another orphanage!”

IWSG—February odds and sods

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and gives participants a chance to share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

Besides writing, what other creative outlets do you have?

I’d never pretend to be professional-level, but I enjoy drawing with colored pencils, watercolor pencils, and pastels—Derwent’s Coloursoft, Artbars, and Inktense; Caran d’Ache Pablos and Neocolor II; Faber-Castell Polychromos; Koh-I-Noor woodless coloured pencils; Crayola’s Portfolio oil pastels; about a dozen Prismacolors; and Sennelier oil pastels. The lattermost were created for Picasso in 1949. When I have the money, I want to buy the complete set of Sennelier soft pastels, which were created for Degas.

My passion is for abstract and geometric art.

I also do cross-stitch and embroidery.

My mother started this for her parents after my uncle died in 1988, but put it away for years. (She made a few mistakes!) I finished it while recovering from my last leg surgery in 2006, and my grandparents were thrilled with it. They framed it and hung it on the wall of their condo. My grandma, now my only living grandparent, brought it with her when she moved to a retirement home.

I made a few mistakes of my own on this (Buddha should’ve been taller, and some objects should’ve been in slightly different spots), but no one would tell unless I explained my miscalculations.

Since I won a free title setup on IngramSpark for winning NaNo, I decided to make a hardcover for my first Russian historical. (I’ve long since had a block of five ISBNs for it from Canada’s IndieBookLauncher; this service is sadly no longer offered.) I went through it to make sure it’s as perfect as can be for this the fifth edition, and mostly made tiny tweaks and corrected a few typos that were created during the edits for the fourth edition.

At one point, I began to seriously wish I’d rewritten the first six chapters much more radically during my endless edits, revisions, and rewrites in 2011–14. I junked or radically rewrote 99% of the original 1993 material, but it still didn’t seem like I did enough.

Eventually, I stepped back and realized it’s better to bring my improved writing skills and lessons learnt into current and future books, not waste time frogging part of an already-published book and rewriting those chapters almost entirely from the ground up.

I’m very proud of how I wrote the first draft from ages 13–21, and how it reflects my writing voice, style, and abilities evolving through the years. The scant remainder of the original material is also a poignant reminder of my 128K Mac, on which I began it so many years ago.

Had I begun this book as an adult, I would’ve started it closer to the October Revolution, perhaps even in 1918, not soon after the February Revolution. I also probably would’ve set it in Petrograd, not Moskva. But it is what it is, and it wouldn’t be the same story if I suddenly changed things that are so integral to the overall story.

I’ve finally got Word on my newer computer, but decided to go back to Pages for my WIP. I might try again later, but I’ve grown so used to setting up Pages documents. When I C&Ped the one Word chapter back into the master Pages file, there were a bunch of formatting specs that needed fixed. I’ll use Word for new documents, but will keep Pages as my primary word processor.

My older computer uses Word 2003, so I’m quite out of step with the newest version!

Have you ever had late-coming doubts about a story? Would you be more forgiving of shortcomings in a book if you knew the author had written it at a very young age? Have you had difficulties adjusting to different word processors?

Famous surnames (intentional) in my Russian historicals, conclusion

These days, I mostly find surnames from lists, and have moved past randomly choosing them from outdated encyclopedia and picking names in the news. It’s so much easier to do research now. However, I don’t regret giving some of my characters famous names, either intentionally or unintentionally.

It’s like an Easter egg; e.g., names like Chernomyrdina, Yeltsina, Zyuganov(a), and Yavlinskiy make it pretty obvious how immersed in Russian politics I was in the late Nineties.

I particularly don’t regret giving Lyuba’s stepfather’s family the name Lebedev(a), after Gen. Aleksandr Lebed (1950–2002), the candidate I supported in the 1996 presidential election. He had a very strong third-place finish, and was exactly the kind of leader Russia needs. The name means “swan,” which fits the title and symbolism of the first book.

Anna Akhmatova with her husband and son

Gumilyov, the false name Boris claims for himself, Lyuba, Ivan, and Ginny when deserting Bolshevik soldiers visit them in autumn 1917. Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov (1886–1921) was a prominent poet of Russia’s Silver Age, and the husband of poet Anna Akhmatova. He was arrested and murdered by the Cheka. His son, Lev (1912–92), was a historian, anthropologist, ethnologist, and Persian translator.

Rhodes, Katrin’s awesome butler. He’s so fun to write. I created him in 2001, and named him around 2012, after Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran.

Scholl, a radical Greenwich Village doctor with an underground clinic, and a lot of courage and compassion. He was named for Sophie and Hans Scholl of the anti-Nazi White Rose group.

Tolstaya, a gymnasium teacher. Obviously after the famous Tolstoy family, titled counts who’ve produced scores of notables over the centuries.

Baryshnikova, wily orphanage girl Klarisa, whom Lena Yeltsina names her first daughter after in gratitude. As an adult, she continues using her skill at forging and double-crossing to help people with defecting. Mikhail Nikolayevich Baryshnikov (born 1948) is one of the greatest danseurs in history.

Nureyev, an interrogator in Lubyanka, named after venerable danseur Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev (1938–93).

Grinkova, the midwife who serves the fictional Russian–American farming town of Firebird Fields, Minnesota, very near Duluth. Mrs. Grinkova delivers Lyuba’s sixth, seventh, and eighth children, as well as all of Tatyana’s children. She and Ivan frequently trade sharp barbs because of their very different views on Lyuba continuing to have children with her history of high-risk pregnancies and deliveries.

In the fourth book, Mrs. Grinkova removes the husband stitches given to Nikolas and Kat’s daughter Raisa against her will. She and Raisa’s future second husband Filaret will come to her rescue near the end of the book, after husband Gustav’s most monstrous act.

Sergey Mikhaylovich Grinkov (1967–95) was the 1988 and 1994 OGM in pairs skating with his wife, Yekaterina Gordeyeva, with whom he also had four World golds, three European golds, one European silver, one World silver, one World Junior gold, and several other assorted golds and silvers. I’ll write a review of the book My Sergei sometime this year.

Aleksandr V. Popov during the 2008 Olympics, Copyright KenChong 一洲

Popov, one of creepy Basil Beriya’s fellow inmates at The Marx Center for the Crazies. He’s convinced he’s Karl Marx. Aleksandr Vladimirovich Popov (born 1971) is widely considered the greatest sprinter in swimming history. He has four OGMs, and two World Championship golds.

Nemova, another fellow inmate, who screams out the Nicene Creed nonstop. Basil is chained to the wall between these people. Aleksey Yuriyevich Nemov (born 1976) is one of the greatest gymnasts of history, with twelve Olympic medals (four of them gold), thirteen World Championship medals (five of them gold), four European Championship medals (three of them gold), and two European Team Championship golds.

House of Zubov coat of arms

Zubov, a former count, WWII Red Army hero, and young widower who moves into the Minneapolis apartment of the unhappily married Raisa and her twin Lyudmila in 1950. Raisa is instantly smitten with the handsome, polite, kind-natured Filaret, and begins dreaming of having an affair.

Filaret treats her twins Diana and Pamela much better than their father Gustav, and his respectful treatment of Raisa is night and day next to the increasingly cruel way Gustav treats her. He and Mrs. Grinkova will come to their rescue towards the end of the fourth book.

Though Zubov is a real noble surname, I also chose this name because of Dr. Nikolay Ivanovich Zubov, the subject of Chapter One of Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn’s Invisible Allies. Dr. Zubov and his wife repeatedly risked their lives to hide his writings, and suffered a lot for their association, but remained loyal allies who refused to betray their friend.

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