IWSG—A miraculous relief and future writing plans

9

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

I found out at the beginning of September that mice got into my storage locker 900 miles away and ate some of the Easter candy in there. From that point on, I became consumed with worry about the fate of my irreplaceable notebooks, my journals from 1989–2008 (most of them in a big black computer bag) and at least 95% of the first draft of my still uncompleted 12-volume magnum opus Cinnimin (from October 1993–September 2010).

For the first week, I could barely sleep, and even began dreaming about my precious notebooks. I saw them in boxes in the storage locker, untouched, but in my waking life, I had visions of them chewed up by mice, decades of dedicated work destroyed, never to be replicated.

Finally, on Monday, my little brother got back to me after I followed up my initial text with well-chosen words to light a fire under him without making it seem like I expect him to be at my beck and call. Baruch Hashem (Thank God), he found both boxes of notebooks and the computer case.

I’ll feel a lot better when they’re back in my physical custody, but for now, it’s enough to know they’re safe.

Part IV of Cinnimin, written autumn 1993

For many years, I’ve been very aware of the fact that Cinnimin needs a lot of work when it’s finally transcribed, esp. the parts I wrote as a teenager. Even as a teen, from age fifteen on, I knew I’d significantly flesh a lot of things out when I had the luxury of a computer file which could be of any length and wasn’t confined by the parameters of a notebook. I deliberately underwrote many things.

Sagas I and II (the Forties and Fifties) need the most radical rewriting, and Sagas III and IV (the Sixties and Seventies) need a fair amount of work too. By the time I got to Saga V, I was an adult, and had developed into a more mature, stronger writer.

I’m also once again having nagging feelings about making my original generation of Atlantic City characters two years older. They’ve always deliberately been written as looking and acting older than they really are, as part of the satire, over the top humor, and je ne sais quoi of WTCOAC (We the Children of Atlantic City, a quasi-religion and secret society sort of like the Masons).

When I resurrected my long-shelved Anne Terrick in 2017, I moved her starting age from ten to almost thirteen, and don’t regret it. If I did the same for my Atlantic City characters, some things would have to be tweaked, but I don’t think the overall stories would suffer if, e.g., they’re in seventh instead of fifth grade when Pearl Harbor is bombed, or seventeen instead of fifteen when the war ends.

Toning down the content even further would destroy the satirical element, but keeping their ages might turn off a lot of people. E.g., Kit’s extremely precocious sexual début and her long list of lovers are a major part of her character, but if she starts at twelve instead of ten, the shock value is retained without coming off as creepy.

My yearly October spotlight on classic horror films kicks off on Friday with Georges Méliès as always. This year will also feature a few D.W. Griffith films, the 1919 German film Unheimliche Geschichten, a couple of lost films, German Expressionist films Waxworks and The Hands of Orlac, the 1939 remakes of The Cat and the Canary and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Hound of the Baskervilles (also 1939). The series will wrap up with Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff.

I also hope to finally finish A Dream Deferred in time for NaNo. I decided to move the subplots about Katya and Dmitriy’s friends Marusya and Sima all the way into the future sixth book, when they buy cheap, abandoned, side-by-side Victorian houses in Haight-Ashbury.

If all goes well, I’ll start the fifth book, From a Nightmare to a Dream: Out of Stalin’s Shadow, next month. I’m looking forward to outlining it.

IWSG—August odds and sods

7

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?

Writing about the Vietnam draft lottery

1

Because today would be my Vietnam War draftee character Ricky Carson’s 67th birthday, I decided to discuss the subject of the draft lottery in the U.S. Until I got to Part IV of Little Ragdoll, I had a lot of embarrassing misconceptions about this aspect of the Vietnam War and U.S history.

The draft lottery only started in December 1969. Prior, guys were drafted by local boards. Notices were sent to guys aged 18–26, though deferments were granted for reasons including being a full-time university student, having certain kinds of jobs, having a lot of dependents, not being in good physical shape, and being a clergyman.

Local drafting ended due in part to accusations of favoring certain members of a community for deferment, exemption, and never being drafted at all, like the son of local bigwigs or a popular college football player.

On 1 December 1969, a national, blind draft was instituted for guys born from 1 January 1944–31 December 1950. There were 366 blue plastic capsules, each with a birthdate. The first number drawn was 14 September, so it was assigned the number one. Capsules continued to be drawn till each birthdate had gotten a number.

The draft lottery continued till 12 March 1975, though the final year draftees were sent to Vietnam was 1972. The final draft call was 7 December 1972. Authority to induct expired 30 June 1973.

After the first year of the lottery, numbers were only drawn for one year of birth. Guys born in 1951 were called in 1971, and guys born in 1952 were called in 1972; i.e., during the year they turned twenty.

Guys with the same birthdate were chosen in order of their last, first, and middle names’ drawing; e.g., James Peter Breiner had 25 for B, 1 for J, and 10 for P.

In my youthful ignorance, I thought guys of all ages were randomly drafted. Two of my characters born in 1930, in my Atlantic City books, escape to Canada when they’re drafted in 1967, though I now know that needs major revamping. It’s an important plot point that they be there for as long as they are, but there needs to be another reason they leave and stay so long.

From the time I thought up the story of Little Ragdoll at age thirteen in 1993, till the time I got to Part IV in very early 2011, Ricky was always Adicia’s age, born in 1954. For the longest time, the vast majority of my couples were in the same graduating year. In my youthful naïveté, I thought even a year of difference was scandalous!

Then I realized I had to make Ricky two years older than Adicia for the big plot twist with the draft to work and be historically accurate. Ricky, born 15 July 1952, has lottery number 88, and loses his student deferment when he withdraws from Columbia to enter a convenience marriage with Adicia and run away to Hudson Falls.

Ricky’s draft notice was mailed in early 1972, when he still lived in Syracuse, but he doesn’t receive it till July, after it’s first been forwarded to New York City and then brought over by his outraged parents after they return from a week-long Hamptons holiday and discover what happened in their absence.

To avoid risking any further trouble for ignoring the notice so long, Ricky goes right to the local draft board and is inducted into the Air Force. By the summer of ’72, there weren’t that many troops left in Vietnam, let alone from the Army. In December ’72, Ricky is involved in the horrific Operation Linebacker II, one of the last major campaigns of the war.

Adicia’s brother Allen, born on D-Day, gets number 110, and enrolls in the Borough of Manhattan Community College to study business. He and his wife Lenore have just welcomed their second child, and Allen is the sole support of their family and his sisters’ substitute father. He needs that draft deferment for many reasons.

How not to write Russian hist-fic, Part II

2

Egads, there are so many historical inaccuracies in this book, I had to write a second post to cover everything! I felt like I were reading a book by a 13-year-old given carte blanche to spew out whatever flowed into her mind, with no editor or historical fact-checker. It’s like a kid who reads too much and understands too little, can’t research properly, and half-understands and misunderstands what she actually does read.

What else was wrong with this book?

28. No one likes infodumpy dialogue! It’s even worse when it contains the actual words “As you know.”

29. I kind of doubt a 15-year-old in 1917, let alone one from the highest reaches of society and extremely sheltered even by the standards of that era, would’ve known or used the word “penis.”

30. Speaking of, there appears to be zero truth to the oft-repeated urban legend about Rasputin’s member being cut off and preserved.

31. Even if thugs did draw an obscene cartoon of Rasputin sodomising Aleksandra on the garden wall, would any of the children have known what it represented? Given how completely sheltered they were, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn even the oldest had no idea what sex is.

32. I get the impression Ms. Lawhon just paraphrased certain passages from the websites and books she used, like writing a history paper.

33. This is the first I’ve ever heard of Anna Anderson meeting Ingrid Bergman or Hitler!

34. I might be mistaken, but 1958 seems kind of early for someone to use the word “mantra” in a non-religious sense.

35. Did Dr. Botkin really explain an orgy to his son Gleb? Since Ms. Lawhon aged him down five years, he’s only eleven in 1917. I can’t imagine any high-society parent of that era broaching such a subject with a child of that age, or using the modern term “having sex”!

36. Not nearly enough commas. Are writers allergic to them these days?

37. Overuse of “that.” That’s (no pun intended) one of the first things writers are taught about reducing wordcount!

38. Anna Anderson’s passionate advocate at Le Figaro was named Dominique Auclères, NOT Aucléres. Ms. Lawhon couldn’t even get the accent mark correct!

39. At one point, she leaves off the first accent in Champs-Élysées.

40. Was she taking her direction in Kerenskiy’s portrayal from the blatantly biased historical revisionism in Eisenstein’s October? He comes off like a cold-hearted, mean-spirited, evil criminal mastermind with nothing but contempt for the Romanovs!

41. Aleksey was not a toddler during the 1913 Tercentenary. He was eight years old. Oh, and he wasn’t walking at that celebration either, owing to still not being fully recovered from his serious injury at Spała, Poland the year before. Photos and film footage show him being carried.

42. Imperial and royal titles are capitalised when referring to an actual person and thus standing in for a proper name. E.g., the Dowager Empress, the Tsar, the Empress. For that matter, Imperial Family is also capitalised, and Russia’s ruling family was not a royal family.

43. Aleksey’s title was Tsesarevich. Tsarevich merely referred to any son of a Tsar, not the heir. And the spelling Tsarevitch? Did she take her transliteration hints from Constance Garnett? That’s how outdated that style is! I only did that when I didn’t know any better.

44. By age twelve, Aleksey was no longer an out of control spoilt brat with a huge sense of entitlement. When he found out his father had abdicated and there wouldn’t be a Tsar anymore, he showed no concern for the loss of his position as heir. He cared more about how that would affect the empire as a whole, and his family’s personal future. Oh, and the news was broken by tutor Pierre Gilliard, NOT Nicholas.

45. Tsarevna hasn’t been used as a title since the 18th century! The last women to bear it were the five daughters of Tsar Ivan V. From 1708 on, the daughters of a Tsar were called Velikaya Knyazhna (Grand Princess, mistranslated as Grand Duchess).

46. Aleksandra’s birth name was Viktoria Alix Helena Luise Beatrice, not Alix Victoria Helena Louise Beatrice.

I get the impression Ms. Lawhon just skimmed the books she references, pulling out the flashiest and most riveting bits and leaving everything else ignored or unread. Not a one of these errors would’ve been made by anyone who’s done serious, meaningful, deep research on these subjects. Her ignorance of Russian history is painfully obvious, though she claims her research inspired her to study it at university.

If you can’t get the seemingly smallest details right, why should anyone have faith you got the deeper ones correct? When a book rife with historical inaccuracies gets popular, people with no prior familiarity with the subject innocently believe this misinformation and in turn pass it along. It then becomes much harder to rebut said inaccuracies.

IWSG—Regaining passion

8

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:

If you could use a wish to help you write just ONE scene/chapter of your book, which one would it be?

That’s an easy answer in light of what happened in August 2017. I’d wish for help in recreating the lost 2,000–5,000 words of The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which weren’t in the near-complete backup I thankfully had.

This section comes near the long mostly-flashback Part II, where Eszter and her boyfriend Jakób are interrogated in SS headquarters in Zakopane, Poland. They refuse to confess their true identity or betray anyone in the Hungarian underground, and are sent to Majdanek.

I’m still 100% committed to finishing A Dream Deferred, esp. after how many times I put it on hiatus since starting it in November 2015, but now I have such a regained passion for Branches. I’ve fallen in love with the story all over again, and am so eager to get back to it.

I fully accept blame for losing that file. I went into panic mode when I kept getting the error message about the computer being unable to save the file (for just one little correction of a typo!), and assumed it’d still be there after restarting. I should’ve duplicated it and saved that new file, or put it on my flash drive.

I learnt yet another hard, painful lesson: Always have separate chapter files before C&Ping everything into a master file. Don’t make exceptions for books you’re fleshing out from novella-length stories vs. creating from scratch. C&P the pertinent sections into each chapter file and work from there.

***************************

I suspect part of the reason I neglected to back up that file every day was because of my depression and other mental health issues in the first half of 2017. I had almost no motivation to do anything, rarely left my bed or put on day clothes, didn’t do laundry for months, had an inverted sleep cycle, and ballooned up to almost 220 pounds on a frame just under 5’2. Even my now-19-year-old spider plant Kalanit was dying.

I’m in a much better mental state now. My weight is back in the 150s for the first time in probably 5+ years, and Kalanit is the healthiest and most vibrant she’s been in years.

On another very pleasant note, recent genealogical research has revealed some amazing surprises. In a future post, I’ll introduce you to my illustrious ancestors, who ranks include knights (one of whom is now a saint); a Comptroller of the Household of Queen Elizabeth I; the judge who presided over the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots; and Oliver Cromwell’s uncle. I’m also distantly related to two U.S. presidents.

Have you learnt any painful lessons about saving your work? Are you doing Camp NaNo? Has your writing ever suffered due to depression and mental health struggles?