Marie’s New Coat

I’ve had a bunch of posts for the long-discontinued Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop sitting around in my drafts folder since 2012 and 2013, put together and scheduled well in advance. That hop seems to be on permanent hiatus, but I wanted to move them out already.

This post was originally scheduled for 31 August 2013, and comes from an older, unedited version of this WIP.

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This week’s excerpt comes from a hiatused WIP called The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees. The book follows a group of young Shoah survivors returning to the world of the living and trying to navigate their way through the early postliberation years. This particular scene takes place in Budapest in November 1945, shortly before nine of the characters are to be smuggled across the border, with another going on a train with their pet mouse and rabbit, before the Soviets completely take over.

While they were at a furrier’s on the famous Andrássy Út recently, the hopelessly smitten Artur secretly bought a fur coat for his crush Marie after he saw her admiring it. Marie’s main character trait is how sweet, innocent, and naïve she still is, even after everything she’s gone through. Just as she truly believes her entire family might still be alive, she really has no idea her secret admirer is so close to her. And Artur is afraid to tell her how he feels.

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The next day, while Csilla was cutting up a blanket and starting to fashion it into a coat for herself, a knock sounded on the door.  Half-fearing it was someone from the authorities who’d discovered their plan, or someone who’d found out there were fourteen people living in an apartment meant for only four at most, she tiptoed to the door and looked through the keyhole.  A strange man was standing there with a box.

“I work for Szűcs Furs on Andrássy Út and was asked to deliver this package to a young woman living in this apartment.  I didn’t want to send it through the mail for fear the Soviets might confiscate it for their own.  Is there a woman named Maria in this house?”

“We have a Marie, if that’s who you’re looking for.  Her surname is Sternglass.”

Marie came up to the deliveryman. “Yes, that’s my name on the package.  Who is it from, and who would know that my middle name is Zénobie?”

“There’s a note inside the box that might explain it.  Enjoy the gift.” He tipped his hat and went back down the stairs.

Marie carefully opened the box and saw a note on top, written in Hungarian.  Her command of written Hungarian was even weaker than her command of the spoken language, so she called Eszter over to translate it.

“It says, ‘To the beautiful Marie from her secret admirer.’” Eszter gave Artur a meaningful look out of the corner of her eye. “I wonder who could have sent it, particularly since you don’t know anybody outside of our own little group.”

“This is so exciting!  Maybe it’s a handsome young fellow who saw me in the street the other day, or any time since we’ve been here!  I hope he’s tall, dark, and handsome.  It would be so romantic if he were a sophisticated man of the world as well.  Someone who’s my age would never be so romantic and thoughtful.  I bet it’s an older man.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Eszter said, giving Artur another furtive look.

Marie pulled away the tissue paper. “What a beautiful coat!  I think I was admiring this coat yesterday more than any of the others!  It stood out in the store because it was so exotic.  None of the other furs had prints or exotic colors.  Is it leopard?”

“The furrier told me it was ocelot when I admired it myself,” Mirjam said. “Looks like whoever is secretly admiring you wants you to keep warm as the winter begins.”

“Oh, if I only knew just who this suave mystery man is, I’d kiss and embrace him right now!  I hope it really is someone tall, dark, handsome, and older, not some middle-aged ugly fat social reject.”

“That is a beautiful coat,” Aranka said. “You’ll surely stand out when we get to Italy.”

“Pierre will be so happy and surprised when he sees me again and sees I’ve become a young lady, someone old enough for furs and such a beautiful elegant coat.  If my mother and sister are still alive, they’ll be so happy too, and impressed I caught the eye of this mystery man.”

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Advice from one young monarch to another

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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. I’ve been sharing from my alternative history, And Aleksey Lived, which released 17 July, on my primary protagonist’s real-life 100th death anniversary. Once I’ve earned enough money from sales, I’ll use some of it to make donations to the National Hemophilia Foundation and the National Hemophilia Federation, in memory of Aleksey.

I’m skipping ahead to Part IV, which is set during WWII, and focuses on Aleksey and his wife Arkadiya’s successful efforts to rescue almost the entire Jewish population of occupied Europe and bring them to safety in the Russian Empire. It’s now June 1944, and Aleksey’s second-cousin once-removed, the very young King Mihai of Romania, has come with his uncle Nicolae to discuss plans for Romania’s defection to the Allies. When Aleksey and Mihai are alone after dinner, Mihai asks if it’s okay to ask a somewhat personal question.

This has been slightly tweaked to fit 10 lines.

King Mihai, the last true surviving WWII head of state (25 October 1921–5 December 2017)

“No, it’s nothing prying.  I wanted to know when I should start feeling like the real King, and not an overgrown little kid playing at being King.  At my age, I don’t feel like I deserve to rule in my own right.  Is there a certain age or point where you began feeling you were fully in charge and entitled to make important decisions?”

Aleksey put his hand on Mihai’s shoulder. “If you’re any sort of good monarch, you’ll never have that feeling.  This is a role we were born into, not elected to; but for an accident of birth, we might’ve been much further down the line of succession, or peasants.  You should never forget this is a precious trust you were chosen by God for, and do everything in your power to prove yourself worthy.  Most people want to like, trust, and believe the best of their monarch, particularly at the start of his reign.  Never give them a reason to believe their trust is mislaid, because therein lies the road to revolution.”

IWSG—Powering towards the finish line

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

What’s harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?

Sometimes titles come easily to me, in bursts of Divine inspiration or hitting upon a great idea drawn from literature, song lyrics, or symbolism/themes from the book. Other times, it’s a little harder. I’ve had a Devil of a time retitling my Atlantic City books, both already written and planned! So many of the original working titles are so corny, cliché, generic, insipid, after school special-worthy.

As a name nerd, it’s very easy to find names. I like choosing names (both surnames and forenames) either with symbolic meaning to the characters, or that aren’t overly common. My secondary blog is all about names.

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I’ve been powering through to the finish line of my alternative history, which I’m very nervous but confident of having ready by my planned 17 July release date. I’d originally hoped to have it ready for a 12 August 2016 release, what would’ve been my primary protagonist’s 112th birthday, but I was pulled away from it and towards other things.

Now I realize it was hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence) I wasn’t finished at that time. What could be a more appropriately bittersweet release date than his real-life 100th Jahrzeit (death anniversary)?

My JuNoWriMo wordcounts so far are much healthier than last year. I always count fiction, blog posts, and journal entries. This was my progress as of midnight on 6 June:

While powering through Part IV, I decided to have Tsar Boris III of Bulgaria come for two secret meetings in 1943 and ultimately defect to the Allied side. Bulgaria switched sides in 1944, but in real life, Boris died in August 1943. I support the theory he was killed with a slow-working poison, due to the circumstances raging at that time. Hitler was furious at him for repeatedly refusing to declare war on the USSR and deport Bulgarian Jewry.

The only reasons Boris joined the Axis were to regain lost Bulgarian land (and with it national pride), and to save his kingdom from foreign invasion and occupation. He was no fascist or anti-Semite. Since he’s one of my heroes, I saved him and gave him premonitions about being poisoned. He refuses to eat or drink anything at that final stormy meeting with Hitler.

I’ve joined a new writing group in the area I’ve been stuck in since last June. I really like it, though I very much miss the people and camaraderie of my writing group back home in NY. I also feel vindicated at how everyone in the critique groups I’ve been in so far loves my Cinnimin.

Out of everyone who’s “met” her over the years, only two people have ever said they didn’t like her and misread her as a mean-spirited bully. I know we can’t expect every single person to love each one of our characters, but it can shake one’s confidence. For awhile, I seriously considered toning/watering her down even further, but realized she wouldn’t be my Cinni anymore if I took away her sassy, smart-ass attitude.

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For the second time this year, I had an issue with my computer charger. The charger I got with this refurbished computer in August 2014 became frayed in several spots, and finally stopped working in January. Against my own better judgment, I got a cheap third-party replacement instead of the $79 Apple one.

That charger began erratically working in late May, and finally stopped charging altogether. I also got a Service Battery message. Thankfully, my 11-year-old MacBook Pro still works very well, other than the broken left vent fan. Every time I have tech issues, I go back to my older computer.

I got a replacement charger, and didn’t need to get a new battery as well. I’ve heard far more horrific tales about these third-party chargers, like fires and zapped hard drives. Lesson learnt.

Meet some of the people in my alternative history, Part II

These are a few more of the real people who feature in my alternative history, whom I haven’t already discussed. Writing about real people as characters can feel awkward and self-conscious at first, but it gets easier if one thinks of them as characters who just happen to have been real people. They’re not sacred cows.

King Carol II of Romania (15 October 1893–4 April 1953), firstborn child of King Ferdinand and Queen Marie (one of my favouritest queens), ruled Romania from 8 June 1930–6 September 1940. Prior to that, he’d renounced his rights to the throne over his affair with commoner Magda Lupescu, who became his third wife.

Marie and Ferdinand (who was nearing the end of his life) set up a regency for Carol’s 5-year-old son Mihai. Then Carol decided he’d like to be king after all, and took the throne from his own son. This guy was a complete serpent’s tooth, megalomaniac, egomaniac, scumbag, lousy husband, dictator, fascist enabler, the works.

In my alternative history, Aleksey and his wife, Empress Arkadiya, visit Carol in late summer 1940 to negotiate the release and Russian resettlement of Romania’s half-million-strong Jewish community, along with the Romani and interred Polish nationals. They demand Bessarabia and northern Bukovina back as part of the deal, so they can protect even more of Europe’s Jewish community.

Prince Gorm of Denmark (Gorm Christian Frederik Hans Harald) (24 February 1919–26 December 1991), fourth child and firstborn son of Prince Harald and Princess Helena, paternal grandson of King Frederick VIII and Queen Louise. He was born and raised in the Jægerborghus estate.

In 1938, Gorm entered Naval service, and became an officer in the Royal Life Guard. During the Nazi occupation, in 1943, he was among the sailors who escaped to Sweden with the Danish Brigade. They were part of the Danish Resistance. His mother, meanwhile, frequently hobnobbed with Nazis, and was a source of great shame to everyone else in the Danish Royal Family.

In my alternative history, Gorm marries Aleksey’s oldest niece, Princess Isidora Igorovna, his second-cousin once-removed through Dowager Empress Mariya Fyodorovna’s paternal line. Their oldest son, Oskar, is the fifth generation stricken by hemophilia.

In real life, Gorm never married or had kids.

Princess Ileana of Romania (5 January 1909–21 January 1991), King Carol’s youngest sister. It’s widely suspected her father was Queen Marie’s lover Prince Barbu Ştirbey, not King Ferdinand. Ileana was very popular in Romania, and considered herself Romanian down to the very core of her soul. Prior to Carol forcing her out of the country, she lead Romania’s Girl Guides.

Carol, deeply jealous of her popularity, was desperate to get her out of the country, and encouraged her to marry Archduke Anton of Austria, Prince of Tuscany. He then claimed the people wouldn’t tolerate a Habsburg on their soil. Carol likewise refused to let her return home to give birth to her firstborn Stepan in her native land. (He also forced their brother Nicolae to leave Romania because of his morganatic marriage.)

During WWII, she was very active in nursing war wounded. In 1944, after her nephew King Mihai joined the Allies, she and her family returned to Romania. Following Mihai’s forced abdication at the end of 1947, they fled to the West. In 1961, she became a nun, and was tonsured as Mother Alexandra in 1967.

In my alternative history, Ileana is one of the princesses most strongly preferred for Aleksey, but his heart becomes set on morganatic princess Arkadiya. Ileana later appears at the meeting with Carol, where she chews him out about how he essentially tricked her into leaving the country she loves so dearly. Until the fascists in Romania are overthrown, Aleksey and Arkadiya host Ileana and her children in their palace.

WeWriWa—Saying goodbye

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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 23-year-old departing soldier Yuriy suggested to his 18-year-old crush Inga that she might be a real American girl and have a returning soldier for a boyfriend by the time they meet again.

Inga said she only wanted her old family, and Yuriy tried to cheer her up by saying the pain of longing isn’t so bad as more time passes, and that after the war she could create her own family who’ll never leave her. He then holds out his hand for a farewell handshake.

“Can’t I hug you goodbye?  You deserve more than a handshake after you’ve been so nice to me.”

Yuriy smiles as he hugs her. “You’re such a sweet girl.  Just make sure not to be too sweet with the wrong kinds of people.  You have to be strong to survive in a new country.”

Inga stands at the door and watches him walking up the street, until she can’t see him anymore.  She was given a very nice friend, what some would call a guardian angel, bearing the same name as her belovèd dedushka, to get her started in America.  But he could only do so much, just as eventually a mother bird pushes a baby from the nest so it can fly.  Now it’s up to her to make good in America.