Famous surnames (intentional) in my Russian historicals

From late ’96 on, any well-known Russian surnames I’ve chosen for characters have been intentional. Not all of these famous names belong to laudatory people, but it’s unrealistic for every single character in any book to have a name untainted by any negative namesakes or associations.

One could read the choice of some of these names on some of these characters as a political allegory of sorts, but that wasn’t really my intention. Certain were chosen in the context of the late Nineties.

Apart from Ivan’s uncle by marriage, Grigoriy Golitsyn, all my former princes’ and nobles’ names  (e.g., Orlov, Obolensky) were deliberately chosen.

Boris N. Yeltsin (1931–2007), http://state.kremlin.ru/president/allbio

Yeltsina, one of my main families, introduced with 13-year-old third sister Lena in 1920. Matriarch Mrs. Yeltsina, who’s run boardinghouses almost her entire adult life, is my oldest character in these books, born in 1866. Lena and her little sister Natalya are an entire generation apart from older sisters Valya and Zina. I have very mixed feelings about their namesake, but ultimately feel he was a decent person who started out trying to do the right thing.

Gorbachëva, Lena’s surrogate mother Sonya, and Sonya’s younger daughter Karla, whom she’s separated from in 1919 and doesn’t see again till 1953. After Karla is separated from her cousin Naina and their friend Katya, she’s adopted by Leonid Savvin and convinced her birth family are enemies of the people. She falls deeply under Stalin’s spell. Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachëv is one of my heroes.

Gennadiy A. Zyuganov (born 1944) 
http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/19646/photos

Zyuganov(a), one of my main families, introduced through 10-year-old orphanage girl Inessa in December 1919. Her Dyadya (Uncle) Dima adopts her and five of her friends, after already having 27 of his own children. Some of the family later escapes Minsk to begin new lives in the West, but they remain committed Communists and atheists.

Gennadiy Andreyevich Zyuganov came in second in both the 1996 presidential election, and the run-off. If he’d won, Putin (who was left in charge by Yeltsin) might never have come to power, but no, the West just had to meddle and pull Yeltsin’s ratings out of the toilet. God forbid a Communist become president! The current Communist Party of Russia is NOT one and the same as the old one!

Vladimir V. Zhirinovskiy (born 1946), duma.gov.ru

Zhirinovskiy/skaya, Inessa’s dear friend Inna, who becomes co-director of their Kyiv orphanage as an adult, and later defects to Iran along with forty children, ten employees, and the elderly director. Inna’s little brother Vitya becomes Inessa’s second husband. Their namesake runs the arch-conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which is neither liberal nor democratic. 

Chernomyrdina, Naina’s best friend Katya, four years her senior, also the daughter of Sonya’s own best friend. She’s sometimes called Older Katya, to distinguish her from Lyuba and Ivan’s daughter Katya. Viktor Stepanovich Chernomyrdin (1938–2010) was Yeltsin’s Prime Minister, and famous for his malapropisms.

Yezhova, fiesty orphanage girl Naina, who totes a handgun her father gave her before she was taken away. She uses that gun to protect the citrine necklace her mother gave her. She and Katya defect in 1927, and join Sonya in Toronto several months later. Nikolay Ivanovich Yezhov was a total scumbag who played a major role in the Great Terror. Karma came calling when the same fate was delivered to him!

Khrushchëva, orphanage girl Svetlana, who appears in the first two books. Obviously named after Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchëv.

Lebedev(a), one of the main families, introduced through 17-year-old orphaned Nadezhda in 1919. Her uncle Ilya later becomes Lyuba’s stepfather, after several years of having a surrogate father-daughter relationship. Mr. Lebedev has ten daughters by his first marriage. General Aleksandr Ivanovich Lebed (whose surname means “swan”) was the candidate I supported in the 1996 presidential election. He came in third. I was so sad when he was killed in a helicopter crash in 2002!

General Lebed (1950–2002), photo by Mikhail A. Yevstafyev

Kosygina, a teacher at Aleksandrovskiy Gymnasium in the first book and future second prequel. Aleksey Nikolayevich Kosygin was a prominent politician under Khrushchëv and Brezhnev.

To be continued.

WeWriWa—Eliisabet’s advice

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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 immediately follows last week’s, when 17-year-old Lyuba Zhukova privately lamented her ball escort to her friend Eliisabet.

Lyuba’s two best friends, Boris Malenkov and Ivan Konev, have taken turns escorting her to balls since they were gymnasium students, but since Boris acted up in April and was punished with the new-fangled detention, Ivan took his place for their final gymnasium ball before they were expelled. Not only does this mean Boris now gets to escort her to a ball, but Lyuba also promised Boris would have two turns in a row next time.

Lyuba’s friend Eliisabet Kutuzova, always very understanding and full of practical advice, tries to convince her to follow her heart.

“It’s long past time you were honest with both of them. If you really prefer Ivan, it’s dishonest to have them switch turns and pretend you only like both of them as friends. I can see it all over your face. That’s the man you love. If you lead Malenkov on, things might get more complicated than you bargained for. It’s easier to level with someone before things go too far than it is to jilt someone who thinks he’s your beau.”

“Just yesterday we were about to run away to get married and leave for America, but that creep Basil sprung a surprise visit on us and ruined everything. Vanya may have only ever kissed me, but he’s as incredible as a man who’s had a thousand prior girlfriends. I wish I were in his arms right now, doing all the things we used to do during our secret romance in the spring.”

You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan (1917-24):

Seventeen-year-old Lyuba Zhukova is left behind in Russia when her mother and aunt immigrate to America, forcing her to go into hiding from the Bolsheviks and sometimes flee at a moment’s notice.  By the time the Civil War has turned in favor of the Reds, Lyuba has also become an unwed mother.  But she still has her best friend and soulmate Ivan Konev, a band of friends, and a cousin, and together they’re determined to survive the Bolsheviks and escape to America.

As Lyuba runs for her life during the terror and uncertainty of the Civil War, she’s committed to protecting her daughter and staying together with Ivan, her on-again, off-again boyfriend in addition to her best friend and the man who’s raised her child as his own since the night she was born.  The race to get out of Russia, into Estonia, and over to America intensifies after Ivan commits a murder to protect her and becomes a wanted criminal.

Once in America, Lyuba discovers the streets aren’t lined with gold and that she’s just another Lower East Side tenement-dweller.  Ivan brings in dirt wages from an iron factory, forcing them to largely live off the savings they brought from Russia and to indefinitely defer their dream of having their own farm in the Midwest.  And though the Red Terror is just a nightmarish memory, Lyuba is still scarred in ways that have long prevented her and Ivan from becoming husband and wife and living happily ever after.  Can she ever heal from her traumatic past and have the life she always dreamt of with the man she loves before Ivan gets tired of waiting?

My swan soars again (and then heads for the rocks)

I’m quite pleased to announce I finally did the light post-publication polishing I’d long wanted to do for my first Russian historical. I mostly removed overused words and phrases (e.g., even, at least, just, besides), cleaned up some clumsy wording, and deleted some lines, along with adding a number of new lines and paragraphs. This makes it the fourth edition.

The second edition merely replaced the legally incorrect title Tsarevich with Tsesarevich and added a brief paragraph about that in “A note on Russian pronunciation and names” in the front matter. The third edition stripped it of all those pedantic accent marks I’d pointlessly used for years.

I may be making some slight changes to the revamped cover, but this is the core image I want to use. I was also lucky enough to get a large enough image for a full cover (front, back, and spine).

I don’t regret the experience of making the original cover, but I quickly came to realize it wasn’t the kind of professional image I wanted to project. On its own, it’s a nice piece of art for myself, and those are probably the best human figures I’ve ever drawn. My human figures have always had a flat, cartoon-like appearance (by choice), but within that style, they’re light years beyond the kinds of people I used to draw!

I’ve also since fallen out of love with Chopin Script (which replaced Edwardian ITC after I changed my primary computer). It’s way too overused as a fancy typeface. The new typeface is called Russian Land, part of a three-font family. It’s based on the Old Church Slavonic alphabet, the precursor to modern Cyrillic.

A word of advice to all authors, indie or traditional: Getting stuck on the idea of your cover having to feature a certain scene, or depict your characters close to 100% of your mental image of them, can hurt you. Think about broader themes and moods.

26 August was my 17th anniversary of finishing the first draft of this book. I wrote it from 31 January 1993–26 August 2001. Starting in 1995, I went back and regularly editing and fleshed-out previous material. I also did some editing and expansion from 2001–02, but then didn’t touch it again till April 2011.

Three and a half years of intense editing, revising, rewriting, and polishing followed. This is the book I’m proudest of having written, not least because I wrote it from ages 13–21. In spite of all the deleted and radically rewritten material from the earliest years, there’s a marked progression documenting my evolution as a storyteller.

How many people can say they wrote a book on six different computers over a total of twelve years, in at least eleven different buildings, with five different word processing programs plus some handwritten material that made its way in?

Where did I get the inspiration to write such a long saga, or figure out how to ultimately tie all these subplots and characters together? I doubt I would’ve been able to write this story so well, the way it needed told, as a full adult!

These are two images I’m considering for the cover of The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks, the sequel. It was long overdue for its final polishing and release. Indeed, it’d been so long since I last seriously looked at it, I’d totally forgotten I’d written a “The Story Behind the Story” for it, and that there’s a chapter entitled “Lonely in Their Nightmares” (which, very appropriately, comes right after “Union with a Snake”).

The dedication makes the inspiration for those chapter titles pretty obvious!

I’d like to have all my proof-checking and this release done by the end of September, so I can finally get back to my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University. With any luck, it’ll be finished within a year, so I can get to work on the fifth volume, From a Nightmare to a Dream: Out of Stalin’s Shadow. I’m also very excited for the sixth and seventh volumes, and the two prequels.

WeWriWa—Trapped in two charades

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. To mark the 17th anniversary of the date I finally finished the first draft of my first Russian historical, I’m sharing an excerpt from that this week. I’m also happy to finally have a better cover, though it may change slightly.

This excerpt comes from very early in Chapter 3, “Trapped in Two Charades.” Lyuba, her younger cousin Ginny (real name Mikhail), and her friends are going to a ball shortly after the October Revolution, organized by passionate Socialist and Estonian nationalist Katrin (who hasn’t yet become one of Lyuba’s closest friends).

Lyuba and Ivan were about to run away together the other day, after Lyuba finally admitted she still loves him, but their plans were ruined by an unwanted visitor. Now a series of even worse complications are about to begin and keep them away from resuming their romantic relationship.

Lyuba hates the idea of having to be escorted by Boris, and how she let Boris have two turns in a row because their usual arrangement was thrown off in April. Not every man can be as handsome, tall, and strong as Ivan, but that doesn’t mean she wants to be seen on the arm of someone who’s short for a man, chubby, with large eyes, sickly-colored pasty skin, and terrible manners. To try to repulse Boris, she’s worn an ordinary lilac wool dress instead of something fancy like her purple velvet ballgown.

“Do you have to be escorted by Boris?” Eliisabet whispers as the men climb into the sleigh. “I see how you look at Ivan when you think no one else is looking, and I know you had a clandestine romance in the spring.”

“It’s a long-standing arrangement we’ve had since gymnasium,” Lyuba says in resignation. “They always took turns taking me, and since Boris had detention the last time, Ivan took over for him. If Boris hadn’t had detention, Vanya would’ve taken me tonight.”

The full-size image to be used for the complete cover

I wrote this book from 31 January 1993–26 August 2001, and also simultaneously did a lot of editing and expanding starting in 1995. I did some more editing and expansion during 2001–02, but then didn’t touch it again till April 2011, when I finally was able to open and convert all those MacWriteII and ClarisWorks files held hostage on disks. I spent the next three and a half years editing, revising, rewriting, and polishing it.

Just recently, I did some long-overdue light polishing for a new edition, which includes a number of new lines and passages. Most of what I did was just taking out overused words and phrases, and fixing some wording.

All these years later, I can’t believe I was really 13–21 when I wrote the first draft! I junked or radically rewrote 99% of the original 1993 material, and also did a lot of significant revisions and deletions of the 1996–97 material (from the second major phase), but I don’t know if I would’ve come up with the underlying story at another time in my life. The first seven chapters were a hot mess, but I somehow radically transformed it into the book I’m proudest of having written.

It began its life on a 128K Mac. Part of my family’s first computer will always live on in this book. One of the dedications is to that long-gone machine that was treated like a member of the family.

WeWriWa—Father and child reunion

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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 infant nurse Svetlana and her tiny patient’s father began realizing she might be one and the same as the missing sixth-born daughter of the widower who lives across the hall.

Mr. Lebedev has come home with his five accounted-for daughters and is rather displeased to discover his door was left open and never closed by any of his friends on their top floor of the tenement. Ivan promises it won’t happen again.

Source; painted by Jim Daly

“Say, do you mind stepping inside for a moment?  You haven’t met Fedya’s wonderfully talented nurse yet.  It turns out you have the same surname, and her dog had the same name as yours.”

“What?”

Svetlana turns around and gasps at the sight of the older man with one blue eye, one brown eye, and brown hair with copper highlights. “Papa?”

“Sveta?”

Svetlana leaps into her father’s arms, while her sisters cross themselves. “Thank God you’re alive.  Nadya told me you six had gone to America, and I couldn’t rest easily until I found you.”

******************************

Svetlana was seventeen when she was taken away with three of her other sisters, and she’s now twenty-two. Though her cousin Nadezhda was able to tell her the happy news about her father and five of her sisters surviving the Red Terror, Nadezhda also had to deliver the sad news about her mother being murdered.

Next week, I’d like to switch to a piece from my third Russian historical, Journey Through a Dark Forest, in honor of the 72nd anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

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