IWSG—October odds and sods

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InsecureWritersSupportGroup

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

How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?

I wasn’t able to do much of any writing after my car accident in 2003. It killed my momentum, and when I got back to it, the writing wasn’t as natural and passionate as what went immediately before. Something very similar happened during my depressing junior year of high school.

Writing the chapter “Halloween Wedding Gone Awry” in my hiatused WIP Justine Grown Up helped me to realise I needed to end my relationship with Sergey. If my fictional Doppelgänger Emeline could find the strength and guts to walk away, I could too.

Last month, I went through the grueling final edit/polishing of Journey Through a Dark Forest, the third book with my Russian characters. The first draft was 891K; the second draft was 877K; and the final product is 861K.

I thought very long and hard about how to deal with its release—one massive volume; four separate volumes; two volumes; four individual volumes plus a master; two volumes plus a master. For a long time, I’ve seriously considered doing four volumes, since it miraculously worked out so each Part reads much like its own self-contained story.

Part I is now 146K; Part II is 267K; Part III is 215K; and Part IV plus the Epilogue is 233K. You can see from the Wordles how different characters predominate. The one for Part I includes the front matter, which explains the inclusion of “Chapter.”

And just for fun, a Wordle for the front and back matter:

The final product, not counting front and back matter, is 2,081 pages in 6×9 trim, with 1-point leading and normal margins. Even if I shrunk the leading, kerning, and margins as much as legibly possible, it’d never fit in one massive volume. 7×10 trim would only remove a few hundred pages.

One book in four volumes it’ll have to be, which means four covers and ISBNs. I chose 11 December as the release date because that’s Lyuba’s birthday, and would’ve been the 100th birthday of my favourite writer, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn. Words can’t do justice to what a massive influence he’s had on me. One of my greatest regrets is not writing him a letter in all the years our lifetimes overlapped.

Due to changing my double-spacing to single (to remove the unexpectedly huge gaps that often created), all these books shrunk. If the page count differs from the original by more than four, the spine and thus the entire cover file needs redone.

For Lark, I added a glossary and “The Story Behind the Story,” which added back the same number of pages. For Fiend, I added the same SBTS (with a few tweaks to avoid spoilers). For LR, I added a colophon (a.k.a. “A Note About the Type”) and one of the appendices I deleted. For AAL, I added back the colophon and everyone I’d deleted from “The Real People in This Story.”

I’m once again making great progress on A Dream Deferred, though it’s become obvious it’ll need to be released in two volumes. I predict the first draft of Part I will be around 430K. During NaNo, I’ll start Part II.

I still haven’t decided on the titles for Parts I and II—Fission and Fallout, Hypocenter and Epicenter, Bright Light and Black Rain, or Pika (Flash) and Don (Boom). The Epilogue is “Red Canna Flowers,” after the miraculous flowers which started blooming ten days after Hiroshima was destroyed. They represented hope and courage to the survivors, and helped them to heal and rebuild their lives.

Copyright Rexness from Melbourne, Australia; Source Cannas

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IWSG—Tech issues and a race to the finish line.

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InsecureWritersSupportGroup

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

What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?

I make no secret of the fact that my ultimate writing goal is a Nobel Prize. My secondary goal is the Sydney Taylor Book Award, given to Jewish-themed books for children, preteens, and teens. It’s named after the author of the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series, which she strongly based on her own family. Ms. Taylor was middle sister Sarah (her original name).

I also want to be remembered as a writer for all time, like Dante and Shakespeare. We still remember and revere them centuries after they walked Planet Earth, because their stories resonate across all eras and cultures. They weren’t just writing about their own era’s concerns.

What an absolute difference a year makes! While there were a few days I knew I could’ve done better, this year’s JuNoWriMo final wordcount is much more representative of what I know I’m capable of. This includes blog posts and a journal entry, but almost all came from my alternative history. Some of the words were immediately edited out after I pasted them into my JuNoWriMo wordcount file.

This is also a huge improvement over last year. (The second screenshot was taken just after midnight on Day Two, and accidentally registered the wrong wordcount because I was entering the day’s final total just seconds too late to count as Day Two. I had to manually edit it.)

I’m racing to the finish line of my alternative history, by now with a handful of gaps to get back to, my appendices (almost all completed), and last-minute power-edits. The rest of the words will either come from another WIP, or blog posts to promote this book.

This kind of image was the bane of my existence during the last month! It was going on before too, but I wasn’t paying enough attention to it. All of a sudden, no matter how many space-sucks I found and deleted (with emptying of the trash), my disc storage space would very quickly dwindle again. At times, I completely ran out, or barely had any.

Things came to a head when all my apps but iPhoto and Chrome went into kernel panic. Stooge that I am, I realized this happened because they were the only ones I hadn’t deleted the English.lproj or en.lproj folders for, within the Resources folder in Package Contents.

I finally had to reinstall and then update my OS. It also seems very likely Spotify was the guilty party, stuck in a runaway loop and gobbling up my storage space. I’ve yet to reinstall it, though I really miss having it. A lot of those albums were longtime writing soundtracks.

While I was waiting to get my newer computer back, I had to use my 11-year-old backup again.

I’d love to do guest blog posts for anyone who wants to help me with promoting my alternative history! You can just mention my book if you want, but I also have a bunch of topics you could choose from, like:

Real people in the story (you can choose from a list)
Photo galleries of those people
Things I changed, besides the obvious (you can also choose from a list)
Why I radically revised the draconian Russian House Laws
How I dealt with hemophilia
How the finished product differs from the hot mess of an unfinished first draft
Real places in the story (palaces, cities, estates)
Character interviews
The semi-epistolary format I used
Or others!

Have you had any tech issues lately? Are you doing Camp NaNo? Did you do JuNoWriMo? Would you be willing to have me as a guest blogger?

IWSG—Powering towards the finish line

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InsecureWritersSupportGroup

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

What’s harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?

Sometimes titles come easily to me, in bursts of Divine inspiration or hitting upon a great idea drawn from literature, song lyrics, or symbolism/themes from the book. Other times, it’s a little harder. I’ve had a Devil of a time retitling my Atlantic City books, both already written and planned! So many of the original working titles are so corny, cliché, generic, insipid, after school special-worthy.

As a name nerd, it’s very easy to find names. I like choosing names (both surnames and forenames) either with symbolic meaning to the characters, or that aren’t overly common. My secondary blog is all about names.

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I’ve been powering through to the finish line of my alternative history, which I’m very nervous but confident of having ready by my planned 17 July release date. I’d originally hoped to have it ready for a 12 August 2016 release, what would’ve been my primary protagonist’s 112th birthday, but I was pulled away from it and towards other things.

Now I realize it was hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence) I wasn’t finished at that time. What could be a more appropriately bittersweet release date than his real-life 100th Jahrzeit (death anniversary)?

My JuNoWriMo wordcounts so far are much healthier than last year. I always count fiction, blog posts, and journal entries. This was my progress as of midnight on 6 June:

While powering through Part IV, I decided to have Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria come for two secret meetings in 1943 and ultimately defect to the Allied side. Bulgaria switched sides in 1944, but in real life, Boris died in August 1943. I support the theory he was killed with a slow-working poison, due to the circumstances raging at that time. Hitler was furious at him for repeatedly refusing to declare war on the USSR and deport Bulgarian Jewry.

The only reasons Boris joined the Axis were to regain lost Bulgarian land (and with it national pride), and to save his kingdom from foreign invasion and occupation. He was no fascist or anti-Semite. Since he’s one of my heroes, I saved him and gave him premonitions about being poisoned. He refuses to eat or drink anything at that final stormy meeting with Hitler.

I’ve joined a new writing group in the area I’ve been stuck in since last June. I really like it, though I very much miss the people and camaraderie of my writing group back home in NY. I also feel vindicated at how everyone in the critique groups I’ve been in so far loves my Cinnimin.

Out of everyone who’s “met” her over the years, only two people have ever said they didn’t like her and misread her as a mean-spirited bully. I know we can’t expect every single person to love each one of our characters, but it can shake one’s confidence. For awhile, I seriously considered toning/watering her down even further, but realized she wouldn’t be my Cinni anymore if I took away her sassy, smart-ass attitude.

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For the second time this year, I had an issue with my computer charger. The charger I got with this refurbished computer in August 2014 became frayed in several spots, and finally stopped working in January. Against my own better judgment, I got a cheap third-party replacement instead of the $79 Apple one.

That charger began erratically working in late May, and finally stopped charging altogether. I also got a Service Battery message. Thankfully, my 11-year-old MacBook Pro still works very well, other than the broken left vent fan. Every time I have tech issues, I go back to my older computer.

I got a replacement charger, and didn’t need to get a new battery as well. I’ve heard far more horrific tales about these third-party chargers, like fires and zapped hard drives. Lesson learnt.

IWSG—Miraculously regained momentum

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InsecureWritersSupportGroup

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

It’s spring! Does this season inspire you to write more than others, or not?
In past years, I remember having felt more inspiration and renewal for writing as spring took bloom, though I can’t specifically recall the same experience in recent years.

Due to my shaken confidence in my usual daily wordcounts, I set my April Camp NaNo goal at only 25K. The first 5,200-odd words came from A Dream Deferred (since I had to finish that chapter before switching gears), but everything else came from my alternative history.

I reached my lowball goal on Day 14, validated as soon as Day 20 began, and ended up at just shy of 55K.

This book is written wildly out of order, which I still feel I need to do emotionally, but that strategy also makes it harder to go on a consistent, beginning-to-end emotional journey with these characters. Regularly jumping from Point A to Point D to Point R to Point Z to Point L and back again means I don’t always remember important developments or details.

I finished the last chapter in Part II, and have finished most of Part III. I also did a smidgen of work in Part I, though my primary focus during Camp NaNo was Part III. Once that’s done, I’ll spend May going through from the start, editing, rewriting, and filling in any remaining gaps.

With my rate of progress this past month, I’m confident I can power through Part IV (about 25% done), and then work on these appendices I totally forgot I’d planned.

I also realized part of the reason for my admitted emotional distance (most glaring in Part I) was because I was trying to be too close to third-person limited. That’s just not my natural voice at all, even when a book is unusually (for me) focused on just one or two characters instead of a large ensemble cast.

Thus, I developed some of the secondary characters more, even though this isn’t their story. I also finally figured out what to do with Grand Duchess Anastasiya, who had zero lines in all those words. Her reaction to the traumatic cataclysm is to shut down and barely say more than five words at a time.

Her second-cousin, Prince Roman Petrovich (who survived in real life), has a marvellous effect on her, so much so her uncle, Grand Duke Mikhail (the Regent), realizes what a good marriage match they’d be. Prior, it was just announced they’d married in early 1920.

I do think a more formal voice works for this specific book, but as it stood, it was too emotionally distant. Better to find solutions for it now, instead of going through mental gymnastics to justify it and only belatedly realizing what a snafu that was.

Near the start of April, I changed my desktop picture to feature my protagonist and his sisters. Every time I look at it, I’m held accountable for finishing the damn book already! I have an obligation to the memory of the dead.

IWSG—A plethora of progress

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InsecureWritersSupportGroup

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

What do you love about the genre you write in most often?

I love stepping back in time to another world which now lives only in memory, like 1840s Boston, 1890s St. Petersburg, or 1940s Manhattan, with all the bygone fashions, demographics, architecture, cost of living, cars, films, streetcars, social movements, technologies, etc.

I finished the surprise two new chapters and epilogue for the book formerly known as The Very First. Not counting front and back matter, it’s about 90K. The hot mess of a first draft was only 38K. I’m really proud of the work I did on this radical rewrite and restructuring.

Coupled with the fact that the book formerly known as The Very Next went from 25K to 75K, after another radical rewrite and restructuring, I’ve started thinking maybe my Atlantic City books aren’t meant to be as short as I thought they were.

Granted, by my standards, 75–90K is still pretty damn short!

Ignore the obviously non-Russian names like Amy and Leon, and the pretentious use of accent marks. I was only 21 when I made these notes.

I was inspired to type up synopses for my planned future sixth Russian novel, along with both of the prequels. (You can now find them on the About My Russian Novels page, either in the drop-down menu or the page itself.)

I also came up with titles for all three, and started pulling ideas together for the seventh book, to be set from 1966–sometime in the Seventies. Lastly, I finally typed up the Cast of Characters section for the second prequel, from the handwritten family-by-family pages I made at 21.

The Wrangels are now the Vrangels

Finally, I finished the hiatused Chapter 33, “Quintuple New Leaves,” of my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University. It clocked it at my longest of this book so far, at 17,282 words. Prior, my longest chapter was the 17,247-word “Union with a Snake” of The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks.

Pages counts hyphenated words, like twenty-two, as two words, so I know the wordcount is slightly higher than it really is.

Chapter 34, “False Paradise,” is going very quickly and easily. I think I’ll have an easier time from this point out, though I also still need to get back to my alternative history for a 17 July release date.

I’m confident I can finish writing and editing it in time if I approach it very strategically. Part I is done, Part II is 99% done, Part III is at least 85% done, and Part IV is maybe 25% done.

This beautiful little boy is counting on me to give him the happy ending he was cruelly denied in real life. I have an obligation more pressing than merely finishing what I started already.