WeWriWa—A secret connection


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m currently sharing from Chapter 52, “Lyuba’s Golden Jubilee,” of my WIP, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University. It’s December 1949, and newly-11-year-old Sonyechka has been knocked over and had her hand skated over at Rockefeller Rink.

This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, when Sonyechka’s helper Adrian complimented her and her sister Irina on their fancy, custom-dyed skates and told Sonyechka he hopes her hand heals soon. Now Irina, who’s old enough to understand certain things and keep important secrets, realizes just who Adrian and Poliksena are.

As Adrian skates after Poliksena, it dawns on Irina that these must be the shunned Anya and Alya’s children. She doesn’t envy them, having to keep so many secrets at all times, spin plausible cover stories, and avoid other topics altogether.

“What a nice young man,” Platosha says. “I wonder how he and his sister know our family.”

“Probably from church,” Irina lies. “It’s probably one of those cases where someone remembers or knows you a lot better than you do them. I’d surely remember someone with an unusual name like Poliksena.”

“That’s the kind of boy you need to date when you’re old enough, Sonyechka,” Beatrisa says. “Adrian is very mature for his age. I assume he’s about fifteen.”

Anya and Alya are longtime friends of Lyuba’s who were shunned from their circle after their lesbian relationship was discovered on Coney Island in 1923. In 1927, out of desperation, Lyuba came to them to beg for financial help, and was told they’d forgive her and give her money regularly if she came for weekly visits and genuinely rekindled their friendship. All these years, Lyuba and her four oldest children have kept their friendship a secret from everyone.

A gay friend provided the material for an artificial insemination at a radical underground clinic, and they publicly pass Adrian and Poliksena off as children they adopted in Prague. A few extremely trusted people know they’re natural children, but not about the lesbian relationship.

Famous surnames (unintentional) in my Russian historicals

When I began my first Russian historical in January ’93, I chose names from a 1965 encyclopedia. This was long before the Internet existed for research (provided sources are properly vetted).

After my Russophilia began developing much more deeply at sixteen, I realised my characters’ names are well-known in Russian history. I also discovered surnames differ by sex; e.g., Konev vs. Koneva, Malenkov vs. Malenkova, Vishinskiy vs. Vishinskaya.

Marshal Georgiy K. Zhukov, 1896–1974

Zhukova, Lyuba’s birth surname. Its root, zhuk, means “beetle.” This is the name of WWII hero Marshal Georgiy Konstantinovich Zhukov.

Malenkov, main antagonist Boris. Georgiy Maksimilianovich Malenkov was an important politician during Stalin’s reign. Its root, malenkiy, means “little; small.”

Konev, Ivan’s family name, which Lyuba gladly takes to get rid of her repulsive blood father’s name. There were two famous bearers, Major General Ivan Nikitich and Ivan Stepanovich, both important WWII commanders. Its root, kon, means “horse.”

Marshal Ivan S. Konev, 1897–1973

Litvinov, heroic friend Pyotr. He double-crosses his father and brothers to get his friends out of the newly-formed USSR and onto a ship to America, and later defects to Sweden with his baby sister. In 1945, he comes to America with his sister, wife, and children. Maksim Maksimovich Litvinov was a diplomat and ambassador to the U.S. Its root, Litvin, means Lithuanian.

Beriya, the creepy secondary antagonist of Part I of the first book. It was such an eerie coincidence how I inadvertently selected the surname of a real-life sexual predator and vile waste of oxygen, Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beriya.

Vishinskiy, Lyuba and Ivan’s friend Nikolas, an inveterate intellectual who began going by the Greek form of his name at age twelve. After arriving in America, he changes the spelling to Vishinsky. Andrey Yanuaryevich Vyshinskiy was an infamous prosecutor in the show trials of the Great Terror.

Marshal Kliment Ye. Voroshilov, 1881–1969

Voroshilova, Lyuba’s rival Anastasiya, who sometimes plays the role of secondary antagonist of sorts. Kliment Yefremovich Voroshilov was a high-ranking military officer and politician under Stalin.

Kutuzova, Lyuba’s female best friend Eliisabet. Most Estonians didn’t have official surnames till the 19th century, and many took Russian and German names when the law dictated they adopt surnames. Eliisabet’s ancestors took their name in honour of Prince Field Marshal Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov, a great military hero.

General Kutuzov, 1745–1813

Golitsyn, a boardinghouse manager who later becomes Ivan’s uncle. The House of Golitsyn is a princely family.

Furtseva, Lyuba’s friend Anya. I got lucky when I chose the surname of a famous women for a female character! Yekaterina Alekseyevna was one of the most important female politicians in the USSR.

Minina, Lyuba’s friend Alya, and Anya’s lesbian partner. Kuzma Minin is a national hero who defended the Motherland against a 17th century Polish invasion.

Shepilov, Lyuba’s cousin Ginny’s former best friend Aleksandr, who comes through with heroism when push comes to shove. Dmitriy Trofimovich was a reactionary politician who served under Stalin and Khrushchëv.

Tsar Boris Godunov, ca. 1551–1605

Godunov, antagonist cousins in the first book. Though both Misha and Kostya are morally repugnant, Kostya is more buffoonish than evil. He’s great comic relief. I loved using both again in the third book.

Vrangel, Lyuba’s next-best friend Kat. The House of Wrangel is a Baltic–German noble family, with many illustrious members over the centuries.

Nikonova, Anastasiya’s best friend Katrin, later Lyuba’s dear friend as well. Originally, her name was Nikon, taken from Patriarch Nikon. I was the classic kid who read too much and understood too little!

Discarded famous names:

Stalina, Lyuba’s cousin Ginny’s sweetheart Georgiya, whom he later unknowingly fathers a child with during her visit to America for Lyuba and Ivan’s wedding in 1923. I changed it to the similar-sounding Savvina. Does anyone NOT know who Stalin was?!

Trotskiy, Lyuba and Ivan’s friend Aleksey. That namesake is pretty obvious too, which is why I changed it to the similar Tvardovskiy (more on that in Part II).

Herzen, Lyuba’s cousin Ginny. The famous bearer was Aleksandr Ivanovich, an important philosopher and writer. I changed it to the similar-sounding Kharzin.

Lyuba Hits Rock Bottom (Lucida)

Font: Lucida Bright (part of the large Lucida family of fonts)

Year created: 1991

Chapter: “Lyuba Hits Rock Bottom”

Book: The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks

Written: 22-26 September 2011

Computer created on: 2008 15-inch MacBook Pro

File format: Word 2004

This is Chapter 34 of my second Russian historical novel, the penultimate chapter of Part I, “Lower East Side Blues.” Throughout the last four years, Lyuba and Ivan’s living situation has gotten increasingly worse and worse, and Lyuba finally reaches the point where she can’t take it anymore. While her four children are suffering from whooping cough, she decides she’s had enough and leaves the quarantined tenement for her old friends Alya and Anya in Greenwich Village.

After two weeks with Alya and Anya, who have been quarantined as well just to be safe (since whooping cough is a dangerous, contagious disease, contrary to the woo-filled, historical revisionist, anti-science propaganda of the anti-vaccination cult),  Lyuba returns home to the same dirty, small tenement and poor money. She can’t take it anymore and attempts suicide. After this, Ivan is finally woken up to how seriously their marriage is in trouble, and he agrees to a temporary separation to start after Orthodox Christmas.

The only f-words in the entire book (at least in English) come in this chapter, all five of them from Lyuba’s mouth. I had my Atlantic City characters cussing way too frequently in the old days. The words lost their impact when they were constantly uttered, even if it was meant as a spoof on young people whose every other word is a swear. Now I save them for when it’s really relevant and makes a big impact. Given her shattered emotional and mental state, who could blame her for using the f word on her own husband?

Some highlights, so to speak:

Lyuba holds Kátya’s hands as she takes another whooping cough. “I know you must be really scared because it feels like you can’t breathe, but you’re going to get over this the same way you’ve gotten over other sicknesses.  Most children have this disease, and there’s no vaccine against it yet.”

“Don’t blame me,” Iván says as he holds a cold compress over Dárya’s forehead. “It’s your fault for taking them over to see that crazy woman so much.  They all caught it from her best friend’s bastard.”

Iván rushes over to Fédya when he starts violently coughing. “I know just the thing to clear up your lungs and throat.  We’re going to go to the washroom, and I’ll turn the hot water on all the way to make lots of steam.  It cured your big sister when she had croup back in Russia.”

Iván walks Fédya to the washroom as he starts violently coughing again.  Lyuba looks down at her daughters and out at the mess in the apartment.  As much as she hates to leave her children when they’re sick, she can’t stand being cooped up here a minute longer.  And it’s late enough in the afternoon for Álya and Ánya to be home from work.

“I have some friends you don’t know about.  Modern women are entitled to conduct their own affairs and not tell their husbands all the details.” Lyuba bends down to hug her daughters, then goes to hug Fédya.

Lyuba looks down at Borís. “I’m here to visit friends of mine, not that it’s any concern of yours.  Are you embarrassed I’m almost six feet tall in boots, while you’re closer to the ground even in boots?”

Borís rubs his hands together in glee as Lyuba continues up the street, more convinced than ever that she’ll be putty in his hands with the passage of a little more time.  He can’t wait to hear the news of the Konevs’ divorce, so he can finally marry his dream woman and regain legal paternity of Tatyana.  In the meantime, he heads off to an expensive toy store.

“I just want out of this terrible life Iván forced me into.  I have no more hope we’re ever going to Minnesota.  That man quit another job to spend all his time taking care of the kids.  Well, he’s the only one with them now.  Since he enjoys childcare and housework so much, he can be the only one responsible for it.  He’ll soon see what I went through when he was spending all his time at the factory.”

“He needs to get a job,” Álya says as she plugs in a mixer. “It’s not normal for an able-bodied grownup to be willfully unemployed.  If he wants to do the housewife thing so badly, he could at least let you work in his place.  How can he claim to love you and the kids more than anything while letting you languish in poverty?”

“You’re scaring me,” Álya says. “Why don’t you stay here a bit longer, till you’re no longer saying and thinking such terrible things.  You never want to send a letter or make a phonecall in the heat of anger for the same reason.  If you go home now, you might do or say something you’ll live to regret.”

Lyuba pulls free of him. “You know what, Iván, you can go fuck yourself.  I’m so tired of hearing your pathetic excuses for why you won’t work and why we’re not with our friends in Minnesota.  You’ve said them so many times I think you believe them.  Now go on and take our kids and get the fuck out of my sight.  I’m so disgusted at your behavior for the last four years, I don’t even want to look at you ever again.”

“I can still hardly bear to look at you.  It’s going to take a lot for us to get back to the happy way we used to be.  You’ve failed me as a husband in so many ways.  I don’t even like you anymore.”

Sweet Saturday Samples—The Perks of Independence

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples concludes Chapter 38 of The Twelfth Time. It’s now the weekend, and Lyuba is having a sleepover by her friends Alya (Aleksandra) and Anya in Greenwich Village. The last time Lyuba stayed over with them, she was at rock bottom, at such a low, desperate, out of character point that she left her four children with whooping cough just to get away from the hated tenement and those constant gasping coughs. When she came back from the visit two weeks later (Alya and Anya having been quarantined just to be safe), she attempted suicide. Now she’s in a much happier, healthier place.


On Saturday, after work, Lyuba goes back to her apartment to pack up some things and then goes to Greenwich Village to spend the night with Álya and Ánya.  She feels happy that this time, she’s staying over at their place under much happier circumstances, and that this time she feels some guilt over not being able to see her children.

After dinner, they all change into their Chinese silk pajamas and play Mahjong.  Lyuba’s new pajamas are purple, her favorite color, and were bought in a somewhat larger size, to accommodate her expanding body.  She knows Anastásiya makes some very fashionable maternity wear, nothing like the hideous things sold in stores, but Lyuba wouldn’t be caught dead buying anything Anastásiya designed.

“I sort of like almost pretending I’m a free woman, no kids or husband around to bother me.”

“Who wouldn’t?” Ánya asks. “Now you know why we shunned marriage and courtship by men.  We’ve got it so good right now, we almost wish we could stay like this forever.  Eventually we’d still like to investigate having children by some means, but if we stay childless, it won’t be the end of the world.”

“And you look so much happier,” Álya says. “You looked so harried and depressed when you had that Rapunzel-length hair and wore those long skirts and sleeves our grandmothers wore.  Even if they looked pretty, they were still out of touch with modern styles.  It feels so great to be able to walk and run without heavy, long skirts dragging you down.”

“People look at me differently now,” Lyuba says. “I think they all take me more seriously.  I’m no longer some immigrant woman who wears her long hair in a bun or hanging loose, and I’m free of those hideous clothes Ványa thought would protect me from male stares.  I don’t even mind when men look at me and smile.  I’m glad other men find me attractive, even if I’m married.”

“You really should stay in New York till you have your baby,” Ánya says. “Why prematurely end your freedom?”

“Yes, I think I will.  I’ve got a lot of lost time to catch up on, and God knows I’ll never be able to be this happy and free ever again once I’m in Minnesota for good.  And even after I move, I’ll bring all my changes with me.  I don’t even care if Ványa hates my new look.  He doesn’t control me.”

“That’s the spirit.”

“I’m sure he’ll still love you no matter what,” Álya says. “He’ll just have to get used to loving a new version of you.  He’ll know you’re still the same person underneath, even if his wife will be new and improved on the surface.”

Sweet Saturday Samples—Post-Baptismal Socializing

My Heartbreaker post is here.

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is also from Chapter 38 of The Twelfth Time. At the baptism celebration for her two newest stepnieces, Lyuba is invited for a sleepover by her friends Alya (Aleksandra) and Anya. Alya and Anya were ostracized from their circle of friends in Chapter 37 of the first book when a secret about them was discovered, but in the second book, Lyuba rekindled their friendship after she initially only went to see them to beg for money. In my outline and notes I made for the book in 2001, Alya and Anya only played a very minor role, but when it finally came time to write it, they became much more prominent secondary characters.


June 23, Sunday, Álla and Karmov stand on the church steps holding Zóya for post-baptismal photos, while Dinara, Yarik, Zhényushka, and Marína stand a short distance away posing with two-week-old Bogdána.  Mr. Lebedev stands near the photographers, shaking his head affectionately.

“I knew my first wife and I ran to girls, but I never dreamt my girls would run to girls themselves.  I’ve got five blood granddaughters and four stepgranddaughters, with only one stepgrandson.  The three bastards Álla gave away don’t count.”

“I’m sure the baby I’m having is a boy,” Lyuba says. “And if Ványa and I have another child after this one, and it’s a boy, we’ll name him after you, just like I promised.  Of course, if one of your blood daughters beats me to the punch, she’s welcome to name her son after you in my stead.”

“You’re coming up on twenty-four weeks,” Mrs. Lebedeva says. “How long do you think you can hide your condition at work?  Everyone in your neighborhood and around Katrin’s place knows you’re expecting.  You can’t hide your expanding middle forever in those loose clothes.”

“I’m behind a desk all day and at lunch.  I know how to be clever.  I think I’ll ask for time off when I’ve only got a few weeks left, and finally come clean then.”

“Iván’s parents don’t know yet, but his aunt does,” Natálya says. “I hope they never find out.”

“It’s always worse when people find out by surprise and learn they were the last to know,” Mr. Lebedev says. “Just like when I found out you were being courted by a young man who hadn’t bothered to ask my permission or even introduce himself to me.  When am I going to meet this fellow anyway?”

“I’ll introduce him if I think it’s proper.  Modern girls don’t need their fathers’ permission to go out with anyone.  And I told you it’s a very proper courtship.  Just going to the movies, out to eat, and taking picnics in the park.  No petting parties for us.  He barely even saw any girls around his age back in Bulun, so he’s not as wise to modern dating customs as most guys.”

While her family and friends are going into the social hall for the celebratory lunch, Lyuba sneaks over to talk to Álya and Ánya.  Now that she’s working and earning enough money to support her remaining family nicely, she no longer needs to beg from them, but she’s continued meeting with them.  And with her closest friends and Iván away, she has less people to worry about discovering their association.

“Congratulations on your new nieces,” Ánya says.

“Thank you.  My stepfather was just talking about how we all run to girls.  Hopefully the all-female streak will be broken when I have my baby in October.”

“At least you’re not carrying all your weight out front like when you had Fédya,” Álya says. “You can hide it easier at work.  Not that I believe the old wives’ tale about predicting sex based on how the weight is distributed.”

“How’d you like to come over for a sleepover this week?” Ánya asks. “After we have our weekly dinner together, you can stay over.  Perhaps we can do it on Saturday.  I’m sure Katrin wouldn’t mind taking your kids.  She doesn’t disapprove of our existence or you talking to us.”

“That sounds like a fun idea,” Lyuba agrees. “I’ll be looking forward to it.  I could’ve never done something like that when Ványa was around.”

“Now you know how we’ve always felt, free to live independent lives without some man and children tying us down.  I bet you’ll have a hard time going back to your old lifestyle after this separation ends.”