WeWriWa—Lyuba and her antithesis


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.

Pickford675Mary Pickford, America’s Sweetheart


 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.

12 thoughts on “WeWriWa—Lyuba and her antithesis

    • Ivan and his eventually-to-be-ex-best friend Boris have a longstanding agreement to take turns escorting Lyuba to balls, and their order is thrown off in April when Boris gets detention for sassing a teacher. At the next ball, in November, Anastasiya forces her presence on Ivan, and Lyuba is heartbroken to see them dancing. They both think they’re only going to be playing up their respective charades for one evening, but then Lyuba feels cornered into a relationship with Boris when he forces a repulsive kiss on her, and Anastasiya has assumed she and Ivan are courting based on just that first dance. Neither Ivan nor Lyuba realizes or admits for quite some time that they were only using these other people to make the other jealous, and then things got too over their heads, especially for Lyuba.


    • Ivan and Lyuba are both survivors of different types of childhood abuse, and the images they’ve chosen to put onto the world aren’t who they really are. Each is the only person who really understands what the other is really like. Neither knows how to be “normal.”


  1. Oh, dear. This is going to be tough on the characters, but great for the readers! 🙂

    (I always thought Mary Pickford could use a good conditioner—If that makes me shallow, so be it. 🙂 )


    • Their romantic relationship is interrupted or thwarted a total of eleven times during the book. Even their astrological signs are ill-matched, Cancer and Sagittarius. It’s hard to believe Lyuba (then called Amy) originally really did like Boris best, and that I just stumbled into the idea of her and Ivan being madly in love since they were children.


  2. You’ve certainly got the archetypal good girl/bad girl vibe down…but yet, it isn’t ever that simple, as you so deftly show and it’s always sad when characters remain apart for too long because they won’t open up to each other…quite an engrossing story going on, so much depth! Great snippet!


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