WeWriWa—Patya’s Christmas present


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.


IWSG—A new lease on my writing life


The Insecure Writer’s Support Group convenes the first Wednesday of every month, and lets participants share their worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears. This month’s question is:

As you look back on 2017, with all its successes/failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?

I can’t change the fact that my depression and other mental health issues created much lower than usual wordcounts for much of the year. I do wish I’d backed up the most current version of The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees before the shocking disaster of August. At least I “only” lost maybe 2,000–5,000 words and a week or so of research, not the entire document.

I didn’t think I’d get anywhere close to 50K this NaNo, given how dismal my wordcounts have been for much of the past year. I felt the only way I might get there was by being a rebel working on several different projects.

This represents blog posts, my last day of work on my IWSG anthology story, my 29 November journal entry on George Harrison’s 16th Jahrzeit (death anniversary), the list of 2018 blog post topics I put together, and a WIP.

Because I gave myself permission to fail, and decided to have fun doing whatever I wanted, I won with my quickest speed ever. My final wordcount of just under 81K still isn’t the best I know I’m capable of, but given my wordcounts during most of the past year, I’ll happily take it.

Writing and researching my blog series on The Jazz Singer at 90 gave me back my writing mojo. The infectious charisma and personality of Al Jolson, which was responsible for making the film such a wild success, worked that same magic on me. So thank you, Jolie!

I only started my IWSG anthology story on 29 October, and almost gave up on the second day. I’m glad I found the willpower to push through, even if I don’t win. I really enjoyed researching projected far-future developments, and finding sci-fi-sounding names.

I titled it “Birkat HaChamah,” after the Jewish blessing of the Sun which takes place every 28 years. It’s happened twice in my lifetime so far, 1981 and 2009. I’ll have a future post re: how to write about this rare ritual.

47K came from Anne Terrick: A Bildungsroman, which starts in September 1840 and is told in diary format. I thought I’d shelved Anne forever in 1992, but she was meant to be if I never forgot her all these years. She was created (as Ann-Ann) when I was all of 5-6 years old.

Going back to the 19th century after so many years is like learning how to write historical all over again. It’s also strange to write in first-person again, but the diary format of yore just seemed right. This story wouldn’t work in third-person.

I came up with so many great ideas for characters and storylines from the previous final form of Anne’s story (which is in storage 900 miles away). I also moved her from Plymouth to Boston. Now, only her double-cousins and grandparents live in Plymouth.

I’m delighted with unplanned secondary character Pastor Winterbottom, her minister and catechism teacher at her hated boarding school. He’s not a sympathetic character, but he’s such great dark comedy, and keeps getting better.

The local writing group was neither as active nor interactive as my writing group back home (which I’m still officially registered with). I’m used to much more chatter at write-ins, several write-ins a week at fixed locations, and weekly write-ins the entire year, not just in November.

For my 29 November journal entry, I counted my handwritten words (499) and entered them into a lorum ipsem generator. Also in honor of George’s Jahrzeit, I made a desktop picture with his last words (right) and one of my favorite lyrics (left).

392279 01: (FILE PHOTO) Beatles guitarist and singer George Harrison performs December 3, 1963 during a concert. It was reported November 8, 2001 that Harrison is undergoing cancer treatment in a Staten Island, N.Y., hospital. The 58-year-old ex-Beatle was diagnosed with lung cancer and a brain tumor earlier this year. (Photo by Getty Images)

WeWriWa—Patya’s Christmas present


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.

WeWriWa—Enjoying a Thanksgiving feast


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 few pages after last week’s, when Cinni invited Harry to be her family’s Thanksgiving guest after he was thrown out of the soup kitchen for fighting with his thuggish older brother.

No one was home when they arrived at Cinni’s house, so Cinni went next door to her easily-annoyed neighbor Mr. Valli to ask for help with cooking. Cinni discovered her family went to the Vallis for Thanksgiving dinner.

Cinni’s mother is quite displeased she was out so long getting a turkey. She’s much happier after seeing all the food Cinni and Sparky won, but discovering there’s yet another guest to cook for upsets her again. Finally, she starts cooking before it gets any later.

This has been slightly edited to fit 10 lines.

Mrs. Filliard fumed as she hoisted the turkey out of the wagon and pulled the stuffing out of the refrigerator.  While she prepared the turkey and other food under the Smalls’ careful directions, Cinni, Sparky, and Harry went into the living room to read comic books and listen to the radio.

It was 10:30 when supper was called, wonderful smells wafting all through the house.  These were the kinds of smells which were supposed to permeate the air much earlier on Thanksgiving, but better late than never.

“This is the greatest thing anyone’s ever done for me,” Harry said as he took a seat. “Remember, Cin, one day I’ll pay you back for tonight.  Don’t think I ain’t thankful just ‘cause I ain’t in a position to do something so nice anytime soon.”

“Of course I know you’re thankful, Harry; unlike some people, you know what being thankful’s all about.”

The Smalls intoned a blessing over the feast arrayed before them, and then everyone dug in.  It was the sweetest, most delicious Thanksgiving meal Cinni had ever had.

WeWriWa—Inviting a Thanksgiving guest


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 Cinni and Sparky won a 25-pound turkey, and a lot of other goodies, in a bingo tournament at the kosher butcher’s.

By the time the girls won, it had just started growing dusky. As they lugged their food home on two large wagons, they discussed whether they’d need to wait till tomorrow to eat the turkey, or if they’d just have a very late meal.

Then they ran into their friend Harold (Harry) Brewster outside of the soup kitchen, kicked out because his older brother R.J. started a fight with him. R.J. then taunted him from a window, and Harry was thrown out again after running back inside to respond to the challenge.

“Why not eat with us?” Cinni offered. “Turkey, carrots, eggs, potato gravy, beets, and yams, plus all the grub my mom’s making back at home, like cranberries, cornbread, stuffing, and pumpkin pie.”

“Are you kidding?  Of course I’d love to eat with you!  Your family looks rich next to mine, and now you’ve got all this grub for an even better feast.  Someday I’ll pay you back for this good deed, even if I don’t get a chance to do something so nice in return till we’re grownups.” Harry took Cinni’s wagon handle. “Let me pull yours the resta the way.  The Most Popular Girl shouldn’t have to work on a holiday.”

Harry finally has a chance to repay Cinni’s kindness in February 1985, by giving her his family’s old house when she’s been made homeless by the evil, powerthirsty general holding her husband hostage in Vietnam and pretending he was killed in action. A promise is a promise, no matter how long it takes to fulfill.