WeWriWa—Patya’s Christmas present

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, when young couple Patya Siyanchuk and Vladlena Zyuganova headed out to their Christmas tree at the urging of their children.

Vladlena has just directed 7-year-old Karina to a present for Patya, and Karina has put it in her father’s lap. Patya, a former Marine with a below-elbow amputation, wishes Dyed Moroz (Grandfather Frost) had left him a new arm under the tree.

“Mama found this with a lot of help from some very special people.  We hope it’s your best Christmas present ever.”

Patya eyes a thin, rectangular box. “It looks like someone got me the new pastel colors I asked for.  Couldn’t I please open those first?”

“You don’t know anything I got you, you naughty boy,” Vladlena chides. “Just open this first, and then see if it’s not your best Christmas present ever.”

Patya holds it in place with his right arm while he pulls off the paper and bow with his left hand.  Three and a half years after his below-elbow amputation, he’s gotten significantly better at navigating these sorts of tasks, but he still struggles to do them as quickly as other people.  When he reaches the cardboard box, he lifts the untaped flaps and pulls out a bulky parcel wrapped in orange tissue paper.

Patya has become an artist since his amputation, particularly with pastels, the present he wanted most. His priest’s granddaughter Violetta, whom some of you may remember, visited him in hospital and let him borrow some of her pastels.

Drawing was what helped her to develop greater strength and dexterity in her left arm and hand after her right side was damaged by polio, so it was natural to suggest this to Patya. He’s now an art student in a master’s program at Queens College, hoping to become an art teacher.

Advertisements

WeWriWa—Patya’s Christmas present

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes from Part IV of Journey Through a Dark Forest, my third Russian historical, which spans 1933–48, three continents, and about 15 countries.

It’s now Russian Orthodox Christmas 1948, which falls on 7 January. Patya Siyanchuk and Vladlena Zyuganova moved from the Upper West Side to Queens Village in 1945, and are now expecting their third child.

Patya, as some of you might remember, is a former Marine who lost part of his right arm by the Battle of Saipan in June 1944. He was convinced Vladlena would leave him and couldn’t possibly still love him, but he came to realize Vladlena still sincerely loved him and didn’t care about the missing arm.

Vladlena pulls on her cherry-colored robe and steps into matching slippers while Patya maneuvers into a robe matching his dress blues.  As usual, it takes Patya longer to dress than Vladlena.  By the time he’s put on his dark blue slippers, Karina and Bruno are calling them downstairs.

“Somehow I doubt Dyed Moroz left me a new arm under the tree,” he says as they go downstairs.

“Come now.  You’re too old to believe in Dyed Moroz.  But I hope my first gift will be just as good.”

Once they’re in the living room, Vladlena sinks onto the overstuffed red davenport and directs Karina to a Prussian blue present with a bright red bow.  Karina obediently fetches it and puts it on Patya’s lap.

Dyed Moroz, Grandfather Frost, is the Russian Santa Claus.

The Jazz Singer at 90, Part III (The life of Al Jolson)

It was hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence) that George Jessel demanded too much salary from Warner Bros. for the lead role of The Jazz Singer. As talented and popular as Jessel was, Al Jolson was the only one with the charisma, star power, voice, and raw personal authenticity to carry the film and make it the first successful sound on film experiment.

Asa Yoelson was born 26 May 1886 in Sredniki, Russia (now Seredžius, Lithuania). Its Yiddish name was Srednik. Thankfully, he was spared the fate of the rest of Srednik’s Jewish community. On 4 September 1941, the Nazis murdered 193 people near Skrebėnai.

Asa was the baby of five children born to Moses Rubin Yoelson (1858–23 December 1945) and Nechama (Naomi) Cantor (1858–6 February 1895). His older siblings were Rose, Etta, a sister who died in infancy, and Hirsch (Harry).

Like many people in that era, he didn’t know when he was born, and chose 26 May 1886. His sister-in-law Margaret Weatherwax, however, claimed he was the same age as her father, born in 1881, and that he was 46 when he married her 18-year-old sister Ruby Keeler in 1928.

In 1891, Asa’s father immigrated to the U.S., and by 1894, he’d saved up enough money to bring his wife and children over. When they arrived, he was working as a cantor at Talmud Torah Congregation (now Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue) in Washington, D.C.

Sadly, Asa’s mother died in 1895, aged only 37. This sent him into a deep depression and withdrawal, and deeply affected him for the rest of his life. Later, his father remarried a woman named Ida, shown in the previous picture.

Asa was taken in by St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys (now Cardinal Gibbons School), a progressive orphanage in Baltimore. Another famous alum was Babe Ruth, who enrolled in 1902.

Asa and Hirsch were introduced to show business by entertainer Al Reeves in 1897, and began singing for money on street corners as Al and Harry. They often used the money for National Theatre shows.

In 1900, he moved to New York, where his first show was Children of the Ghetto. Then, in 1902, he began working for Walter L. Main’s Circus as an usher. Main was so impressed by his voice, he hired Asa as a singer in the Indian Medicine Side Show.

The circus folded that same year, leaving Asa unemployed. In 1903, he was hired for one show of Dainty Duchess Burlesquers. His rendition of “Be My Baby Bumble Bee” was so strong, he was kept for future shows.

This show too folded within the year, and Asa joined Hirsch, now a vaudeville performer called Harry. Though they gained nationwide bookings, live performances were no longer so popular, thanks to the rise of movies.

In 1904, the renamed Al began performing in blackface, which was a huge boost to his career. Harry left Al and their partner Joe Palmer following an argument, and the duo wasn’t as successful as the trio.

In 1906, Al was left solo. He soon became a nationally successful vaudeville singer. For awhile, he lived in San Francisco (wanting to cheer up earthquake survivors), then moved to New York in 1908 with his new wife Henrietta.

His singing career began growing by leaps and bounds after this move. By 1914, he was a huge star, and by 1920, he was Broadway’s biggest star.

Al went from strength to strength, becoming more popular and beloved with each new show and song. At 35, he became the youngest person to have a theatre named for him, Jolson’s 59th Street Theatre (later renamed the New Century Theatre, and razed in 1962).

In spite of how many modern people don’t understand the historical context and intent of blackface, this method of performing gave him a freedom to step into an alternate persona, disguise his true origins, express the Jewish liturgical tradition and cry of suffering, introduce jazz, blues, and ragtime to white audiences.

His blackface stage persona, Gus, was also smarter than his white masters, often helping them out of problems they’d made themselves. There was no bigotry or racism intended.

Al had many African–American friends, and promoted their careers at a time when Broadway barred them. He also demanded equal treatment for African–American co-stars, and was the only white person allowed into an all-Black Harlem nightclub.

When he learnt Eubie Blake and Noble Sissie, musicians he’d never met, had been denied service by a Connecticut restaurant, he tracked them down and took them to dinner himself. He and Blake became great friends.

The African–American community saw Al as a great friend and ally.

Over the course of his life, Al starred in many live shows and films, entertained the troops, recorded many songs, and starred on the radio many times.

He was married four times, to Henrietta Keller, Alma Osborne (professionally known as Ethel Delmar), Ruby Keeler, and Erie Galbraith. He adopted a child with Ruby in 1935, Al, Jr. He and Erie adopted Asa, Jr., in 1948, and Alicia in 1949.

With Ruby in 1934

With Erie and Asa, Jr., in 1948

While entertaining troops in the Pacific during WWII, Al got malaria and had to get his left lung removed. In Korea in 1950, the dust and dirt of the front clogged his remaining lung and sapped his health.

On 23 October 1950, he collapsed of a massive heart attack. His funeral was one of the largest in show business history.

WeWriWa—Halloween party ends in mayhem

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes from the eighth book in my series focused on Max Seward, Jr., and his wacky family, set during autumn 1943.

Max’s cousin Elaine and their friend Quintina have organized a show-stopping school Halloween party, and Max himself has carved sixty jack-o-lanterns. All is going well till the local band starts taking off their costumes.

After these first five girls tackle their favorite bandmembers, it becomes a free-for-all as almost all the other girls rush the gym stage and pile onto the band too.

“There’s my heartthrob.” Kit yanked off the Stalin mask and raced over to Randy as he pulled off the spider head.

“And there’s mine.” Julieanna whipped off the Lenin mask and raced to Jakey as he draped the Dracula cape over the drums.

“That’s mine.” Violet tore off her Mussolini face and raced towards Bobby as he unghouled himself for the evening.

“And mine.” Cinnimin grabbed off the Hitler mask and made for Danny as he took off his football helmet.

“Oh my God, is that Pauly Richardson under the suit of shining knightly armor?” Mickey screamed, removing the disks from her eyes and tackling him to the ground.

I’d opened and converted the fourteen chapter files of this draft about two and a half years ago, but for some reason, the new master file kept crashing when I tried to open it. I had to go back onto my older computer (which has Word, unlike my newer computer), and went through the process all over again.

I’m so lucky that 10-year-old computer still works, I have an external disk drive, and those old files still open in spite of the hoops I have to jump through to convert and reformat them. This particular section seemed to need less extensive editing and rewriting than other parts of the Halloween chapter.

I was only fourteen when I handwrote the first draft, and about twenty when I transcribed it and made some changes. It’s yet another example of how my shorter books need far more extensive rewriting, editing, and restructuring than the books I deliberately wrote at saga-length!

WeWriWa—Served by the Alberighis

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a bit after last week’s, when 20-year-old Darya Koneva and her friends entered a diner run by Italian–Americans, the Alberighis.

One of the young waitresses smiled at Dmitriy and asked how he got five dates, wondering if there were one girl from each borough to see him on leave. He admitted four of them are his godsisters, and that Darya is his oldest godsister’s best friend.

Ema means “mother” in Estonian. Dmitriy calls his godmother Katrin “Ema Kati,” and calls his blood mother Anastasiya “Ema Stasya.” For the first few years of his life, he believed Katrin was his mother, since Anastasiya was almost completely uninvolved in his caretaking.

Darya slumps against Viivela and picks at the plate of fried potato wedges brought over with a bottle of ketchup.  When the entrées come, she longingly inhales the scents of tuna melt, grilled cheese, hamburger, clam chowder, and fried haddock.  She can hardly believe she’s not rushing to wolf down so much delicious food, and that there’d ever again come a time when she’d lose her appetite for any reason.  Three months ago, she didn’t need any prompting to swallow soup with broken glass, worms, and cloth; sawdust bread; raw potatoes and turnips; or vegetables with mold.

“I bet Ema Kati’s already writing a big article about this,” Dmitriy says as he sprinkles oyster crackers into his chowder. “I’ve always been surprised how she’s never been questioned or arrested for being so openly Socialist, particularly during wartime.  She’s written so many articles criticizing Japanese internment, racist anti-Japanese propaganda, the draft, the treatment of conscientious objectors and people performing alternative service, segregation in the military, the xenophobic immigration quotas keeping out people desperately trying to escape the Nazis, and the censorship and downplaying of reports of Nazi atrocities.”

One of the waitresses sets a bowl of minestrone and a glass of cherry Italian soda before Darya. “My grandfather insisted you have something.  You’re probably hungry, even if you don’t feel like eating now.”

 In my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, Katrin’s Socialist activism and decades-long career with left-wing newspapers finally catches up with her. When she arrives home from a trip to Japan in 1950, to survey the bombs’ damage firsthand, she’s arrested and put on trial.