WeWriWa—Heartbroken Beginning

Tomorrow I’ll be guest-blogging at The A to Z Challenge blog! I’ll be sharing my thoughts and reflections on my theme of cities I’ve featured in my writing.

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, a weekly Sunday hop where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. After so many years, my first Russian historical is slated for release on 7 November, available for pre-order on 28 October. I wrote and edited the first draft from 1993-2001, and have put in an obscene amount of time on edits, revisions, polishing, and rewrites since I finally got access to the files again in 2011. This book is the pride of my writing life and probably my greatest labor of love.

You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan opens in April 1917 in Moskva, and ends in March 1924 in Manhattan (with a brief Epilogue in Siberia). I know this is the one comparison you’re not supposed to make, but it really does remind me a bit of a Russian Gone with the Wind, in terms of epic scope and a tumultuous on-again, off-again relationship between a pair of soulmates.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve redone the opening pages since 1993, but the final version opens right after 18-year-old Ivan has had his heart broken by his 17-year-old sweetheart Lyubov (Lyuba). He proposed to her as they were leaving gymnasium (i.e., an academic, élite high school) at the end of the day, and didn’t exactly get the response he expected.

***

Instead of walking to St. Basil’s Cathedral to marry his dream girl, Iván Ivánovich Kónev is crying his eyes out in a broom closet.

His heartbeat quickens when he hears approaching footsteps and the door opening.  Perhaps his belovèd Lyuba already changed her mind, he thinks as he turns around.

Instead his eyes fill with the sight of his good friend Alekséy Vladímirovich Tvardóvskiy, one of the only people who knew about their clandestine romance.

“Lyuba jilted me when I asked her to marry me and go to America!”

“What?  That doesn’t make any sense!  Why don’t you dry your eyes and we can talk about this while we’re waiting for the tram.”

 ***

Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Lyuba Zhukova is left behind in Russia when her mother and aunt immigrate to America, forcing her to go into hiding from the Bolsheviks and sometimes flee at a moment’s notice.  By the time the Civil War has turned in favor of the Reds, Lyuba has also become an unwed mother.  But she still has her best friend and soulmate Ivan Konev, a cousin, and a band of friends, and together they’re determined to survive the Bolsheviks and escape to America.

As Lyuba runs for her life from during the terror and uncertainty of the Civil War, she’s committed to protecting her daughter and staying together with Ivan, her on-again, off-again boyfriend in addition to her best friend and the man who’s raised her child as his own since the night she was born.  The race to get out of Russia, into Estonia, and over to America intensifies after Ivan commits a murder to protect her and becomes a wanted criminal.

Once in America, Lyuba discovers the streets aren’t lined with gold and that she’s just another Lower East Side tenement-dweller.  Ivan brings in dirt wages from an iron factory, forcing them to largely live off the savings they brought from Russia and to indefinitely defer their dream of having their own farm in the Midwest.  And though the Red Terror is just a nightmarish memory, Lyuba is still scarred in ways that have long prevented her and Ivan from becoming husband and wife and living happily ever after.  Can she ever heal from her traumatic past and have the life she always dreamt of with the man she loves before Ivan gets tired of waiting?

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9 thoughts on “WeWriWa—Heartbroken Beginning

  1. Wow, this story does have epic sweep, going from your summary. Such a sad beginning, I can imagine he felt crushed at her refusal. Wonder why she said no….hope we get to learn more! Excellent excerpt as always.

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    • I was inspired to use present tense for this book after reading Ida Vos’s Hide and Seek. This was years before it became a trend, and it was like a revelation to me to discover books could be written in the present tense. It made the action seem so much more immediate, tense, dramatic, uncertain, right in the moment, never knowing what’s going to happen next or how it ends. I felt it was the perfect choice when I began my first Russian historical in January ’93. These characters just exist in present tense, and would feel very odd in past tense, the same way the majority of my other characters exist in past tense and would feel strange and unnatural in present tense.

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