IWSG—Hiatused Books


It’s time for the monthly meeting of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I’ve been thinking about my hiatused projects and whether I should return to all of them, and how some of them may need to be changed.

I certainly plan to return to Green Sunrise and Justine Grown Up, the second and third books in my unexpected contemporary historical family saga. I really don’t want to believe that Little Ragdoll was meant to be the only book with these characters. There just wasn’t enough planning that went into the further volumes I decided to write. And I needed more of a break away from these people instead of immediately continuing to write about them.

I definitely want to someday resume my alternative history saga about the Whites winning the Russian Civil War and young Aleksey coming to the throne as Tsar Aleksey II in 1925. But I’m just not sure my original plan would work or feel natural. I like the idea of having it be told from the journals of five young women living in different generations, all of them affected by and knowing, or coming to know, the Tsar, and padded out with newspaper clippings.

But now that I’ve done more thinking, it seems a bit gimmicky and awkward, rather like a certain massively overrated book narrated by the Angel of Death. These five girls would not only need to know Aleksey, but also observe or know about all these historical events and things in his personal life, like his relationship with the commoner he’s finally forced to marry after refusing marriage for a long time (not wanting to risk passing on his hemophilia). It would probably be better in my regular third-person omniscient.

I had a lot of soft sci-fi/futuristic books planned out at the age of twelve, and still have all the copious notes I made for them. But a lot of them aren’t plotted stories so much as just basic ideas, more focused on various futuristic dwellings (flying city, floating city, space colony, deserted Earth, space farm) than a clear story arc.

The one I got furthest into is the one I most want to resume. That one actually has a semblance of a plot and a well-developed future society, both on Earth and in the space colony near Jupiter, in the first decade of the 31st century. I also began one set in Australia in the early 2020s, in a back-to-nature, classic-rock-worshipping, Esperanto-speaking community gone terribly wrong and creepy. That also has a solid story arc, and would probably be considered more speculative fiction or dystopia (REAL dystopia) than sci-fi.

The other one I started begins in Maine in 2050 and quickly moves to a space colony. That has potential as a story about culture clashes with the protagonist’s new best friend’s family, and the colony eventually being knocked off its orbit and floating off into space, no way of getting back to Earth or any other nearby colonies.

And then there’s one that originally was set much further into the future and with a rather different, not really scientifically accurate premise. Now I want it to be set 5 billion years into the future, as the protagonist and her family race against time to escape Earth before the Sun becomes a Red Giant. I’d like to think that humanity will still exist in 5 billion years, even if Planet Earth doesn’t escape the Sun’s evolution.

I also have an idea, similar to the one above, for something set even further into the future, when people live under giant glass domes on a desiccated Earth, lit by artificial light, the former Sun now a small White Dwarf twinkling in the night sky.

Is it worth trying to write something that’s been on hiatus for a long time, or to come up with a plot or story arc where there is none? Do I just have too many book ideas for my own good?

Cheers, Cavanaugh Blogfest


In honor of Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh, there’s a blogfest being hosted by David Powers King, Mark Koopmans, Morgan Shamy, and Stephen Tremp. The idea behind it was to thank Alex for being so supportive of so many writers and bloggers, with interviews, book promotions, guest posts, encouraging comments, and always being there for people.

In +/- 20 words, what does Alex look like?
In +/- 20 words, who could play Alex in a documentary (living or dead)?
In +/- 20 words, who does Alex remind you of?
In +/- 100 words, (excluding the title) write flash fiction using the prompts: Cavanaugh, Ninja, IWSG, Cosbolt, Guitar. 
For Bonus Points:
In +/- 40 words, leave a comment for Mrs. Cavanaugh, thanking her for sharing.
Two winners, chosen by Alex, will each win one prize:
FIRST PLACE: A signed copy of CassaStar.
GRAND PRIZE*: A picture of Alex and a download of him playing the guitar.
(*One caveat: Alex asks the picture or download NOT be shared online.)

I’m going to guess Alex has brown hair and light-colored eyes, and is of average height.

Lon Chaney, Sr., could play Alex, since he was the Man of a Thousand Faces, able to play anyone.

Alex reminds me of my rabbi and rebbetzin a bit, always supportive of people and promoting community and student events.


Arcadia had a sick feeling in her stomach as the rocket came closer to the landing pad, IWSG emblazoned on its sides.  She watched leerily as the astronauts unboarded, led by Captain Cavanaugh.  The crew included a cosbolt pilot, a ninja, and a guitar player.  Then came her father, that pathetic defector to the Nuclear side.

“You’re lucky you have both parents,” Sara said.

“Shut up.  You didn’t grow up on Earth and don’t know anything about modern life.”

“Like it or not, your parents are getting married.  Seems to me you’re stuck in this space colony indefinitely.”

“Lucky me.”


Thank you, Mrs. Cavanaugh, for sharing Alex with the writing blogosphere. Every man has a good woman behind him.

John’s Jahrzeit and Can We Guess Your Character’s Age? Blogfest

First things first. Today, 8 December, is John Lennon’s 31st Jahrzeit. For a long time I used to write about it in my journals, but embarrassingly, I haven’t journaled for the last few years. However, I have begun to journal again on and off in the top-spiral notebook I bought when I was switching my writing hand from right to left and needed something to practice my handwriting in before publicly outing myself as a lefty. (Long story short, I was in the closet about the true extent of my sinistrality till this year. I kinda always knew, but I was very confused and discouraged since I grew up writing right-handed, and many people still feel handedness is determined solely by the hand you write with, no matter you do just about everything else with your other hand.)

Anyway, John has been my official favorite Beatle since I was 17. I started strongly preferring him when I was 14, but I felt I weren’t allowed to switch favorites. I’d initially favored Paul solely because of looks, but let’s be honest, that’s a rather silly reason to pick a fave rave. So I lied to myself for a few years that I had two favorites, but as Jerry Springer often says in his Final Thought, “When you claim to love both, you truly love neither.” I now have all of his studio solo albums, though George is my favorite solo Beatle. (I’m probably the only person who’ll give you three answers or say “It depends what you mean” when asked who my favorite Beatle is!)

I feel so privileged to have been allowed to share the planet with John for even a little while. That scumbag murdered him 10 days before my first birthday, so I have no memory of being alive at the same time he was, but I still feel glad we were on the same planet for that small span of time. I even wrote the parole board a letter in the fall of 2000 when I found out that dirtbag was getting its first parole hearing. I was so upset I was shaking when I saw the disgusting news on the Beatle Brunch website on the old ’93 Mac in my first dorm room at UMass, the second floor of Chadbourne, the Native American-themed floor. Thankfully, it seems this thing will be denied parole like clockwork every two years. Let’s be honest, there’d probably instantly be a revenge killing if it were ever sprung from prison.

In honor of John’s life, here are some of his solo songs. May you rest in peace in your eternal home, and may your memory be for a blessing. The world is a better place because you were in it for 40 years and two months.

So many people look so perfect on the outside, but their insides are rotten.

This song never fails to give me chills.

The last song he recorded.


I’m also taking part in the Can We Guess Your Character’s Age? Blogfest, wherein participants post the first 250 words of a completed book or WIP and invite other participants to guess the character’s age. It’s based on voice, and tests if others think the purported age matches the character’s voice and behavior. We’re not allowed to post the title or genre, and any references to age or school grade should be taken out.

I decided to use something I’ve never posted an excerpt of before, since I’ve already shared so much from the books with my three main sets of characters. It’ll be a nice change of pace to finally use an excerpt from a standalone. This is a near-total rewrite of the original opening, which I wrote back in the fall of ’92. I worked on the manuscript on and off between 1992 and I think 1995 (at most, 1996 was the latest date I worked on it), but now I think I’m ready to get back to work on finishing it and fixing it up (but only after I finish Justine Grown Up, of course).

The protagonist’s name was originally Casey, but being the big name nerd I am, I decided I wanted something a little more memorable and standout. It’s 261 words, so I wouldn’t have to stop in the middle of a paragraph.


Arcadia MacGregor wasn’t expecting her entire life to be turned upside-down as she teleported into her house after school.

Arcadia’s mother Maura had a very serious look on her face, and Arcadia’s five-greats-grandmother Stephanie was shaking her head dismissively.  They both fixed Arcadia with a look as she walked past them.

Maura broke the ice. “Arcadia, I just phoned a psychic, and she said there’s going to be a war and that we must flee the continent!”

“She says this so-called psychic looked like a teenager,” Stephanie said. “I can’t believe she’s buying some teen fraud’s bogus predictions and planning to immediately leave.  But I’m staying.  I grew up in this home.”

“Leaving?” Arcadia asked. “But everyone we know is in St. Paul.  How could you decide to leave the continent based on what some dumb phone psychic told you?”

“I already know where we’ll go,” Maura blazed on. “Ron recently wrote me a letter in which he proposed marriage, and I accepted.  So we’re going to his space colony near Jupiter.  As soon as he gets back from his latest astronaut mission, we’ll be married.  And you know that’s also where my foster daughters Sara and Meredith live.  We’ll move into their house and give them a real family.”

“Mother!” Arcadia gasped. “I’m only telling you this for your own good, and one day you’ll thank me.  Don’t marry Ron!  I’ll be a laughingstock if my parents get married!  The 3000 Census last year said only one percent of Americans are Nuclears!  And I don’t want little sisters!”

Do these characters need new names?

The soft sci-fi/futuristic books I’ve done the most work on and have the most notes and memorized storylines for are What’s to Become of Us All? and Greentown. The latter is a book set in the future and could only be considered slightly soft sci-fi simply because it’s set in the future. It takes place in a fictional hippie community in Australia between the years 2023-26; the main character’s family came from Pennsylvania after her dad died in a mining accident. What’s to Become of Us All? spans 3001-06, and starts in St. Paul, Minnesota, and quickly moves to a space colony near Jupiter. That one has a plot too tied up in that stupid “Single moms by choice rock and ‘Nuclears’ suck and deserve discrimination!” crap to be entirely rewritten. When I get back to it, I’m going to have to restyle it as a sort of Brave New World or We-style dystopia, and show the resulting culture clash that comes when the protagonist leaves Earth and discovers people living in outer space mostly have nuclear families and don’t think it’s the best thing since sliced bread to be a single mom by choice and deliberately shun the mere idea of dating or having sex.

But I’m thinking the protagonists of these hiatused books might need more stand-out names. I already decided to change the name of the protagonist of Undersea World from Bella to Ghisolabella, because of a certain franchise that’s now made that name even more insanely trendy and overused. I was so embarrassed when I looked back on my notes and discovered her name wasn’t Bella by itself. It was a nickname for Witchabella. Well, I was only 12 years old when I came up with the idea for this book. I guess it was a good thing I had such a fertile imagination.

The protagonist of Greentown is named Terri, and her little sisters are Nikki and Vikki. I’ve got another Vikki in my Atlantic City books (Cinni’s granddaughter through her firstborn daughter Anastasia), a Viktoriya in my Russian novels, and a Victoria as the protagonist of the hiatused A Spacey Kind of Fun, which starts in the year 2050. The lattermost Victoria is called V.J., since I was just obsessed with initial names as a preteen. I think I’ll have to just call her Victoria or Vickie when I get back to it. I’m not against initial names, but too many of them can be really annoying, esp. if the person or character already has a perfectly fine full name.

Nikki’s not so bad as a character name if it’s not a main character, and if it can be short for something like Nicoletta or Nicolina, to be a little different. But the name Terri is just kinda there. The protagonist of WTBOUA? is named Casey. I’ve got nothing against either name, nor against people bearing those names, but when you’re talking about the shero of a book (as opposed to a secondary character), it seems you’d want something a little more uncommon, something to stand out. I’ve used plenty of established classics for characters over the years (e.g., Katherine, Elizabeth, and Mary in their various forms, the abovementioned Victoria, Sara[h], Jozef, Samuel, Peter, Philip, and Robert), but Terri and Casey still seem kinda nondescript when it comes to book characters.

My taste in names tends towards the classical eccentric and classical unusual styles, with names like Octavia, Justine, Eulalia, Ernestine, Oliver, Iolanthe, Wolfgang, Yseult, Bertrand, Claudius, Edgar, Felix, Herman, Gemma, Galatea, Ivy, Livia, Leopold, Lysander, those sorts of names. A name that really stands out (in a good way) helps to ensure a character is remembered for a long time to come. As fine, solid, and established as a name like Mary or John is, it’s so common it’s going to take a lot to get the character to really stand out. And since becoming a serious name nerd in 2002, when I started discovering reputable naming sites (not the crappy ones claiming Heaven spelt backwards is “Slavic” for “beautiful sparkly butterfly fairy princess”), I’ve found so many great names for my characters, and other names I’ve got reserved for future ones. I even learnt many of the so-called meanings in the old baby names pamphlet I used to use were dead wrong, sometimes hilariously so.

Casey starts out as a spoilt 13-year-old mall rat who cares more about gossip, boys, fads, and fashion than anything substantial. She’s pretty damn vain and unlikeable. Her mother’s foster twins M.J. and S.J. (who will be called by their real names, Meredith and Sara, when I return to the book) are actually more sympathetic, even though I was trying to write them as annoying little brats who dared to contradict Casey about everything and do things differently than Her Highness. I suppose a name like Casey could fit a character like that, since, let’s be honest, certain names have certain stereotypes and associations. The name Casey, in all its spelling variations, does seem to be associated with teen girls who frequent the mall and follow trends targeted to teens instead of serious students, Goths, romantics, or other types of stereotypes other names have.

But it’s just not the type of name I’d give to a character were I thinking up and starting that story now. When I was 12, I didn’t have a huge store of names to draw from, so I tended to pick names I already knew. I don’t want to give her a name conjuring up a completely opposite type of personality, like Calantha, Minerva, Zoraida, Sophronia, or Viviana, but it would be nice to find another name that comes across with a bit more personality and memorability. The name goes for Terri in Greentown.

First Campaigner Challenge

The First Campaigner Challenge in Rachael Harrie’s ongoing Platform-Building Campaign is to write a story of 200 words or less starting with the line “The door swung open.” Extra credit is given for ending with the line “The door swung shut” and using exactly 200 words. I never ever got into short stories and could only write them if I used pre-existing characters and made short bonus adventures for them outside the books I’d already featured them in. Writing in the short form has always felt far too limiting for me. I thought about using my character Casey MacGregor (female) in one of my hiatused soft sci-fi books, so at least I’d have a character I know a bit about but still don’t know nearly as intimately as my other characters. Then I decided to make it more challenging and use a character I’ve never worked with before, to remove any sense of cheating.

Undersea World is one of my soft sci-fi/futuristic books I have notes for but never actually began. It begins in Boston in the year 2998, and the main character, her mother, her four siblings, and their Boston Terrier Saturn (the name I always wanted to use if I got a dog of that breed) move to an undersea community with houses made of coral. The father was caught having a relationship with another woman, hence the reason for the drastic move. (My original notes say he “turned sick” by having this relationship, as this was still that loony period when I [at twelve years old] truly believed planned single motherhood was the wave of the future and that no one would have romantic or sexual relationships anymore, once they realized how superior it was to have a world where children are created by sperm bank and only a small minority of “Nuclears” [as in nuclear family] resist such normal, socially correct behavior. In my mind, it’s been changed to a normal married man having an affair. I got too far into the book featuring Casey to write out that aspect without destroying much of the essence of the plot and the future world I created, so I figure I’ll just rework it to be a dystopian society similar to the one in Brave New World, where children are born without sex and the idea of falling in love is laughed at and seen as gross and abnormal. The society she encounters when she and her mother move to a space colony near Jupiter in the year 3001 is much different, and Casey can’t understand why these people would live as though it’s a thousand years ago.)

Anyway, for the flash fiction challenge, I decided to use these characters I’d never worked with before. Originally, the main character’s name was supposed to be Bella, but thanks to the Twilight franchise, that name is now unusable for me as any main character. I changed it to Ghisolabella, a name I first encountered in The Divine Comedy and have loved ever since. I don’t think what I came up with is that great, since I’m out of my element in the short form, but I got it to be 200 words exactly and to begin and end with the proper phrases.

The door swung open and Ghisolabella went in search of Saturn’s raincoat.  As she was going through the closet, she found a strange pink raincoat.  She knew it couldn’t belong to her mother, since Mrs. Cummings hated pink.  Then she heard odd noises coming from her parents’ room and decided to investigate.  On her way down the hallway, she was hit by a very strong odor of perfume.

For a minute she wondered if her older brother might’ve snuck a girlfriend home and decided to dishonor their parents’ bed, but figured he had to know enough to do such things in his own room and not risk even more trouble by choosing their parents’ room.

Ghisolabella screamed when she saw her father coupling with a strange woman, dropping Saturn’s leash.  The strange woman pulled away from Mr. Cummings and ran into a corner to hide.

“What are you doing!” Ghisolabella demanded. “How long has this been going on?”

“It’s not what it seems.  I didn’t intend to get a mistress.  But after fifteen years and five kids, it’s normal to want a change of scenery.  Can you keep this secret?”

Ghisolabella ran away shaking uncontrollably and the door swung shut.