Who Will Stand, Who Will Fall? (Weekdays Roman Slant)

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(Quick note: This is another font I downloaded, not one that came with the computer. The pre-existing Roman font, Wide Latin, was too big and bold, and hard to look at for extended periods.)

Font: Weekdays Roman Slant

Chapter: “Who Will Stand, Who Will Fall?”

Book: You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan

Written: August 2001

Computer created on: The ’99 Mac we had

File format: ClarisWorks

This is the 42nd and final chapter of my first Russian historical novel, barring the short Epilogue. It was one of the numerous chapters that didn’t have a name till I finally had access to the files again a decade after finishing the book. The title comes from a line in the George Harrison song “The Lord Loves the One (Who Loves the Lord),” the first song on Side Two of his incredible Living in the Material World.

It’s set over one long day in March 1924, the long-awaited court battle for paternal rights over Tatyana. Over the course of the seven years of the book, Boris has made an enemy of all his former friends, and picked up some new enemies along the way. The only people on his side are his priest, Father Spiridon, and Father Spiridon’s overly pious daughter Granyechka, his former fiancée. Even they admit he’s not exactly a moral paragon. And when Boris calls Anastasiya as a surprise witness, she makes a complete fool of herself and unintentionally delivers one of the final nails in his coffin.

The final nail is delivered by Tatyana herself, who has no idea until the eve of her 18th birthday in 1937 that Boris is really her blood father. Even though he’s the antagonist of the book and deserves everything he gets, as his creator, I felt pretty sorry for him in his final scene. He’s been an awful human being, but his love for his only child is the real deal. Those are not crocodile tears.

Some highlights:

“Why did Konev have to be the plaintiff?” Borís begins whining to his lawyer and Father Spiridon. “Now I look like the bad guy to the judge because I’m the defendant, when I’m the one who had the better case, wanting to take him to court to force him to give me back my daughter! Konev went and beat me to it, just like a spoilt child!”

“Even if you lose your case today, at least God will forgive you,” Grányechka whispers.

[The first character witness, 17-year-old Lena Yeltsina] “One hundred percent.  In my eyes that man is pure evil and has no business having children, not even adopted ones.  I hope he burns in Hell for having kidnapped my son.”

Iván looks away in horror when he sees Katrin breastfeeding Oliivia for the whole world to see.  She sits down in the witness stand, oblivious to the gasps of horror.

“You can answer affirmatively,” the judge announces. “I’m a very alcohol-friendly judge and despise Prohibition.”

Anastásiya reverts back to biting her nails after she’s sworn in.  She lowers her gaze from that of Borís’s lawyer, feeling he’s looking at the lower-than-usual neckline Katrin has finally persuaded her to start donning in place of her last-generation outfits revealing usually not a micrometer of flesh except for her face and hands.

Anastásiya turns bright purple in horror. “What do you take me for, some immodest little flapper who exposes her knees and elbows and goes around driving cars?  I have never engaged in any immoral behavior such as that!”

“I hope you take the fifth too when they start asking you the hard questions.” His lawyer rises. “The defense is going to call Borís Aleksándrovich Malenkov to the stand.”

“I despise you.  I would’ve trusted Mísha more to raise his son alone than I would ever trust you to raise any child.” Léna coldly turns away.

Borís, fearing being arrested if he doesn’t instantly comply, signs away all his paternal rights over Tatyana and stands off to the side as Iván and Lyuba sign the document.  When they’re back at their seats, Borís falls onto his knees and then down into the kowtowing position sobbing hysterically, like an infant.  Grányechka, Father Spiridon, and the lawyer all move away, slightly embarrassed.

“Look at that fat short man, crying like it’s the end of the world,” Katrin says haughtily. “Of course I don’t hold any grudge against his mother for comforting him, but he has to show some restraint when he knew damn well this was coming!”

Anastásiya, turning green in jealousy, runs out of the courtroom and hails a carriage going her way, longing for the moment when she can drown the day’s sorrows and humiliations by gazing at her pictures of Rudy and Dmítriy, men who may be unattainable but who at least won’t use her to make another woman jealous.

Union with a Snake (Underwood Champion)

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(Quick note: This post is coded with a font I downloaded, not a default that came with my Mac. It might not show up for everyone. But if you love typewriters and typewriter-esque fonts, I recommend you check it out yourself!)

Font: Underwood Champion

Chapter: “Union with a Snake”

Book: The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks

Written: 27-29 October 2011

Computer created on: 2008 15-inch MacBook Pro

File format: Word 2004

Chapter 41 of my Russian novel sequel is one of the things I’m proudest of having written. I wrote all 17,000 words of it over the course of just three days. After having kept so much of this book memorized in my head for over half my life, it finally was able to be committed to paper, and so much of it just came gushing out. This book wrote me more than I wrote it.

The day the Stock Market crashes, there’s a blackout in the tenement and Lyuba goes into labor with her fifth child. Just as she suspected, it’s a boy, named Igor, after Ivan’s murdered uncle. (This name actually sounds softer in Russian, though it was almost ruined for me by my ex-“fianc锑s Harpy mother constantly screeching at her husband: “EEEEEEE-gaaaarrrrrr! Eeeeee-GAAAARRRRR! Eeeeee-GAAAARRRRR! Eeeeee-GAAAARRRRR!”) Lyuba is supported in labor by several of her stepsisters, including Svetlana, an infant nurse, along with her longtime midwife Mrs. Kuzmitch and Katrin. When I first created Katrin (né Catherine) in 1993, I never dreamt she and Lyuba would ever become such dear friends that she’d one day hold Lyuba’s hand during a birth!

Lyuba once again has a very difficult birth and recovery. She’s so feverish and weak that Mrs. Kuzmitch has to use forceps. She’s so out of it, in fact, that when Boris comes by after hearing about her state, she mistakes him for her husband. Over the next few weeks, he regularly comes by at night to dope her up with morphine, mescaline, alcohol, and aphrodisiac teas. Boris even writes Ivan two letters bragging about this “affair,” one of which he signs Lyuba’s name to. Things do not end very well when Lyuba finally realizes, in a sober state, what’s been going on.

Some highlights, so to speak:

On the evening of Tuesday, October 29, while Lyuba is reeling from the shock of the Stock Market’s dramatic plummet over the last two days, all the lights go out in the building.  Then, to make matters worse, she feels her water breaking.  She’s felt mild contractions all day, but chose to ignore them.

Through her swimming vision, she can make out a male figure.  She has no idea how her husband could’ve come here or even found out about the birth so soon.  In her delirium, she doesn’t register that her male visitor is plump, on the short side for a man, and has black hair and eyes, instead of being over six feet tall and having dark brown hair and eyes.

“Ask and you shall receive.” Borís pulls out another syringe and quickly injects her, glad her eyes are shut and he can use his right hand this time.

“It’s a sad state when a new mother can’t even wake up to her baby’s cries,” the mohel agrees. “At least this was caught in time to be taken care of properly.  The baby will recover.” (Igor developed a severe case of balanitis on his 9th day of life and had to be circumcised, something totally foreign to Russian Christians.)

“I’m so glad you came back, my handsome stallion.” Lyuba wraps her arms around him, her vision still cloudy from all the morphine and delirium. “I can’t get over how plump you’ve gotten in Minnesota.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost think you were Borís.”

“Look at my pretty buttons.” Lyuba opens the tea crate. “We soak these in our tea every night, and they make me feel so happy and aware of the world.  It’s like walking through a dream when I’m awake.  Like right now, I feel like I’m looking at a moving stained glass window.”

“Can you get that brat to shut up?  I can’t concentrate on screwing you if he’s going to be interrupting us.  It’s time to pay attention to me, not him.  He has your attention all day.  Now it’s my turn.”

Lyuba screams even more hysterically.  In the midst of the commotion, her mother and stepfather, the Karmovs, the Kharzins, and Valériya come into the apartment.  Borís suddenly doesn’t feel as confident anymore.

“Borís doesn’t even know the meaning of shame anymore,” Mrs. Kharzina says. “He sinned once and kept running with it.  Once he got a taste for sin, it was too sweet to resist.  Now he’s completely degenerate.”

Lyuba sits on the davenport at her mother’s house, still in complete shell-shock over what she’s discovered.  This seems like a twisted, deranged nightmare that happened to someone else, not her.  In her mind, she keeps replaying everything that happened over the last month, unable to comprehend how she could’ve been so blind to the obvious.

Paternity Warfare (Palatino)

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Font: My belovèd Palatino, of course!

Created: 1948

Personal experience: Used almost completely exclusively since late September ’93. The ’93 Mac didn’t have Bookman, so I chose what looked like the next-closest thing. It’s been my font soulmate ever since.

Chapter: “Paternity Warfare”

Book: You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan

Written: 1998 or 1999

Computer created on: I think it was the ’96 or ’97 Mac we had.

File format: ClarisWorks

This is Chapter 15 of my first Russian historical novel, my favorite chapter and also the shortest, in only the upper 4000s. (By my standards, short=lower 4000s/upper 5000s, midrange=7000s/8000s, long=10,000+.) Though I lost all my formatting when I finally was able to open and convert these old files, I still remembered that certain parts of Ivan’s dialogue were in bold italics. He was that livid when Boris popped in on his second illegal visit home, trying to steal Tatyana.

There’s no contest as to Tatyana’s paternity, as Ivan is a virgin till September 1921, when he’s 23 years old, and Tatyana was conceived in April 1918. But Ivan is the man who’s raised her since the night she was born. Boris abandoned Lyuba shortly before she went into active labor, and was beating her constantly during the pregnancy. Tatyana was really the result of a rape, though Lyuba doesn’t like to think of it in those terms since Boris didn’t hold her up at knifepoint and wasn’t a stranger. Off-screen, so to speak, Boris got Lyuba drunk and drugged when it became clear she didn’t want to be intimate, and the next morning she woke up naked next to Boris, with a massive headache and blood running down her legs.

During this chapter, Lyuba is in town working at the Godunov cousins’ brothel, and has left Tatyana in the care of the man she considers her father, Ivan. Ivan isn’t having any of it when Boris shows up in the middle of the night.

The croup remedy Ivan uses to help Tatyana was something I learnt from the Spanish professor I had at community college.

Some highlights:

Eliisabet drops her fork. “Holy Mother of God, I knew there was some secret reason why she kept insisting she couldn’t be with you and had to stay with Borís!  She talked in vague generalities about being afraid of staying with a nice guy, but I never dreamt it was anywhere in that perverted league!  No wonder she feels more familiar with being abused and disrespected by men!”

“I don’t know how to do that!” Iván carries her outside to the outhouse, unpins the diaper, and sets her down on the hole in the ground.

“You don’t need to wear winter gloves.  It’s not like you’ll get Bubonic Plague from changing a diaper!” Kat laughs.

It is all falling apart.  Iván has never gone long without a woman to take care of him.  He suffers through two more diaper changes, three naps, and two more feedings before he sets Tatyana down in the crib for the night, only to be jerked awake at two in the morning by her croup.  Cursing to himself, he grabs her and dashes into the bathroom to turn the shower on.  He’s hardly thrilled when it comes back again the next night.  He sits on the floor with her and cries for two hours.

Iván turns white in fury. “You!  Who gave you permission to enter this house!  You dared to come back here illegally a second time!  This is my child!  You abandoned her before she was born!  Get the hell out!” He sets Tatyana down on the floor as soon as she starts breathing normally again and storms toward Borís, hitting him with the back of his hand.

“This bastard Borís has come back to wreck more havoc in our lives!” Iván gives his former best friend a push backwards down the stairs. “Get the hell out of this house before I kill you, you dryan, you súkin syn, you worthless piece of govnó!”

“You see what you did?” Iván scoops her up and rocks her back and forth. “It’ll all be over soon, my precious little tsarévna.  Just as soon as that man gets out of this house.  He wants to take you away from me, but there’s no way in the world I would ever give my angelic little girl away to anybody!”

By now Iván has grabbed Borís by the throat and is banging his head against the floor, ignoring his gasps for breath.  The other people in the band have come running from their beds by now to see what the noise is all about.

Borís looks at Tatyana with tears in his eyes. “You can always go to bed with Lyuba and get her pregnant, and then you’ll have a child of your own!  Let me have my child!  You can even have five or six kids with her, just give me back my child!”

Blushing, Borís turns away and heads back for the abandoned resort where he’s been staying.  He chokes ahead of time on the stench of beer, wine, vomit, urine, govnó, and blood that’ll be sure to greet him once he enters the old resort where bands of wild children and their older counterparts are staying, stacked up like sardines, and always afraid to leave anything unattended, for fear of it being stolen by an unscrupulous bandmember.

Katrin Discovers Anastasiya’s Secret (King)

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(Quick note: This is one of the fonts I downloaded, so it might not show up as such for everyone. My one pre-existing K font using Roman letters, Kino, was too crowded and hard on the eyes to read for extended periods.)

Font: King

Chapter: "Katrin Discovers Anastasiya’s Secret"

Book: The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks

Written: 28-30 June 2011

Computer created on: 2008 15-inch MacBook Pro

File format: Word 2004

This is the 10th chapter of my second Russian historical novel, one of the summer vacation chapters. Every summer since 1923, Lyuba and her friends have stayed for two weeks at Coney Island (to coincide with the paid union vacations of Ivan, Aleksey, and Nikolas), and then gone to a rented five-story house on Long Island until Labor Day. Katrin pays for the rental house.

During Summer 1925, Anastasiya has settled into the top floor, instead of as usual staying with her best friend’s family. Everyone is wondering about this, and why she so rarely comes out or interacts with anyone. Katrin and her little sister Viktoriya decide to finally investigate, and discover Anastasiya’s trip to Paris in February involved more than just her first fashion show.

Anastasiya has always been so fun to write, over the 20 years I’ve been with her. She’s the secondary antagonist of the first two books, but she’s not a mean-spirited person. She’s more of a delusional, meddling hypocrite. And her reactions are so predictable, they’re comical. Even when she’s caught in a potential scandal, she continues with her hypocrisy and unintentional comedy.

Some highlights:

"I’ll be up to her room later to make her come," Katrin says. "She’s deluding herself if she thinks she can take a vacation on my dime and barely do anything with us.  I’m sure there are some good spas around here where she can start feeling normal again."

"Do you think Nástya’s been having a love affair?" Katrin asks. "Perhaps after all that talk about how she’s better-off without kids or a man because it’d ruin her fashion empire, she felt embarrassed when she found a man anyway.  Sure we’ll laugh at her expense and say we told her so, but we’ll be happy for her if she has found a beau.  Though I can’t imagine how she’s been sneaking him in and out of the house if she has."

"Are you hiding a boyfriend?" Viktóriya demands. "Or are you dying of cancer?" She pulls the bag away from Anastásiya in the hopes of finding some kind of proof of an affair or a disease inside.

"I’m about twenty weeks too!" Katrin says. "You got pregnant around the same time I did, and you never even told your own best friend so we could enjoy being pregnant together?"

"It’s not supposed to hurt unless you have a thoughtless and brutal lover or a medical issue, like a very thick hymen," Katrin says. "Can you please stop using the silly word ‘maidenhood’?  That’s an abstract, male-defined concept, not a membrane."

Katrin goes over to look and sees Iván getting out of the car. "I guess Konev wanted to spend the vacation weekend and his birthday with his family.  I hope his mother is having a sobbing fit about it.  She should be embarrassed at herself, forty-six years old now and thinking her grown son is still a helpless little boy."

"Oh, well this is one piece of gossip that’s not going anywhere," Katrin smirks. "I’d say you’ll still have ample time to see the proof for about twenty more weeks, and any time thereafter, in another form."

"I’d never deny myself breakfast.  I never fast before Communion anyway.  I usually just make something up in Confession so I can be cleared for Communion.  Since when do I ever sin?"

Anastásiya takes the lift down and strolls along the street.  As much as she’s grown used to the Upper East Side, she’s at least thankful she’ll only be going back to the Upper West Side and not the Lower East Side, where she started her life in America.  There’s not much difference between the two sides of Uptown Manhattan.  As she’s passing by an alley, she stops in her tracks when she sees two people having relations under a fire escape.  Her eyes widen when she realizes the man is Borís.

"Are you sure you didn’t already lose your maidenhood earlier and just didn’t know it, or were in denial about it?" Borís asks. "God made the female body in such a way that women would feel devastating pain upon being deflowered.  It lets the man know she’s a pure, untouched virgin.  Only sluts and whores enjoy their first coitus, let alone actively seek it out."

"Don’t pay any attention to her, Ksyusha," Borís barks. "It really should hurt when a girl first has coitus.  Perhaps she was just too drunk to remember the pain."

"You’re a complete dog, Malenkov. I’m not even going to ask why you were doing that in public when you have your own house."

Antagonists and extremists should still be three-dimensional characters

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It’s too easy to make your villain or an extremist character one-dimensionally evil. Making them well-rounded characters, with well-developed motivations, backstories, and distinguishing characteristics is a skill that doesn’t come overnight, but it’s worth it to learn how to develop it.

The primary antagonist of my first two Russian novels, Boris Aleksandrovich Malenkov, started out as a good guy, the one who was supposed to eventually marry Lyuba (then called Amy), the one she was supposed to like best of all her suitors. Gradually, he changed into a worse and worse character, which involved a fair amount of rewriting and revising the original sections of the first 7 chapters. But after his personality switch, I never made him into some cartoonish, simplistic villain.

Boris starts out kind of like Esau. He’s more uncouth and impulsive than a truly mean, uncaring guy. (Side note: I’m very uncomfortable with the vilification of Esau, and Ishmael, in the Midrash, a collection of rabbinic elaborations and interpretations of the Bible. Nowhere in the straight Torah text is it ever suggested that Esau is such a monster and anti-Semite.)

Boris is essentially a decent guy who wants to do the right thing, but he has some troubling hints of a darker side. However, those negative character traits, like a quick temper and gluttony, have always been held in check by his parents and teachers. Once he’s out on his own, expelled from gymnasium, in hiding near Ryazan, his parents in Siberia, he no longer has anyone to hold him in line, and combined with his frustration over his plight as a White, his evil inclination gets the better of him.

Over the years, he goes through some periods where he’s fairly good, but he’s always sucked back into sinning. The taste of sin is so sweet, and it’s easier to go with what’s familiar than to tackle the hard work of self-examination and permanent repentance. However, many of his dark periods and sins are motivated by what he feels to be good intentions. He can actually be a bit funny to write, in a dark way. He’s not some one-dimensionally evil person with no motivation behind his depraved acts, and he certainly wasn’t born evil.

Even a villain who’s intended to be a static character shouldn’t be one-dimensional or without motivation. You can give the villain an interesting backstory, and imbue him or her with distinguishing characteristics. Urma Smart, the town psycho of my Atlantic City books, didn’t start out a fire and brimstone fanatic in league with a deranged pseudominister and constantly launching sick schemes against her so-called enemies. And Urma might talk the talk, but she doesn’t completely walk the walk. She always wears the pants in her family and railroads over her passive, weak-willed husband for years, for example.

Urma’s daughter Samantha is a very complex character. At first glance, she’s as fundy as her mother, but deep down, she just wants to be a normal kid. Sam doesn’t have the nerve to stand up to her fanatical mother, and it takes years before she finally finds her voice and breaks away from the crazy, joining a mainstream Methodist church and becoming a moderate Republican. Originally Sam was too pure and good for words, before I changed the storyline to make her and her mother fundies. Then I completely rewrote it so that she and Urma were rather one-dimensionally annoying, fanatical pains in the ass. Finally Sam emerged as a well-rounded, conflicted young woman, and became so much more interesting in the process.

Even if you’re writing about a group of people we can all agree are/were villains, like Nazis or Bolsheviks, you still don’t have to make them cartoonishly evil or buffoonish. The majority of people in those movements started out as ordinary people who were attracted to the leader’s promises. They didn’t think of themselves as villains or hate-mongers. And there were some Nazis, like Oskar Schindler, who belonged to the party but privately used that position to help people. Obviously that wouldn’t have been anywhere near the majority, but it makes for a very interesting character and story if written properly.

I tried to give distinguishing characteristics to the Nazis and NSBers (Dutch Nazis) in Jakob’s story. It would be too easy and simplistic to show them all as beady-eyed villains or incompetent buffoons. Some of the features included a face full of liver spots, ugly measles or chickenpox scars, a disgusting deep, hacking cough, a high-pitched voice, a huge Adam’s apple, and an oddly-shaped nose. They weren’t just trotted out as faceless symbols of evil.

Even if we’re not supposed to be cheering for the antagonist, it helps to understand where s/he’s coming from and to make him or her a fully fleshed-out character. After all, they’re humans too, and no real person is pure evil. Don’t write your characters like people out of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. No one is as purely evil as Simon Legree, as unquestioningly subservient as Uncle Tom, or as pious as Little Eva. Seriously, there’s something really wrong with you if you’re happy you’re sick and can’t wait to die.