One of the worst hist-fic tropes

I recently started working on the final draft of the book formerly known as The Very Next. Now that the book formerly known as The Very First has been published at 90K, the sequel’s 75K length seems a bit imbalanced. I’d like all four books in the prequel series to be of fairly equal size.

Those extra words will come mostly from four new chapters. There were 37 chapters in the radical rewrite of 2015, and that odd number bugged me. I admit I’m superstitious about auspicious and inauspicious numbers and dates.

Now there are thirty chapters in Part I, and ten in Part II. I also deleted a three-page chapter from Part II, “The von Hinderburgs’ Mistake.” And why might that be?

It uses one of the worst tropes of hist-fic, particularly WWII hist-fic! It was also poorly-written even after the rewrite, and badly-incorporated with the entire rest of the remainder of the story.

You’ve probably seen this trope in at least one book and/or film. Someone travels to Poland for a really convenient, paper-thin reason right on the eve of WWII, and of course finds him or herself trapped there, either short-term or long-term. Herman Wouk (may he rest in peace) did this in The Winds of War. It was also done in Masterpiece Theatre’s World on Fire recently.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be Poland in 1939. The trope could also be coming to San Francisco right as the hippie movement starts, being stuck in England during the Blitz, travelling to Russia on the eve of the Revolution, being in France on the eve of their Revolution, going to Iran in 1979, going to visit a friend in East Berlin and overnight finding oneself stuck behind the newly-erected Berlin Wall, conveniently-timed situations like that.

Yes, many great storylines and entire books are built around a character finding oneself in a strange situation one doesn’t really understand, but that can easily be accomplished without getting into whatever setting just as trouble’s about to erupt!

Near the very end of Volume II of Journey Through a Dark Forest, Darya and Oliivia set sail for France for an envisioned year of studying abroad at a Parisian lycée. In Volume III, they find themselves trapped after the invasion and occupation, and eventually become Nazi slaves. More than a few American citizens ended up in the camps, and to this day haven’t been nearly properly acknowledged and compensated.

But in other words, they were already there, for a realistic reason. The von Hinderburgs go to visit their old friend Zalman Radulski in Warsaw and end up stuck there until April 1940. By that time, Herr and Frau von Hinderburg have died of starvation, and their kids and Zalman are smuggled back in potato sacks in a truck with help from a young anti-Nazi Wehrmacht soldier. Their escape was strongly based on one of the border crossings in Maia Wojciechowska’s memoir Till the Break of Day.

There’s zero reason for them to be there now, since the Brandts and von Hinderburgs went straight from Germany to The Netherlands in 1933. I got rid of that pointless year in Poland long ago. Thus, they’d have no Polish friends to visit.

My hot mess of this storyline’s original incarnation also had Herr and Frau von Hinderburg dying in the nascent Warsaw Ghetto, despite the fact that it didn’t exist till autumn 1940. Even in Hungary, where the Shoah was implemented with lightning-quick alacrity, ghettoes weren’t created almost as soon as the Nazis invaded!

In my radical rewrite of the book formerly known as The Very Last, the von Hinderburg kids come home to multiple letters from Mr. Filliard in Atlantic City, desperately pleading them to respond so he can get them visas. Thus, it’s an important plot point that they’re away from home and unable to be reached for a very long time.

It seems much more plausible, if still incredibly foolish, for the von Hinderburgs to return to Hamburg to try to bring the rest of their relatives, and the Brandts’ family, into The Netherlands. Maybe Herr and Frau von Hinderburg could be taken prisoner and never heard from again, while their kids and old family friend Zalman escape back to Amsterdam.

Ask yourself, honestly, why your character would accompany a friend to a wedding in Poland or happen to be on a diplomatic mission there in August 1939. If you already have an ensemble cast, why not just use native Polish characters and have them eventually link up with the other people?

In The Winds of War, it particularly makes no sense for the über-WASPy Henrys to be connected to the Jewish Jastrows, beyond trope and convenience. I don’t understand why Mr. Wouk couldn’t have the two families presented separately. It’s hardly unheard-of in historical sagas to feature families and characters who don’t interact immediately.

Original stories are never built around tropes, and if any tropes are involved, they’re used in a very unique way that rises above cliché, to the point it no longer feels like a trope.

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.”

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?

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?

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.