IWSG—Lagging productivity

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group convenes the first Wednesday of the month. Participants share their worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears. I forgot to post last month, due to A to Z taking precedence, and travelling to NYC for my rabbi’s oldest daughter’s wedding.

This month, the IWSG question is:

What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

I absolutely love research! Special favourites include vintage clothes, advertisements, childbirth, food, and slang. I also love looking at street maps to see where everything is in my settings. Other topics include what it’s like to be an amputee, Orthodox Christianity, and 1940s prosthetics.

After realising all my Russian male characters would’ve been uncircumcised, I did secondhand research on what it feels like to have intercourse with a guy like that. I wanted that level of authenticity in my sex scenes.

I technically won Camp NaNo, but this is NOT my best work. My productivity levels are normally so much higher. I had to lower my goal from 50K to 35K to 20K, and only broke even on Day 23. There were a few days early on when I didn’t write at all, though I still took screenshots of each day’s final progress when I did write. I like having that record.

Mitigating factors included the eight days of Pesach, my flagging mental health, my wrecked sleep cycles, and starting to make plans to move home to Pittsburgh against my parents’ insistence I join them in South Carolina for a few months. I’ve been stuck in this unhealthy holding pattern for far too long, and even my 17-year-old spider plant Kalanit is suffering.

I’m really unhappy with an unplanned subplot regarding Katya and Dmitriy’s new friends Dagmara (Marusya) and her husband Sima (Zosim). It started out so well, but developed far too quickly, and feels detached, like it’s just dumped in there instead of naturally-connected. It also feels very deus ex machina, in spite of its great potential.

When I read back over my first Russian historical in 2011, nine years after I’d last had access to it, I was so impressed at how expertly I’d woven all these storylines together and then finally linked them all up. The stories of the orphanage girls (esp. the Lebedeva sisters and Inessa) and Lena Yeltsina’s family are an integral part of the overall story, not just thrown in there every few chapters without any lead-in or foreshadowing.

However, I’m a lot happier with one of my other unplanned secondary characters, former Marine Captain Nestor Sevastyanovich Ugolnikov. I originally planned to give him to Bogdana Sheltsova, but then I realised he’s a much better match with Yustina Yeltsina-Baronova. But first, he has to overcome his belief that no woman would want a guy who’s missing a leg.

(FYI: You NEVER call someone “an ex-Marine”! It’s always “former Marine.” Semper fi means something!)

I also finally have a new cover for Little Ragdoll. My artist kept it based on the original reference photo. There was an odd technical issue, where Amazon wouldn’t accept the cover’s size, and the enlarged files she sent me kept being read as too small and the same size as before. I finally had to go onto my older computer to resize it myself in Gimp.

Writing about vintage candy (and other sweets)

I’ve always had a major sweet tooth, and love writing scenes with ice-cream, candy, chocolate, sundaes, and baked goods. It’s particularly fun to research vintage candies and sweets, and to create characters with a sweet tooth. My Cinnimin has a particularly intense sweet tooth, and is frequently shown indulging it. Her habit of keeping a bag of candy under her bed and in her purse must’ve been influenced by Claudia in The Baby-Sitters’ Club.

Here are some of the vintage candy ads and dessert recipes I’ve collected, with accompanying excerpts.
Dubble Bubble

1940:

Cinni bought the biggest container of popcorn, along with three chocolate egg creams, ten Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, a giant rainbow-swirl lolly, and a large bag of Dubble Bubble.  Max and Harry got popcorn, egg creams, and a big bag of Tootsie Rolls.  Sparky could only look at all the wonderful candy and treats, imagining what they must taste like.  This might not be a grand movie palace like she’d gotten used to, but it was hardly some hole in the wall.

Chiffon pie

1940:

Cinni went around to all the baskets of free samples, taking the biggest pieces and digging for crumbs.  A few of the samples were those dreaded, boring, adult sweets like lemon cookies, almond cake, and maple walnut rolls, but almost everything else pleased her palate—thumbprint cookies, chocolate chip bread, blueberry crumb cake, apricot coffeecake, chocolate cookies, cinnamon buns, raspberry bars, hot cross buns, brownies, cupcakes, chocolate éclairs, cherry danishes, fudge, macaroons, meringues, doughnuts, and cookies and cupcakes made to look like cartoon characters and sporting balls.

Strawberry meringue cake

1940:

With the house all to themselves, mostly, Babs and Cinni lay on the living room davenport listening to the radio.  When lunchtime came, Babs went into the kitchen and made them sandwiches with peanut butter, hot fudge, caramel sauce, and marshmallow crème.  She set them on a tray, then added two extra-large glasses of fruit punch with lots of sugar stirred in.

“What are you doing home from school so early?” Mr. Filliard asked when he ran across Babs on her way back to the living room. “I thought I heard the radio in the background, but I assumed it was your mother or aunt, or even that kooky Jasper.”

“Oh, Cinni didn’t feel well, and I took her home.  It’s not a big deal.  She’ll be better by tomorrow.”

“In that case, bring her some sweets.  I won’t hear of my pet child not having her every want catered to when she’s ill.” Mr. Filliard loaded up the tray with fudge, chocolate chip cookies, cherry pie, chocolate doughnuts, and strawberry danishes.

Grape LS

1939:

This is yours,” Barry said, extending a large basket. “I’ve never given mishloach manot to Gentiles before, but everyone in your family deserves one for being so good to us.  Without your father, we’d still be in Europe, with God knows what kind of future.”

Cinni returned the smile and eagerly took the basket.  She headed back to the davenport with it, and delightedly discovered oranges, hamentaschen, saltwater taffy, gumdrops, chocolate-covered peanuts, a bottle of grape pop, and five silver dollars.

“I packed that one just for you,” Barry said, smiling at her again. “I know what a sweet tooth you have.  You’d never be happy with the mishloach manot we made for your parents and siblings.”

Black Crows candy

1938:

Sparky stood back as Cinni, Violet, Tina, and Babs rang the bell and held out their pillowcases.  The woman who answered the door bent down for a large pail of candy and gave each girl a 5th Avenue bar, 3 Musketeers, Tootsie Rolls, and Snickers bars.  Sparky was a little hungry when she saw all the candy they were getting just for putting on costumes and showing up at someone’s house.

GPC vintage

1922:

Ivan comes home to laundry strung through the apartment, the smell of chicken dumpling soup, baby cries, two strangers in his living room, and his fiancée lying unresponsive on the davenport, a cold compress on her forehead.

“Papa, I’m very hungry,” Tatyana announces. “Did you buy me candy after you left work?  I didn’t eat any lunch.”

In a daze, Ivan opens his metal lunchpail and hands her two Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, with the wrappers open for her convenience. “Can someone care to explain to me what in the world happened today?”

Whitman's 1944

1942:

Yuriy turns into the first ice-cream parlor that appears and finds a green corner booth that almost matches his uniform.  He translates the menu for Inga, and she orders a sundae with chocolate ice-cream, hot fudge, cherries, and crushed candy bars, with an orange egg cream.  Yuriy orders a humbler strawberry ice-cream float.

Orange LS

1933:

Inside the theatre, Vsevolod gets Nadezhda a chocolate ice-cream soda with a cherry and whipped cream on top, and gets himself buttered, salted popcorn.  He wishes he could try all the candy on display to make up for twenty-six years of subsisting on reindeer meat, root vegetables, winter berries, and bread.

Writing about vintage bathing suits

Though I’ve always been proudly tomboyish and didn’t get a taste for clothes shopping till age 26, I really enjoy describing vintage clothes in my books. Clothes from previous decades are so fun. Since I love the beach, I particularly enjoy writing about vintage bathing suits. It’s also a perfect post topic for summer.

Here are some pictures of bathing suits from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, with accompanying excerpts.

Silver_Sheet_January_01_1923_-_GALLOPING_FISH.pdf

1923:

“Why would Katya show her bare ankles in public?” Anastasiya asks in horror. “It’s bad enough she sometimes wears pants and skirts showing her lower legs, even covered by heavy stockings.”

“I’ll be showing my ankles on Long Island and Coney Island, after I get back from my honeymoon.  Isn’t this a wonderful bathing suit Maarja got me?” Katrin giddily holds up a peacock green satin swimsuit, without the sleeves, long skirts, and wool fabric they’re accustomed to.

“Oh my goodness, it goes clear up to nearly your waist!”

“It reaches my thigh, dolt.  It’s not nearly as revealing as Annette Kellerman’s swimsuit, outlining her legs and crotch.  This is modern without being too scandalous.  Besides, I want to swim instead of sitting on the shore looking beautiful.”

Bathing_Beach_1920

1923:

Out on the beach, Anastasiya draws stares and loud gales of laughter due to her outdated bathing dress, a heavy black wool outfit with a hemline falling to her ankles and sleeves extending past her elbows.  It’s painfully severe and old-fashioned even by the standards of the typical bathing dress.  No matter what, Anastasiya refuses to show her ankles and elbows in public.  Her few concessions to practicality are her lack of bathing stockings, lace-up bathing slippers, and a cap.  Katrin meanwhile enjoys the flirting glances of other men, even though she has a wedding ring and is starting to become visibly pregnant.  Kittey, Viktoriya, Alya, and Anya also have modern, lightweight bathing suits which allow them to move freely and actually swim, while Kat, Eliisabet, and Lyuba have more demure bathing dresses, made of satin, with shoulder-length sleeves and hemlines just covering their knees.

The four men have the normal black tank tops falling to their mid-thighs, over snug-fitting shorts, made of ribbed cotton.  Ivan typically has the most conservative bathing suit, paranoid he’ll be arrested for indecency if the wind or water clings to him too tightly or blows anything out of place.  He’s also made sure his top isn’t loose and that the sleeves are as relatively long as possible, so no one will see any of the thirty whiplash scars still emblazoned all over his back.  The children meanwhile are running and toddling about in homemade bathing suits, unburdened by worries of looking either fashionable or immodest.

1930s bathing suits

1938:

The last day of August, Cinni got freshened up to go down to the beach, and then strutted around admiring herself in her red bathing suit.  She’d scored a particular coup in finagling her father to let her buy and wear a two-piece bathing suit.  Even if it didn’t show anything past what a normal bathing suit did, she loved the daring feeling of wearing two separate pieces.

1940s swimsuits

1945:

Darya climbs out of the pool first and slips into her blue rubber sandals.  She looks down at her red, white, and blue swimsuit, with a loose swing skirt instead of the tighter skirts her bathing suits have always had.  When she doesn’t have much of a body yet, a tighter skirt would only serve to accentuate everything she doesn’t have.  She already needs to have a swimsuit tie so the extra material doesn’t flop around.  The other three also have swimsuits with loose skirts.  Halina has a white swimsuit decorated with medium pink roses, Maja has a solid blue swimsuit, and Oliivia has a red two-piece swimsuit with white polka-dots.  Just two short months ago, none of them dreamt they’d have enough flesh on their bones or feel strong enough to wear swimsuits and go swimming.

I'm_conserving_wool,_this_bathing_suit's_painted_on.,_ca._1943_-_ca._1943_-_NARA_-_535701.tif

1946:

Yuriy walks back and forth through the men’s swimsuit section several times before finally settling on a bright blue piece, with enough fabric to ensure modesty.  He steps into the changing room to try it on, and feels satisfied when it’s nice and loose.  The last thing he wants is to have his masculine reflex paying a call when he’s out of the water.  Inga would be so horrified and offended she might never speak or write to him ever again.

1940s swimsuits ad

Yuriy gives thanks for the roomy fabric when he sees Inga in her bathing suit, a simple navy blue and white plaid style with ruching and a long swing skirt.  He’s never seen her body outlined so much before, and is already imagining what she looks like underneath.  This’ll sure help with all those dreams he has about taking her to bed.

2015 in review, Part II (Writing and life)

My biggest writing accomplishment this year was finally finishing the first draft of Journey Through a Dark Forest on 13 March. I still can’t believe it ended up at 891K, when my guesstimate going in was only 500K. Thankfully, it beautifully worked out so each of the four Parts reads like its own self-contained story, with a focus on different characters and storylines. If I had to, I could put it out as four volumes, making clear this is one book instead of four different books. After the first edit, it now stands at 876K.

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This was such an amazingly beautiful sight. I was starting to feel a bit under the weather when I finished, so I waited until the 19th to reward myself with my third lobe piercings. This was my first ear piercing with needles instead of that disgusting, dangerous mall gun, and the long, slow healing process has been completely worth it. After the traumatic experience with my seconds, this was so healing. I’d still like a fourth lobe piercing on my left ear (the bigger ear), but I’m going to wait awhile given how long it’s taken to fully heal my thirds.

IMG_2653

I really couldn’t have done this without my soundtrack! I always give credit where credit is due, particularly since I’ve been out of the closet as a Duranie for so long now. What finally pushed me out of the closet during 2012 was my realization that there were so many parallels between Duran Duran and The Monkees, my first musical love. I always defend The Monkees when haters deride them as not a real band and accuse their fans of being nothing but overgrown teenyboppers, so why should this be any different?

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The next big thing was completing what turned out to be the penultimate major edit of the book formerly known as The Very First, doing a near-complete rewrite and restructuring of the book formerly known as The Very Next, and getting a bit over the halfway point in the major rewrite and restructuring of the book formerly known as The Very Last.

I realized better late than never that TVF didn’t have a chapter about the famous (if overhyped) War of the Worlds scare, and so I began a new chapter between the chapters about Violet’s birthday and Halloween. Yes, the true extent of the scare has been much overhyped in the decades since, but many people really were terrified, and it was a very real fear based on the overall foreboding atmosphere of the times. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re writing a book set during 1938, you should include that in at least some way, just as it’s a pretty big omission to not mention the influenza pandemic in a book set during 1918–20.

I took TVN from a 24,000-word unstructured hot mess to an actual novel-length story of 75,000 words. That’s kind of on the long side for one of my Atlantic City books and typically a sign of being overwritten, but in this case, the length works beautifully for the story it became. It’s still a largely episodic story, with an ensemble cast, but now it’s more focused on the right characters and storylines, with an actual arc and structure. Maybe 20%, if that, of the original material remains. Creating the third draft really was like writing the book all over again.

TVL started out as about 36,000 words, and is currently up to almost 65,000. Though it’s still been given the radical rewriting and restructuring the other two books got, I have relatively less work to do with this one. Of all four prequel books, it by far has the strongest writing and most focused storylines, and was the volume I had the most fun writing. When I get back to it, my guesstimate is around 100K, perhaps shorter, depending upon how many new words need put in vs. how much original clutter needs taken out or radically rewritten.

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I did a few more edits and polishings of The Twelfth Time, and brought it down to 398K so far. This is a huge accomplishment, since I started out thinking I’d bring it from 406K to 400K. I also did some unexpected revising (nothing too major) of You Cannot Kill a Swan for its third edition. Once I get a revamped cover for a fourth edition, I’m hoping to do some kind of belated book tour and better marketing.

I started my fourth volume with my Russian characters, A Dream Deferred, and it currently sits at around 80K. Surprisingly, some of the chapters have been below my normal standards for short in my Russian historicals, coming in at the 2,000/3,000 range instead of the 4,000/5,000 range I consider short for these books.

I did a lot of work on my alternative history, and it’s approaching the 175K mark. Most of what I have left to do are a few more chapters (including some unfinished ones I left to get back to) in Parts II and III, and the majority of Part IV.

I did a minor, final edit of And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth, which I’m planning to release early in 2016.

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I finally got back into two of my hiatused hobbies, silent film and body modification. I really have no excuse for why I went so long without actively pursuing my love of silent cinema, except that I got into a bad habit thanks to my ex hijacking my Netflix queue and bumping down all the classic films I’d added long before I was involved with him. I also don’t have cable anymore, so I can’t watch the silents TCM shows. The list crawled along for the last few years, and in this year, it’s jumped from 931 to 999. Onwards and upwards to my long-awaited milestone of 1,000 silent films!

After getting my third lobes on 19 March, I got my left rook done on 14 August, my right conch done on 30 September, and my navel done on 24 November. I have an appointment for lucky #11 on 5 January, for something I’ve wanted since I was 17 or 18. If I’m not anatomically suited to this piercing, I’ll get my tragus done instead.

29 December made it 20 years since I discovered my favoritest writer, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn! May his beautiful memory be for an eternal blessing, and may his amazing soul rest in peace.

2015 marked 15 years since I became a serious Who fan and declared them as my favoritest band. I’m still proud to be a Who Rottweiler, the nickname Pete gave to the female fans. This year also was my baby Kalanit (my spider plant)’s 15th birthday.

September IWSG—New editions and covers

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

It’s time for the September edition of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, which meets the first Wednesday of every month to commiserate over worries, fears, doubts, and struggles.

I recently put out the third edition of You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan, stripped as promised of all those unnecessary accent aigus I included in Russian words and names for the last 19 years. (As I’ve explained, I think it started as misguided overcompensation for how inaccurately I transliterated certain letters when I’d just learnt the Russian alphabet at thirteen.) I then had to put accent aigus back in French loanwords, like fiancée, ingénue, and soirée.

I believe very strongly in hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence), and as embarrassing as it is that I barely sold any copies and haven’t sold anything since November, it really seems like Hashem were protecting me. During the edit I did while running the book through Kindle Preview, I came across a couple of typos and some formatting errors I never caught. Mind you, I don’t want to give the impression that the book was riddled with them, but there were a few things. Thankfully, I have several older versions to check back on, as well as the original-originals still on disks.

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A lot of bizarre things happened to the manuscript as a result of an unnecessary conversion from Pages to Word 2003 to Pages 5.0 to Pages and Word 2003. I thought I’d caught and added back in all the missing/messed-up words and lines, but a handful had slipped through. I also changed a few lines of dialogue to sound less “As you know, Bob” and reflect my greater familiarity with the Imperial Family’s history, particularly in regards to Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich, the pretended Emperor in Exile. (His claim was disputed for numerous reasons, and almost no one in the family supported or even liked him.)

The second edition, if you’re wondering, didn’t involve any big changes like that. It just changed the title Tsarevich to Tsesarevich. I have a future post on the differences between the titles Tsarevich, Tsesarevich, Tsarevna, Tsesarevna, and Tsaritsa. No Russian ever referred to his or her heir as “Tsarevich,” even though that title is more common in the English-speaking world.

Tsesarevich headline

I’m hoping to finally hear back from a potential new cover artist sometime within this month, and will issue a fourth edition with a revamped cover. (This artist is definitely legit, but has recently indicated she’s quite in arrears with messages.) I’m definitely proud of the cover I drew with oil pastels, wax pastels, and colored pencils (both wax and oil). I’ve come a long way in my evolution as an artist (particularly in regards to human figures), and I’ve always loved to draw. However, I really feel I might sell more copies with something more professional.

If the price is right, and I like the potential revamped cover enough, I may ask the artist to do a cover for The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks, which is now going through its final major edit. It’s mostly just removing infodumpesque dialogue and unnecessarily excess verbiage at this point. I decided I’d like to still release it this year after all, in spite of my almost zero sales.

I’ve been seeing a lot of blog posts lately saying cover reveals, release day blitzes, and book tours aren’t as exciting or successful as they used to be. A lot of people complain they’re tired of seeing the same book or writer featured on multiple posts a day, or in a very short time period. Have any of you actually experienced a significant uptick in sales because of a book tour or cover reveal/release day party? I’m kind of afraid of once again getting astronomically more congratulations than actual sales, plus the risk of annoying people who already don’t like those posts.