I’m Done With Cinderella’s Three Balls

CINDERELLA front cover

I finished the last chapter that directly or indirectly relates to (Cinder-)Ella’s three balls. There are six such chapters (including Appendix 1), and they take up 96 pages out of 301 (so far) pages. That’s a lot of fanservice for female readers!

Guy readers (and my own preference) can be summarized by “I don’t care what anyone is wearing—where are the frigging zombies?”


No Glass Slippers For My Cinderella

CINDERELLA ZQ front cover

I’m having fun writing Cinderella, Zombie Queen, stealing elements from both the French version of Cinderella (by Charles Perrault) and the Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella.

From the Brothers Grimm version, I’ve taken the idea of Cinderella attending three Balls, and the wicked stepsisters getting some unpleasant surprises at the end.

I’ve drafted the first two Balls, and am now starting on drafting the third Ball. Just like in the Brothers Grimm tale, the first two Balls are sweet and nice, and the third Ball is When Things Happen. (Spoiler hint: My novel has zombies in it.)

Anyway, in the course of researching women’s fashion, circa 1786, I came across something interesting: The definition of slipper (as in glass slipper) has changed.

The definition of slipper nowadays means a foot-covering with a sole, but meant to be worn only indoors. Examples: silk slippers, bunny slippers, house slippers.

Oftentimes, slippers come with nothing enclosing the back of the foot—after all, this is what makes them easy to slip on.

In the modern usage of the term, slippers have no elevated heel—if they do, then they’re called mules. But in olden days, what we call mules, they called slippers; and the “glass slippers” of the Cinderella fairy tale are actually meant to be high-heeled glass shoes with no back—mules, in other words.

Now, I can’t think of anything more stupid for a woman to be dancing in than footwear that bends her foot down at an unnatural angle for hours, and allows her heel to slide left and right. I don’t want my (Cinder-)Ella to break her ankle while she’s dancing, so I have exchanged her glass mules for (enclosed-heel) glass shoes.

“Safety first.” Sure, the glass in Ella’s shoes might break and cut up her feet in a hundred places, and so she might be lame for a month, but at least she won’t have to worry about breaking her ankles.

Cinderella Is About To Attend The Balls—Hoo Boy

CINDERELLA front cover

After two weeks of solid research—reading books on the history of women’s fashion, doing internet research on that topic, and emailing people who know more about that topic than I do—I’ve begun actually writing the chapters for the three balls. I’m really nervous—I’ve never tried describing women’s clothing in detail from a woman’s perspective before. Worse, I’ll be describing eighteenth-century women’s clothing in detail from an eighteenth-century woman’s perspective. Worst of all, I know about women’s fashion less than what Vera Wang knows about calculus.

This is going to be a big book. Right now I haven’t even gotten Ella to the balls, and I’m at 50 thousand words, 22 completed chapters, and 205 trade-paperback pages.

A Trick For Story Plotting That I Figured Out: Stepwise Refinement

Until recently, when I would start writing a story, I would get partway through and get a writer’s block that would completely panic me. Eventually I discovered that the way to prevent writer’s block was to plan the story out in full, ahead of time, by making an outline.

By outline, I don’t mean what I did in sixth grade, with Roman numeral I, followed by capital letter A, followed by Arabic numeral 1, etc. By outline, I mean a list of scenes and plot points, in order, of the entire story. But even making an outline can be daunting, because there are different main characters and they each are doing lots of different things, and after a while I just get lost (if the story is long and complicated).

That same problem, organizing a big and complicated project, exists in computing. Let’s say you’re going to write a program to prepare U.S. tax returns—such a program could easily wind up being a million lines of source code. Where to begin?

What the computer people do is stepwise refinement: You summarize the entire program into a few very general modules, then in each module, you get a little more specific (but still general when you need to be), on down and on down till the bottom level of each module contains source code and calls to reoccurring modules.

For example, that aforementioned million-line tax-preparation program can be summarized at the top level with these three general modules:
A) Enter in the taxpayer’s identifying information.
B) Ask the taxpayer questions about his earnings, expenses, and other financial transactions of interest, then get his responses.
C) Print out pages containing the taxpayer’s replies, formatted to IRS standards.

The advantage of writing a program this way is that not only can you always understand the program, but it’s modular: No matter how you write (or change) the getting-taxpayer-identifying-information module A, it will not affect how modules B or C work.

So stepwise refinement is a nice trick for a programmer to know. So it would be great if that trick could be brought to novel-writing plotting, but how?

Well, I figured out how. The secret is to fully figure out the ending of your story (disregarding epilogue). Yes, it’s fun to imagine a great story-start and then write from the start to wherever the story takes you, but that won’t work here. (Besides, it sooner or later gets me into a writer’s-block crisis.)

For Suzanne Collins’s novel The Hunger Games, that ending would be:

SPOILER: Katniss and Peeta are declared joint Victors of the 74th Hunger Games.

Once I have my ending fully imagined, then I ask myself, “What needs to happen to make the ending happen?” Then for each of those plot points, I ask, “What has to happen first for this to happen?” I continue this process till I have plot points that go back to each character’s introduction to the story. When I’m done, I have several lists of plot points; I then shuffle the plot points from the different lists together.

Example: my Work In Progress, Cinderella, Zombie Queen. I won’t tell you the entire ending, but I’ll give you some spoilers.

SPOILER: At the end of the story, Ella (the heroine) becomes queen of the kingdom of Lionbear.

For that ending (Ella becoming queen of Lionbear) to happen, these events must happen first:
A. Prince Cabolus becomes king.
B. Cabolus and Ella marry.

But for Cabolus to become king, these events must happen first (listed from end of story to beginning of story):
A1. King Mitchell (Cabolus’s father) dies.
A2. King Thane dies.
A3. King Garwin dies.
A4. King Allard dies.
A5. King Allard is king of Lionbear; Prince Cabolus is fifth in line for the throne.

For Cabolus and Ella to marry, these events have to happen first (listed from end of story to beginning of story):
B1. Cabolus discovers that the glass slipper fits Ella’s foot.
B2. Cabolus and his entourage arrive at Ella’s home village of Burbury.
B3. Cabolus announces that he will marry the owner of the glass slipper.
B4. Cabolus forms an entourage (which includes a priest) that will travel all throughout Lionbear, looking for the owner of the glass slipper.
B5. Ella loses a glass slipper at the end of the third ball; Cabolus finds the slipper.
B6. Ella attends all three balls; Ella and Cabolus hit it off.
B7. With fairy-godmother Pinecone’s help, Ella can attend all three balls.
B8. Cabolus announces that he will host three balls; Ella is forbidden to attend any ball by her wicked stepmother.
B9. Cabolus decides to host three balls, hoping that Ella will attend one of them.

This listing is modular, please note: No matter how I write A2 (King Thane dies), it will not affect the ending, or the other modules.

A final note: I haven’t outlined the entire story in one fell swoop (confusing and intimidating), just parts of the story at a time (doable). Whether plot point A2 (King Thane dies) is inserted into the master outline before or after plot point B11, the ending will be the same. Similarly, plot point A1 (Cabolus’s father, King Mitchell, dies) can be inserted anywhere between plot points B1 and B9 (plot points in the end of the story that lead up to Cabolus and Ella marrying), and the ending will be the same. This gives me a lot of flexibility when I’m trying to work out a master-list of plot points that has all the A-list plot points, all the B-list plot points, all the C-list plot points, etc.

Another final note: I recently wrote the chapter of King Thane dying (plot point A2); and because I had already outlined the entire story, when it actually came to writing the scene, I knew what had to happen in the scene and I knew what setting-up the scene had to do for later in the story. I have found that I am able to write a scene more imaginatively when I give a scene some “specifications.”

Cinderella Soon Will Be Having A Ball—Or Rather, Three Balls

CINDERELLA front cover

I’m still writing Cinderella, Zombie Queen, and I am having great fun writing disgusting zombies committing disgusting violence, as well as the good guys saving the citizenry by bashing zombies’ heads in. (Hey, I’m a guy.) Male readers of the story, when it goes up for sale, will enjoy the read.

But Cinderella, Zombie Queen is not only a zombie story, it’s a Cinderella story, which means that sooner or later Our Heroine has to dress up in the nice clothes. I’ve decided that I’m going to follow the Brothers Grimm version of the story and have Ella attend three balls, not just one ball.

Now, here is where being a guy works against me. If it were up to me, I’d write—

[For the first ball,] Ella wore a fancy dress that was sort of greenish.

Well, for my story’s female readers, that won’t begin to cut it. They’ll want to know garment names, fabrics, and colors. And accessories—heaven help me. Is the glass in the glass slippers tinted? If so, what color?

So what am I doing to give my female readers what they want? Four things—

• One of my two alpha-readers, Debi Binder, besides having the XX chromosome pair, is an artist. She can visualize how things should look, and so can give me good suggestions.

• I have swallowed my pride and have asked all my female Facebook friends for help and advice.

• I’ve read reference books at the library about the history of fashion.

• I’ve bought three books on the history of fashion, for a total cost of sixty-five dollars.


My CZQ mockup

Here is the mockup for the cover that I was trying to hire an artist for. The ovals represent the handsome prince (blue), Cinderella (pink), and two zombies of unspecified gender (gray). On the pink oval, the thing that looks like a rotated and reversed yellow L is supposed to be a necklace. The main part of the necklace is an Egyptian ankh plus a letter Z. Part of the artist’s commission was that not only would the artist design the cover as a whole, but he would design the necklace.


I hired Kitt Lapeña (DeviantArt handle: Scarypet) to make the cover picture. “I’m pleased” is putting it mildly; I am blown away.

After he sent me the final art, I did some minor photoshopping, than ran the picture through Scribus (an open-source desk-top-publishing program) to create the final version of the front cover.


I just signed Kitt Lapeña, a.k.a. Scarypet, as my cover artist. He does great work, as you can see—


Best of all, he already has experience drawing zombies—





Based on Lapeña’s earlier pictures, I’m sure that Cinderella will be gorgeous, the Handsome Prince will be handsome, and the zombies will be disgusting—which is what I want.


Cinderella, birds, and zombie

This is a quick-and-dirty photoshop that I made. The actual book will have a cover drawn by a professional artist.

Poor Ella. Zombies kill her mother, then zombies kill her father, then her wicked stepmother steals her inheritance while her stepsisters steal her fine clothes. Then, while her stepmother and stepsisters are having fun at the ball that Ella was cheated out of going to, zombies try to break into the manor and eat Ella. But right when things are blackest and bleakest for Ella, she finds out that she has a fairy godmother. PineCone, the fairy godmother, not only offers a way for Ella to go to the ball, PineCone has an idea how to fix that nasty zombie problem.


Recently I was at a Redbox kiosk, and I saw a mini-poster for the 2015 version of Cinderella (Disney’s live-action version). Somehow, looking at that mini-kiosk, I was reminded that there are two versions of the Cinderella story. The French version is sugar-sweet; the German version—in which Cindy is called Aschenputtel and her story was written down by the Brothers Grimm—is really gory. How gory? One stepsister chops off a heel of her foot to get it to fit into the glass slipper; the other stepsister chops off the toes of one foot. And if that was not gory enough, at the end of the story, doves from heaven fly down and peck the stepsisters’ eyes out.

Anyway, while I was looking at the mini-poster for the 2015 Cinderella movie, I got the thought, If they’d had zombie stories when the Brothers Grimm had written Cinderella, the Grimm Brothers would have written the stepsisters as getting eaten by zombies. So that’s where I got the idea, of combining the Cinderella story with zombies.

Will the wicked stepsisters get eaten by zombies in my story? Maybe, maybe not.

Now it’s just a matter of me sitting down and writing the story. But to do this, I’ll have to use my…


Travel To My High-School Reunion By Greyhound

Last week I went to my high-school reunion, the first time I’ve attended such a reunion in thirty-five years.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I graduated from Johnson High School, a high school in Japan for U.S. Air Force dependents. A year after I graduated, the high school, as well as the military base that the school was a part of, were given back to Japan. Johnson Family Housing Annex became part of Iruma Air Self-Defense Force Base.

This created a challenge in holding high-school reunions. After all, traveling to Japan to attend a reunion was not affordable, and traveling into Iruma Air Self-Defense Force Base was not permitted. So how could we hold reunions? What we finally wound up doing was to hold a reunion every three years; if a reunion was held in city W, then at the end of the reunion, we’d vote on whether to hold the next reunion in cities X, Y, or Z.

This year, the reunion was in San Diego, California. I live in Texas. Thirty-five years ago, I was stationed in San Diego, so of course I wanted to attend the 2015 San Diego reunion! The only question was, How do I get there?

The no-brainer answer would have been to fly out there. But if I flew there, I couldn’t see the scenery. Folks, there is some beautiful scenery between El Paso and San Diego, and it would have been a shame not to see it (again).

Okay, fine, so why didn’t I drive to San Diego? The brutally honest answer is that I was not sure my car would hold up to a thousands-of-miles drive without repairs. But also, how much could I enjoy the scenery if my clear legal obligation was to keep my eyes on the road? My insurance company would have been unforgiving if I’d rear-ended a car in Arizona while I was staring at cactus.

So that left my choices being Greyhound or Amtrak. If I’d been traveling only to San Diego, the decision would have been a coin-flip. But after traveling to San Diego, I also planned to visit Vallejo, California—and Amtrak doesn’t go there.

So, long story short, at 2:55 a.m. on Wednesday, September 16th, I got on a Greyhound bus; a day later, I arrived in San Diego. After the high-school reunion ended, I got on a bus in San Diego, eventually arriving in Vallejo, California. Two days after I arrived in Vallejo, I left on another Greyhound bus. Yesterday I arrived home.


Greyhound seats are made for women and children. The seats are narrow, and there is only about nine inches of legroom between the front of one seat and the back of the next seat forward. If two men must sit next to each other, both are miserable.

That’s not as bad as it sounds. I discovered that if the bus were not completely full, so that nobody was sitting in the window seat when I was sitting in the aisle seat, then I could get comfortable enough to sleep if I sat with my legs spread wide. One bus driver insisted that we not put our feet in the aisle, but to me it was the only way to be even partway comfortable.

Alas, the Los Angeles-to-Oakland bus-ride and the Los Angeles-to-Dallas bus-ride were completely full, and so I got no sleep then.

Baggage-handling was done differently on Greyhound than on an airplane. When I transferred buses in El Paso, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Dallas, my one checked bag didn’t automatically get loaded onto the next bus. Instead, I had to claim my checked bag from the old bus, carry it into the bus station, and give it to the baggage-loader when I boarded my new bus.

Flying still has a little bit of glamor to it; but there was nothing glamorous about traveling by bus. The other bus-trip passengers were young people and poor people. On each trip, there were also two or three young foreign tourists, since the best way to see the USA if you don’t live in the USA, is by bus.

There are all kinds of choices you have if you want to pay someone to take you to or from the airport. But only taxis will take you to or from the bus station.

Greyhound likes to over-AC their buses. I’m glad I brought my windbreaker with me; those buses often were cold.

Greyhound windows: There are lots of them on the sides of the bus, and they’re huge. Traveling in a bus is almost like being in a traveling greenhouse. During the hours when the sun is up, viewing scenery is a pleasure, because of all the big windows. The windows are tinted, which means that the bus doesn’t get hot during the day, and looking at scenery in daylight doesn’t give you eyestrain. But at night, those same tinted windows mean you can see nothing out the side windows of the bus, unless the bus is traveling through a city with its bright lights. The thing is, a Greyhound bus doesn’t spend any more time in a city than it has to.

Say what you will about Greyhound travel, but their ticket prices are wonderful.


Memories of my triangular round trip—

• Looking out the window in El Paso, Texas and in Calexico, California, and realizing that my bus was only a few tens of yards from the Mexican border.

• I was late arriving in Vallejo because I missed my connection in Oakland. The reason our bus was late getting into Oakland was because, somewhere on I-5 north between San Diego and Oakland, the bus got caught in a traffic jam at four in the frigging morning. What the hell?

• The next time I was in the Oakland Greyhound station, the security guard was checking the carry-on bag of a soon-to-be passenger, and the security guard pulled out a black plastic cornet. Once Security finished with the cornetist, he played several songs in the bus-station waiting room.

• Traveling on I-10 eastbound in west Texas, ten or twenty miles west of Van Horn, we hit a hailstorm. This hailstorm was nasty, with hailstones the size of half-dollars. The noise of hailstones hitting the roof was deafening. I thought we passengers were going to die, or at least would be cut up by hail-broken glass. But the glass didn’t break, the bus didn’t slide into anybody, nobody slid into us, and the bus didn’t lose traction. I haven’t been this scared since 1964 (when I watched a tornado head straight toward my mother, sister, and me)—but nothing bad happened as our bus inched its way through the hailstorm. Bus driver Felipe Garcia was a champion.

DNA Tests Make It Official: “The President’s Daughter” (Elizabeth Ann Blaesing) Is Harding’s Child


Nan Britton self-published The President’s Daughter in 1927. In that book, she claimed that her daughter, Elizabeth Ann Britton, born 1919, was sired by then-Senator Warren G. Harding. Britton was able to offer no documentary proof, and DNA testing didn’t exist in 1927. However, the president’s sister, Abigail “Daisy” Harding, once wrote in a letter to Nan Britton that she saw a resemblance between Elizabeth Ann and herself.

Nobody else believed Nan Britton. In the 1920s and 1930s, Nan Britton was called every nasty name in the book. More recently, John W. Dean argued in his book Warren G. Harding that, at the very least, Nan Britton’s claim to have had sex with President Harding in the White House could not be true, because no sitting U.S. president would act so foolishly.

Well, it turns out that Nan Britton was right (at least about Elizabeth Ann’s paternity), and her critics were wrong.

How do we know this? Because Elizabeth Ann’s son, James Blaesing, recently took a DNA test. So did Peter Harding, grandnephew of Warren G. Harding.

According to The New York Times, DNA tests have confirmed that James Blaesing is the second cousin of Peter Harding.


The President’s Daughter by Nan Britton—buy the book!
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