#AmEditing Progress Report 7

I am still hard at work editing Red Flags, my figure skating novel.

Since my last blog post, I have finished Chapter 12 and have only two scenes left in Chapter 13. Larissa has had to adjust to many changes in her life. I can’t elaborate without spoiling the story, so I won’t say much more about that.

I was bogged down for awhile in a particular scene in Chapter 13. I didn’t change who is in it, or what happens, but I put some events in a different order and played around with certain details. In other words, I had to make a mess in order to clean things up! This is a scene where one main character is answering two other characters’ questions about how Larissa is doing. This character is an honest man, so he does not lie. At the same time, he doesn’t tell the whole truth because he feels the need to protect Larissa from these other characters’ scrutiny. The full story is running through his mind while he is giving an edited version to the two other characters.

After spending several days on that scene, I got through most of what remained of Chapter 13 in a few hours. Those scenes didn’t need much work, only a few touch-ups. Then I hit a wall when I came to the second-to-last scene.

The writers who visit this blog are probably familiar with the phrase “kill your darlings.” It doesn’t necessarily mean killing off characters, although it can. For the most part, it means cutting superfluous elements out of the story, especially those that the writer would rather leave in. I had to do this when I edited Chapter 9. Although I didn’t kill off this character, I drastically reduced his role in the story.

Well, this same guy turns up at the end of Chapter 13, only now he doesn’t fit there. I don’t want to turn this bit player into a significant character so late in the novel. However, most of his dialogue has to stay in the story. I just need to find someone else to say his lines. I’ve been trying them out with a couple of different characters. At this time, I’ve settled on the female half of the husband-and-wife skating tour production team. She is a chatty, gossipy American who knows her way around the skating world, which is what the scene requires.

Why did I put a picture of a farm here? You will soon find out!



#AmEditing Progress Report 6

I’m getting into the home stretch!

After the lengthy process of editing Chapter 10 of Red Flags, I breezed through Chapter 11. The chapters do not have titles, but I think of Chapter 11 as the Olympic chapter. (No, I’m not telling you who wins!) This is  where Larissa, now seventeen years old, makes a decision that will permanently alter the course of her life.


Now I am about one-third of the way through Chapter 12. Larissa is putting her plan into action. Since the backdrop is a post-Olympic skating tour across the USA, I think of this chapter as the tour chapter. Among the scenes I edited tonight was the one that mentions David Bowie.

In a later scene, I found a spot where I want to make some changes. This scene is from the POV of the American tour producer. The way I have it written, he perceives Larissa in a way that is accurate as far as her character is concerned, yet I don’t think he knows enough about her life in the Soviet Union to be this accurate. I plan to change a few sentences so that he perceives her inaccurately. This will give him a bigger shock when she does the unexpected.

#AmEditing Progress Report 5


At last, I have finished editing Chapter 10 of Red Flags. This chapter is 21,000-plus words long. If it were a separate work, it would be too long to qualify as a novella for some literary awards. I decided to keep it intact rather than breaking it up into several chapters. Despite the length, it works better as a whole.

Chapter 10 begins in the fall of 1986, almost three years after where Chapter 9 leaves off. Larissa is now sixteen years old and a veteran on the international figure skating scene. At that time in figure skating history, sixteen-year-olds didn’t win gold medals at the World Championships like Evgenia Medvedeva did earlier this year in Boston. Because of compulsory figures, which took years to master, young skaters were at a disadvantage. In the story, Larissa isn’t bad at compulsory figures, but her American and East German competitors are older and more experienced. It’s hard for her to move ahead of them.

This chapter includes some of the only material in the novel that could be considered autobiographical. For Larissa’s first competition in the United States, I sent her to Skate America and staged the event in Detroit, Michigan. Skate America actually did take place in Detroit several years later. I was there– as a spectator.

Detroit is also the home of Wayne State University, my alma mater. I started my freshman year there not long after Larissa competed at Skate America. Her perceptions of Detroit are her own. Having grown up in the Soviet Union, she is seeing the city through a completely different lens. But the places she visits are ones I remember from that same time period.

This is another one of those chapters with disturbing, violent scenes. (These events take place when Larissa returns to Moscow after competing in Detroit.) This is also the chapter where I introduce LGBT issues in the form of a same-sex relationship between Larissa and an older woman.

Next up… Chapter 11, which covers the 1987-88 skating season. The Rio Olympics ended in real life just as I am about to start editing my fictional version of the 1988 Winter Games.  Perfect timing!

#AmEditing Progress Report 4

Since my last blog post, I have finished editing Chapters 7, 8, and 9 of my figure skating novel, Red Flags. Chapters 7 and 8 didn’t require heavy editing, but it took me several days to rewrite a lengthy scene in Chapter 9.

This scene is the first one in the novel from a North American, rather than a Russian, point of view. Larissa is competing at the Junior World Championships for the second time, but instead of going inside her head, I want the reader to see her from an outsider’s perspective. In this case, the outsider is a French-Canadian coach who works at a U.S. skating club and speaks several languages fluently, including Russian. This character shows up later in the novel, but I want to show him establishing a connection with Larissa while she is still young. (In Chapter 9, she is thirteen years old.)

I had to do a classic “kill your darlings” move when editing this scene. Originally, the scene revolved around a dialogue between two North American coaches. The second coach is a snarky, flamboyant character. But he didn’t fit into the edited version of the scene. I saved all of his snark, though. Hopefully, it will find a place somewhere else in the novel.

Now I’m on to Chapter 10. Here the novel skips ahead three years. If Red Flags were a movie, this is where the tween actor who plays Larissa would have to be replaced with an adult. I expect it will take me awhile to get through Chapter 10, if for no other reason than its length. I also have to change the name of one of the characters who first appears here. When I first drafted this novel in the early 2000s, there weren’t any famous skaters who had the same name as this character. Now there is one, so this character is getting a new name.



#AmEditing Progress Report 3

The editing work on my figure skating novel, Red Flags, is coming along at a faster pace. I rewrote large chunks of the first five chapters, which meant it took weeks for me to edit each one. But Chapter 6 required only light editing. It’s a dark chapter, with some disturbing, violent scenes. Fortunately, I got most of it “right” the first time, so I didn’t need to spend much time reworking– or reliving– these moments.

No, the abuse scenes in Red Flags are not based on anything that happened to me personally. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to write a chapter where an eleven-year-old girl finds out that her new skating coach is a monster. Larissa is living at a Moscow training center now; she has been yanked away from her meager support system. This kid is on her own, and she knows it.

When I wrote the original version of the manuscript in the early 2000s, I made myself quit at 1AM sharp. Then I would watch reruns of M*A*S*H. If I didn’t do that, I couldn’t sleep.

The next chapter is equally disturbing. I’m hoping to work through that one quickly, too. But Chapter 8 takes Larissa to her first international competition. I am looking forward to editing that one!



Happy 100th Birthday Beverly Cleary!


One of my all-time favorite authors is celebrating her 100th birthday today!

I first encountered Beverly Cleary’s books as a second-grader when my teacher read them aloud in class. When I found out that the school library had even more books about Ramona and Beezus Quimby and Henry Huggins, I started checking them out and reading them myself. I also remember going to my Brownie Girl Scout troop’s Christmas party and getting a brand new copy of Ramona The Brave. I still don’t have any idea who knew I wanted that particular book, or how they found out!

As a child of the 1970s, I experienced the transition in Beverly Cleary’s writing firsthand. Her earlier books, which were written and published in the 1950s and 1960s, reflect a more innocent time period. Even then, I was aware that Henry and Beezus and Ellen Tebbits and Otis Spofford were allowed to roam freely throughout their neighborhood, even riding the bus downtown without adult supervision. None of the kids I grew up with was allowed to do anything like that. (We did enjoy a lot more freedom than most kids do today.)

Starting in the 1970s, Beverly Cleary’s work began to reflect a changing world, one I found more realistic. Ramona’s mother starts working outside the home. Ramona’s father loses his job. Plenty of funny things still happen– who can forget the time Ramona wore her pajamas to school?– but there is also tension in the Quimby household as Ramona and Beezus struggle to cope with their family’s economic instability. Later on, when I took a children’s literature course in college, I read Dear Mr. Henshaw, which centers around a  lonely young boy coming to terms with his parents’ divorce.


By the time Ramona’s World came out in 1999, I was a full-fledged grown-up. But I still bought the book in hardcover because I needed to know what Ramona and the rest of her family were up to!

I started writing my own stories around the same time I started reading Beverly Cleary’s books. I definitely count her as a major influence. She taught me to look for the humor in everyday moments. But sometimes what makes the reader laugh is not funny to the actual character. Ramona was embarrassed about the pajamas-in-school incident. Henry Huggins was mortified when then 4-year-old Ramona told one of his potential paper route customers that “only you can prevent forest fires.” And poor Ellen Tebbits was so humiliated when the winter underwear underneath her ballet tutu started slipping.

Beverly Cleary also taught me that the main character in a story doesn’t have to be perfect. Unlike the kids in my schoolbooks or in many of the picture books I’d read in first grade, Beverly Cleary’s characters aren’t always “good” children. They don’t follow the “kid misbehaves and then learns his lesson” formula, either. Sometimes they act up because they are worried or upset about what’s going on at school or at home. Other times, they get in trouble because they can’t control themselves. Like many kindergartners, Ramona could not keep her hands to herself, especially when she was around Susan and her boing-boing curls. Otis Spofford picked on Ellen Tebbits because it gave him something to do.

As you can probably tell from this post, these books bring back many happy memories. I hope Beverly Cleary enjoys her special day. I would like to take this opportunity to tell her THANK YOU!!!

#AmEditing Progress Report 2

I am back in the #amediting saddle again after spending most of February and March stuck in a rut. My health was not good and what little writing I did manage to accomplish was so lousy that I had to go back and do it all over again once I felt better. Hopefully, I will stay better.

Chapter 3 of my figure skating novel, Red Flags, is polished and complete. I didn’t make any major changes, but it’s a long chapter that spans a year-and-a-half time period. Larissa has her first Olympic experience– at age five, watching the competition on TV at her coach’s house with a group of other skaters. I don’t mention the year, but it would have been the 1976 Olympics. None of the skating competitions in Red Flags is true-to-life. They’re all in different locations with fictional skaters. If this were the real world, Larissa would have watched Dorothy Hamill win Olympic gold. But the story only names two fictional Soviet skaters who do not win medals. At this stage, Larissa isn’t as interested in who wins what as she is in what the elite skaters on TV are actually doing on the ice.

In this part of the story, I also explore Larissa’s coach’s frustration with the Soviet sports system. He believes he could do a better job than the current elite coaches in Moscow and Leningrad, but he’s stuck at a rink in Murmansk that is used primarily for hockey. He is looking for a way out, and he sees it in the pint-sized prodigy who is attempting a double toe loop on the floor of his living room.


Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!


Wishing everyone a safe and happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I am dealing with some health issues and spent much of the day at the doctor’s office. Gentle readers, I will spare you the gory details. It probably isn’t a serious condition, but they have to rule out the serious conditions before they can do anything else.

On the writing front, I am editing chapter 3 of Red Flags. It’s not easy to concentrate when I am not feeling my best, but I must press on.

#AmEditing Progress Report

I’ve been busy editing my figure skating novel, Red Flags. I am on track as far as my timeline is concerned. The way things look today, the book will be out sometime in late summer or early fall as scheduled. Keep watching this blog for a release date.

The first two chapters are finished. The original version of Chapter One (which I wrote way back in 2001-ish) was a prologue, but I remade it into a “proper” first chapter. I took an hours-long Google Maps trip in search of an apartment building in Murmansk, Russia that looks like the place where my main character, Larissa, grew up. I saw several that came close, but then I turned down a winding little side street. That’s where I found the place where my main character grew up as well as the apartment building across the way where her father grew up. This led to my adding an extra scene at the beginning of the book.

Of course, Larissa was a child of the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union, not of Russia as it exists in 2016. No doubt the inside of Larissa’s apartment building looks a lot different than it did during her childhood. The busy street nearby would have undergone an even more dramatic transformation. But Larissa’s immediate neighborhood with the five-story apartment houses and the laundry hanging on a clothesline next to the parking lot is a place she would recognize immediately.

I also made some changes to the character of Larissa’s father, Vladi. Reading through the original first chapter, I realized I needed to emphasize his youth. He’s a 21-year-old KID struggling to come to terms with major family tragedies in addition to taking on the responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood. In the second chapter, he is four years older, but he still doesn’t have it all figured out.

The ice rink where Larissa learns to skate makes its debut in the second chapter. With its dark exterior, it physically resembles the rink in my own hometown more than anything I’ve been able to find in Murmansk. But that’s OK. It’s a fictional skating arena, so it’s better if it isn’t too true-to-life.


Come To The Virtual Book Fair!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am one of the participating authors in a Virtual Book Fair organized by fellow author Abbie Chandler. Thank you, Abbie, for putting this event together!

The Fair starts on Saturday, February 20 and runs through March 4. As a guest, you will have the opportunity to discover indie authors representing a variety of genres. Each day, there will be giveaways where you can enter to win a free book! Winners are chosen on the last day, March 4.

My book, Time Trip: A Dinosaur Musical, will be featured on March 2 along with other children’s fiction. Check this schedule to find your favorite genres!

Virtual Book Fair Schedule-1


“This sounds great! How do I get to the Virtual Book Fair?”

Click this link and it will take you there!