Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, a weekly Sunday hop where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m now sharing from the opening of my first Russian historical, You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan (available for pre-order here).
Eighteen-year-old Ivan has just been jilted by his secret sweetheart, 17-year-old Lyuba, who’s also his best friend. He and his close friend Aleksey have been discussing why they think this might’ve happened, along with the hope that Lyuba will come back where she belongs before long. Then the tram home pulls up Arbat Street, and they go to find seats. Among the passengers are three new girls who just moved from Estonia, each a little bit different.
First we briefly see Eliisabet, who has a mutual crush on Aleksey, and then we meet the shallow, materialistic Anastasiya. Ivan hasn’t the heart to sit beside Lyuba, and the seat he finds all the way in back is right next to the woman who becomes Lyuba’s antithesis and rival for Ivan’s attentions. Ivan never has any feelings for Anastasiya, but he later makes the mistake of using this delusional woman to make Lyuba jealous. They end up having an on-and-off pretend relationship that never goes beyond hand-holding, but in the very Victorian, delusional Anastasiya’s mind, this is true love and serious business.
One of Eliisabet’s friends, a delicate blonde who bit her nails all day, takes a seat next to him and smiles flirtatiously. He takes in this stranger, immediately sensing she’s nothing like Lyuba. She looks like she stepped from the pages of a fashion magazine, with her painted face and nails, Jeanne Paquin gown, and tango shoes. She also has a very large sketchpad of dresses she spent the day drawing in lieu of classwork. Lyuba meanwhile has never painted her face or nails, wears comfortable over fashionable clothes, and enjoys reading newspapers and classic novels instead of keeping up with the latest fashions and the lives of the rich and famous.
Theda Bara, the ultimate Vamp
Though Iván has never dared tell her this, Lyuba has long reminded him of Theda Bara, both in appearance and personality, and that excites him deep down. He’s more attracted by what the ruthless, man-eating, domineering, dark-haired, dark-eyed, voluptuous Vamp represents than what a sweet, innocent, virginal, blonde, blue-eyed ingénue like Mary Pickford represents. A so-called good girl might guarantee a safe, normal, predictable life, and an easily-attained happily ever after, but the so-called bad girl, the one with a haunted past and scars where no one can see them, represents a more interesting, complicated life, and the thrill of the chase.
Jeanne Paquin was a very popular fashion designer of the early 20th century. A Vamp, in the silent film era, did not refer to an actual Vampyre, but rather a sexually aggressive, assertive, take-charge woman who actively pursued men instead of smiling and keeping sweet.