Finishing My Book

Several months back, I mentioned I’ve been writing a pseudo-Victorian novel for 3 years.  I talked about the literary inspirations and characters – not to compare my writing with such greats (hardly that!), but to give you a gist of what the story’s like.

April is Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and my plan is to make a final push to finish the rough draft. (I know, I said that in November, but work life had other plans. ) 

Would any of you be interested in reading the rough draft?  By “rough,” I mean lightly edited and fully readable.  However, because I wrote it for NaNoWriMo (word-count marathon), some parts are overly wordy and others parts are admittedly corny.  😛

It’d be quite motivating for me to complete the ending if there were readers waiting for it.  More importantly, I’d be grateful for your comments, especially honest, constructive criticism.  At this point, I’ve spent so much time with this project, it’s lost much of its sentimental value, so I’m eager and ready for other perspectives.

The only qualification is you must be a current, regular follower of the blog (i.e. someone I recognize) and promise not to copy/plagiarize/publish/share the story in any way, with anyone else.  That’s it!  Also, there is no deadline or commitment for “when to read” or “how much feedback to give”…it’s totally up to you, and there’s no obligation to finish it, either.  (I would hate for anyone to struggle through it; I’d rather hear at what point you stopped reading it and why. :))

If you’d like to participate, please:

  • Leave a comment
  • Send me a message using the Contact Form (left sidebar), with your name and the email you’d like to be contacted with.  Your email won’t be shared with anyone, including other readers.

You’ll receive a PDF file of the story serially (about 5 chapters weekly), for about 6 weeks starting in April.  The complete draft will be about 300 pages.

No pressure to join, but let me know if you’re interested!

Falling in Love with Fiction

Occasionally you stumble across some historical story so weird it could only have happened in in real life.  Exhibit A: the mysterious lover of Nikolay Gumilyov.

Ngumil
Nikolay Gumilyov

Who was Nikolay Gumilyov?  Born in 1886, he grew up well educated and began writing poetry at a young age, becoming first published, in fact, at around age 16.  Gumilyov spent much of his life as a man of letters and established poet, but he also served in the Russian cavalry in WWI.  He was executed in 1921 on suspicions of being part of a monarchist conspiracy. 

When he was still a young man and writing for a journal called Apollon, he fell in love with the author of some poems which had been submitted for publication.  Here I quote Wikipedia:

In August 1909, the famous Russian artistic periodical Apollon received a letter with verses on a perfumed paper with black mourning edges, signed only by a single Russian letter Ch. The verses were filled with half-revelations about its author—supposedly a beautiful maiden with dark secrets . . . Over the next few months, publications of the newfound poetic star were the major hit of the magazine, and many believed that they had found a major new talent in Russian poetry. The identity of the author was slowly revealed: her name was Baroness Cherubina de Gabriak, a Russian-speaking girl of French and Polish ancestry who lived in a very strict Roman Catholic aristocratic family, who severely limited the girl’s contacts with the outside world because of an unspoken secret in her past. Almost all of Apollon’s male writers fell in love with her, most of all the great poet Nikolai Gumilyov. He wrote a series of passionate love letters to her and received quite passionate answers.

The mystery of the newfound genius was short-lived. In November it was discovered that the verses were written by a disabled schoolteacher, Elisaveta Ivanovna Dmitrieva, with the participation of a major Apollon contributor and editor, the poet Maximilian Voloshin. 

Apparently, Voloshin and Dmitrieva came up with this scheme as a sort of publicity stunt in order to get her published.  Gumilyov, as you can imagine, was not amused.  The fallout between him and Voloshin eventually led to a duel, which (fortunately) did nothing to help sore feelings but at least resulted in no casualties, as Gumilyov missed and Voloshin couldn’t handle a gun.

Elisaveta Ivanovna Dmitrieva, AKA
Cherubina de Gabriak

You can read more about the love triangle here.  It’s quite a soap opera and makes the Charlotte Bronte’s “Currer Bell” seem mild by comparison!

No-No Boy and What It Means to Be American

Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered? 
Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power or organization?  

No-No Boy follows the post-war lives of two young Seattleites: Ichiro Yamada and Kenji Kanno.  Published in 1957, John Okada’s only novel takes a raw cross section of Japanese-American society and examines it through the eyes of these characters who made very different choices.

When called to the draft, Ichiro followed his mother’s guidance and answered “no” to both “loyalty questions,” resulting in imprisonment.  After two years, he is released from prison to a community which abhors him for his decision, almost as much as he hates himself.  Kenji, on the other hand, volunteered for combat, with the hesitant support of his father.  He returns to Seattle as a hero, yet carrying an infected wound that is eating away at his life.

This was a tough book to get through because it is dark, ugly, and depressing.  There are endless descriptions of hatred and bitterness among family members, friends, and strangers.  Nearly every character is conscious of a hideous silence in their lives and attempts to fill it with noise like alcohol, foul language, and random hookups.  Bleak is an understatement; I was almost compelled not to finish it.

Still, you’re haunted by the impression it rings true.  Okada lived through the events he described; he was a student at the UW when his family was sent to an internment camp in Idaho and, like Kenji, he went on to serve in the U.S. military, translating commands to surrender (p. 256).  Each character is so vividly painted, they must have some origin in real life – even, maybe, Ichiro’s mother, whose belief in Japanese victory drives her insane.

The best parts of the book are Ichiro’s internal monologues, where he wonders whether society will ever forgive him for being a “no-no boy” and allow him to live a normal life; whether the Japanese-American community will recover from its divisions; whether one day all he will see is “people” and not different races mistreating each other.  He alternates between despair and hope.

. . . in time there will again be a place for me. I will buy a home and love my family and I will walk down the street holding my son’s hand . . . it will not matter about the past, for time will have erased it from our memories and there will be only joy and sorrow and sickness, which is the way things should be. (p. 52)

It is hard to give No-No Boy a rating.  It’s truly a unique novel, being (as far as I know) the first of its kind and maybe the only novel on this particular aspect of the Japenese-American experience in WWII.  There’s some moments of true brilliance, leading me to think Okada could have become a famous 20th-century author.  However, apart from the overwhelmingly grim atmosphere, I found the ending to be disappointing.  There were one or two potential plot twists that never came to fruition, so Ichiro’s character arc made little progress in the end.  I’ll settle on a middle-of-the-road rating: 3 stars.

The Congo and the Cameroons – Penguin Great Journeys

The Congo and the Cameroons contains excerpts from Mary Kingsley’s memoir Travels in West Africa, published in 1897.  The first two sections cover some observations and anecdotes about West African flora and fauna, while the last two-thirds of the book follow Mary’s climbing of Mount Cameroon.

Mont-Cameroun
Normand Roy [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Mary – like her fellow solo traveler Isabella Bird – was a tough cookie.  She was only about 33 years old when she decided to become “the third Englishman to ascend the Peak [of Mount Cameroon] and the first to have ascended it from the southeast face” (p. 33–34).  With her trusty umbrella, some German camping gear, and a small group of native assistants, she set off into the jungle.  Surviving rain, mud, tornadoes, and a range of minor accidents, Mary was determined nothing, even her own moments of discouragement, would keep her from achieving her mission.

Apart from bravely facing the elements and all kinds of creepy-crawlies, Mary was also quite a character.  She writes much in the style of a male British officer of the day, referring to her assistants as “the men” or “my boys.”  Natives and Germans alike feature heavily in her jokes, so it is hard to tell whether she was racially prejudiced, misandrist, or simply impatient with anyone less committed to her goal than herself.  Either way, I really didn’t care for her sense of humor.

While I may not read the full memoir, I’ll probably seek out a biography on Mary Kingsley, because it sounds like she had a very interesting life.  (I was particularly interested to learn on Wikipedia that she met Mary Slessor, a missionary whose story fascinated me as a child.)  Sadly, she died when she was only 37, serving as a volunteer nurse in the Second Boer War.  I can imagine how many more adventures she would have gone on had she lived a longer life, but it’s amazing what she accomplished in the years she had.

Things I’m Looking Forward To

So far, 2019 has been a great year for me in terms of stories to read (and watch).  There’s a few things coming up which I’m particularly looking forward to!

Read-Alongs

 

April: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
@ A Great Book Study
I’m so excited that Ruth is hosting a read-along for Mary Wollstonecraft’s classic text.  I’ve been meaning to read it for ages, but it’s good I waited… it’s going to be more fun as a group!

August: Moby-Dick
@ Brona’s Books
August will be Herman Melville’s bicentennial birthday!  A great time to re-read this novel.  This time, I plan to give a thorough review, maybe even a miniseries.

Disney Live-Action Remakes

I’m really quite excited about the TWO Disney live-action remakes coming out this year, Aladdin and The Lion King.  The animated Aladdin was a favorite of mine as a kid, and I’m pretty sure The Lion King is one of Disney’s very best stories.  I just hope both remakes stay close to the originals, like Beauty and the Beast did.

May 24: Aladdin

July 19: The Lion King

Other

I’m thinking about starting the podcast back up again.  I haven’t decided whether to do that, or focus on the YouTube channel, or some combination.  Either way… planning to make a decision in the near future.