Posted in Fourth Russian novel, Word Count, Writing

IWSG—My sixth official NaNo

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and lets us share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

How would you describe your future writer self, your life and what it looks and feels like if you were living the dream?

I’ve won both the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Sydney Taylor Book Award, and all my books have been made into films over which I had a great amount of creative control. I’ve got homes in several cities around the world, but do most of my writing in my farmstead in the Lower Galilee, in a room with a huge bay window overlooking the water.

I’m invited to many events each year—library talks, local writers’ groups, conferences, book signings, bookstores, schools, book clubs, houses of worship.

I know this makes me sound like a humble-bragger, but I’m rather disappointed I didn’t beat or at least tie last year’s all-time NaNo best of 130K. Instead of getting my win on Day 14 as I did last year (my earliest win to date), I barely squeaked out the 50K minimum near the end of Day 15. I knew early on I probably wouldn’t do as well as I wanted.

By my own standards, I’m capable of writing well over 100K in a month, and I failed to push myself to be as prolific, committed, and motivated as I could’ve been. For some reason, the pressure of NaNo seems to make me underperform, in comparison to fellow overachievers who say NaNo is the only month of the year they’re that wordy.

I did manage over 100K, so I’ll take that as a decent enough second-best.

I included blog posts as creative non-fiction, but most of the total came from my WIP. So far, many of the chapters in Part IV are shaping up to be novelette-length, which is unusual even for me, but not entirely unheard-of. My philosophy is that every book, chapter, scene, and part is as long or short as it needs to be. It naturally unfolds at a certain length for a reason.

It’s a spectrum like, e.g., birth weight. Some babies are all of one pound, seven ounces, and manage to not only survive but thrive, while others are as heavy as 14-15 pounds. While it’s more common to be in the 7-10 range, variation exists for a reason.

It’s obvious which days were Saturdays, since the wordcount just plummeted. I don’t use my computer on Shabbos, which means I lose Friday nights and, this time of year, a good portion of Saturday.

Next year, I want that second chart to be closer to a straight or slightly squiggly line, not so many dramatic peaks and valleys. I know I’m capable of so much more, though I’ll never be one of those extreme overachievers who aims for a win on the first day or strives to write a million words. On the days I’ve written in the 7K and 8K range, I’ve practically been dry-heaving by the end!

I reconnoitered my table of contents for the final time, so it’ll finish at 160 chapters instead of 150. It wouldn’t have been practical to pack so many sections into so few chapters just to cover all the remaining material in the timeline within an overtaxed amount of time and space.

It feels very fitting I finished up shortly after Raisa’s now-second husband Filaret (a count by birth) axes into her apartment to save her from her abusive husband’s most monstrous act yet. The final words are spoken by midwife Mrs. Grinkova, whom Raisa always calls to undo the damage done by her butcher of a doctor after she gives birth or has a miscarriage.

Mrs. Grinkova is one of my favorite secondary characters. Midwives are such amazing women. She’s also one of the characters I deliberately gave a famous surname to.

Posted in Word Count, Writing

IWSG—November odds and sods

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and lets us share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever googled in researching a story?

I’ve definitely researched a lot of creepy, depressing, and macabre things over the years—footbinding, what happens to someone in the electric chair, how to survive being shot in the head without becoming disabled, the projected timeline of the very far future, anything to do with the Shoah.

Probably the strangest research subject is if someone could live a semblance of a normal life with the loss of all five senses. As a child, I created a story about a girl named Carmel Allison Jaywalker who loses them all in her sleep before her third birthday. In my juvenile imagination, I made up “the killer pimples,” giant pimple-like things growing over her nose, eyes, ears, skin, and tongue. My brilliant idea was for Carmel to learn to communicate through ESP.

Someday I’d like to go back to this story, which never made it beyond an unfinished picture book, though it seems best to “only” make Carmel blind-deaf. Someone missing all five senses would live entirely in their own reality, hallucinate constantly, be as if in a waking coma, with sleep and dreaming being the only enjoyable things in life.

Minus every major sense, one would need a constant caretaker, and the brain would receive no sensory input. This would not be a meaningful life. At most, I might write a short story about such a person, but I can’t think of any compelling storyline to fill an entire novel.

FYI: The thumb in the B letter is draped WAY too far over the palm. Most artistic depictions of the ASL manual alphabet are guilty of this.

Speaking of, I recently began teaching myself ASL, and mastered the finger alphabet in about a week. I’m a longtime Deaf ally, and have several Deaf characters.

I’m planning a future post on how to write a Deaf character, both historically and today.  Since I obviously don’t have the POV of a Deaf person, I welcome corrections and additions.

This is my sixth year officially doing NaNo, and I’m far from the only person who’s deeply unhappy with the new website. So many people are complaining and considering not doing it again next year, while others opted out this year due to the difficulty of navigating this revamped design.

I can believe there were serious tech issues behind the scenes, but was this really the best new design possible? And if they began testing it in January and still had so many bugs on the eve of NaNo, that should’ve been a sign it wasn’t ready for primetime yet. Supposedly these problems didn’t become apparent till a lot of traffic was thrown at the site all at once.  Why not keep it in beta and wait till after the big event to make the full-time transition?

Just look at these differences in the daily graphs:

The new graphs are just hideous! Too little info and not clustered together in one concise place. The new design isn’t very intuitive or attractive, and there are no bells and whistles making the changes worthwhile. Mobile users say it’s even worse there.

The site isn’t as buggy as it was, but our Camp projects from this year still haven’t migrated over, we lost all our buddies, the popular Faces charts can’t run till next year, Home Regions are a mess, and there’s annoying infinite scroll instead of manageable separate pages on the message boards.

They even went all virtue-signalling Woke™ by including a field for freaking pronouns in profiles!

I decided to take the stress off myself by continuing with Part IV of A Dream Deferred as my primary NaNo project, instead of forcing myself to fly through it with just weeks remaining. It feels right to publish this book in four volumes.

Part IV will be the shortest by far, under 200K. If I finish, I’ll make general chapter-by-chapter notes for the fifth book and go right into that.

Posted in Fourth Russian novel, Writing

IWSG—August odds and sods

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and lets us share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

Has your writing ever taken you by surprise? For example, a positive and belated response to a submission you’d forgotten about or an ending you never saw coming?

As I’ve written about before, I was not prepared for the depth of emotion I felt when writing the final days and death of Leonid Savvin in Journey Through a Dark Forest. He’d been written as an annoying, conceited pain since I created him in ’93, but 20 years later, I got incredibly choked-up as his long-planned death approached.

In the end, Leonid redeemed himself by making the ultimate sacrifice to save his adopted daughter Karla, his elderly parents, his baby sister Nelya, and his niece Inga from being arrested and tortured as enemies of the people themselves. He also tells his sister Georgiya he loves her, hugs her, and kisses her for the first time during their final meeting, and gives her a note to keep her spirits alive in Siberia.

This unexpected emotional connection will enable me to better write Leonid in the second of the two future prequels. There’s also a stunning development related to him to be revealed in the seventh book, and hinted at in the fifth.

I won Camp NaNo on Day 9, with a very lowball goal. I think this is my best Camp month ever! Towards the end, I went back to Word as my primary word processor. I needed to transition back in after years away. However, the master files for the three volumes are in Pages.

Much to my annoyance, I’ve discovered Dream Deferred will need a much more extensive editing and revision than usual, because:

I stupidly assumed universities always started in early September. In 1948–52, the schools in this book, and many others, began in late September and early October. This requires moving events around.

Overnight, Irina and Sonyechka go from declaring Stefania Wolicka Academy, a radical private school that gave them full scholarships, is the best school ever, to lamenting the lack of traditional, structured education. There’s no triggering event to explain why they’re suddenly annoyed with being allowed to choose almost their entire course of study.

The subplots with Katya and Dmitriy’s fellow Naval couple Marusya and Sima seem so pointless, cluttery, dumped on the page. All the other subplots naturally weave into the overall story, are plotted well, and would leave noticeable gaps if expunged, but the story wouldn’t miss a thing if this one were moved into the fifth book. At most, I might keep Marusya and Sima as friends with a possible family connection.

I like the theme that emerged in Part III, many things not being what they seemed for so long. Those seeming quick-fix miracles and safe bubbles away from ugly problems were too good to be true. Nothing about the Konevs’ life in St. Paul represents who they really are, and neither did their move to rural Minnesota all those years ago. It feels right for new chapters of their lives to beckon elsewhere.

I’m rather in arrears re: my planned film posts. During the remainder of August, I hope to cover 1929 films The Cocoanuts, Blackmail, Coquette, Un Chien Andalou, and Hallelujah! Next month I’ll have a series celebrating the 70th birthday of a film so white-hot it merits a rare 6 out of 5 stars rating. I also hope to have a September series on the 80th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz.

I’ve also continued doing my genealogical research, and found even more illustrious ancestors in another branch of my Boring line—nobility, aristocracy, and royalty of Medieval France, England, and Kyivan Rus. King Henri I of France married Princess Anna Yaroslavovna, which makes me a direct descendant of Prince Ryurik, the Viking prince who founded the Ryurikovich Dynasty.

I also finally found verified Irish ancestry!

Have you ever discovered problems with a book as you were writing it? Did you ever make a mistake based on poor research or assumptions?

Posted in Emeline, Fourth Russian novel, Writing

IWSG—July odds and sods

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and lets us share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What personal traits have you written into your character(s)?

I’ve spoken before about how Emeline Rosalie Troy is my Doppelgänger. We’re not identical (e.g., I only wish I’d gone to Vassar!), but I deliberately, strongly based her after myself when I went back to Little Ragdoll from scratch and memory in November 2010.

We both had hyperlexia at age three, with the adult, uncensored version of Grimms’ Fairytales; we both love Hermann Hesse; we were very advanced readers from a young age; we share interests including world religions and languages, history, and philosophy; we had menarche a month before our twelfth birthdays; we’re very drawn to the story of Krishna; we didn’t have our first relationship till age 28; and George is our favourite Beatle.

Writing Chapter 6, “Halloween Wedding Gone Awry,” of my hiatused WIP Justine Grown Up planted a seed which gave me the courage to eventually, finally pull the plug on my dead-end, dysfunctional, mentally and emotionally abusive relationship with Sergey. During the first, much longer section of the chapter, Emeline’s having this back-and-forth with her sisters, sisters-in-law, and surrogate mother Sarah, expressing the same grievances boiling in my own mind as everyone tells her exactly what I was told.

I had a rather slow start to JuNoWriMo, thanks to doing one final check of Swan before approving the final version for hardcover production, but I pulled out and overachieved after all. Nothing like my mammoth 100K+ of last year, but good enough for me considering. One day, I wrote over 6K.

I’m also doing really well so far with Camp NaNo. I’d like to finally be done with A Dream Deferred by the NaNo. As for the issue with the subplot I mentioned in a previous post, I think it might be better to move part of it into the future fifth book. It’s just too rushed and dumped on the page, and then dropped.

Several characters mention the reality of a reunion with a long-presumed dead loved one after decades of separation. The love and gratitude are strong, but one can’t immediately resume the same kind of loving bond. Sometimes a reunion is meant more for closure. Each person has one’s own life, and writing letters and occasionally visiting are all that’s needed.

I’ve continued making lots of awesome genealogical discoveries, including finally breaking down some longstanding brick walls. My maternal grandma, my only surviving grandparent, will be so happy to learn the names of our Italian ancestors and see pictures of her aunts and uncles.

I’m also thrilled to learn my great-great-grandma Josephine (née Maria Giuseppa) was an only child born when her mother was 47. There was obviously no IVF in 1859, so this was a medical miracle. It gives me hope that Samuel or Anastasiya will exist before time runs out.

If something is meant to happen, it’ll happen. Everything arrives at the right time, to paraphrase a line in “All Things Must Pass.” Marriage, parenthood, and publication might not occur by the so-called normal age, but good things are well worth the wait.

P.S.: I’ve begun actively maintaining my Instagram page. Most of my posts are of my artwork, book covers, and the garden, and it means a lot to me that so many people have liked my art.

Posted in Fourth Russian novel, Writing

IWSG—May odds and sods

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and gives participants a chance to share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What was an early experience where you learnt language had power?

I don’t think I can pinpoint any exact experiences. It was probably more like a gradual realisation than one big epiphany. To point to individual examples, perhaps when I read adult non-fiction books on the Shoah and Pres. Lincoln’s assassination at age eight, long before I was intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically ready to handle such material, and came away profoundly disturbed and haunted.

A happier example is my experience with Ida Vos’s Hide and Seek at age twelve. It was a revelation to discover books could be written in present tense (in that case, third-person). That stylistic decision make the action seem so much more immediate, gripping, intense, uncertain, evoking an entirely different mood than past tense. I chose to make my first Russian historical present tense because of that experience.

I met my lowball Camp NaNo goal on Day 18, though I didn’t overachieve nearly as much as I usually do. Going in, I suspected I might have a slower April, in part because I’ve been using quite a lot of my library time on genealogy research instead of writing. It’s just so exciting, and I can’t use those databases at home without paying.

As promised, I’ll introduce some of my illustrious ancestors in future posts. Though I’m by and large descended from nobodies, one branch of my family tree has knights on it, including members of the Cromwell family. Another direct ancestor founded Lancaster, Massachusetts and is also a common ancestor to the Bush family.

Shortly before Camp NaNo began, I came to the conclusion it’s best to split A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University into three volumes. The chapter-by-chapter notes I made in 2015 never included the subplots and characters which organically unfolded during the actual writing process. Their inclusion has made the wordcount increase quite a bit past my initial conservative guesstimate of 400K.

More and more, I feel one of those unplanned subplots was either a complete mistake or needs more time to simmer. Long story short, Katya and Dmitriy befriend another young Naval couple, Dagmara (Marusya) and Zosim (Sima), who strongly seem to have a connection to Katya’s family.

Sima turns out to be the firstborn son of Katya’s step-great-uncle Grigoriy Golitsyn, a prince by birth. After so many years of private pain, Mr. Golitsyn begins expressing doubts about the former Vitya’s death, owing to his little body mysteriously vanishing between the time Mr. Golitsyn and his friends ran away to the time they came back to their home to gather important possessions.

Additionally, Marusya turns out to be the unknown baby sister of Katya’s godfather Aleksey. Their parents escaped the USSR and settled in Los Angeles, neither having any reason to believe the other had survived. After building up this storyline, the resolution seems too rushed and just dumped on the page, after which it’s never spoken of again.

The reunion of Mr. Golitsyn and his long-lost son is too precious to excise, esp. since it’s only intended as a minor subplot, but if I want to keep the other part of it, I have to move the resolution up or hold it back till the future fifth book.

This year’s IWSG anthology, which features ten stories including mine, released yesterday. We’ve put a lot of hard work into building buzz and promoting it. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to join in the live Q&A panel on the 11th, since I don’t use my computer on Shabbos. I’ll be happy to answer any questions fielded my way, though.