Posted in Fourth Russian novel, Writing

Why I moved the Konevs to the Twin Cities in the first place

As you can see from my initial notes from 2015 (when I naïvely assumed I could tell this story in only 50 chapters plus an epilogue!), my original vision for Dream Deferred involved Lyuba, Ivan, and their two youngest children returning to Firebird Fields and farming in June 1952. Not only that, Igor would also dutifully rush home after graduating NYU, with his bride Violetta in tow, and immediately start his own farm on the family compound.

But then the story took an extremely dark, unexpected turn which compelled the Konevs to leave the fictional town of Melville (originally real-life Hastings, but changed to avoid offending people) and resettle in the Twin Cities.

Tamara’s second grade teacher, based on my own, twists her left arm behind her back when she defends new girl Yaël. Miss Stidolph goes on a crazed rampage which culminates in giving her a stroke caused by a cerebral hemorrhage; three broken ribs; a dislocated shoulder; a broken arm, jaw, nose, and seven baby teeth; and three chipped adult teeth (which are saved). All the students except Yaël gleefully join in the attack.

This violent attack changes the entire course of the story and inserts some much-needed higher stakes. Prior, all the Melville storylines revolved around the girls being bullied by both teachers and students and feeling profoundly unchallenged at their respective schools. The only friends they make are fellow outcasts. Meanwhile, Lyuba and Ivan stun the teachers with their own defiant nonconformity and full support of their daughters.

That provided great conflict for the first school year and the start of the second, but I started to feel like it was growing stale. A drastic sea change was needed.

The Konevs stay in Minneapolis till the end of 1949, and then move into a large house in St. Paul, which they share with the also-relocated Novak-Kolarovs. Later on, I changed this to a smaller single-family home with the Novak-Kolarovs across the street. Kleopatra’s professor father tutors Tamara every day.

Irina, Sonyechka, Irina’s friend Rhonwen, Kleopatra and her brother Fridrik, and the three Kahns, Léa, Benjamin, and Yaël, are all given full scholarships to a radical progressive academy. Rhonwen becomes a boarding student. Because it’s such a believable plot development, not conveniently deus ex machina at all, for all eight of them to qualify for the same dream school AND get scholarships!

Anyway, from this point on, the Minnesota storyline shifted to Sonyechka and Tamara becoming really attached to St. Paul and not wanting to return home after their parents graduate. My new idea for a final chapter was for Lyuba and Ivan to decide to stay, much to their daughters’ delight. Not only do they have friends and a school they love in St. Paul, they’ve also grown to feel much more comfortable in a larger city than a small rural town.

Then something overtook me, and I got crazily carried away with the idea of them NEEDING to return to New York, where everything is automatically better and all their loved ones live. Cue a bunch of stupid subplots essentially necessitating this so-called return from exile and everyone but Ivan embracing it as a done deal. With no housing lined up.

And in so doing, I completely lost sight of why I moved them to the Twin Cities in the first place, and bloated my already sprawling wordcount beyond belief. All my other unplanned storylines in this book came together so perfectly, as they always do, but this time I lost control of my ship and meandered into the weeds.

Other great reasons to keep them where they are, even if they do seriously consider returning to New York: Not nearly enough books are set in the Twin Cities, and Lyuba and Ivan are long overdue to finally make friends outside their own little bubble and not be so joined at the hip with their family. It’d also be a lot of fun to develop the girls’ school exactly the way I want it, a perfect blend of progressive pedagogy and academic rigor.


Writer of historical fiction sagas and series, with elements of women's fiction, romance, and Bildungsroman. Born in the wrong generation on several fronts.

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