Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Our long national nightmare is over...

HE WON!!!!!!!!!!!!! What a great and hope-filled day in our nation's history! Congratulations, and may you live up to all the love and respect we have for you, Barack!!!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Raving Over Research

I'm pleased as punch right now, because by chance I came across an obscure memoir from the 1980's, The Private War by Bruno Shatyn, and it's turned out to be such a gem for my ever-on-going historical research.

The author, a lawyer in Krakow before the Nazi invasion, details his experiences during the war, everything from tricking the German occupiers into stamping approval on a forged pass to transfer his wife to the Russian-occupied sector of Poland on their own trains, to rescuing his family and his inlaws on false papers and setting them up to hide in plain sight, working right under the noses of the Nazis. (His brother-in-law worked in the Nazi labor department, under the charge of a German official.)

But the most important treasures are the details of everyday life under the Nazis, of the coping mechanisms people developed and the normal sights and sounds, details that are often left out or taken for granted, but are essential for developing true historical accuracy. The author's analytical approach to telling the story gave me priceless glimpses into how so many Underground operations were carried out, step by step, and how people thought and felt and talked.

My delight in reading this latest addition to my collection has reminded me once again about just how important reading is to a writer's development. Not only in honing their skills and keeping them open minded and invigorated, but also in building the base of knowledge that lends authenticity to a story and makes it real in the eyes of the reader. For historical fiction writers, especially, it's essential to gain a well-rounded understanding of the time period and location of the story, including the sensory details that make it come alive.

And now I am off to request more of the books on my long list through the inter-library loan... :D

Friday, September 12, 2008

Breezing Along

I'm still on a writing spree, somewhere around 500-1000 words a day and close to three quarters finished with the second draft.  I like how the last quarter is shaping up, after months and months of letting details and plot tidbits simmer in the back of my head.  Warsaw right before the uprising is a fascinating period to write about, and it's coming to life in a way it never did in the first draft.

Still, I'm getting worried, because I haven't filled in Tirza's POV yet, only Hania's.  All her scenes combined shouldn't come to more than 30K, but that leaves me well over my goal word count.  Looking over the storyline, the beginning quarter is where I can most afford to do some cutting, but it's going to be hell to figure out what can go.  I crafted it carefully, to create a buildup of tensions from the start of the Nazi invasion, but much as I like the result, I don't think I can afford to keep it.  

Maybe I'm stressing out too much over it.  One way or another, I'm not going to stop midtrack and jump to a different place in Hania's journey to solve the problem, but it still keeps me awake at night.  Meanwhile, SS Commandante Kutschera's assassination in Warsaw is looming, with major consequences for my characters, and it's begging to written about.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Birthday Snippets!

Long time no see! It's been ages since I updated this blog last! But in this case at least, my silence here equals a great deal of productivity. In the last few weeks, I've upped the word count on the 2nd draft of Hidden Underground from 20,000 to 50,000, which means I'm now half finished. Hurrah! That's a good deal toward my goal of completing this stage before Christmas.

I finally made the changes to the MCs' names that I've had in mind for a while. Heidi is now Hania, a Polish Catholic name instead of a secular Germanic name that wouldn't have been likely in that time. Tirzah's name has now dropped the "h" to fit the more common Slavic-influenced spelling.

Since it's my birthday today (blazing hot day at 120 degrees Fahrenheit!) I thought I'd have some fun by indulging in a couple of excerpts here, randomly selected from that brand new 30k. Here goes! Be sure and tell me what you think. ;)

The following bit is set in late December 1942. Hania's father and his best friend, the local Polish Underground leader Andrej Malov, are discussing their resistance work while waiting for a friend to arrive.

Excerpt #1 from Hidden Underground
copyright 2008, J Rose D.

At the sharp knock on the door, the men tore pages off on their writing pads. Pan Andrej dropped them into the stove. Mama peeked through the curtains and laughed shakily.

“It’s only Pan Pietre.” She unlocked the door for him. “You can keep the rest of your writing pads.”

Pan Barewski stepped in, wrapped in a close scarf and the good woolen coat and sprinkled with loose snow. “I thought I’d never get here.”

“So did we.” Pan Andrej scribbled on his pad without even a pause.

Mama steadied her trembling hands. “This only proves what I’ve been saying about the need for a code knock.” In the silence, the men looked from her to each other and nodded, but nothing more was said.

“My bike broke down on the way from Krakow.” Pan Barewski blew on his hands and held them by the stove. His dusty knickerbockers had a new shred at the left cuff.

Pan Andrej looked up briefly. “This is about the fifth time, isn’t it?”

“More like the eighth.” Pan Barewski smiled wryly and everyone else chuckled. “This time I hit a tree. The pedals are pretty much out. I had to tie the wheel back on.”

He seated himself on the other side of the table with last week’s edition of The Mountain Call, keeping a respectful distance from Papa and Pan Andrej’s low conversation. Hania fought an inner battle with her curiosity—obviously whatever they were saying wasn’t meant for her ears.

Kotka brushed against her legs, and she picked him up, heavy-hearted. Pani Barewska’s cousin had died in childbirth with a fever like Pani Judyta’s. And then there was Pani Shmiel. That can’t happen, not to Tirza’s mother. She’d never be able to trust God the same way again.

Low thumping under the table drew her out of her thoughts. The cat struggled loose from her arms to investigate. Pan Barewski’s gaze was serious, directed on the newspaper as before, but it had to be him. The knocks took on an ever-changing, rhythmic pattern.

Pan Andrej glanced at him every so often with mild irritation. Finally, he turned to Pan Barewski mid-sentence. “What in God's name are you banging around for?”

“This would be just right.” Pan Barewski rapped on the tabletop this time—one knock, then sets of three and two.

Pan Andrej repeated the knocks with a concentrated stare. “Perfect. But change the rhythm slightly, to make it more clear—like this.” And that was the code knock.

The second snippet comes soon afterward. Hania's been sent on a secretive errand to pick up an Underground worker who's going into hiding.

Excerpt #2 from Hidden Underground
copyright 2008, J Rose D.

The Kawiarna Nowicki was the ancient-looking cafĂ© across the street from Gestapo headquarters. The Underground often used it for exchanging information—Papa said it was safer because it was so obvious. But maybe it was just that the location made everyone so scared that their brains cleared of any dangerous information.

One way or another, Hania shivered involuntarily as she opened the door to go inside. The bright travel posters that still covered the window, advertising vacations to Bavaria and Italy, were like a cruel joke against the backdrop of the hordes of soldiers and plainclothes Gestapo lounging at the counters.

Seven fifteen. She was more than two hours late.

Smoke and a strong beer odor mixed with the butterflies in her stomach and made her sick. The sloped chairs and round tables with zany red and yellow cloths were crowded with New Year’s Eve revelers—the ones who still had money and the ones who pretended they did for a cover.

She strained her eyes to scan the room, and suddenly, amidst a crowd of women, she knew it was her. The girl sat by the window, reading primly from a dog-eared book. Her loose hair sparkled in the deep pink tint of the last sunlight.

Hania wound her way to the back with her gaze fixed on the white tile. By now she’d had practice avoiding attention, but it was still hard to keep from glancing around nervously for spies. As she approached, the girl closed her book.

“How’s my cousin?” Hania blurted the password question. And then, like always, the anxious eternity of waiting started. What if she’d gotten the wrong person? How would she explain?

“Jana? She got married last week, in Lodz.” The girl’s response was so casual it felt real. She picked up a purse, stuffed and shredded at the seams, and followed Hania out without another word.

On the gray curb outside, she let out a nervous laugh. “I’m glad they sent you. For some reason, I worried the whole time that it would be some young man who’d do something stupid to try and get my attention.” She put out her hand, a cool, slender one. “I’m Franciszka.”

Friday, June 27, 2008

Meme Procrastination

I stole this meme from Deniz. Ah, the fun of doing a useless quiz when I should be getting over a rough spot in the novel. {eg}


What is the wallpaper on your computer?
a boring Vista picture of grass with dew on it

How many televisions do you have in your house?


Are you right handed or left handed?
Left-handed, even when it's inconvenient

Have you ever had anything removed from your body?
Not that I know of :P

What is the last heavy item you lifted?
A fruit tree branch, to stake it up and keep it from snapping.. It was surprisingly heavy.

Have you ever been knocked out?


If it were possible, would you want to know the day you were going to die?
No, I'd rather be blissfully unaware.

If you could change your name, what would you change it to?
I wouldn't-- I love both my first and middle names!

What color do you think looks best on you?
Turquoise and pink.

Have you ever swallowed a non-food item?
Do insects count?


Would you kiss a member of the same sex for $100?
Already done it for free!

Would you allow one of your little fingers to be cut off for $200,000?

Would you never blog again for $50,000?
Who wouldn't?

Would you drink an entire bottle of hot sauce for $1,000?
I'd have to be in desperate need of the money. {g}

Would you, without fear of punishment, take a human life for a million dollars?
No way.


What is in your left pocket?

Is Napoleon Dynamite actually a good movie?
Never seen it.

Do you have hardwood or carpet in your house?
Both...sort of.

Do you sit or stand in the shower?

How many pairs of flip flops do you own?


Last person who texted you?
My best friend.

Last person who called you?
My older brother.

Last person you hugged?
My mom.



Summer and Autumn.

Pink, purple, turquoise with enough blue tone, gold.


Missing someone?
My older brother and sister-in-law.


Listening to?
The soundtrack of Prince Caspian-- for writing music.

Worrying about?
Bringing enough boxes to help my brother move tomorrow.

Pretty turquoise dress with flowers, from India.


First place you went this morning?
Outside, to the family orchard.

What can you not wait to do?
Start on my latest drawing (fan portrait of Georgie Henley. {g})

Do you smile often?

Are you a friendly person?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Losing Perspective

Writing Hidden Underground over the past seven years, the project's become such a part of me that I sometimes feel like I'm losing perspective. My list of criticsms of it could fill pages, but I don't know how to fix them, because I can't look at it objectively, even when I put it aside for months. In my self-critical viewpoint, I'm probably blowing the extent of its problems out of proportion.

My mind pulls up the flaws and goes over and over them, nagging at me that it'll never be finished or ready for publishing. The problems feel huge, overwhelming, like a sore in your mouth when you run your tongue over it. The tone is overall too dark, my mind tells me. The characters aren't fleshed out enough, the plot is too cliche, the main characters' development is too slow, it's way too long, etc., etc.

The thing is, with all of my new WIPs, I know where I'm going, and I can sense whether what I'm doing is working or not. Character development is easy and writing the story feels light as the wind.

I probably need distance again, but the 2nd draft nags to be written and bugs me at night until I agree to work on it in the morning.

So what do you folks do when these blues hit? How do you refresh your confidence and get inspired to keep going?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Ack, Stop Eating My Files!!

My new laptop decided to crash the other day, while I was out somewhere. When I discovered it and tried to restart it, it went into super-buzz mode, until it was vibrating like a massage machine. I had to turn it off, take the battery out, and let it sit for a bit. But when I started it up again, my computer told me it couldn't run Windows, and proceeded to start a system restore, back to two weeks ago.

I panicked of course, and asked my computer-geek older brother what to do about it. Not to worry, he said, pointing to the finer print on the dialog box. It would only backtrack on settings and maybe programs, not files. But when it finished and started up again, I got into my WIP documents and discovered that EVERYTHING I had written in the past two weeks (a good 4-5000 words) was non-existent, gone without a trace. It was only then that I realized with that horrid, sick, sinking feeling that it's been months since I last backed up my work. Needless to say, I blew up at myself and the evil computer and turned into a mess of panic and tears.

Fortunately, my computer-geek brother promptly came to the rescue and showed me that I could restore my system forward again, reverting back to that same morning. I started the process and fled, to prevent myself from harboring violent intentions toward the innocent-looking machine. When it finished, I was almost afraid to look at my writing files. Fortunately, I did, and everything was there again. Whew, talk about huge relief.

The first thing I did was to email every single writing file I've updated since last year to myself on Gmail, a long overdue step toward sane computer usage for a writer. I'd been copying the files to other computers on the family network, and making CD or DVD backups when my old computer let me, but I didn't have any email copies before now.

So the moral of the story? Anything can happen to a computer, even a shiny new one, and it tends to happen just when you can't can't CAN'T afford to lose your writing files because you haven't backed up in a while.

What do you do to backup those writing files of life-or-death importance?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Excerpt from Hidden Underground

Susan Adrian posted a lovely snippet from her WIP on her blog, and suggested that some of us follow suit with short snippets of our own from the chapter we're working on at the moment, just for the fun of sharing. So here goes! :)

Here's an excerpt from Hidden Underground, my historical YA set in WWII Poland. I pulled this from the chapter I'm currently editing, set sometime in October, 1939. Heidi is visiting the town closest to her village, for the first time since the Wehrmacht arrived.

Hidden Underground
Copyright 2008, J Rose D.

A motorcycle screeched toward her as they raced across the street.

“Heidi!” Alina’s shriek echoed in the church doorway. Something grabbed her foot, sending her sprawling—a beer bottle. She closed her eyes to shut out the sting of her skinned knees. When she opened them again, the ground around her was strewn with beer bottles.

In the dark interior of the church the icons lay in a shambled heap among the bottles—twisted, ripped, falling. At her foot, the portrait of Saint Irene was separated from its frame, disfigured by a black bootprint across the face and crown. Cloths, yellow candles and oil lamps had been thrown about from the wooden altar and iconostasis. The ornate censer hung vandalized at the end of a single chain.

“My God,” she whispered. “Why?” She pulled the ends of her close-fitting sweater over her hands. Dizzy—the weathered walls and littered street changed angles. By her side, Alina was shaking.

“Come on.” Johann touched her arm with a gentle firmness. “There’s nothing we can do.”

“Shh.” There it was again—the stifled sobbing. “Someone’s in there.” Heidi navigated her way through the dark, with Johann and Alina close behind her. A chink of broken glass crunched under her shoe, and an old woman’s startled cry answered from the side of the altar.

“Pani Kusiak!” Heidi and Johann exclaimed at the same time. Pani Kusiak, in a Greek Orthodox church? She was an adamant Roman Catholic, and as far as Heidi knew she’d never set foot in here in her life.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I've been tagged!

Sarah tagged me to carry on a new meme going around by writing six random things about myself.

The rules:

a. Link to the person who tagged you.
b. Post the rules on your blog.
c. Write six random things about yourself.
d. Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs.
e. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment at their blog.
f. Let your tagger know when your entry is up.

Six random things about me:

1.) Whenever someone shakes hands with me, I wait for the inevitable question that follows. "Your hands are cold." My hands are always cold, and they turn freezing cold when I write, for some reason. Apparently my body boxes up any bit of coolness it has and sends it to my hands (I just realized that the wording of that statement could take on another meaning, lol.)

2.) I know Persian well enough to instant message and write long letters in it in both the Latin and Arabic alphabets and I understand 9/10's of what Iranian or Afghani native speakers say online. But I freak out when I get opportunities to actually speak it, probably a consequence of having learned it online (my pronunciation is good, so I've been told, but I don't have the confidence yet.)

3.) People find my accent hard to pin. Usually they ask if I'm British, but sometimes their curiosity turns into a wild guessing game skipping all over Europe--Russia, France, somewhere in Eastern Europe. Few people actually guess that it's a mix of Californian and Australian, picked up from my mother. She grew up with Australians and we children took on her accent, while she dropped it completely.

4.) When I edit my writing I can see whether I have the right balance of dialogue, description, and action in a scene by checking how it "looks," without actually reading it. If the balance doesn't look right, I mark it with "@@" and go back and fix it when I hit a block somewhere else.

5.) I'm an immigrant rights activist. I live in a racist neighborhood in a very divided rural town, so when I do flyering for protests or other events, the mostly Mexican immigrants here are surprised that a white person would get involved in their cause.

6.) I can be a terrible procrastinator sometimes. But once I get going, I'll stick to the task obsessively until it's done, usually blocking out everything else. I get things done twice as fast with a deadline as without.

And now I randomly tag:

Jenny Meyer

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Just for Fun

Just for fun, here's a pencil portrait I did recently, drawn from a photo of a friend's daughter with regular pencil and paper.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Last Cuckoo

My first novel lies in the midst of the second draft, begging to be edited. I have no excuse to drag my feet on it, really. But instead of buckling down to it, I've been busily writing chunks of my new WIP, as they sizzle in my mind and demand their turn to be heard.

The new WIP sprang from bits of unused research for the last novel. What can I say? I'm a sucker for WWII stories set in Poland. The tentative title is The Last Cuckoo, another name with a double-meaning, springing from the cuckoo symbolism I use in the story. Cuckoos are common birds in Poland, and to hear one sing means a year of prosperity. But what if the MC sees one, up close, but it refuses to sing? It's spring of 1939, and terrible things are ahead.

The story begins a full half-year before Hitler's invasion-- with massive university protests against Germany. One of those scarcely known facts that helped spark the plot. Student activists were well aware of what was happening, far from being surprised. They even expected a Nazi invasion in April, at the time of Hitler's birthday.

Another interesting bit of research I've been doing involves an obscure concentration camp in Lodz, Poland, set up a month after the invasion specifically for intellectuals--doctors, professors, actors, writers, artists, and most of all, activists. Getting rid of these people was Hitler's first priority. But, imprisoned in terrible conditions, these intellectuals banded together in incredible displays of solidarity.

The camp was burned down in 1945, to cover up the evidence, but I was able to find photos of the former factory-turned-concentration-camp as it looked during the war (not to be confused with the memorial set up in its place.)

I love the new WIP, and writing in first person is like candy-- it's so effortless to get inside the MC's head. For now, I need to get back to my editing, but I look forward to writing more of it when inspiration strikes again.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Opening Paragraph Overwork

Over at the Books and Writers forum on Compuserve, I'm participating in the Firsts workshop, where we writers are working to hone the all-important openings of our WIPs-- the hook with which we hope to catch the attention of an agent. We did first sentences, first paragraphs, and first pages. Right now we're in the midst of workshopping our first five pages. I'm amazed at the effort people are putting into each other's work, even four sessions into the workshop, with pieces getting longer and longer. Kudos to all of you!

From the first workshop onward, my first paragraph has evolved multiple times based on overwhelming critiques and suggestions from my fellow writers. I'm grateful for all the good advice I've gotten, and all the time and energy people have invested in helping me get it just right. I think it's a lot stronger now, and more succinct.

But as it continues to receive comments, I'm beginning to ask myself when to stop polishing it and leave it be. One of my best critters confirmed my gut feeling that the changes have gotten to where they are only making the paragraph more awkward, not less. I've restored part of an earlier draft, making it more to my satisfaction.

It's a good rule of thumb that it's time to stop editing when you start restoring bits and pieces that were cut earlier. Seeing as I've hit that point now, I suspect I should be setting it aside and concentrating on other aspects of the opening instead.

Draft #1:

Tension hung in the air like the heaviness of the last summer heat. It was as if the whole of Burzski village was holding its breath. Heidi Jasinska felt it that afternoon, more real than words. Before today, she'd told herself there was no possibility that war could happen here. She had heard her father and his best friend, Andrej Malov, discuss the rumors over cups of coffee, but until now most of the villagers had disregarded their warnings as mere exaggerations.

Draft #2:

Tension hung in the air like the heaviness of the last summer heat. Heidi Jasinska felt it, more real than words, as if the whole of Burzski village was holding its breath. Before today, it didn't even seem possible that war could happen here. True, she'd often heard her father and his best friend, Mr. Malov, discuss the rumors over cups of coffee, but most of the villagers had dismissed their warnings as mere exaggerations.

Draft #3:

Tension hung in the air like the heaviness of the last summer heat. Heidi Jasinska felt it, as if the whole of Burzski village was holding its breath. Before today, it didn't even seem possible that war could happen here.

Draft #4:

Before today, it hadn't seemed possible that war could happen here. But now tension hung in the air, heavy like the last summer heat. Heidi Jasinska felt as if the whole of Burzski village were holding its breath.

Draft #5:

Tension hung in the air, heavy like the last summer heat. Heidi Jasinska felt as if the whole of Burzski village were holding its breath.

Draft #6:

Before today, it hadn't seemed possible that war could happen here. Tension hung in the air like the heaviness of the last summer heat. Heidi Jasinska felt as if the whole of Burzski village was holding its breath.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Literally laughing out loud

Does it ever bug you how often you see the word literally used all wrong? From stories, to blogs, to new articles, and of course constantly in everyday speech, people love to use the word, ending up with some pretty ridiculous sounding assertions.

My brother and I discussed our shared pet peeve about this the other day, which led to a googling challenge to see how many results we got for phrases like "his eyes literally popped out of his head" (eww!!) and "he literally flew down the stairs." (We found a lot by the way-- you can try it yourself.)

In the course of that interesting exercise, I came across this weblog, devoted to "literally" in all it's uses, correct and incorrect alike (but mostly incorrect, of course.) Many of the entries are accompanied with hilarious graphics and comments. Read through the pages of archives and prepare to literally laugh your head off!


And yes, the statement in my post title is true, if a little silly-sounding. ;)

Friday, February 15, 2008

So, I have a blog.

I've finally been sucked into the blog craze, at the suggestion and urging of friends, and by my love of reading other's blogs. (Which are far more interesting than this one will be, you should know.) But, for what it's worth, here's a little about me to start you out with.

I'm a teen writer, published in a few anthologies and still working toward the Big Bite. I'm also a big-time history buff and have a thing for torturing myself with hundreds of hours of research, so I write historical YA. My first novel is set in World War II Poland and follows two girls through the war from the invasion in 1939 to the so-called "liberation" by the Soviets. It's almost finished, at about twice the length it should be, but I'm hoping to fix that problem with the second draft.

My love of writing goes back as far as I can remember. My mother reports me demanding silence as a two-year-old and announcing "I want to write, I NEED to write!" while scribbling with crayons. As a six and seven-year-old, I wrote long, tedious stories about everyday life and the fairy worlds of my stuffed animals. My interests and abilities evolved slowly from there.

I was eleven when I conceived the basics of my first novel/current work in progress. My original version is beyond embarrassing, buried until a more convenient date when I need it to demonstrate how bad I started out. I've worked steadily on the novel since then, for a total of almost eight years now, including my pause for a two or three year research binge. Now it's finally approaching the kind of book I want it to be.

My purpose for this blog? Obligating myself to do more writing, of course, and providing myself with a good opportunity for procrastination. Which will include discussing any aspect of writing I happen to be thinking of or reading about, or anything else in the writing world. I'll also be posting excerpts of my work, or fascinating bits of history from my research. Of course, in the end, I don't really know what this blog will turn into, but that's the general idea.

Thanks for reading!