What I’m Reading
My three new library books are Anatoliy Rybakov’s Children of the Arbat (the first in a trilogy set during the Great Terror); Carolly Erickson’s biography Alexandra: The Last Tsarina; and A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra: Their Own Story, edited from letters and journal entries, and with commentary, by Andrei Maylunas and Sergei Mironenko. Lifelong passion is exactly how I’d describe my Russophilia.
I still remember the disgusted, exasperated noise made by some meathead at my second high school, when I started writing the Cyrillic alphabet on the blackboard in our Communications class. He’d already sat through my two research papers on Russian historical topics in the research paper class we’d had the first half of the year, and was probably annoyed I was giving yet another presentation on a Russian topic. Dude, sorry if I were too intellectual for you at 16–17, or if my interests annoyed and offended you. Your own speeches and research paper topics weren’t exactly memorable, deep, or scintillating, and one of your speeches was really, really bigoted and offensive, a topic I’m shocked our teacher okayed.
What I’m Writing
Finally was able to go back to my WIP, and finished Chapter 94, “A Species Apart,” in which Lyuba and Ivan discover just what happened to Darya when she fell into Nazi hands in late 1942. Ivan, true to his nature, was typically in denial that an American Christian girl could’ve ended up in concentration-camps. Now I’m starting Chapter 95, “Andrey Opens the Door,” in which Darya and her lifelong friend and neighbour Andrey Vishinskiy fall in love.
Darya is initially very angry Andrey sat out the war with a draft deferment as a university student, while her big brother, cousin, and two uncles risked their lives to try to save her and Oliivia. Andrey is cut from the same rather passive, intellectual, idealist cloth as his father, and argues that he never would’ve fit even a noncombatant role. He asks her if she’s considered how he’s felt, constantly attacked and mocked as unmanly, cowardly, and unpatriotic, even by his own siblings.
As soon as I’m done with my massive WIP, I’m going back to my long-hiatused alternative history, or perhaps might even work on both at the same time. I have so many awesome ideas for how I’m going to rework it. So many books, both non-fiction and historical fiction, have been written about the last Tsar’s daughters, but poor little Alyoshka is often left out in the cold. He really deserves a story that’s all his own.
I’m also booming through the first round of edits on The Twelfth Time, my Russian novel sequel.
What Works for Me
If your characters are from a place that uses a non-Roman alphabet, find your own transliteration system and be consistent. I’m sure many people would accuse me of being nit-picky and too purist for how I do letter-for-letter Cyrillic transliteration and even use accent marks as a pronunciation guide, but that’s the style I came to at age sixteen. Maybe some people might think a spelling like Aleksandr, Mariya, or Yuriy is weird or non-intuitive, but I personally dislike transliteration systems which, for example, use an I instead of a Y (as in Andrei vs. Andrey) or use just I or Y instead of IY (as in Vasili or Vasily vs. Vasiliy). Just be consistent and stick with what you’re familiar with.
On a related note, please don’t “translate” your characters’ names! Unless they’re nobility or royalty, odds are they won’t go by Western versions of their names, or use Western nicknames. I was messed up for a very long time on account of how many books I’ve read which “translated” Russian characters’ names, or historicals set in Russia which used blatantly Western names, like Peter or Elizabeth. I innocently copied what I saw. (I give a pass to the nickname Kitty, given the precedent in Anna Karenina, where it’s consistently, phonetically written out.)
What Else I’ve Been Up To
I had a very nice Simchat Torah, at the university community for the evening services and dancing, and at my Conservative shul for the morning/afternoon services. A couple of years ago, during the evening Simchat Torah festivities, I saw the plastic tablecloth underneath the candles on fire and managed to get the attention of the men’s side of the room. Thankfully, it was caught in time to prevent a disaster, though the table had to be repaired/covered over with a beautiful cut-glass design. I’m amazed I actually saw that clear across the room, esp. with my gimpy right eye!
This year during daytime services, the Torah I carried during the seventh Hakafah (circle) turned out to be one of the three scrolls we needed for the Torah service, so I ended up holding it for the opening of the ark and carrying it through the sanctuary. A very nice privilege!