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.

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.”

Harry Baron

Name: Harry Baron

Date of birth: I’d guess he was born somewhere in the 1880s to the 1890s, since his age is never given, but he’s a cop at least as of the early Twenties, and he’s not so young he’d shy away from making friends with a middle-aged man like Mr. Konev.

Place of birth: Probably New York City

Year I created him: Probably 2001

Role: Secondary Character

Officer Harry Baron is the only recurring secondary character in my Russian novels, besides Katrin’s servants and Anastasiya’s nanny, who isn’t Russian or Baltic. He and two other alcohol-friendly cops frequent Ivan’s father’s illegal liquor store and are friends with Mr. Konev. In their first scene, in which none of the cops are named, they’re talking to Mr. Konev and Lyuba, admiring Lyuba’s children, and wondering why Ivan won’t do the right thing by marrying Lyuba when he has such a beautiful fiancée and lovely family.

The second time they show up is when Ivan goes to the basement of his father’s store while it’s under siege by some pissed off Russian-American mobsters. Officer Baron and his two friends come to the rescue and arrest the mobsters, and give the store additional protection. They also appear as guests at Lyuba and Ivan’s wedding.

In the second book, they show up when Mr. Glazov, the Russian Uncle Tom who runs the iron factory, is finally being arrested for his many violations of the labor laws. Officer Baron later shows up alone to arrest Boris when he’s at his psychotherapist’s. I don’t remember if I had plans to use him in the second book, but I guess I liked him enough as a minor character to trot him out when a cop was needed, instead of using some anonymous, new cop.

Officer Baron scenes:

“You’re the one who gets only fifteen dollars a month at some iron factory, the guy who refuses to make his fiancée a respectable woman instead of indefinitely living in sin with her even after you’ve had a son together and you’re raising her four-year-old daughter like your own?  The same guy who won’t let his fiancée get a job because he’s so paranoid about men at work hitting on her and as a result forcing her into danger to pump a lot of extra money into your household?”

“My fazer is tied up in a chair and his business partner is half-tied up!”

“You must be in the wine cellar?”

“Don’t tell me my fazer has had zis happen to him before.”

“No more than ten times.  And it’s never been this awful, only empty threats from mobsters previously.  We’ll be right over.”


Officer Baron pays a visit to Mr. Glazov as he’s eating chocolate, reading a copy of True Story magazine, and every so often taking little peeks at the exploited workers through ten different glass peepholes.  Mr. Glazov’s personal office is more like a suite.

“Is this the Mr. Glazov I’ve been hearing so many terrible things about?”

“One of the workers sent you to inspect the factory?” Mr. Glazov speaks perfect English. “I never should’ve let them start that stupid union.  They’re lucky I’m not making them work sixteen hours a day instead of only ten, and that I’m going to start giving them paid vacations this year.”

“I’m a frequent visitor to a store owned by the father of one of your workers.  He says you’re only paying his son fifteen dollars a month, which averages out to three dollars and seventy-five cents a week.  You’re going to start paying all your workers fifteen dollars a week from now on.”

“I’ve already let them have a union and now paid vacations.  They’d walk all over me asking for more special favors if I began to pay them more than they deserve.”

“My friend says his son is friends with another man who works here.  Not the agitator who just started the union, the other man he comes in with every morning, the pale, scrawny, bookish guy who’s always reading the bulletin board to see if there are openings in positions that don’t involve so much danger.  He’s also threatened to walk if he won’t get a higher salary.”

“He can walk.  It’s no great concern of mine.  I can continue to pay my workers only fifteen dollars a month as long as none of them are complaining en masse.”

“You’ll pay them fifteen dollars a week from now on, or else I’ll run you in,” Officer Baron threatens.


Iván pushes to the head of the line and elbows his way inside the factory.  Inside, the workers are also lined up and holding signs and screaming curses, insults, and chants at Mr. Glazov.  Mr. Konev’s three cop friends and about ten other cops are encircled around Mr. Glazov, refusing to listen to anything he says in his own defense.  Harry Baron, the officer who forced him to raise the pay rate three years ago, is tapping a billy club against his hand, while another officer is holding out a pair of handcuffs and trying to convince Mr. Glazov to submit to arrest peacefully.

“Take him to jail!  Don’t vait for him to surrender, because he von’t do it!” Karmov shouts. “He’ll never admit he did wrong!  He’ll still be making excuses ven he’s in court!  He’ll be convicted on evidence alone!”

“How can I support my wife and kids if I’m in jail?” Mr. Glazov asks. “They’re used to a high off the hog lifestyle.  I guarantee you production at this factory will crash to a standstill once I’m no longer around.  Who’s even going to run this operation?”

“How do you think your exploited workers supported their own wives and kids on the pittance you paid them?” Officer Baron asks. “Were you even thinking about how you barely paid enough for them to get by, and forced them to pinch pennies and make their wives get jobs too?  Fifteen dollars a week is nothing.  Most of your workers pay at least ten dollars a month in rent, leaving almost nothing for utilities or food.  You should be disgusted at yourself for exploiting your own people.  A Russian Uncle Tom, indeed.”


Álya smiles when she sees a police car driving up and parallel-parking. “Oh, look.  Perhaps that’s the answer to everyone’s prayers.  Maybe they found out your schedule from your parents.”

“They’re probably just regular cops.” Borís pushes past Ánya and Álya and briskly walks to Dr. Seelenfreund’s office.

As Borís is hanging his coat on the wall, he hears footsteps coming up the stairs.   Dr. Seelenfreund is in the room with him, and he knows there weren’t any other people in the lobby when he came in.  Borís knows no one would be so rude as to interrupt Dr. Seelenfreund when he’s with a patient.  He gulps in horror, overcome with a foretaste of what’s waiting for him.

“Good day, Doctor.  My name is Officer Harry Baron, and I’m here to arrest this man, Borís Malenkov.  Mr. Malenkov, please come with me.  If you’ve already paid, you can get a refund in jail.”

“Jail?  I haven’t done anything wrong!”

“Why are you arresting my client?” Dr. Seelenfreund asks. “Sure he’s done some bad things in his past, but he’s made a lot of progress in the years he’s been coming to see me.  The statute of limitations for any crimes he might’ve committed in the past are up, and since all of those potential crimes occurred overseas, they’re out of your jurisdiction anyway.”

“I’m good friends with Iván Konev, Sr., the father of Borís’s former best friend.  I’m also acquainted with the family of Iván Konev, Jr.  So I happen to know of this man’s most recent, most outrageous crime ever.  I recently spoke to Mrs. Koneva, and she gave me a very damning testimony against him.  Borís A. Malenkov, you’re under arrest for violating the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act through the purchase, smuggling, and pushing of morphine.  You’re also under arrest for the crime of impersonation for the purposes of fraud.”

Borís walks over to the window and peers down at the fire escape.  Hoping to make the five-foot jump, he opens the window and starts climbing out.  Officer Baron is hot on his heels.

“Resisting arrest is your third offense.  Let’s go.”

Borís whines as a pair of handcuffs is slapped on him. “But my beautiful car, and my beautiful house, and all my money—”

“Mrs. Koneva tells me you were fired by your priest, so you don’t have a job.  And everyone is having a hard time with money since the Stock Market crashed, so unless you have a secret stash of millions of dollars, you’re no richer than the rest of us.  I’ve heard you never had much money in the bank anyway.  You spent it almost as soon as you earned it.  I’m sure your parents will love to move back into your house and take over your car.  Who wouldn’t love to drive a Duesenberg and pretend to be rich and famous?”

Borís curses his life as Officer Baron leads him down the stairs and back into the street.  Álya and Ánya are standing by the Duesenberg smiling at him as he passes.

“Get used to living an ordinary life,” Ánya calls. “You don’t get money, a nice car, and a fancy house in prison.”

“Maybe now you’ll finally learn a serious lesson about proper behavior and human decency, with all that time to think,” Álya says. “You’ve brought this nightmare all on yourself.”

“But I’ll be lonely in jail!”

Officer Baron laughs. “I love when I arrest criminals who whine about how they don’t want to miss their children’s birthdays, feel lonely, want to go to a party, or demand gourmet food and their radio.  If all those things were so important to you, you never should’ve committed crimes in the first place.”