Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Third Russian novel, Writing

WeWriWa—War is over


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. Because we just celebrated the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, this week’s snippet comes from near the end of Chapter 85, “Bittersweet Reunion,” of Journey Through a Dark Forest.

Here, in the penultimate section of the chapter, four of the Kalvik sisters, the two oldest Sheltsova sisters, and their friends Vasilisa and Inga joyously arrive at the big victory parade. Zhenya and Marina are the older sisters of Bogdana from my most recent series of snippets.

Mireena, Milena, Inga, Zhenya, Marina, Vasilisa, Ilme, and Viivela rush off the subway and stream into Times Square. The Great White Way is thronged with crowds, everyone cheering and screaming, as ticker tape rains down like manna from heaven. Already so much ticker tape has accumulated, they have to wade through it. In addition to ticker tape, the air is also full of playing cards, old telephone books, scrap paper, and bolts of cloth. Besides all the screaming and cheering, the air is also filled with car horns and boat whistles. Zhenya, Vasilisa, and Marina smile at the servicemen in the parade, and feel gnawing jealousy at the servicewomen.

“It’s a crying shame President Roosevelt couldn’t live to see this day.” Vasilisa gazes at a flag at half-staff. “This news would’ve made him so happy.”

Posted in Third Russian novel, Writing

IWSG—April 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 are things in your world?

I’m quite upset I won’t be able to attend a Seder this year, as if it weren’t bad enough the undersized Jewish community in this place I hoped I’d be out of long ago only does one communal Seder at Pesach instead of on both the first and second nights. I also was unable to go to shul to say Kaddish for my uncle on his 32nd Jahrzeit (death anniversary).

Now I’m even more determined to get out of this place and go home to Pittsburgh as soon as possible. I’ll be so much happier there. Perhaps I’ll finally find a husband and have kids before time runs out.

In happier news, I uploaded Dark Forest to IngramSpark with the free setup code NaNo 2019 winners got. Unfortunately, the ebook covers wouldn’t work for print, since there’s so much black. My intent was to show dark, shadowy forests, but there’s a good chance that effect would’ve turned into a big blob of ink when printed.

I’ve loved document formatting since the days of MacWriteII, and I likewise really enjoy learning about book cover formatting and design. It’s like a fun puzzle to figure out, and it lets me use the underused left side of my brain. I’m currently learning InDesign, which hopefully will come in handy for future jobs.

My external mouse recently quit working altogether on both sides, even after multiple restarts and SMC resets. Luckily, my father had an even older external mouse to give me, which hasn’t had any real problems yet.

I spent most of March working on my A to Z posts for both blogs. This was the latest start I’ve ever had, a far cry from the years I began working on them as early as July. My names blog features Estonian names, and this blog features historic NYC places in my books.

I’d like to finally be done with A Dream Deferred by the end of April Camp NaNo! I can’t start editing it soon enough.

I decided to stop creating so many families of several girls followed by a lone boy, and am looking forward to having more families of only girls (or boys). It perpetuates the popular belief that a family can’t really be complete until there’s at least one of each, and that parents of only one sex are to be pitied, joked about, or told “Better luck next time.”

It’s not that I’ll never do it again, but it won’t be nearly so frequent.

I also got the great idea to do some spin-off books about Katrin from The Ballad of Lyuba and Ivan. During her two trials in A Dream Deferred, she writes about her ordeal and her eight months in Japan. Why not make those into real books?

I’d love to write a full autobiography too, and an annotated collection of her decades of op-eds. It’s always so fun to write in Katrin’s voice.

Are you doing Camp NaNo? Have you ever had to use a different cover for another edition of a book? Are you eager to resume normal life?

Posted in Fourth Russian novel, Writing

IWSG—March 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:

Other than the obvious holiday traditions, have you ever included any personal or family traditions/customs in your stories?

I had to think about this one for awhile before thinking of the very proletarian custom of eating in the kitchen. Until I was about twelve, I thought everyone ate in the kitchen and saved dining rooms, if they had them, for very special meals. Then I discovered the bourgeoisie and wealthy never eat in kitchens if they can help it!

Thus, many of my characters eat in the kitchen because there’s no dining room in their home, or the dining room is reserved for special occasions.

Full disclosure: As proud as I am of my deeply proletarian roots on both sides of my family, and as hard as it is for me to relate to people raised bourgeois, most of my tastes and interests are anything but proletarian!


Early last month, Word decided to install updates on its own volition, and I found myself locked out from updating or creating files because my father (whom I got my copy from) elected not to renew membership. Just when I finally felt fully comfortable with Word again! It’s back to Pages for now.

My external mouse has also been giving me grief. It often doesn’t work in the left USB port, and sometimes temporarily gives out in the right as well. Briefly disconnecting it tends to work, but other times only a restart fixes it. It’s a good thing the cable stretches far enough for the mouse to still be on the left side when it’s plugged into the right USB.

I finished going over the proof of The Twelfth Time, and now have to correct the TOC before submitting the new file for hopefully the final going-over. I also finally found solutions for the seemingly trickiest sections of Dark Forest in those second edition edits. They weren’t nearly as difficult as I feared.


I’ve been having so many headaches over A Dream Deferred, constantly going back and forth over where the Konevs should live and go to school when they return to New York, even after declaring in “2019 in review (Writing)” that I’d come to final decisions. I even began thinking about them staying in Minnesota after all!

I fully own to up my failure to outline new storylines and chapters as they came up, which has led to an embarrassing, very uncharacteristic, snowballing strategy of stuffing in everything but the kitchen sink. Several storylines and hints of future developments feel so detached from the main plots, just kind of hanging out in the background and being trotted out every so often to remind the reader they still exist. They’d work so much better moved into the fifth book.

Other storylines were abandoned or altered in media res. I’m normally not this unfocused and bloated, even deliberately writing at saga length!

I’m now set on my original plan of Lyuba getting a scholarship from Columbia. Ivan won’t get his master’s right away, but be invited to study at the Art Students League of NY in Greenwich Village. The Konevs will live in an apartment in the Kalviks’ building in the UWS, an early cooperative, instead of a condo by any other name downtown.

For their part, the Kalviks will downsize to a smaller apartment in the building and give their penthouse to the Zyuganovs, who desperately need a housing upgrade.


Have you ever literally lost the plot while writing, a storyline or entire book just running away from you and becoming more complicated the more you try to fix it? Have you ever decided to move something into a later book in a series?

Posted in Editing, Historical fiction, Rewriting, Third Russian novel, Writing

Walking through second edition edits

As it turned out, prepping Journey Through a Dark Forest for its print edition entailed more than tightening up the kerning to remove awkward gaps and catching the odd overlooked typo or minor error here and there. The changes are nowhere near exhaustive, since this wasn’t a rewrite, but they’re noteworthy enough to walk through.

In no particular order:

1. As I’ve been writing A Dream Deferred, it emerged that the Konevs and their best friends moved to rural Minnesota and stayed there so long for all the wrong reasons. Not only that, they made their oldest kids feel compelled to run right home to become farmers themselves after graduating university. Thus, their kids now say they wish they could stay in NYC and are only returning to Minnesota out of duty or outright parental pressure. Others comment on what a bad decision this is.

2. Tatyana’s ocelots, whom Boris gives her as a baptismal anniversary gift in 1937, are now named Nyx and Hemera, after the primordial Greek goddesses of night and day, respectively. Nyx is light and Hemera is dark. Pet characters need names too, even if they don’t constantly appear!

3. Fedya’s clown doll is now named Koko, after Max Fleischer’s very popular clown cartoon series.

4. Darya’s beloved doll from St. Paul is now called Alisa, and the stuffed bunny she got on her first birthday is Cadbury. Obviously, the Cadbury Bunny didn’t exist back then, but they’ve been making Easter chocolates since the 19th century. Doll and stuffed animal characters also deserve names. It’s one thing if they’re only mentioned once, but it’s so impersonal to keep calling them, e.g., “Jane’s doll” or “his tiger.”

5. Katya’s dear old stuffed parrot likewise needs a name.

6. Correcting the depiction of a Manhattan duplex from side-by-side to upstairs and downstairs two-story units.

7. Correcting depictions of other Manhattan architecture to make it clear these houses have multiple stories, stoops instead of verandas, and that Boris’s Harlem brownstone has three, not only two, stories. I have an upcoming post on writing about NYC architecture and housing styles.

8. Reworking Chapter 44, “Martian Panic,” to make it even more obvious only a TINY minority was not just duped but terrified by The War of the Worlds.

9. Inessa now offers Vitya (her future second husband) sympathies on the arrest of his wife after their first proper meeting, and says some of her cousins gave their kids invented Soviet names like Vitya and his wife. As originally written, Inessa says she likes some of those names, but doesn’t know anyone who used them. Huge discrepancy with how all eighteen of her first-cousins once-removed who come to America in 1950 have such names! Inessa also names a few of those cousins.

10. Fedya’s university was changed from Columbia to Cooper Union and back again. Though Columbia didn’t offer a BFA till 1947, Cooper Union only offered art certificates in this era. Absolutely no shame in getting a certificate instead of a degree, but it implies fewer than four years of study, and Lyuba and Ivan place great importance on their kids getting university degrees.

Another reason I changed it back to Columbia was because its 1948 graduation date, vs. any other NYC school, is the only one that works with the timeline of the final chapters. Too much frogging and radical reconstruction otherwise.

11. Reworking sections based around too-early semester start dates in autumn 1942 and spring 1946. I initially moved up the former dates until discovering that too would involve too much frogging and reconstruction. Novomira will have to go into labor her first day back at Barnard, not during a test a few weeks later. For the latter, Fedya will meet with his advisor instead of starting the semester “late” and going about his first day of classes. That semester started on 12 February.

12. A few little tweaks with the Cast of Characters to include or correct birthdates and delete characters who never appear in that volume.

13. While writing A Dream Deferred, I began picturing Lyuba and Ivan’s next-youngest child Sonyechka as blonde and wavy-haired, despite her initial description as raven-haired. There’s now a mention of all her hair falling out at six months (which is very common) and growing back wavy and very dark blonde, to Lyuba’s great shock. Her eyes are also described as very dark blue.

14. After the Siyanchuks and Duranichevs move to Queens Village, Patya tells his daughter Karina she’ll go to the independent Garden School in Jackson Heights. Originally, he said she’d now go to public school.

15. The first book Katya reads on her way back to California in 1946 is now If He Hollers Let Him Go. I had such a sour experience with The Member of the Wedding!

16. Liliana’s nickname was changed from Lilka to Lilya.

17. Dusya’s full name was changed from Nadezhda to Avdotya. I couldn’t find any strong evidence Dusya is a nickname for Nadezhda.

18. Alla’s husband is no longer called Karmov, but Daniil. It felt wrong to call this one character by his surname when no one else is referred to that way.

Posted in Editing, Rewriting

IWSG—February 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:

Has a single photo or work of art ever inspired a story? What was it and did you finish it?

No entire stories I can recall, though photos of things like houses and vintage couples have inspired aspects of my stories.

After spending the end of December and all January working on second edition edits for Journey Through a Dark Forest, I’m now ready to begin spot-checking the proof of The Twelfth Time before approving it for the hardcover run. Simultaneously, I’ll finish up the two sections of Dark Forest I left to get back to. They’re the most frustrating, since they’re premised on Barnard and Columbia, respectively, starting a bit earlier than they really did in autumn 1942 and spring 1946.

I initially moved up the dates in the first instance, and the dates in the next chapter, but later realised that conflicts with Darya referencing her first time at church in four years coincides with the fourth anniversary of her and Oliivia’s deportation from Drancy. I could remove that reference, but it feels more powerful to retain it.

Monday’s post will be a walkthrough of all the changes I made and why.

I also have to find a cover for the book formerly known as The Very First and do a final light edit of it. Initially I formatted it at 5×8, but it just felt too small, even if it created a larger spine. I changed it to 5.5×8.5, which brings it to just shy of 300 pages. Despite the doorstopper length of most of my adult books, my Atlantic City books are meant to be short and sweet.

Also on my to-do list is buying a block of ISBNs. I really wish the Canada-based IndieBookLauncher still sold blocks of five (for one book each) for $25. The Australian branch of Bowker sells ten for $88, plus a $55 new publisher registration fee for people who haven’t previously bought from them, but I don’t know if non-Australians can use their service.

I also am still super-loath to give any money to Bowker when they’re such a greedy monopoly. Not officially being listed as the publisher of my books doesn’t bother me nearly as much as financially rewarding that company. Indie authors typically don’t have cash to burn on ID numbers!

Yes, it’s really “not bad” to drop over a grand on 1,000 ISBNs you’ll probably never use when that money would be better-spent on things like marketing, cover art, editing, and author swag. How much did Bowker pay this dude to write such a ridiculous, out of touch comment?

I’m thinking of buying four each for Dark Forest, Dream Deferred (also to be published in four volumes), and my Atlantic City prequel series. I bought my ISBNs for three other books through a legit third-party site that charges far lower than greedy Bowker.

Simultaneous to all this, I’m continuing to work towards the finish line of Dream Deferred. Hopefully the timing will work out so I’ll finish proofing Dark Forest around the same time, and can begin my first round of edits of Dream Deferred with everything fresh in my memory. I can’t wait to start tackling that project!