IWSG—July 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:

There have been many industry changes in the last decade, so what are some changes you would like to see happen in the next decade?

First and foremost, I’d love to see ISBNs becoming free or very low-cost in all countries, possibly being discontinued altogether. They may have made sense at one point, but they seem really obsolete now, and it should be illegal for Bowker to have a monopoly and charge through the roof.

Only someone who was paid by Bowker would say it’s “not bad” to charge $1,500 for a thousand ISBNs, particularly when many writers may never need nearly that many!

I’d also love to see more agents and small publishers open to self-published books. It’s the best of both worlds to have complete creative control for e-books and the first edition, yet the advantage of getting noticed by more people through traditional publishing.

Given how most of my adult books are deliberately written at saga length, I’d also like to see more agents open to taking on long books instead of dismissing and mocking them out of hand. Some genres and stories can’t be done justice in all of 350 pages!

I’d also love for writers to be able to directly submit to editors as they used to, as recently as the Nineties. Having to secure an agent to get your foot in the door makes it so much harder and longer a process.

I knew going into JuNoWriMo I wouldn’t come anywhere close to 50K, thanks to this unending lockdown and the resulting inability to go to the library to write. Seeing as I’m still not in my own home, with unlimited privacy, I’m simply unable to write at nearly the prolific level I’m used to. There’s a psychological block. Almost my entire June wordcount came from blog posts!

My main summer goal is to finish checking the proofs of Dark Forest for the paperback editions, so I’ve been succeeding at that. I only find minor typos or errors here and there, but it’s important to go over the proofs and then check all over again after submitting corrections. On that front, I’ve proofed several hundred thousand words.

Still, I started spring thinking I was finally heading into the homestretch of my WIP, and now my progress has slowed to a snail’s pace. It’ll be a miracle if I’m done by NaNo!

The theme of July, apart from my Sunday Weekend Writing Warriors posts, will be architecture and housing. It kicks off next week with rants about open concepts and tiny houses, and will also include topics like common architectural styles, how to use real estate ads for research, the post-WWII housing crisis and the resulting exodus to suburbia, and my thoughts on The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

August will be pet month, and September will be education-themed (writing about higher education in hist-fic, my own educational history, the ridiculousness that is Sudbury, my thoughts on radical acceleration and grade-skipping, and more).

If lockdown ever ends and I’m still not out of this place, I don’t know if I’ll feel comfortable going back to my local writing group. One of the members said “I never pegged you for a [misogynistic slur]” after I very vocally came out in strong support of J.K. Rowling in the face of so much disgusting abuse.

She left a laugh-react when I told her that word has been recognized as a misogynistic slur, often accompanied by threats of violence, by several courts and U.K. Parliament, along with a website documenting such abuse.

May she choke on her poisonous Woke cookies!

IWSG—Poised upon a precipice

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.

I’m so embarrassed to have such pitiful wordcounts from April Camp NaNo. This isn’t anywhere close to an accurate representation of what I’m capable of! I routinely do 100K or more in a month, and I barely made 20K. All thanks to having almost zero privacy due to lockdown and being unable to go to the library anymore.

There’s a psychological block against writing in the living situation I’ve been indefinitely stuck in since June 2017, and am now trapped in for even longer. I’m desperate to get out of this stupid suburban housing development and annoying open concept house!

I want to live in a real city again, in an older property with these old-fashioned things called walls and doors, with enough room to stretch out, have privacy, and relax in peace and quiet, without super-magnified noises constantly floating in from a so-called room ten feet away.

I’m afraid these poor wordcounts and indefinite lockdown will trigger my cyclical depression and send me back to how I was three years ago, when I had no motivation to do much of anything, practically lived in my bed, and had an inverted sleep cycle. How can anyone write to the full extent of one’s ability and desire if one’s mental health is in the toilet?

The people cheering on the idea of a full YEAR of lockdown must live in spacious houses, in cities they want to live in, and have lots of money in the bank and be free of depression and mental health issues. They’re not considering what this is doing to people with far less privilege.

I bet they also think it’s appropriate to strap 12-year-olds into booster seats, but I digress.

This is similar to how I felt during NaNo 2017, which I had to do as a rebel for any hope of achieving 50K. Writing my 12-part series “The Jazz Singer at 90″ that month gave me back my long-lost writing mojo and restored my confidence and passion. I desperately need something, anything, like that again.

On top of all that, it finally dawned on me that one of the driving storylines of Parts III and IV of my WIP failed to come together well because it was never right to begin with. I was so excited about the Konevs moving back to NYC, but I kept going back and forth re: which schools everyone should attend and where they should live.

I wasted almost a year on a storyline that only created unnecessary sprawl. And this is coming from someone who deliberately writes at saga length and will be publishing this book in four volumes!

It’s just like when I hit upon the idea, in the first book, of Lyuba (then called Amy) not just falling in love with Ivan, but loving him all along, and having a short-lived clandestine romance with him which ended just before the book began. It felt so right, whereas my original plans led nowhere compelling.

The Konevs belong in Minnesota. They may have discovered they moved to farm country for all the wrong reasons, and made their adult children feel compelled to make their lives there too, but that doesn’t mean abandoning their adoptive home state altogether.

I’ll be walking through my reasons for overhauling this storyline in more detail in a future post.

I’m killing this storyline at its roots. Penultimate child Sonyechka will now get a bug in her ear about staying in St. Paul and her parents attending grad school at the state university. This brings with it a new circle of artistic and intellectual friends who immigrated from Europe after WWII, equal to anyone they may have met in NYC.

A number of chapters will need reshuffled when editing finally begins. I’m now writing out of order and not looking forward to the headache of rearranging them!

How’s your mental health holding up in lockdown? Have you ever belatedly realized a storyline wasn’t working, no matter how much you revised it?

IWSG—My sixth official NaNo

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.

IWSG—November odds and sods

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.

IWSG—August odds and sods

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?