WeWriWa—Velira’s Birthday Wish

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, where participants share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m currently sharing from my current WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest, Chapter 39, “Velira’s Birthday Wish.” Velira has been under her spinster aunt Inna’s care since April 1937, when her father escaped their house with his two small children as his wife was being arrested. Inna is the co-director of the orphanage where she and her little brother Vitya grew up, so it was the perfect place to hide a small child.

It’s now September, and Velira is turning three in the sanctuary of Isfahan, Iran. Velira has just made a wish and asked Inna for permission to play outside in the courtyard. Inna agrees, on condition she not go in the reflecting pool without an adult or older child, not nap in direct sunlight, climb trees, or pick flowers. Velira ends up disobeying one of the rules, but it could lead to the fulfillment of part of her seemingly impossible birthday wish.

Manzura is a young Tajik orphanage girl who was chosen as the translator after the orphanage’s partial relocation. There are a lot of children at the orphanage from distant Soviet republics, but the Tajik language is by far the closest to Persian.


Velira scampers outside with one of the porcelain dolls dressed in a traditional Persian outfit which Firuza has given her.  In the courtyard, she sets her doll down in the shade and has a long conversation with it, then turns her attention to the pheasants having a dirt bath.  After the pheasants have gone, she sees a snake slithering through the garden.  Ínna has told her that most snakes aren’t poisonous, but Velira doesn’t want to take any chances.  She disobeys the order against climbing trees and heads into her favorite tree, an acacia, her doll tucked under her left arm.  When she’s up high enough to reach the ornate stone wall around the courtyard, she climbs out onto the top of the ledge.

As Velira is looking down at the designs on both sides of the wall, which include birds, flowers, trees, and shapes, she sees a stream of people heading towards the nearby bazaar.  Ínna hasn’t yet taken her to the bazaar, for fear she’ll get lost in the crowd, but Velira enjoys watching people on their way to and fro, and looking at the colorful foods and crafts Ínna and Manzura bring back every week.

WeWriWa—Velira’s Birthday Wish

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, where participants share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m currently sharing from my current WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest, Chapter 39, “Velira’s Birthday Wish.” It’s September 1937 in Isfahan, Persia, and the niece of the orphanage co-director is turning three years old.

Velira hasn’t seen her father since he gave some of the orphanage children and workers phony travel visas to relocate in May, last saw her brother in April when her father split them up for safety, and is so young she doesn’t understand her mother is dead forever. Regardless, she’s going to wish to have her parents and her baby brother back with her.

Firuza is a neighbor who speaks fluent Russian, due to having worked as a nanny for a wealthy Russian family with a summer home by the Caspian Sea. After her summer employers fled to Bulgaria in the wake of the Revolution, she maintained the language with the then-respectably-sized White Russian émigré community in Persia.


“Tavalodat mobarak,” Firuza says as she sets the saffron, rosewater, cardamom, and pomegranate-flavored cake before Velira. “We didn’t put any candles on the cake, but you can pretend they’re there.  When it’s your birthday, you close your eyes and make a special wish.  But you can’t tell anyone what you wished for, or it won’t come true.”

“I can wish for anything I want?”

“Within reason,” Ínna says, full well knowing that a three-year-old doesn’t really understand the concept of reason. “You can’t very well wish for something like a million rubles or a pet elephant.  It has to be something you know you might get, like new clothes or nice friends.”

WeWriWa—Velira’s Birthday Wish

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, where participants share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m returning to my current WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest, this week. For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing from Chapter 39, “Velira’s Birthday Wish,” one of the chapters set entirely in Persia. (The country had been officially renamed Iran by that point, but the older characters still call it Persia out of force of habit.)

It’s September 1937, and there’s a special birthday being celebrated at the orphanage that was partially relocated by stealth from Kyiv, Ukraine a few months earlier. Vitya, the man who saved Inessa’s life at the River Bug in June, gave his daughter Velira to his sister Inna and their old orphanage mother Mrs. Brezhneva for safekeeping in April.

Siranoush is the 5-year-old daughter of Inna’s old orphanage friend Ohanna, who also defected to Persia. She and Velira have become good friends, in spite of not sharing a language yet. I’ve slightly edited this to fit 8 sentences.


The two cooks who were relocated with the orphanage are only versed in basic Russian and Ukrainian fare like pirogi, stuffed cabbage, dumpling soup, mushroom barley soup, and borshcht, so Ínna has enlisted Maral and their new neighbor Firuza’s cook to make something a little more exciting for Velira’s third birthday.  Though Velira doesn’t understand very well just what a birthday is, she understands that her age is changing, and that she’s going to get presents and fancy food.  She’s most excited by the idea of having a cake, a delicacy she never got at home.

Velira is propped up with several fat cushions on the special birthday chair, so she can reach the table and see everyone.  She delightedly takes in the feast Maral and Firuza made for her juvenile palette and small stomach—nan-e dushabi; a sampling of date, pomegranate, apricot, apple, and peach jams; baklava; date khoresh; rice with rosewater and orange peel; walnut-stuffed lamb; her new favorite soup, noodles with vegetables and chickpeas; and a covered cake off to the side, being saved for later.

“I made you a little book,” Siranoush says proudly, while Izabella translates. “My older friend Zavik lent me colored pencils, and gave me yarn to hold the pages together.  I drew pictures of us, and lots of cute little animals.”


Of interest to fellow name nerds: Velira isn’t a traditional Russian name, but one of the invented Soviet names most popular from about 1917-40. It’s an amalgamation of the phrase “great worker,” and one of the ones that sounds most like a real name.

Quintina’s Birthday (Quay Sans)

Font: Quay Sans

Year created: 1990

Chapter: “Quintina’s Birthday”

Book: Third book in my Max’s House series (terrible, unoriginal, inaccurate working title is Resolutions)

Written: Early 1995

Handwritten; later transcribed into MacWriteII on ’93 Mac

My earliest Max’s House books need a lot of work, and this one is no exception. I’d guess this particular one was somewhere below 90,000 words when I finally converted and reformatted the six files I’d transcribed from the handwritten original. This is pretty damn long for one of these books. Now, I’ve gotten it down to around 74,000 words, and that’s still too long. This book, and the 6th and 8th books, are by far the most overwritten and in need of radical rewriting and restructuring. So many scenes are so freaking pointless and cluttery.

This, though, is one of my favorite pieces of the original material. Quintina and her family were initially based on a friend of mine and her family, perhaps a bit more strongly than some of my other characters who were only based on friends and acquaintances in terms of physical appearance. But the Holidays gradually evolved into their own people.

Mr. Seward and Bambi have recently come home from the hospital not with their first baby together, but with five of them. After getting over their initial anger and horror, Max and his cousin Elaine contacted a new-fangled TV producer/director to cash in on the quints. So many years later, this storyline seems like an eerie premonition of “reality” TV. The show is a bomb from day one, and the producer/director is all kinds of creepy and controlling, but the Sewards are unable to get out of this commitment just yet.

So to try to relax, Elaine heads off for Quintina’s birthday party. It’s a girls-only party, but Tina’s brothers Gyll (i.e., Gil) and John sabotage everything and make this not only a far from relaxing party, but a birthday party that won’t soon be forgotten.

Some highlights:

[Quintina] wailed as her brothers grabbed the guests’ board games, opened them, and dumped the contents all over the street below.

“Ooh!” John grabbed her cake and had a great time pretending to drop that too. “Shall I tell Mom you said that?”

[After her brothers are forced to go outside to pick up the games] Quintina leaned through the window and gave them the finger. “Mommy, John’s making faces!”

“‘Dear Sex Therapist,’” John read in a squeaky voice. “‘I was stalked.  Shall I see a professional, or—’”

“Cool!  A dare card!” John picked up a card for Teen Chat. “Gyll, run naked into the street and scream: ‘I’m in love with another man!’”

“John, who guest starred as Ida for a week on Steam Line when the real Ida was getting tested for syphilis?”

Mrs. Holiday piled enough cake and junk food onto each paper plate to feed the entire Army.

“Don’t sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ It’s corny,” Quintina ordered.

“Happy birthday—” her brothers began loudly and obnoxiously.

She spilled milk down the front of John’s slacks.  Soon they were screaming and fighting, again.

“First we vote on the band,” Mrs. Holiday said. “Seven choices, and vote only once.  The winning band comes through the door.”

“Who wants Frank Sinatra?”

Violet jumped out of her chair, danced around the room, and let out a SCREAM, thinking her beloved Blue Eyes was at the door.

“That ain’t fair!” Julieanna screamed. “I wanted to vote for Frankie too!  You let us vote again or else!”

“Let’s vote, again.  The Balls can leave.” She went to the door and sent them away.

“So then we have a three-way tie this time?”

“I will send away The Lovechildren, The Guns, and cancel the date with Sinatra.”

“NO!” Violet wailed.

Their mother shut the door and came back in.  Then she double-taped the muzzles in place.

“Who wants Frank Sinatra?”

Guess who went orgasmic for the fifth time in a row?

“A double tie now?  I will cancel the date with Frank.”

“Then we won’t vote,” Violet sulked.

“Yeah.  If Frankie doesn’t play, we leave,” Julieanna announced.

“Violet is the deciding vote.  Violet, we have voted six times now!”

Violet didn’t give a flying damn.

“Quintina will decide for you then!”

Violet could care less.

“I cast Violet’s deciding vote,” Quintina said. “The Abortions!”

[Tina’s favorite member, 18-year-old Pauly, who goes to their school] He got down on his hands and knees in front of her as Danny sang “Exploring.” “Maybe when you’re older, if we’re both single, I might date you.  I like you, for a kid!” He autographed a paper, gave it to her, and went onstage.

World Building Excerpt

World Building

Today, the final day of the World Building Blogfest, participants are posting excerpts of a thousand words or under, demonstrating worldbuilding. This is May 1937 in Yerevan. Alina has taken 5-year-old Siranoush on a walk around the neighborhood and to the fairly new Yerevan Botanical Garden, each teaching the other words in their respective native languages, while Ohanna is preparing the Armenian version of a modest birthday celebration for Alina.

Before she left Georgia, Alina found a birthday present her husband Amiran got for her before his arrest, but hasn’t had the heart to open it.


Siranoush makes a beeline for the water closet the moment they get back to the apartment while Alína has a seat on the davenport and looks through the Russian-language newspaper.  Ohanna has an atlas open on the coffeetable, displaying the pages with Persia and Transcaucasia.

“I can’t decide which route is safest for us,” Ohanna says. “I’d prefer to go through the mountains instead of along a water route like the Araks River.  I just think it’s a little safer and more reliable to go through land.  At least we’ll be better-hidden on the mountains, if we know which route to go through.  For a river or the sea, we’d have to find a trustworthy sailor or a ship to smuggle aboard, and then find a way to get off the ship in Persia, if we’re not supposed to be on the ship.  And I’m not such a strong swimmer to make a river crossing alone.”

“What if we planned to take a ship during a storm?  The authorities might believe we got lost or died at sea.”

“That’s too risky.  I hope we don’t have to go through another republic to get to the best mountains, though if we wait a little longer, till June, people might be more inclined to believe we’re going on some long summer holiday with so many suitcases.”

Siranoush scampers back into the living room and has a seat next to Alína. She points to Alína’s abdomen and then points towards Ohanna.

“What word does she want?  I don’t even look pregnant at this point, though I don’t mind if you told her I’m expecting a baby.”

Ohanna speaks with Siranoush and smiles. “She wants to know what your baby’s name will be.”

“Oh, I have no idea.  It seems kind of superstitious to announce a name so far ahead of time, though I do have some names I’d really like to use.  Amiran and I always wanted to named our children after heroes of Georgian history, like Queen Tamar and King Davit the Builder.  I couldn’t give my baby a Russian name, even if my own name was borrowed from Russian.  Only native Georgian names, so long as they’re not too obscure.”

“Tamar and Davit are nice names.  It helps that they’re also Biblical.  It gives them a more universal feel.  I don’t think my name has an equivalent in any other languages.”

Alína puts down the paper and looks through the Russian-language atlas. “I’m not familiar with Armenian geography, but I know some of these names sound more Russian than Armenian.  I know Leninakan definitely isn’t a traditional Armenian city name.”

“A lot of the streets have Russian names too, as you probably noticed.  They’re forcing themselves on us after our brief glorious moment of independence.  This was supposed to be a homecoming, not a short-lived time of happiness and freedom.”

Alína tries to enjoy the lunch Ohanna prepares for her, though she still feels a bit guilty for eating well when Amiran is forced to eat prison food.  The food from the bazaar can only last so long, and he can’t eat like a king even with the most succulent fruits, freshest bread and cheese, and crunchiest nuts.  That’s not a filling, full-course supra.

When Izabella and Maral come home in the late afternoon, Alína is taking a bath, at Ohanna’s insistence, while smells of the birthday dinner waft through the apartment.  By the time she dries herself and emerges in fresh clothes, several parcels, including Amiran’s, are sitting on the table, and the modest table is groaning under the weight of the lavish birthday supper Ohanna has prepared.  Chechil, topig, lebaneh, mint tea, paklava, fruit salad made of pomegranates, figs, dates, persimmons, and plums, chicken in walnut sauce, stuffed mushrooms, pistachios, bozbash, matnakash, pilaf, fried cabbage, and a cake made with pomegranate molasses, currants, cranberries, dates, apricots, and figs.

“I hope you like it, even if it’s not the type of banquet fit for a sultan’s table,” Ohanna says. “At any rate, it sure beats those awful rations Mrs. Brézhneva used to swear were gourmet cooking.”

“It’s very nice,” Alína says. “Thank you so much for thinking about me.”

“Next year on your birthday, we’ll be celebrating in freedom and safety.  And there will be two new people at the table by next May, which will be even more special to celebrate.”

Alína reaches for the parcel with Izabella’s name on it, which she recognizes from when Ohanna taught her how to read Armenian back at the orphanage.  She unwraps a lace headscarf along with a little birthday note.  From Ohanna and Siranoush she unwraps a red cloth with am embroidered geometric motif, and from Maral she unwraps a wall tapestry embroidered with flowers and tiny animals.  She decides to leave Amiran’s parcel alone until after she’s finished eating.

After the dinner, Alína timidly picks up Amiran’s parcel and slowly pulls off the thick paper wrapping.  Inside the box, she finds a green, purple, and yellow felt bag, a large jewelry box depicting several scenes in miniature from the Vani Gospels, with lines calligraphed in the old Nuskhuri alphabet used in that beautiful old illuminated manuscript, and a golden necklace with a teardrop-shaped emerald pendant ringed by tiny onyxes.  At the bottom of the box is a handwritten note in the more familiar, modern Mkhedruli script.