Posted in Fourth Russian novel, Writing

IWSG—March odds and sods

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
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!

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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.

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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.

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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

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
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!

Posted in Writing

IWSG—2020 writing goals

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
Today is the first Insecure Writer’s Support Group meeting of 2020. The first Wednesday of each month, we share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What started you on your writing journey? Was it a particular book, movie, story, or series? Was it a teacher/coach/spouse/friend/parent? Did you just “know” suddenly you wanted to write?

I’ve been writing since age four, as long as I’ve known how to write. It’s just something I’ve always done, the way other people have a calling to medicine, art, or religious life. Thus, it’s hard for me to relate to people who only began writing in response to certain series surrounded by massive amounts of hype.

My 2020 writing goals:

1. Finally finish A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University already! I’d love to be done by April Camp NaNo.

2. Do a first round of edits on the above. Shortly before NaNo, I outlined the timelines and events of the chapters set around the beginning of academic years, and was relieved I won’t need to do nearly as much frogging as I feared. It’s more a matter of moving some events into other chapters vs. radically rewriting and restructuring everything. Again, I take full blame for not doing my research and assuming U.S. schools always began in early September.

3. Finish second-edition edits on Journey Through a Dark Forest for the print editions of all four volumes. If I continue shaving about 3,000 words off each volume (mostly motivated by needing to tighten up unsightly gaps created by increasing the inside margins), it’ll shrink down to under 850K. It’s already shrunk from 861K to 855K.

4. Resume radical rewriting and restructuring of my Atlantic City books, which I left off in 2015 with the book formerly known as The Very Last. Other projects took precedent, and I was frustrated by finding such a dearth of detailed info on the 1940 World’s Fair in Lisbon and not being in the mood to write about the 1939–40 World’s Fair all over again so soon after featuring it in Dark Forest.

5. One final edit of the books formerly known as The Very First and The Very Next and publish them. I can’t wait to finally reveal the new and improved titles! It’d also be a dream come true if I won the Sydney Taylor Book Award for TVF.

6. Outline and begin writing From a Nightmare to a Dream: Out of Stalin’s Shadow, my fifth Russian historical.

7. Review and approve proof of The Twelfth Time for hardcover edition. Which cover do you prefer?

2020 blogging goals:

1. Finish my GWTW series. I have two more installments planned.

2. Resume my hiatused “A primer on ________________ names” series. I have 25 more topics planned. When this series is complete, I’ll pull all these posts together as a book with expanded commentaries and names lists.

3. More writing guides. Topics include breeching and long pants, wraparound narrative segments, Jewish denominations, menarche, dysmenorrhea, Victorian postmortem photos, and how much of your real life to incorporate into fiction.

4. Review Pete Townshend’s remaining solo albums in May, in honor of his 75th birthday.

5. Book reviews including The Wind Done Gone, The Member of the Wedding, The Winds of War, and My Sergei.

6. Film reviews including Little Caesar, the 1939 remake of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, All Quiet on the Western Front, the Marx Brothers’ Go West, and director Oscar Michaeux’s Within Our Gates.

7. Album reviews including The Who by Numbers, Live at Leeds, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Plastic Ono Band.

8. A month devoted to pet topics. E.g., fave dog breeds, fave lizard species, dog breeds in my books, pets I’d love to own.

Personal goals:

1. Stay put in my current weight range of 147–53, with an eye towards a 140–45 range. I was close to 220 pounds at the start of June 2017, and am very proud I’ve lost about 70 pounds. My goal was 150, but getting down a bit lower would be a fantastic bonus.

2. Get out of this place I’ve unhappily been stuck in since June 2017. I haven’t abandoned hope of going home to Pittsburgh and resuming graduate school. It might not be my time yet to have a human baby, but I look forward to getting some furry and scaly babies.

Posted in Editing, Fourth Russian novel, Rewriting, Writing

2019 in review (Writing)

Going in, I hoped 2019 might be the year I finally finished my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, but it wasn’t to be. I did, however, bring the story up to late April 1952. The main text only has two more months to go, and the Epilogue will take place in autumn 1952. Originally, the plan was for it to only be set over Thanksgiving, but now I have two or three episodes in mind.

This book will require more editing and revising than usual at this stage of my development. I blame this on not outlining new storylines as they came up. Most I was able to mentally keep track of and naturally weave into the overall story, but others just got away from me and ultimately ended in media res.

I’ll have to remove the short-lived storyline about, out of nowhere, the Koneva girls and their friends suddenly being deeply unhappy with the radical Stefania Wolicka Academy and longing for a more structured, traditional education. They were supposed to lose their scholarships due to dwindling finances and finish the year at a free Quaker school, but then Ivan’s prodigal father sends money to rescue them.

I went back and forth on whether Sonyechka and Tamara should attend New Lincoln or Walden School after moving to NYC, and ultimately decided on Walden, the school their friends the Zyuganovs are at. Likewise, I kept going back and forth re: which neighborhood the Konevs should live in, and feel it fits best if they move to the fictional Tranquility Towers in the West Village. I just can’t see them uptown, nor in a townhouse.

Another dropped storyline was Lyuba applying to Columbia for a master’s degree. Several characters have already attended Columbia, but the radical City College, Harvard on the Hudson, fits more with who Lyuba is.

I also dropped the storyline about some of my Barnard ladies leaving the school in protest and switching to Sarah Lawrence mid-semester. They’ll still leave the school after this academic year, but two will go to the free art school Cooper Union, while others will switch to City College. I’m no longer sure Sarah Lawrence is a better fit for any of them, as radical as it is.

I broke up three of my couples—Susanna and Vilorik (who lost their anencephalic baby-to-be in the eighteenth week), Léa and Rhonwen, Tolya and Yasha. They no longer felt right together. As for Léa’s family, I think I’ve decided against moving them to NYC. It makes narrative sense for the Konevs to want to return to the city, and their friends the Novaks, but the only Kahn I developed beyond a secondary character is Léa. They’re not essential to the continuing story.

The storyline about Katya and Dmitriy’s friends Sima and Marusya will be moved into the future sixth book. It’s developed far too quickly and then dropped almost as quickly. If I keep them at all, it’ll be as friends who might have a connection to Katya’s family.

I went through The Twelfth Time for a hardcover edition, and managed to take away several thousand more words, shrinking it down to 980 pages (including front and back matter). I thought it couldn’t be done after increasing the inside margins from 0.7″ to one inch.

Most recently, I went through Volume I of Journey Through a Dark Forest for its own print edition, and managed to shave off 3,000 words. This wasn’t necessary editing so much as having to reword some things and take out superfluous words to tighten up the kerning. When I changed the inside margins, it became necessary to go through the entire book and remove as many unsightly gaps as possible.

It’s really weird to me to see one of my adult books at under 400 pages! Now the total length is 858K. We’ll see if the other three volumes will have similar shrinkage when I’m through with them.

I added some new words, mostly to correct the inaccurate picture I painted of the duplex Pavel and Nadezhda share with Svetlana. In NYC, a duplex refers to two floor-through apartments, sometimes with two floors per each family, NOT side-by-side units!

Two of my 2020 posts will be on NYC architecture and housing styles, and architectural styles in general. It’s embarrassing that for the longest time, I wrote my Manhattan characters’ homes as traditional detached houses instead of multi-story, narrow edifices. Even in the early 20th century, that wasn’t realistic!

At the end of April, my story “Charleston Masquerade” was published in the IWSG anthology Masquerade: Oddly Suited. I’m really looking forward to returning to these long-shelved 18th century characters and writing their family saga.

I also wrote a story for this year’s IWSG contest, “The Search for Shoki,” set in 737 Japan. Though I wasn’t a winner, I’m glad I tried something new, historical fantasy. I’d be game for writing a full book set in the Nara period. There are barely any Japanese historicals with that setting.

Finally, I began looking ahead to a radical rewrite and revision of the first book in my Max’s House series. Unsurprisingly, the strongest material is the all-new stuff I added in 1999, 2011, and on and off during this decade. I’ll only be keeping the 1991–93 material as a bare-bones outline to avoid a complete rewrite.