Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Food, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—A great feast

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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.

As last year, my Thanksgiving-themed snippets come from Chapter 19, “Happy Thanksgiving,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

I decided to skip the scene of the turkey being butchered and go right to Thanksgiving, when five generations of Cinnimin Filliard’s family gather together with the five Smalls to enjoy their immense feast. The women in Cinni’s direct maternal line are usually very long-lived. Cinni herself will live to 120.

Thursday at 4:30, Cinni sat down to a Thanksgiving feast with her extended family and the Smalls. Both sides of the table were piled high with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, cornbread, gravy, mashed potatoes, candied yams, green beans, candied carrots, applesauce, pumpkin pie, apple pie, and bread rolls. Additional foods on the Smalls’ side were chopped liver and some kind of dish made from the other turkey innards. To avoid cross-contamination, the Smalls had several layers of placemats under their tableware, and several folded-up tablecloths underneath their pots, pans, and platters.

Almost everything looked identical, since Mrs. Small had worked from Mrs. Filliard’s recipes. The only differences were that the Smalls’ gravy was made with extra flour, and without cream, butter, or milk, and that their candied yams had a rainbow of colors from the unusual flavors of marshmallows.

Tatjana Modjeska, Cinni’s 98-year-old great-great-grandmother, was petting a fluffy Persian cat in her lap. Sparky was a bit wary of animal fur getting into the food, but anyone who’d lived to almost a hundred was entitled to bring her pet to dinner. Cinni’s great-great-great-grandmother, Helga Wisowska, had passed away four years ago, so Tatjana must miss her mother at the holidays.

Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Katrin, Katya Chernomyrdina, Naina, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Naina and Katya Arrive at the Penthouse

This was originally one of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time. E.g., the final version doesn’t pedantically use accents, and Katrin wisely leaves out the very personal information about Matryona’s painful past. Instead, she just says “If not for the Civil War, both might’ve been married years ago.” The birthdate I created for Sandro (not Sandros) also makes him already 29 as of June 1927.

***

“We’re on the top floor,” Katrin says. “It’s a penthouse suite, which is sort of like a luxury apartment. My husband and I are going to a wedding tomorrow, so we’ll have to trust you to mind yourselves while we’re gone. A friend of mine has a stepsister who’s getting married at the high age of thirty-five. Her husband-to-be is a few years younger. The bride-to-be isn’t a physical virgin, but her betrothed is modern and enlightened, and understands some terrible things happened to good people during the Civil War.”

“We lost everybody to the Revolution and Civil War, except maybe my aunt,” Naína nods. “I used to have two cousins, but the older one was beaten to death by some grotesque orphanage warden in St. Petersburg. The little suitcase we brought with us belongs to my younger cousin. She disappeared on the train taking us from our Kiyev orphanage to Cherkasi last January, and we never found a trace of her after that. We hope she’s alright, if she were found before the worst happened, or if she only got lost instead of being kidnapped.”

“Well, you’re in a free country now. I have to warn you, there are a lot of discrepancies between rich and poor, and a lot of government-sponsored censorship, both of ideas and speech, but at least this is a far better place to be than the Soviet Union. I was a Bolshevik once, but I discovered they weren’t being true to the real ideals of Socialism. Now I’m involved with real Socialists, not people who only espouse one way of thinking.”

Oliivia timidly walks up to the visitors, dragging her doll Aurelia behind her. “Eesti, vene, või inglise keel?”

“These nice girls speak Russian. Right now they have to unpack their things and get settled in a bit, but I’m sure they’d love to play with you, your sisters, and your godbrother when they’re more relaxed.” Katrin turns back to Naína and Kátya. “I don’t suppose you ladies know any Estonian. This one’s Oliivia, my oldest. She’s smart. She’s fluent in Estonian, Russian, and English, and she’s only three and a half.”

“The only other language we know is Ukrainian,” Kátya says. “But we’re not stupid. We’ll work very hard to learn English. Does your maid ever speak her African language?”

Katrin laughs. “Mrs. Samson was born in this country, and her family’s been here for quite some time. Most Negroes don’t speak African languages unless they’re recent immigrants. As far as I know, she doesn’t know where in Africa her ancestors came from, and she has no desire to learn any of the African languages. But she will teach you the latest jazz dances, if you’re interested.”

“Are your other female servants English?” Naína asks. “Their names sounded English to me. I assumed your butler is Greek.”

“Greek? Does he look Greek to you? He doesn’t even have dark hair or eyes!”

“But isn’t Rhodes one of the Greek islands?”

“Who knows how the name of the island came to be an English name. No, all of my servants are of English descent except Mrs. Samson. They were all enlightened enough to work for an Estonian, and we enjoy a good working relationship. Many people in this country are very racist against anyone not originally from Western Europe.”

“But this entire country is made of immigrants,” Kátya protests. “Even the Indians had to come here from Siberia.”

“Don’t ask me to explain why so many people are so hypocritically racist in a nation of immigrants. I never understood such a strange attitude myself. By the way, will you be going to church? My family goes to a Unitarian church, and Stásya goes downtown to a Russian Orthodox church. She goes with Mrs. Whitmore and Dmítriy, but makes them ride on another level of the bus or a respectable distance from her on the subway. Her reputation would be ruined if it were found out by the wider public that she’s got a bastard son.”

“She actually kept a bastard?” Naína asks.

“She moved back with my family after I discovered she was pregnant, and made up a story about a long illness to explain away all the months she missed at work. I also made her give birth at home, since God knows what would’ve happened to her in the hospital.”

“It’s normal to give birth in hospitals here? I thought only very sick people went there.”

“You’ve got a lot to learn about American life. But right now, all you need to do is unpack.”

“We haven’t gone to church since 1919,” Kátya says. “I don’t think either of us remembers how to behave.”

“What’s a Unitarian church?” Naína asks.

“It’s a very progressive Protestant denomination. If you go with Stásya, you can just copy what other people do. They’ve got some benches there, since it used to be a Roman Catholic church. A lot of the people stand or walk around during services anyway, since they’re so used to having done that back home. I’m sure we can find some scarves for you to cover your hair with if you go there.”

“Can we ask how old you are?”

“Twenty-seven. Stásya just turned twenty-eight, and Sándros is going to be twenty-nine in a few months.”

“Wow, you look very good for having had five kids at your age. I can only imagine how many you’ll have within the next ten years!”

“None. I was fixed in January, when my youngest Viivela was a month old. I wanted five, and I got five. Now I’m medically assured of remaining at five forever.”

“You’re allowed to be sterilized in this country without a medical emergency?” Kátya asks. “This is like a science fiction story come to life!”

“I went underground, but yes, there are doctors out there willing to secretly perform the procedure on women who know they’re done having kids. In public, only prisoners and morons are generally sterilized. You can learn more about my views by perusing the articles I’ve written for the various left-wing Russian, Estonian, English, Latvian, and Lithuanian publications when you’re done unpacking.”

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Cinnimin, Historical fiction, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—At the butcher shop

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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.

As last year, my Thanksgiving-themed snippets will be coming from Chapter 19, “Happy Thanksgiving,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

It’s two days before Thanksgiving, and Sparky (real name Katherine), her mother, her oldest brother Gary (born Friedrich), her best friend Cinnimin, and Cinnimin’s older brother M.J. are buying food for the Smalls’ half of the joint household’s feast. They’re now at their final stop, a kosher butcher.

Cinni held back after Gary opened the butcher’s door for her. Since she didn’t live on a farm and never helped in the kitchen if she could help it, she wasn’t used to seeing animal carcasses hanging up and strewn over tables. It was bad enough when she’d seen that fish head at the Smalls’ Rosh Hashanah supper.

“We usually go to a kosher butcher in Germantown, but this is much closer,” Gary said. “It’s not practical to haul all this stuff back on the streetcar, to our regular butcher, and back onto the streetcar again. I wish we’d settled in a place like New York or Newark, where all the Jewish resources we need are within a five-block radius of our home instead of a long ride and walk, there and back.”

Mrs. Small set her baskets down and approached a small pen of live turkeys. Cinni watched in amazement as she picked several up, felt for the meat on their bones, inspected their eyes and talons, and blew on their feathers. Mrs. Small might’ve never eaten a turkey or selected one for butchering, but she sure knew what to look for in her poultry.

Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Katrin, Katya Chernomyrdina, Naina, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Naina and Katya Meet Katrin

This was originally one of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time. I now no longer pedantically use accent marks, and Katrin’s husband Sandros became Sandro.

***

It’s now Naina and Katya’s second day in America, and they’re being picked up by Katrin, who’s agreed to let them stay with her and Sandros until they leave for vacation. The two teen girls, who barely remember life before orphanages, are in constant marvel at everything they see in America.

***

On Friday morning, after having breakfast in the communal dining room, Kátya and Naína are approached by one of the Ellis Island officials and a Russian translator. They obligingly follow the officials after being told their sponsor’s wife is waiting for them at the Kissing Post with two of her servants. Kátya and Naína’s eyes widen in delight at the thought of someone who started out as an immigrant already being rich enough to afford servants.

They stand and gape when they see a woman with blonde hair cut as short as a man’s. They’ve known bobbed hair is in fashion for women, but not that women in North America are allowed to get away with cutting it even shorter. The second thing they notice is the woman with dark brown skin. Neither of them has ever seen anyone with such dark skin before, except in pictures. Naína represses the urge to wonder out loud if she and Kátya might be suffering from consumption, since their skin is so pale in comparison to the servant’s healthy dark skin.

“Hello. My name is Katariina Kalvik-Nikonova. You met my husband Sándros yesterday. I’m Estonian too, but Russian is my second language. You may call me Katrin, though I also go by Kati and Kadri. The Negress is my maid Mrs. Samson and the man is my butler Mr. Rhodes. Mrs. Samson came to help me with my baby Viivela, and Mr. Rhodes came as our male escort. Unfortunately, women travelling alone still run the risk of being assaulted, particularly in a place like this.

“We live in a very nice neighborhood called the Upper West Side, in a penthouse suite. You’ll find plenty of room to put yourselves up till we go on vacation. I hope my husband’s instincts were right and that you’re on the level. We live with my best friend Anastásiya, who runs a very successful bridal salon; her bastard son Dmítriy, a year and a half old; my five little girls, Oliivia, Mireena, Milena, Ilme, and Viivela here; my nanny, Mrs. Woodward; Stásya’s nanny, Mrs. Whitmore; my twenty-year-old sister Viktóriya; my cook, Mrs. Oswald; and Mrs. Samson and Mr. Rhodes here.”

“Is it true all Americans are rich like you?” Kátya asks.

“Unfortunately, no. I can tell you more about that in private. For now, we should get on the next ferry into the city.”

“I can’t believe you have a real butler!” Naína says. “Just like in all the old British books!”

“You may be sharing your living quarters on vacation with the youngest stepsisters of one of my friends. They’re twenty-two, eighteen, and going on thirteen. We all know many people in the Russian immigrant community, so we may be able to help you find anyone you’re looking for. We also know some people in Canada who might be of help.”

Naína and Kátya follow them out of the building and onto the next departing ferry. The entire way over to the penthouse, as they’re riding on the top level of a bus, they take in the city sights with wide eyes. Even the beautiful historic landmarks they saw in the Ukraine and Varna don’t compare to the amazing tall buildings, movie palaces, and beautiful architectural styles of the houses and apartments they’re passing. They hope they’re not gaping at the foreigners on the bus. If they knew any English, they’d tell them they’re not staring to be rude, but because they’ve never seen dark skin, turbans, or Asians in person before.

Upon their arrival in front of the building, they stand and take it in with the same voraciously wide eyes. They know America is a lot younger than Russia or the Ukraine, and that the buildings they’ve seen so far are probably mostly only a hundred years old or younger, but that doesn’t detract from their sense of awe and wonder. They know if they went to other places in the world, the local landmarks and architecture would make Russia and the Ukraine look like babies. Back in the orphanage, Sarah sometimes told them how there are buildings thousands of years old in Palestine, and Ohanna told them about the ancient buildings and ruins in Armenia.

Posted in Word Count, Writing

IWSG—November odds and sods

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The Insecure Writer’s Support Group virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and lets us share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever googled in researching a story?

I’ve definitely researched a lot of creepy, depressing, and macabre things over the years—footbinding, what happens to someone in the electric chair, how to survive being shot in the head without becoming disabled, the projected timeline of the very far future, anything to do with the Shoah.

Probably the strangest research subject is if someone could live a semblance of a normal life with the loss of all five senses. As a child, I created a story about a girl named Carmel Allison Jaywalker who loses them all in her sleep before her third birthday. In my juvenile imagination, I made up “the killer pimples,” giant pimple-like things growing over her nose, eyes, ears, skin, and tongue. My brilliant idea was for Carmel to learn to communicate through ESP.

Someday I’d like to go back to this story, which never made it beyond an unfinished picture book, though it seems best to “only” make Carmel blind-deaf. Someone missing all five senses would live entirely in their own reality, hallucinate constantly, be as if in a waking coma, with sleep and dreaming being the only enjoyable things in life.

Minus every major sense, one would need a constant caretaker, and the brain would receive no sensory input. This would not be a meaningful life. At most, I might write a short story about such a person, but I can’t think of any compelling storyline to fill an entire novel.

FYI: The thumb in the B letter is draped WAY too far over the palm. Most artistic depictions of the ASL manual alphabet are guilty of this.

Speaking of, I recently began teaching myself ASL, and mastered the finger alphabet in about a week. I’m a longtime Deaf ally, and have several Deaf characters.

I’m planning a future post on how to write a Deaf character, both historically and today.  Since I obviously don’t have the POV of a Deaf person, I welcome corrections and additions.

This is my sixth year officially doing NaNo, and I’m far from the only person who’s deeply unhappy with the new website. So many people are complaining and considering not doing it again next year, while others opted out this year due to the difficulty of navigating this revamped design.

I can believe there were serious tech issues behind the scenes, but was this really the best new design possible? And if they began testing it in January and still had so many bugs on the eve of NaNo, that should’ve been a sign it wasn’t ready for primetime yet. Supposedly these problems didn’t become apparent till a lot of traffic was thrown at the site all at once.  Why not keep it in beta and wait till after the big event to make the full-time transition?

Just look at these differences in the daily graphs:

The new graphs are just hideous! Too little info and not clustered together in one concise place. The new design isn’t very intuitive or attractive, and there are no bells and whistles making the changes worthwhile. Mobile users say it’s even worse there.

The site isn’t as buggy as it was, but our Camp projects from this year still haven’t migrated over, we lost all our buddies, the popular Faces charts can’t run till next year, Home Regions are a mess, and there’s annoying infinite scroll instead of manageable separate pages on the message boards.

They even went all virtue-signalling Woke™ by including a field for freaking pronouns in profiles!

I decided to take the stress off myself by continuing with Part IV of A Dream Deferred as my primary NaNo project, instead of forcing myself to fly through it with just weeks remaining. It feels right to publish this book in four volumes.

Part IV will be the shortest by far, under 200K. If I finish, I’ll make general chapter-by-chapter notes for the fifth book and go right into that.