ellen mcbee

She's always up to something…

Something Funny Happened on the Way to Being Critiqued

Namely, I suddenly feel like I’m in the home stretch for What You Stand For.

I posted the first chapter for a critique on Scribophile. So far I have received four critiques, all of them pointing out different things. A couple of them picked out things I had cut and suggested putting them back. Some picked out words or phrases that needed correction, clarification. And there were comments on the arc as a whole (although only from the first complete chapter).

And I don’t know, but something happened. I rewrote that chapter, splitting it into two, and allowing myself to use more words and descriptions and go ahead and slow down the forward momentum if I wanted to. The two chapters together are longer now than they were–but suddenly they are textured and convey the information and the setting and place and character and voice.

I knew before it was a good book. But now I feel like it’s getting to be a finished book. I could put up the first five chapters and not be ashamed of them, not apologize for awkwardness or stiff writing.

Of course, now I’m stopped on Chapter 6, which needs to be tighter, more dramatic, and funnier. A friend had a suggestion today for what could happen next. And I’m kind of excited about the idea, whether I use it or not. A terrific way for Kit to take revenge on the cheating hometown boyfriend.

School pick-up time, but later I’m going to pull out that chapter and rewrite it. I keep getting stuck in linear time: this happens, then this, then this. If I skip ahead a little I can cut the boring stuff and put in the interesting stuff. And then start shopping it to agents, because it’s ready.

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Today I learned…

Okay, the book is called “Bloodlands,” written by Timothy Snyder. And yes, I know with a title like that it was going to be depressing.

I hadn’t appreciated how interconnected Nazism and Communism were; it’s possible the rise of one would never have happened without the other. While Stalin was starving the Ukrainian peasants, Hitler was pointing out the Communist Menace. While Hitler was organizing the first boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses, Stalin was pointing to him as a danger to European civilization. Both of them were right. Then Stalin told German Communists not to cooperate with other left-leaning parties like the Social Democrats, which split the vote (essentially) three ways in Germany, resulting in Hitler becoming Chancellor. Within a few months he had broken the Communist Party in Germany and Germany was a single-party dictatorship. And Hitler kept hammering away at the Jewish-Bolsheviks, who were a danger to the world, and that road led directly to the mass graves of the Ukrainian countryside, not to mention the camps themselves.

God. I don’t know if I’m the right person to write this story. Except that I’m doing it for them, those young people who fought and died in Warsaw and all over the world, losing the battle but winning the war. Those young people who never saw the world they fought for, who didn’t survive to tell their own stories.

uprising 2

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March is a busy month!

Because I’ve got a lot going on. I am still embedded in my rewrites, I’m still working away on my research, and meanwhile I’ve joined Scribophile and I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo for April.  But don’t worry; my goal is only 10,000 words.

I wish I could source the oft-quoted but never footnoted sentence:  “In 1940, the Soviet Union executed most of the Boy Scouts held at Ostashkov Prison.” It appears to have happened as part of the Katyn massacre–but I can’t find Boy Scouts listed on the rolls of the dead. Then again, I also think the listing might not include Ostashkov prison, which is pretty far from the Katyn forest. The problem is that an awful lot of the sources don’t include Boy Scouts as victims of the massacre.

Which leads me to the question of whether I’m writing history, or historical fiction, and whether it’s okay to make these connections that I don’t have explicated. For instance, the Kedyw Battalion was made up of Boy Scouts; the Kedyw Battalion carried out multiple assassinations during the Occupation of Poland; therefore Boy Scouts were carrying out executions. I can’t find sources that make that middle connection, and it’s frustrating.

I continue to wonder whether I’m the right person to write this book. It feels more and more overwhelming, and finding a story with a beginning, middle, end? Some days it feels like it’s never going to happen.

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