Walking through my final changes to The Very First

Proving yet again that my books under 100K tend to need much more editing, revising, and rewriting than my deliberate doorstoppers, I had to read through proofs of the book formerly known as The Very First about five or six times until finally emerging with a mistake-free copy.

Most of what I caught were the usual embarrassing little typos or missing words here and there, while others were somewhat more significant.

1. In all the books of the prequel series, it was never exactly established just where in the Filliards’ house the Smalls live, and where this smaller second kitchen is. At first I wrote it as another wing, then changed it to the unused second floor, which has a small family sitting room, private dining room, and kitchen. Mr. Filliard converts the old playroom and billiard room into bedrooms. Many older upper-class houses did have that kind of original layout.

But that didn’t feel right. The Filliards do have a much larger than normal house, which they were able to keep after the Stock Market crash because they sold so many possessions, but it’s never been written as a mansion. Certainly, it would be very unusual for a normal detached house of that vintage to have three stories plus an attic.

Now it’s established that the Smalls have a cottage-like guesthouse attached to the main house, which the cook and maid used to live in, while Sparky shares Cinni’s attic bedroom. Even when the Filliards were rich, it was considered upper-middle-class, and the old barn on the property was for the gentleman farmer who lived there originally.

2. Gary and Barry’s respective original middle names, in the Cast of Characters section, were changed from Elijah to Elias and Isaac to Issak. Why would boys born in Germany have English birth names?

3. I changed Cinni’s mother’s birth name from Katarzyna to Karolina and her legal name from Cairn to Caroline. Her nickname is now Carin. One of her defining personality traits, her whole life long, is that she’s not particularly bright, and that her youngest child’s name is Cinnimin instead of Cinnamon because she’s a terrible speller.

But why would a former model, someone so eager to reinvent herself as a proper, refined, glamourous all-American (despite privately being fiercely proud of her Polish roots), give herself a name like Cairn? How do you get that as a phonetic spelling? It makes more sense for her to modify her Polish nickname, Karina, which her family still calls her.

The names Corinne, Corrine, Cara, and Carine likewise felt all wrong on her. Her name is Carin, even if that’s unfortunately become a widespread sexist pejorative in recent years.

4. I seriously considered changing Gayle’s closest sister’s name from T.J. (Tina Jasmine) to just Jasmine, to fit with the siblings’ predominant nature theme. But I just couldn’t picture her as a Jasmine after so many years. She’s T.J., for better or worse.

5. I described formerly unmentioned costumes in the Halloween chapter. How did that one slip by a passionate Halloween-lover!?

6. For the life of me, I couldn’t find the name of the girls’ division of Budapest’s famous, venerable Fasori Gymnasium again, so now Mrs. Kovacs just tells Mrs. Small she learnt German at gymnasium. No name specified.

7. I further toned down the fight Mr. and Mrs. Seward have in front of all the children. That remains one of the edgier parts of the book, but now it’s only mildly PG-13 instead of jaw-droppingly X-rated. It’s enough to know she’s openly, regularly committing adultery.

8. I took out a few lines point-blank giving away a future revelation about one of the principal families. There are already enough strong clues without directly spelling it out so early!

9. Kit’s animosity towards her mother is toned down even more. It’s still very much there, but Kit no longer uses epithets like “stupid” and “crazy.”

10. The Smalls’ Amsterdam neighborhood, named in Barry’s bar mitzvah speech in the Epilogue, was corrected from De Pijp to Rivierenbuurt. I realized the mistake while looking through the book formerly known as The Very Last.

11. There are now four tracks at the school—general, honors, college prep, progressive. Cinni and most of her friends will enter the progressive track in junior high.

12. I made almost everyone’s ages ambiguous, not just Cinni and her friends. If I age them up, it’ll have to be by two years. While I’d probably make them 10–11 in the first book were I just writing it now, that would demand far too much frogging and reconstruction.

WeWriWa—Served a proper feast

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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.

This year’s Thanksgiving excerpts come from Chapter 4, “Thanksgiving 1959,” of Little Ragdoll. Set from 1959–74, it takes protagonist Adicia Troy from age five to twenty. Here, Adicia and her four closest sisters have gone to dinner at the Bowery Mission with their surrogate mother Sarah, a live-in nanny and maid whom their black-hearted blood mother barely pays.

                       

The scents of delicious food are overwhelming when they enter the dining hall. Adicia eagerly rushes over to a table with five available chairs and place settings, making sure it’s near the end of the table so they have space for Justine’s stroller.

“Do you mind that you never eat kosher meat, Sarah?” Emeline asks as they’re being served.

“You eat what you can when you don’t have money. Besides, I wasn’t from a religious family. Most German Jews weren’t religious. My family wasn’t anti-religious, but we weren’t Orthodox either.”

“Judaism has different denominations like Christianity? I haven’t read many books on world religions. I don’t even know what denomination my family’s supposed to be, just that we were baptized some type of Protestant.”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow.

“I don’t know either,” Lucine says. “Why did our parents bother having us baptized if we only go to church on major holidays?”

“There are four major branches of Judaism,” Sarah says. “Then there are many different communities in the Orthodox world, and small branches like Karaites. We can look for a good book about it next time we go to the library.”

Adicia practically inhales the feast set before her. Roast turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, yams, vegetables, pumpkin, pecan, and apple pie, applesauce, and piping-hot rolls. The volunteers and mission workers are very special for buying, preparing, and serving all this food to so many people, and then cleaning up it all up.

The Bowery Mission, Copyright Beyond My Ken

WeWriWa—A terrible Thanksgiving

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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.

This year’s Thanksgiving excerpts come from Chapter 4, “Thanksgiving 1959,” of Little Ragdoll.  While Adicia Troy and her four closest sisters are going to dinner at the Bowery Mission with their surrogate mother Sarah, and oldest sister Gemma is going to a friend’s house, the rest of the Troys bar delinquent Carlos are staying in the tenement for a pathetic excuse of a holiday meal.

“I got some turkey breast lunchmeat at the deli for seventy-five percent off since it was two days past the expiration date,” Mrs. Troy says proudly. “Our darling baby Tommy will eat even better than us, since I found some turkey meat at my job the other day. These rich people who eat at that hotel never ask for their leftovers to be wrapped up, so the wait staff throws the excess food in the garbage. People who throw food in the garbage are fools. I bet they’d have heart attacks if they knew poor people like us are getting free meals thanks to their pompous stupidity.”

“How much turkey meat is there?” Allen asks excitedly. “I hope it can feed all of us!”

“You ain’t getting none. That meat is for Tommy and Tommy only. You’re only my third-born; Tommy is my precious baby boy and the first boy after four girls in a row.”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow.

“But what if there’s leftovers? You really think a three-year-old kid can eat a full adult-size serving?”

“Tommy can get as chubby as he wants. It means my baby’s staying warm with extra body fat even if we can’t afford a rich boy’s coat. Now shut up and start setting the table.”

“I guess now ain’t the right time to ask why you and Dad always seem to have enough money for drugs and alcohol but not enough money to buy decent groceries.” Allen stalks over to the cupboard and pulls out four chipped white and orange plates from a tableware set his parents got as a wedding gift in 1941.

                      

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IWSG—November odds and sods

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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:

Albert Camus once said, “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” Flannery O’Conner said, “I write to discover what I know.” Authors across time and distance have had many reasons to write. Why do you write what you write?

Writing has been my calling for 36 years, as long as I’ve known how to write. It’s just something I’ve always done, the way others have a lifelong calling to medicine, art, music, or the clergy.

I’ve been writing historical since I was about eight. History was always my favoritest subject in school, and I never understood why so many of my peers found it boring and stupid. I love learning about how people lived in other eras.

I discovered my secondary genre, soft sci-fi, in fifth grade. We read a book of short sci-fi stories in English class, and I was so fascinated by these imagined future worlds, I planned a bunch of my own books set in various future years. The first story in that book was by Asimov. As much as I love Asimov, I wish I had a more original gateway story!

I strongly suspect this year’s NaNo will be a bust, or that I’ll barely squeak out 50K, instead of overachieving as I always do. Without in-person write-ins and the ability to get out of this annoying open concept house I’m still stuck in, a home which isn’t my own, my normal daily wordcounts are gone. This apparently permanent lockdown is ruining so many people’s mental health!

At least my vision has improved most marvellously with my new scleral contacts.

In happier news, all four volumes of Dark Forest and the book formerly known as The Very First are finally now available in paperback. There will be upcoming posts about TVF, which I’ll never think of by its published title. I know all four books in the prequel series desperately needed better titles, but after 20+ years, I’m emotionally attached to their original names.

                                 

E-book cover is on the left; print cover is on the right

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Is it possible to live in two worlds at once?

When German-born Katharina Brandt immigrates from Amsterdam in 1938, her dearest wish is to become a real American girl. From now on, her name is Katherine Small, and she adopts the nickname Sparky to try to seem even more American. But before she can realize her dream, she’ll have to learn the ins and outs of her unusual new neighborhood and group of friends in Atlantic City.

Sparky is taken under the wing of Cinnimin Filliard, the youngest child of the man who helped her family immigrate. Cinni teaches her a thing or two about American life and their strange neighborhood. Sparky wants to believe Cinni is steering her right, but Cinni has some conflicting attitudes. Though nice and intelligent, Cinni often cops a superior attitude just because she was voted Most Popular Girl. Particularly to neighbor Violet, whom Cinni is convinced is after her title.

Sparky will do almost anything to fit in, except compromise her Judaism. She longs to be Sparky to her friends while remaining Kätchen to her family and staying true to her values. But along the way, Cinni, who tries to tempt her into wearing shorter skirts and eating non-kosher food, slowly begins realizing there’s more than one acceptable way to be a real American.

Will she ever be able to pull off being Sparky to her friends while remaining Kätchen to her family and staying true to her values? And just why was she nicknamed Sparky?

My feral friend White Shoes says hello!

Are you doing NaNo this year? Is lockdown negatively impacting your writing life?

WeWriWa—Fortune cake charms

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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.

This year’s Halloween excerpts come from the currently-numbered Chapter 122, “Heterogenous Halloween,” of A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, in 1951. The seventh and final section takes place at the apartment of cousins Andrey, Tomik, and Vilorik. As on all other years, their party features a fortune cake.

Ilya, dressed in an Oktoberfest costume, walks up to the fortune cake and picks up a large ivory-handled knife. Milada, whose costume as always matches his, closes his hand over his as they cut the cake.

“Those charms are a load of premodern, superstitious nonsense,” Tomik scoffs when Luiza, dressed as a tavern maiden in green, hands him a plate. “People create self-fulfilling prophecies, or the charms just happen to coincide with things that would’ve happened regardless.”

“It’s a fun Halloween tradition.” Zhdana perches on his lap and slides her hand up his Viking robe. “Someone’s really hot and bothered. I’ll have to come home late tonight so I can relieve you of that uncomfortable congestion. A good Viking wench always satisfies her man.”

“We didn’t need those images!” Igor shouts.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow.

Luiza hands Igor and Violetta plates. Igor pokes his fork into the cake at several places to make sure he doesn’t bite into the charm. Unlike other fortune cakes, this one doesn’t have charms baked in with ribbons.

“A ring!” Zoya exclaims when Igor holds his up. “You’re next to marry!”

Violetta looks at the floor as she holds up a rattle.

“Next to have a baby!” Zoya smiles at Violetta and Igor. “You can’t write that off as coincidence and superstition.”

“You gave us these charms on purpose,” Violetta says.

“It was completely random,” Vilorik says. “You shouldn’t believe in that bunk. Modern, rational, sensible people know fortunetelling isn’t real.”

Zoya turns pale when she beholds her charm, bells.

“You’re soon to be wed!” Zhdana says. “I wish I’d gotten a charm proclaiming an upcoming wedding. A shamrock just means luck is in my future.”