IWSG—September odds and sods


It’s time for another meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The first Wednesday of each month, we share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears.

This month’s question is:

How do you define success as a writer? Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?

As I’ve said many a time, though my dream is to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and my secondary dream is to win the Sydney Taylor Book Award, what I want most of all is immortality through my writing. I want to be remembered as a writer for all time, like Dante and Shakespeare, not someone who’s only praised and known about for a little while before being consigned to the bargain bin.


I really, really struggled with the story I wrote for the IWSG contest. My first idea was quickly abandoned, a story entitled “Illuminated Summer.” It was to be set in Fiesole, Italy, during the summer of 1478, one of the deadliest outbreaks of the Black Death’s second wind. My problem was that I only had some general ideas about what to fill the story with, as much as I pulled together mentally.

Since I liked the characters I crafted in my head so much, though, I decided to save them for a full-length book. Maybe it was a mistake to abandon this story before I even finished one page, but it’s too late now to change that decision.

Then I moved to the idea I’d had originally, using my secondary characters Virgil Rein and Liliána Buchsbaum from my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, and showing the genesis of their romantic relationship in Sweden after the war. It was called “Traces of an Ancient Flame” (a line from The Aeneid and later used in The Divine Comedy in homage). But almost the entire time I was working on it, it just wasn’t clicking.

It was a huge struggle to get over the minimum 5K mark, and that contained a lot of garbage I would’ve edited out in the final draft. At no time besides the opening pages, set in an antiquarian bookstore, did I feel excited about this project; on the contrary, I didn’t want to work on it, and getting as many words as I did was like pulling hens’ teeth.

I had more and more of a sinking feeling that this wasn’t my strongest effort, and that romance didn’t feature prominently enough. The story didn’t want to be primarily a romance, despite those elements being there. It also felt too unfocused and not paced well, with more of an episodic structure instead of a real plot.

I also feel like, should I write a full book about these characters, their romance ought to have started soon after liberation, not only in early December 1947.

I finally decided to scratch that hot mess a day before the deadline, and went back to my material of Cinnimin meeting Levon in 1942 and reworked it into a standalone story exclusively in Cinni’s POV. Yes, I cut it really close, but my heart was only in the final of the three stories. Had I continued forcing the second story that didn’t want to be written, and felt all wrong most of the time, I wouldn’t have been submitting my best work or something I was proud of.


In other news, I finally renamed my YouTube channel so people can more easily pronounce and remember it. I plan to start adding regular content, including vlogs about writing. It might help with improving my confidence, though I’m afraid I’ll always have the nasal twang of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Have you ever abandoned a project partway through because it just wasn’t working or didn’t represent what you’re capable of?

Dina’s New Birds

For this month’s WEP contest entry, I decided to revisit some of the characters from my alternative history, set in a 20th century Russia where the monarchy was restored. Maslenitsa, Butter Week, is comparable to the Western celebration of Carnival.

Wordcount 981; MPA

Dina gazed around with wide eyes as she walked down Nevskiy Prospekt, taking in all the bright colors on display. Everywhere she looked, there were stalls offering painted wooden toys, satin ribbons, elaborate fabrics, sparkly costume jewelry, puppets, ikons, and all manner of tempting merchandise. In addition to the visual feast, the famous luxury thoroughfare was also blanketed with the delicious scents of warm gingerbread drizzled with vanilla icing, pastries, spices, fruity teas, roasted nuts, and of course butter-drenched blinchiki.

But of all the treats on offer on Nevskiy Prospekt during Maslenitsa, the most exciting were the birds. Each cage was more exquisite than the last, and housed fancier and fancier birds. Dina couldn’t make up her mind as she walked back and forth between the birdcages.

“How many birds can I adopt, Mama?”

Dina’s mother Arkadiya looked away from a blinchiki stall. “Will you still be interested in them a few months from now, and can I trust you to take care of them all by yourself? Birds aren’t as easy to care for as dogs and cats.”

“I’m almost eleven, not a little kid like Shura. My cousins get birds every year, even the ones younger than I am.” Dina pulled her rubles and kopecks out of her blue pony coat pockets. “Papa gave me lots of money before we left.”

Arkadiya smiled knowingly. “You’ve always had your papa wrapped around your finger. I’d be shocked if he didn’t give you enough money to buy this entire avenue.”

“I’ll take really good care of my birds. I want big ones with really colorful feathers. Little birds aren’t as fun as big ones.”

“They also make more noise and mess.” Arkadiya called to her older daughter Eleonora at a gingerbread stall a few feet away. “Elya, would you mind keeping birds in your room?”

“Why not?  It’ll be fun.”

“Can we take them into our schoolroom too?” Dina asked. “They might get lonely if we’re not there all the time.”

“You don’t take your dogs and cats into your schoolroom,” Arkadiya said. “If you get more than one bird, they’ll keep one another company.”

“They should have a really big cage,” Eleonora said. “Birds can’t be very happy in cages their whole lives, just like fish aren’t supposed to live in tanks. God designed them to fly and swim around the entire world.”

Dina walked back and forth among the birdcages. “Now that we don’t have to spend money on the war anymore, Papa can get an architect to add a new room to the palace. What’s the word for a special room full of birds?”

“Aviary,” Arkadiya supplied. “You can ask him, but he might not be able to do that immediately. There are a lot of other things he needs to spend money on more than building an aviary for his pet child.”

Dina stood on her toes and unhooked a large golden cage with three sun conures in brilliant shades of orange and yellow. She set it on the ground and then unhooked another large gold cage, this one housing two macaws in eye-popping shades of sapphire blue. Before Arkadiya could do or say anything to protest, Eleonora unhooked a platinum cage of four parrots in alternating swathes of reddish-orange, blue, and yellow, followed by a silver cage of seven budgies in lovely pastel shades of blue, green, and yellow. Each cage had plenty of bird toys, a water dish, and birdseed.

“That’s all my daughters are getting today, Madame,” Arkadiya called to the bird vendor. “There’s only so much room in our car.”

“You have excellent taste, Your Imperial Highnesses,” the vendor told Dina and Eleonora. “All my birds are beautiful, but these are so much more eye-catching than most of my canaries, doves, lovebirds, and finches.”

“Can Shura have a bird too?” Dina asked. “She’ll be jealous of us if we have pretty birds and she doesn’t.”

“She’s only three and a half,” Arkadiya said. “Shura shouldn’t have any pets at her age.”

The bird vendor reached behind her stall and handed a large stuffed green parrot to the youngest child of the Tsar and Empress, who greatly resembled the murdered namesake she’d never know. “Will that be all today, Your Majesty?”

“Yes, those are all the birds my daughters need. These new pets will keep them busy for a long time to come.”

Eleonora and Dina counted out the money for their colorful birds, and Arkadiya produced the money for Shura’s stuffed animal. Without waiting to be signalled, the servants who’d accompanied the Empress and her daughters came forward to transport their parcels and the birdcages to the deluxe-sized Rolls–Royce they’d arrived in.

“Your business is always appreciated, Your Majesty. Enjoy the rest of your Maslenitsa, and tell His Majesty I hope he speedily recovers from his latest injury.”

“It’s only his bad knee again, nothing more serious or life-threatening, but I’ll pass along your well wishes,” Arkadiya said. “I wouldn’t have come here if he were severely injured.”

Dina and Eleonora climbed into the car as soon as Arkadiya joined them. The entire drive back to the Aleksandr Palace, they chattered to their birds and thought up names.

“Can we come back tomorrow to buy birds for Papa?” Dina asked.

“Doesn’t he have more than enough pets already?” Arkadiya asked gently. “He’d adopt an entire zoo’s worth of animals if he could.”

“Papa must feel like a bird in a cage when he’s sick,” Eleonora said. “He knows what other people can do, but he’s stuck.”

“We all learn to adapt to our circumstances and our own version of normal. Even when the body is confined, broad horizons are open to the mind and soul.” Arkadiya reached into the conures’ cage and gently stroked them. “And sometimes the most constricting cages are the ones we can’t see. It’s all a matter of perspective.”

Happy release day to Masquerade: Oddly Suited!

After months of anticipation, this year’s IWSG anthology, Masquerade: Oddly Suited, has finally been released! The other nine authors and I have been hosting a bloghop for the last few weeks, featuring our characters in masquerade and bonus flash fiction stories. We’re also still holding a blog tour.

My story, “Charleston Masquerade,” is set in Charleston, South Carolina in July 1767 and features a character I created when I was all of 5-6 years old and had shelved for over a quarter of a century.

Find love at the ball…

Can a fake dating game show lead to love? Will a missing key free a clock-bound prince? Can a softball pitcher and a baseball catcher work together? Is there a vampire living in Paradise, Newfoundland? What’s more important—a virtual Traveler or a virtual date to the ball?

Ten authors explore young love in all its facets, from heartbreak to budding passion. Featuring the talents of L.G. Keltner, Jennifer Lane, C.D. Gallant-King, Elizabeth Mueller, Angela Brown, Myles Christensen, Deborah Solice, Carrie-Anne Brownian, Anstice Brown, and Chelsea Marie Ballard.

Hand-picked by a panel of agents and authors, these ten tales will mystify and surprise even as they touch your heart. Don your mask and join the party…

Available April 30, 2019
$14.95 USA, 6×9 Trade paperback, 200 pages, Freedom Fox Press
Young Adult Fiction: Romance – General (YAF052000) / Paranormal (YAF052050) / Contemporary (YAF052020)
Print ISBN 9781939844644 eBook ISBN 9781939844651
Order through Ingram, Follett Library Resources, or publisher direct
$4.99 ebook available in all formats

“READ IT! There is something for everyone! Do you want Love? Got it! Do you want vampires? Got it! Do you want time travel? Go it!” – Jessica Renfro, book reviewer

“A diverse collection of m/f YA clean-reads romances to transport readers between the past, present, and future, from the sea bottom to the virtual clouds.” – J. Lenni Dorner, author

“Stories that will chill your heart, bring smiles to your lips, and keep you turning pages.” – Beverly Stowe McClure, author

Founded by author Alex J. Cavanaugh, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group offers support for writers and authors alike. It provides an online database; articles; monthly blog posting; Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram groups; #IWSGPit, and a newsletter.

Freedom Fox Press
A division of Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C.
P.O. Box 383, Pikeville, NC 27863-0383

During our Masked bloghop, I was hosted by Jennifer Lane. This is my character Jinx Wildblood unmasked:

Iynx Praxithea Wildblood, called Jinx, has always been different from the others. She comes from a Deist family; both of her parents attended the University of Bologna; and she and her sister Myrina are receiving an equal education at the Ursuline Academy in New Orleans. So when they come to Charleston to spend a summer with a well-heeled family, conflict is inevitable.

At a masquerade ball, Jinx makes the acquaintance of a mysterious young man who identifies himself as Zedekiah. From the moment they begin interacting, it’s obvious Zed is just as much of a black sheep as Jinx, from an equally unusual family. Jinx would love nothing better than to spend the entire evening in Zed’s company, but when her very prim and proper chaperone forces them to separate, it doesn’t seem likely they’ll cross paths again. Jinx has no idea what he looks like unmasked, or if Zed is his true name. Likewise, Zed doesn’t know her true name either. Will she and Zed be able to find an opportunity to meet again and rekindle their attraction?

Carrie-Anne Brownian, who also writes as Ursula Hartlein, is a proud native Pittsburgher who lives and breathes all things historical. She has a degree in history and Russian and East European Studies from UMass–Amherst, and aspires to a Ph.D. in Russian history. Her stories always feature characters who are outside the norm in some way, and lots of Sturm und Drang.

You can find me at:


Bloghop Schedule:

L.G. Keltner http://lgkeltner.blogspot.com/
Jennifer Lane http://jenniferlanebooks.blogspot.com
Deborah Solice http://thefabulistdotblog.wordpress.com/
CD Gallant-King http://www.cdgallantking.ca/
Elizabeth Mueller http://elizabethmueller.blogspot.com/
Chelsea Marie Ballard http://www.facebook.com/masqueradeoddlysuited
Carrie-Anne Brownian https://carrieannebrownian.wordpress.com
Myles Christensen www.myleschristensen.com
Anstice Brown http://dustingthesoul.com
Angela Brown http://publishness.blogspot.com/

Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble

Since I never use my computer on Shabbos, I unfortunately won’t be able to attend this live panel, but I’ll be most happy to answer any questions either before or after.

Masquerade Ball Bloghop, Day #7

Since the Masquerade: Oddly Suited anthology releases on the 30th, we the contributing authors decided to host a bloghop to build anticipation. Each day, one of the writers hosts someone incognito, in keeping with the anthology’s theme.

How it works:

Each day, our guests will appear masked, with some clues provided in the form of a flash story featuring the characters (independent of the stories appearing in the book), three fun facts about the author, and an image of her or his protagonist in masked form. On release day, we’ll all reveal ourselves.

Fun facts about my person of mystery:

In order to capture the right emotion in my writing, I try out a character’s feelings on my face and body. I had no idea I did this until a non-writing friend laughed at all of the faces and gestures I make as I write!

A TV show (Prison Break) inspired me to start writing fan fiction, which led to writing novels.

I write mostly on the weekends, on the sofa, listening to music without lyrics (classical, jazz, movie soundtracks).

Sharp air fills my lungs as I stride toward Andie’s front door to pick her up for the party. This early cold snap has blown in uninvited, moving our baseball and softball practices to the indoor facility too soon. Welcome to Ohio.

Andie skips out and closes the door behind her before I reach the porch. She turns her face up to mine, fresh and pink in the glow of the porch light. Her pastel-striped knit hat fans out her long, blond hair over the collar of her coat.

“You sure your parents are cool with you going to a senior party?” I ask.

She rolls her eyes. “Alex will be there, so he’ll protect me.”

Her older brother’s the starting quarterback for USC. “Your brother’s in town for Christmas?”

“Just for a couple of days, then he has to head back to L.A. before the bowl game.”

When she shivers, I reach for one of her mittens, tug her closer, and lean down to kiss that irresistibly soft and rosy cheek. “C’mon, let’s go.”

I hold the passenger door open for her, and she snuggles into the seat. “Oh, it’s so warm in here!”

I hustle to my side of the car, praying, Don’t break down again. I left the car running to help my chances. As I back out of her driveway, I boast, “Vlad’s got a good heater.”

Her eyebrows scrunch. “You named your car Vlad?”

I nod.

Her head tilts. “What kind of car is this?”

“Chevy Impala. A very old Impala,” I add.

After a few seconds, her giggles fill the car. “Vlad the Impala!” She snorts. “You’re a genius, Colt.”

My dad was the clever one who came up with the name, actually. My smile fades. This will be our first Christmas without him.

We arrive at my teammate’s house and climb out of Vlad.

Her mitten envelopes my glove. “Are you okay?”

I realize I haven’t spoken the entire car ride. “Great.”

The worried look in her hazel eyes remains, sparking a stab of guilt in my chest. My denial wouldn’t impress my sport psychologist.

“Just thinking about…my dad,” I admit.

She slows her stride. “Holidays must be tough.”

I cringe. After meeting her at a charity softball game in September, I’ve already cried once in front of her, on Thanksgiving. Not cool.

The kicky beat of a pop song draws my attention to the house, where my teammate stands in the now-open doorway. “Turner!” Nate hollers. “Get your ass in here.”

Nate is a senior, like me, and my favorite pitcher to catch. Check that—Andie’s my new favorite pitcher. I lead her into the house.

“Hey, Andie.” Nate snatches the hat off of her head as she crosses in front of him.

She spins around and yanks her hat back, right before elbowing him in the gut.

“Oof.” Nate doubles over, but his grin lets on that she went easy on him.

Andie tosses her coat and hat onto the growing pile on the floor. “You need your own girlfriend to harrass,” she tells Nate as she shakes out her hair. “Oops. You don’t have one.”

“You’re supposed to put in a good word for me with Scarlett!” Nate fires back.

She smiles. “Depends on how you behave tonight.”

This. This is why I love being with an athlete. Andie’s sassy, low-maintenance vibe is a total turn-on. After my coat joins the outerwear mountain, I follow her into Nate’s house.

Posting Schedule:

Thur. April 18th: L.G. Keltner http://lgkeltner.blogspot.com/
Fri. April 19th: Jennifer Lane http://jenniferlanebooks.blogspot.com
Sat. April 20th: Deborah Solice http://thefabulistdotblog.wordpress.com/
Mon. April 22nd: CD Gallant-King http://www.cdgallantking.ca/
Tues. April 23rd: Elizabeth Mueller http://elizabethmueller.blogspot.com/
Wed. April 24th: Chelsea Marie Ballard
Thurs. April 25th: Carrie-Anne Brownian
Fri. April 26th: Myles Christensen www.myleschristensen.com
Sat. April 27th: Anstice Brown http://dustingthesoul.com
Mon. April 29th: Angela Brown http://publishness.blogspot.com/
Tues. Apr 30th: Book Release and The Unmasking (Just follow links above)!