November IWSG—Back to last year’s NaNo book


The Insecure Writer’s Support Group convenes the first Wednesday of the month. Participants share their worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears.

This month, the IWSG question is:

What is your favorite aspect of being a writer?

As a historical writer, I absolutely love the rich research which comes with the territory. I also love bringing these bygone worlds to life, virtually travelling to so many places, and living vicariously through my characters.

It might surprise some, since my “getting ready” routine consists of throwing on clothes, packing up whatever I’m bringing with me, and going out, but I particularly enjoy researching and writing about vintage clothes, shoes, hats, even makeup. In so doing, I’m living vicariously through characters who represent a type of woman I know I’ll never be.


I decided to switch gears re: which book to rebel with during NaNo. For quite awhile, my pace on my primary WIP had slowed to a crawl, and I just wasn’t feeling very inspired. Maybe it’s because the flashback Part II ended up way longer than I’d predicted, or maybe I’d been with these characters for too long of a stretch.

It also would’ve been a logistical nightmare to calculate daily and overall wordcount, and copy and paste the material into the validator, since I’d be writing out of order, editing, fleshing-out, and deleting text which needs replaced with actual narration instead of serving as wraparound filling in the blanks.

I tried going back to my fourth Russian historical on 30 October, and the difference was just amazing. I wrote over 1,000 words in just two 20-minute sprints, and knew the decision had been made. Last NaNo wasn’t the best time to begin that book, even though I did write 71K. As a result, I hadn’t touched it since 30 December.

I copied and pasted the rest of Chapter 14 into a new file, to which will be added each new chapter file to be written during November. So much easier to calculate wordcount that way!


I’m also thrilled to have discovered some unplanned secondary characters. I wanted to give Sonyechka, Lyuba and Ivan’s next-youngest child, a fellow outcast friend at her new school. All I knew was that she was Catholic, and thus the only other non-Protestant at that school. Then I looked up countries with a high Catholic percentage, outside of obvious ones like Poland, France, and Italy.

I thought she was all Croatian at first, but then I decided to give her a Croatian father and Serbian mother. Her name is Kleopatra Novak, and she’s my latest left-handed character. Her family just immigrated from Banja Luka, Bosnia, and survived the horrors of the fascist Ustashi régime in the puppet Independent State of Croatia.

Kleopatra’s father is an archaeology professor who survived Jasenovac, and her mother is a surgeon who served with the partisans. Kleopatra and her older brother were hidden by a Bosnian Muslim family. Prof. Novak is a perfect patient for Lyuba and Ivan’s son-in-law Andrey, a future psychiatrist who wants to heal people traumatized by the war.

I do hope once again to be a NaNo overachiever, but at a realistic overachieving wordcount. I can’t stand the humble-braggers who say things like, “I was so lazy yesterday and only wrote 30,000 words!” or “I really failed NaNo because I only wrote 700K instead of a million.”

Are you doing NaNo? Did you ever change your mind last-minute re: what you were going to work on? Ever started working on a book you came to realize wasn’t the right thing to write at that time? How long did it take to go back? Ever discovered unplanned characters?

P.S.: I recently wrote a guest blog for 4thWaveNow, “Transing the dead: The erasure of gender-defiant role models from history.” It discusses the ridiculous new trend of declaring women like Joan of Arc, Radclyffe Hall, and George Eliot were really men, and that men like Prince and David Bowie really had to be women.

WeWriWa—Luiza’s Halloween costume



Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m continuing this month’s Halloween theme with a snippet from a bit later in the first Halloween chapter of my fourth Russian historical. This part of the chapter is back in Manhattan, as Igor goes to pick up his cousin Luiza for an NYU Halloween party up in the Bronx.

Igor is dressed as a Renaissance artist, with a genuine antique shashka sword his great-uncle the prince loaned him for a prop. The sword came from his great-uncle’s paternal grandfather, who served in the Russian Caucasian Corps. While he’s in his stepaunt’s house to pick up Luiza, his younger brother Ilya (his Irish twin) and Ilya’s girlfriend Milada, both dressed as pirates, are cuddling in the car.

Before Luiza heads out to the car, her mother tells her she’s not going to use the party as an excuse to meet men. Luiza nods but doesn’t say anything.


As soon as she heads out the door with Igor, she pulls off her golden sweater and stuffs it into the golden purse attached to her waist.

“I’m not covering my arms up to the elbow just because my parents think it’s indecent to wear shoulder straps at a mixed party.  There’s no point in dressing like an Ancient Egyptian woman if I’m just going to wear some stupid sweater hiding the top part of my gown.”

Igor averts his eyes when he catches Ilya and Milada kissing in the backseat, pressed up against one another for dear life and running their hands through one another’s hair.  Luiza ignores them and gets into the passenger seat, where she pulls off her golden flats and exchanges them for a pair of golden sandals in her purse.

“I hope you’re not too cold,” Igor says. “Even a nice Halloween costume shouldn’t come before dressing warmly.”

“I’ll be fine.  A little chill is my price to pay for fashion.”


The great Theda Bara as Cleopatra

WeWriWa—An Unusual Delivery

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, where participants share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. Today’s excerpt comes from Chapter 41, “Roman’s Legacy,” of my current WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest. It’s January 1938, and young widow Inessa Zyuganova has gone into labor with her third child. Since she’s consistently measured smaller than normal and had concerning heart tones, along with her traumatic injuries and resulting pain relief drugs, she’s elected to birth in a hospital for the first time.

The receptionist is flabbergasted at how she’s brought company for the delivery room, and a midwife in addition to a doctor. Dr. Scholl, Inessa’s very progressive doctor, makes the situation clear to the receptionist in no uncertain terms. He moved away from hospital practice in large part because he didn’t agree with the non-evidence-based obstetrics that came into vogue during the twilight sleep era.


“This is a proper modern hospital.  We don’t have old-country midwives here.  No woman in her right mind would see both a doctor and midwife.”

“Mrs. Kuzmitch has been in practice for thirty-five years.  After she came to this country, she received formal training at the Bellevue Hospital School for Midwives and later took additional classes at Manhattan Midwifery School.  Now my patient, her nurse and midwife, and her friends are going to go into the room she’s booked.  Doctors get final say in what goes on in the delivery room.  Spinster receptionists don’t.”

WeWriWa—Dr. Scholl

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, where participants share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. Today’s excerpt comes from Chapter 37, “Storm Before the Calm,” of my current WIP. Inessa, her children, her youngest cousin, and her youngest adoptive sister have finally arrived in America in August of 1937, and moved into the now rather crowded old family apartment above the restaurant where two of her cousins have been working since they came to America in 1934.

At her old friends’ insistence, Inessa has invited over both longtime community midwife Mrs. Kuzmitch and a very progressive doctor who now does much of his work underground. Her old friend Vera serves as her translator. Given her traumatic injuries, and the morphine, Prontosil (an early antibiotic), and codeine she’s had, she’s considering using a hospital for the third child she’s expecting. But before the consultation can begin, Dr. Scholl, who also appeared in my second Russian novel, wants to see her leg wound. This has been tweaked a bit to fit 8 sentences.

I gave Dr. Scholl that name in honor of Sophie and Hans Scholl of the anti-Nazi White Rose movement.


“How are you today, Mrs. Zyuganova?” Dr. Scholl asks, extending his hand. “As I’m a doctor first and a specialist in women’s reproductive health second, I’d like to get a look at this wounded leg before asking any questions about this pregnancy.”

“Tell him to remove those damn bullet shards,” Inéssa says as she rolls over. “They’re probably what’s causing me so much extended pain.”

Dr. Scholl opens one of his bags and removes several bottles, gauze, medical tape, long tweezers, cotton swabs, saline solution, and a small flashlight.  Véra explains to Inéssa that some of the bullet fragments are poking through the still-healing wound, and that Dr. Scholl can see a number of others inside the wound.  Inéssa closes her eyes as she feels Dr. Scholl rubbing a numbing agent on and around the wound, followed by the vague sensation of tweezers entering her skin over and over.  After the wound has been washed out with saline and the blood rubbed off, Dr. Scholl wraps it in dressing and tapes it in place.

Secondary Characters Bloghop

Secondary Characters

Rachel Schieffelbein is hosting The Secondary Characters Bloghop in honor of the release of her book Secondary Characters. Winners will receive critiques from Theresa Paolo, Kelley Lynn, Jessica Salyer, Jenny Morris, and Suzi Retzlaff. Kelley and Cassie Mae will also pick a winner to receive either a signed copy of Kelley’s recently-released Fraction of Stone or an e-copy of Reasons I Fell for the Funny Fat Friend.

One of my favorite secondary characters is the Fool in King Lear. Everyone in my English AP class loved him, even the teacher, and none of us could understand why Shakespeare wrote him out midway through and didn’t do more with him. He was great comic relief in such an otherwise heavy story. Years later, when I was introduced to Akira Kurosawa’s incredible Ran, I was really excited to see that the Fool had a much more important role and didn’t just disappear without explanation.

I freaking love Monsieur l’Abbé T. in the classic French Enlightenment novel Thérèse Philosophe, which is classified as philosophical pornography in Robert Darnton’s Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France. Basically, it’s an erotic novel advocating Enlightenment philosophy in between all the various forms of sexual activity, both coupled and solo. This priest is on fire in every scene he’s in! He’s got guts to utter lines like:

“Everyone agrees that God knows what will occur throughout eternity.  But, they say, even before he knows what the results of our actions will be, he has foreseen that we will betray his grace and commit these same acts.  Thus, with this foreknowledge, God, in creating us, knew in advance that we would be eternally damned and eternally miserable.”

“We read in the good book that God has sent his prophets to warn mankind and to exhort it to change its behaviour.  But God, who is all-knowing, knew very well that men would not change their behaviour.  The Holy Scriptures suppose, thus, that God is a cheat and a trickster.  Can these ideas be reconciled with the certitude we have of the infinite goodness of God?”

Monsieur l’Abbé T., however, never wins over Thérèse’s dear older friend Madame C. with his frequent arguments in favor of coitus interruptus. Madame C. almost died in childbirth and isn’t willing to risk that happening ever again. At one point she almost gives in, but then he’s the one arguing for abstention. Madame C. totally calls him on how one of his reasons involves self-flattery, saying he loves her and is too much of a gentleman to subject her to the risk of scandal! “Your second reason is so compelling you actually needn’t have bothered to flatter yourself with the first.”

Finally, I loved the gentle puppeteer Amici Enfanti in the late Ida Vos’s The Key Is Lost, one of her middle grade-level books based on her experience in WWII Holland. Amici Enfanti is a family friend of protagonist Eva and her little sister Lisa, and the girls are delighted to be taken to his house as their final hiding place. He tells them to call him Mr. Ami, since ami is French for friend.

Lisa lost her doll Freekie, whom Mr. Ami made for her before the war, and he was so upset to hear of this that he immediately set to work making Freekie Two. He tells the girls that puppeteers have a special kind of magic that protects children, which I’ve always remembered. Vrouw Vos’s books are among the most unforgettable I’ve ever read, able to recall so many details years later, but that’s one of the things that’s stuck out most to me.

During the brutal Hongerwinter of 1944-45, when the Dutch people were eating tulip bulbs and sugar beets to survive, Mr. Ami went hungry so the girls could survive. He had to be forced to start eating again when another adult discovered what was going on. And after the Canadians liberate Holland, he continues taking care of the girls till the railroad system is repaired and their parents are able to retrieve them.