WeWriWa—Intercepted by Urma

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing snippets from the book formerly known as The Very Next, the chronological second of my Atlantic City books, set from March 1939 to the dawn of 1940. It underwent a radical rewrite in 2015, and I recently completed the fourth and final version. I plan on an early March release. The new title will be revealed then.

Chapter 2, “Happy Birthday, Tina,” starts when best friends Cinnimin and Sparky (real name Katherine), who live together, are about to head out to their friend Quintina’s birthday party. Then new houseguest Urma Smart sees them and delays them on their way.

An eruv is a fence, wall, or other enclosure enabling people to carry objects and push strollers in the public domain on the Sabbath. I used to live within the eruv of Albany, NY.

Saturday after lunch with her family, Sparky put on her new Mary Janes and got ready to head out to Quintina Holiday’s residence. Since there was no eruv or other type of continuous, unbroken fence, Cinni carried both of their birthday presents for Tina.

“Where are you going without Samantha?” Urma demanded.

“One of our best friends is having a birthday party,” Cinni said. “She lives behind our house. Sam wasn’t invited. No one there will know her.”

“So? You should take Samantha. She needs playmates, however secular.”

The ten lines end there. A few more to finish the scene follow.

Cinni looked at Sam, wearing a navy blue sailor suit dress, matching giant hairbow, and black button-up boots, her long blonde hair combed straighter than a pin. “I don’t think she’ll be very popular at the party. No one there dresses like the Amish.”

“Amish?” Urma’s voice took on a sharp, ugly, accusatory edge. “Is that what you think we are? I’ll have you know we’re proper Christians, and wouldn’t dream of joining heretical groups like that! We’re such good Christians, we’ve had three baptisms! How dare you accuse us of heresy!”

WeWriWa—Pondering the future

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing snippets from the book formerly known as The Very Next, the chronological second of my Atlantic City books, set from March 1939 to the dawn of 1940. It underwent a radical rewrite in 2015, and I recently completed the fourth and final version. I plan on a late February or early March release. The new title will be revealed then.

Best friends Cinnimin and Sparky (real name Katherine) were baking cookies when two strangers entered the kitchen. They now know these interlopers are Urma and Samantha Smart from Washington, D.C., who’ll be living in their household until further notice. Urma has lost no time in showing some very ugly true colors, though Sam is a more unknown entity for the moment.

Urma just ordered Sam to come with her, leaving Cinni and Sparky alone to ponder the strange scene they just witnessed.

“What just happened?” Cinni asked. “We’ve got three new houseguests all of a sudden, and they think they’re better than us? I don’t wanna know what exactly their religion is like, if it’s even worse than normal Methodism.”

“I hope they move out soon,” Sparky agreed. “If they’re born Americans, they can find work and a new house easier than my parents.”

“Maybe I can help Samantha become a real American girl, just like I helped you. Her mother might be mad, but she’ll have to get used to it. No one can be that set in her ways so young already.”

“What if they’re both as bad as they seem?”

The nine lines end here. A few more follow to finish the chapter.

Cinni grabbed a rolling pin and attacked a slab of chocolate dough with renewed vigor. “If they are, we’ve just become trapped in a nightmare. I ain’t looking forward to living with people who hate us before they even got to know us.”

WeWriWa—Urma gets worse

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing snippets from the book formerly known as The Very Next, the chronological second of my Atlantic City books, set from March 1939 to the dawn of 1940. It underwent a radical rewrite in 2015, and I recently completed the fourth and final version. I plan on a late February or early March release. The new title will be revealed then.

Best friends Cinnimin and Sparky (real name Katherine) were baking cookies when two strangers entered the kitchen. They now know these interlopers are Urma and Samantha Smart from Washington, D.C., who’ll be living in their household until further notice. Urma has lost no time in showing some very ugly true colors, and just used some slurs against Sparky’s Jewish family and the Italians next door.

Mr. Filliard crossed his arms. “If you value my charity, you won’t do anything to the Smalls or Vallis or use those ugly slurs again. They’re respected neighbors and friends whose excellent character I vouch for. Now would you like to get settled in?”

“I guess we have no choice.” Urma turned around and stalked off to her suitcases. “But you’ve got another think coming if you believe my Samantha will be sharing a bedroom with a heathen. Mortez and I will find another place to put her, even if she has to sleep in a closet or the barn. I wish we had the money to dine out every day rather than profane ourselves at your table.”

The nine lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

Samantha looked at Cinni and Sparky. “Please, call me Sam. My mother usually calls me Samantha, but I prefer Sam. My real name is too long and unusual, even if Sam sounds very boyish.”

“You’re talking too much to those girls, Samantha,” Urma called. “Please get your suitcases and stop fraternizing with them if you know what’s good for you. I already know none of these people are our kind. We’re so much better than they are. If only your father had asked a less liberal friend for assistance.”

Sam turned around and went to join her mother.

Lessons learnt from post-publication polishing, Part V

It’s been two and a half years since my unplanned Part IV of this series I thought would remain a three-parter. But why not add new posts as I learn new lessons?

I’ve been preparing And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away for its hardcover edition since December. As I’ve mentioned many times, I wish I’d done so many things differently with this book. When I decided to go indie in 2014, I led with Jakob’s story because I felt it was my strongest completed and polished material to date. It was also relatively short, at only 125K (not including front and back matter).

While I can honestly say I’m still proud of this book, and still feel it was the right decision to put out Jakob’s story in two separate books, I’m kind of disappointed in myself for not being truer to my natural voice and style. I let myself get too much inside my own head while I was writing it.

I wrote the originating long short story/piece of backstory in 2006, and turned it into the two books from 9 March–19 August 2012. The first book was written from 9 March–30 April, and the second was 30 April–19 August. Neither had any major edits or rewriting. Apart from a few bits I added here and there, and purging of overused words and phrases like “even” and “you know,” they’re largely just as I wrote them in the first drafts.

I believed so much in Jakob’s story, and entered it in a lot of contests, pitchfests, and virtual conferences. The other participants really liked it too, and helped me to craft a very strong query letter. I knew it was time to quit shopping around already when an associate agent ripped the query apart in a critique I won, taking issue with things everyone else had praised and helped me to change to its final form. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

Since I was in the thick of trying for trad-pub and doing all these contests and related events, I was hyper-conscious of dos and don’ts, and trying my very best to model them in my own writing. That included a lot more descriptions of body language and emotional reactions than I usually do.

As an Aspie, I’ve worked really hard to become better at this, since it doesn’t come naturally to me. Many of my older drafts had really unrealistic, flat, almost matter-of-fact reactions to very emotional events, like when Lyuba is separated from her baby Tatyana several times. Either that, or they felt really forced and corny. So that was a literary skill I genuinely needed to work on.

However, we should always strive to find our natural voice and style, not mindlessly copy someone else’s or go by a checklist of things we think we’re supposed to do no matter what. I now acknowledge I’m just not the type of writer who naturally fills my stories with things like widened eyes, rapidly beating hearts, and punching the air.

You know what does still feel natural in Jakob’s story? Every single description of his fear, terror, anguish, pain, and helplessness related to his broken foot and ankle, the long period of immobility during recovery, bearing weight through that leg again, relearning to walk, realising he’s been left with a limp, going up and down stairs creatively, navigating stairs at all, sharply feeling cold weather in those bones even after healing. All drawn from my own personal experience from my shattered tibia and fibula and being unable to walk for eleven months.

I wish I’d gotten out of my own head and written the entire book in that vein, doing what came naturally instead of going by expectations. E.g., there was no pressing reason I needed to rein in its length just because I intended it as YA. I always described it as upper, mature YA, and plenty of YA hist-fic is well above 125K.

While I still don’t regret making it a more original Shoah story instead of paint by numbers, that shouldn’t have precluded expanding Parts I–III. Maybe not rehash familiar territory, but add, e.g., chapters or sections of Jakob visiting his friends Sander and Elma, working on his scrapbook documenting the occupation, looking out the window at the local streetfighting, his work in the Westerbork restaurant’s kitchen.

I briefly thought about making it first-person, since that’s so trendy in current YA. At least I didn’t go that route, since my natural POV will always be third-person. It’s enough that Jakob’s story is a lot closer to third-person limited than I normally do. There are also a number of first-person interludes with Jakob and Rachel’s letters.

I believe all books take the form they’re meant to, even if that’s not how we originally envisioned them. This book just took a much shorter form than I wish it had. If I did a full rewrite or created an adult version, it might not feel like the same story anymore.

WeWriWa—Rooming arrangements

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing snippets from the book formerly known as The Very Next, the chronological second of my Atlantic City books, set from March 1939 to the dawn of 1940. It underwent a radical rewrite in 2015, and I recently completed the fourth and final version. I plan on a late February or early March release. The new title will be revealed then.

Best friends Cinnimin and Sparky (real name Katherine) were baking cookies when two strangers entered the kitchen. They introduced themselves as Urma and Samantha Smart from Washington, D.C., and said they were directed to Cinni’s house and her father. Urma, the mother, has begun showing her very ugly true colors as an intolerant fundamentalist.

Cinni’s father just came in and explained the Smarts lost their apartment to arson and need a place to stay till they find a new home.

Cinni pulled a piece of peach rock candy out of her left pocket and tossed it into her mouth. “I’m sorry they lost their apartment. They must really want a fresh start if they came all the way here ’steada staying in the D.C. area.”

“There’s too much godlessness and sin in the capital,” Urma said. “Perhaps a smaller city will be more conducive to living a perfect fundamentalist Methodist life. Samantha in particular doesn’t need any temptations, as strong as she is in her testimony.”

“Where will we be rooming, Sir?” Samantha asked Mr. Filliard. “I’m used to having a bedroom all to myself, and good Christians shouldn’t have to share a home with heathens. It’s bad enough my father isn’t religious enough.”

“You’ll be in the attic with Cinnimin and Sparky,” Mr. Filliard said.

The ten lines end here. A few more to complete the scene follow.

“There’s also a private bathroom across the hall. Their bedroom is much larger than my own master suite, since it takes up almost the entire attic. I bet you’ll really like it.” He turned to Urma. “You and Mortez will be on the second floor, in a small bedroom my children’s nanny used to use. I won’t insult you by asking you to use the maid’s room on the first floor. When my family had a maid, she lived here in the guesthouse with our cook. That room is an extra closet now. I feel sorry for maids forced to use such small rooms.”

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

Though the Filliards went from riches to rags after the Stock Market crashed, and took quite awhile to chase the wolf from the door, they were able to retain their rather large house thanks to selling almost all their possessions. A few well-off friends also helped with money.

Despite the size of the house, it wasn’t considered a mansion even when the Filliards were rich. It was built and used as an upper-middle-class house for much of its long history.