Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, a weekly Sunday hop where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. I’ve now moved onto sharing from the opening of my first Russian historical, You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan. It’s a miracle this story I began at just thirteen years old developed into a much more mature story over all the years I was writing and editing the first draft. Staying with this story all those years, and putting so much time into even more edits and revisions over the last three years, really transformed it into the historical saga and complex love story I’m so proud of.
It’s April 1917, and 18-year-old Ivan has just had his heart broken by his 17-year-old sweetheart Lyuba when she turned down his proposal of marrying and immigrating to America. Ivan’s close friend, 17-year-old Aleksey, has caught him crying in a broom closet and has just given him a handkerchief to dry his eyes.
“If only people really knew how overly sensitive you are.”
“Not too long ago we skipped gymnasium and spent the day at Patriarch’s Pond,” Iván says wistfully as he wipes his eyes and follows Alekséy outside. “We were watching the swans and talking about how they mate for life. When a swan finds its soulmate, the two swans swim together and their beaks form a heart shape. Well, you can’t kill a swan’s pair bond, and my beautiful swan will be back where she belongs no matter how long it takes.”
“You’d have to be willfully blind to miss how she’s always looked at you. I never bought her charade of preferring that short, chubby Malenkóv. Anyone who knows what’s what can see Lyuba only has romantic feelings for you.”
Had I started this book at older than thirteen, I doubtless would’ve given my hero anything but the most common male name in Russian history, but the name Ivan just suits who he is. He’s solid, dependable, loyal, reliable, rather old-fashioned, hard-working, with a quintessentially Russian soul. He occasionally comments how he hates having the most common male name in history, and there’s also the frequent symbolic contrast between Tsar Ivan II, the Meek, and Tsar Ivan IV, Grozniy. He was named for Tsar Ivan III, the Great, yet he too often is either too meek or lets his volatile temper get the better of him, thanks to his traumatic childhood.
Grozniy actually translates as “dreadsome,” “fearsome,” “awe-inspiring,” “menacing,” “threatening,” NOT “terrible.” That’s a horribly misleading, downright inaccurate translation of Tsar Ivan IV’s appellation, and one of my pet peeves. He definitely went over the deep end after his belovèd first wife died, and did lots of terrible things, but he was very enlightened at the start of his reign. He corresponded with Queen Elizabeth I and helped to modernize the Russian Orthodox Church, for example. He also had a traumatic childhood he never really recovered from. The false translation “Terrible” gives a very false impression of who he actually was.