WeWriWa—Twelve-dish Christmas supper

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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. To mark the recent Russian Orthodox Christmas, this snippet comes from my fourth Russian novel, in a scene featuring the traditional twelve-dish supper of Christmas Eve (6 January). This is the beginning of 1949.

NYU freshmen and Irish twins Igor and Ilya are living with their great-aunt Valeriya and her second husband, Grigoriy Golitsyn (a prince by birth). Their guests are Valeriya and Mr. Golitsyn’s oldest child together, Vasya; his wife Dusya; and their children, 6-year-old Stella and 2-year-old Nora. Also present is Valeriya and Mr. Golitsyn’s daughter Vasilisa, who’s seriously dating another prince by birth.

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After the Troparion, Mr. Golitsyn takes out a blue and white bowl of honey and makes the sign of the cross on each person’s forehead in turn, starting with Valeriya and ending with Nora.

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, may you all have sweetness and many good things in life and in the new year,” he pronounces after Nora has been anointed.

Valeriya lights a large yellow candle in the center of the table, contained in a red and white porcelain dish, symbolizing the star of Bethlehem.  Then Stella stands up on her chair and reads the Nativity story from the Gospel of Matthew.  The youngest child is traditionally supposed to read it, but Nora doesn’t know how to read anything yet.  Finally, Mr. Golitsyn asks for God’s blessings on the wine, bread, and food, breaks the round, twisted kalach bread, and distributes it to the other eight people.

The first proper meal of the supper is kutya, cooked barley kasha sweetened with chopped walnuts, honey, dried cranberries, and poppy seeds.  Also around the table are caviar, mushroom soup, fish soup with dumplings, cabbage soup, pickled mushrooms, pirozhki, stuffed carp, baked trout, draniki, pickled cabbage, boiled potatoes with dill from Vasya and Dusya, raspberry tea, wine, blueberry vareniki, walnut pudding, and assorted dried fruits.

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Draniki are potato pancakes; pirozhki are baked or fried buns stuffed with things like mushrooms and beef; and vareniki are kind of like blintzes or crêpes, dough pockets stuffed with either savory or sweet foods. The Troparion is a one-stanza hymn, with many different forms.

WeWriWa—Wolfram’s stocking

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Happy Christmas, and Happy Chanukah!

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a number of pages after last week’s, when Wolfram invited his friends to join him for some Christmas baking. Now, Christmas morning, they’ve come across the hall so he’ll have some company on his holiday.

Glühwein is heated, spiced wine; gedeckter apfelkuchen is a cross between apple pie and apple cake; kranzkuchen is braided, wreath-shaped bread; lebkuchen is gingerbread; eierpunsch is eggnog; and vanillekipferl are small crescent cookies made of ground hazelnuts or almonds and heavily dusted with vanilla sugar.

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The breakfast which presently appeared on the table consisted of Stollen, glühwein, hard-boiled eggs, rolls with strawberry and raspberry jam, quark, kranzkuchen stuffed with chocolate marzipan and glazed with apricot jam, gedeckter apfelkuchen with cranberries in place of the usual raisins, lebkuchen, eierpunsch, vanillekipferl, chocolate muffins, chocolate croissants, hot chocolate, a platter of mixed cheeses, and pain au chocolat.  Marie eagerly piled her plate with everything.

After every crumb had been devoured, they went back to the living room.  Of the sixteen gifts under the tree, the biggest by far was from Marie.  A few of Wolfram’s new co-workers, and Marie’s friends, had gotten some little trinkets, and his new boss had given him an envelope of money.

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Wolfram first went through the contents of the stocking Marie had put together—chocolates, jellybeans, gumdrops, nonpareils, caramels, a dark green yo-yo, a silver bookmark with embossed swirls and the letter W, a small bottle of Fougère Royale men’s perfume, a pocket-sized copy of The Little Prince, a kaleidoscope, a Chinese puzzle box, a miniature telescope, Nénette and Rintintin good luck dolls, an angel figurine, and an orange.  Marie had individually wrapped everything except for the orange at the bottom, and put the candy in colored gauze drawstring bags.

“You’re such a sweet girl, Mitzi,” Wolfram said as he set the now-empty stocking on the side table. “You didn’t need to get me another present besides all these little things.  If people like me were able to have children, I’d want a daughter just like you.”

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Nénette and Rintintin are little yarn dolls originating in 1913. They began as children’s toys, but during WWI, they became very popular good luck charms for soldiers. Parisian civilians also wore them as protection against air raids. Many were made in white, blue, and red, like the French flag.

WeWriWa—Wolfram’s Christmas decorations

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Today is my secular birthday (my Hebrew birthday will be the 5th night of Chanukah). I’ve reached an age where I’d prefer not to say how old I am, though I don’t look my age at all! Most people don’t think I’m older than 25.

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes about five chapters after last week’s. My characters left Florence for Paris after Chanukah ended, and found Marie’s dear friend Wolfram Engel by the depot. Wolfram paid for their stay by the famous, luxurious Hôtel Le Meurice.

After several days in Paris, everyone but Wolfram set out for Marie’s hometown of Nantes. Marie didn’t exactly receive a hero’s welcome home, and suffered a bit of a mental breakdown. Upon their return to Paris, Wolfram took them to an apartment across the hall from his. He moved in all the things they left with him, and bought cheap furniture and mattresses. Wolfram invited them to join him for some Christmas baking after washing off the road dust.

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At 7:30, they reconvened in Wolfram’s flat, which had a wreath hung on the door.  The first thing everyone noticed was the large Christmas tree in the living room.  They’d all seen Christmas trees before, but never this up-close and personal.  It dominated the entire room and flat by mere virtue of its presence.

Wolfram had festooned it with bright colored glass bulbs; strings of popcorn and dried cranberries; blue, white, red, and yellow tinsel; artificial birds’ nests with eggs; a string of multicolored lights; miniature musical instruments; and several different types of birds.  It was topped off by an angel.  Underneath the tree was a miniature village with a toy train running around and producing real smoke.  Everyone looked away from the manger scene.

Another wreath was hung on the mantle above the fireplace, and on top of the mantle was an odd piece of cardboard with little open windows displaying pictures of both secular and religious Christmas subjects.  The unopened windows bore numbers, suggesting it were a type of calendar counting down to Christmas.

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Wolfram was sent to the camps for violating Paragraph 175, Germany’s anti-gay legislation which was on the books until 1994. He fell away from churchgoing and Confession years ago due to his anger at Church teachings about homosexuality, but still feels a strong pull towards the cultural aspect of German Catholicism.

As Wolfram tells Marie (whom he calls Mitzi), it means the world to him that she’s never judged or feared him. He’s her surrogate father, and later walks her up to the wedding canopy and serves as her children’s grandfather.

I’ve always pictured Wolfram a bit like silent screen sheik and fellow Pittsburgher Thomas Meighan, with thicker and wavier hair, and intense green eyes:

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WeWriWa—A big brother’s Christmas presents

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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. Since Russian Orthodox Christmas was 7 January, I’m sharing from one of the Christmas chapters of Journey Through a Dark Forest, the third volume with my Russian characters. Orthodox Christmas 1942 is very funereal, as Lyuba and Ivan’s oldest son Fedya has just enlisted, quickly married his sweetheart Novomira, and has to immediately go back to New York to await further orders.

In the middle of the somber atmosphere, 19-year-old Fedya gives his newborn sister Tamara some presents to remember him by while he’s gone, and in case the worst happens.

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Fedya passes a green parcel to his mother. “This is for Tomochka.  If the worst happens, I want her to have something to always remember me by, long after she’s a baby.”

Lyuba pulls off the paper with trembling fingers and opens the box lid to find a silver bracelet with a dolphin charm, a children’s book about the great Russian saints, some recent pictures Fedya painted of the Minnesota countryside and the Manhattan cityscape, a miniature clay rabbit, a honey-colored hinged wooden box for keepsakes or jewelry, and a blank greeting card Fedya decorated himself.  On the front, he drew a Christmas tree and small animals in the snow, and on the inside, he glued one of the three copies of a picture of him holding Tamara at her recent baptism.  The inscription, in both English and Russian, gives the date and the message “Happy Christmas to my precious baby sister Tamara, from your oldest brother Fyodor, who loves you so much.  You’ll be a lot bigger and won’t even remember me by the time I see you again, so I wanted you to have these things while I’m still home.  Be good and sweet for our parents while I’m away keeping you all safe.  Never forget I’m giving up my todays for your tomorrows.  Love, Fedya.”

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Another lifetime ago, Lyuba told family friend Pavel her little boy was too cute to be cannon fodder, and hoped there’d never be another war. Fedya almost died at birth, and again at 15 months when he had viral meningitis. Now his parents have to sit by and watch as he voluntarily puts himself into harm’s way because he believes so much in doing the right thing, and because he’s determined to find his sister Darya in France and bring her safely back home.

IWSG—2016 writing goals

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Happy Christmas to any readers of the Orthodox Christian faith! I always found it rather unfair Orthodox Christmas gets overlooked, with many people assuming Christmas is over and done with for everyone on 25 December. Not everyone has the same holidays, or observes their holidays on the same days!

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It’s the first The Insecure Writer’s Support Group meeting of the new year. Every first Wednesday of the month, members share worries, insecurities, triumphs, hopes, and fears. The winners of the IWSG Anthology Contest will also be announced today.

The words just weren’t coming for A Dream Deferred, the fourth volume with my Russian characters. In spite of the chapter-by-chapter notes I made during the summer and having detailed plans for certain scenes and chapters, I just lost almost all of my motivation. I think that was a sign I needed to get back to my alternative history.

I still do plan to release it on 12 August, what would’ve been my protagonist’s 112th birthday. The majority of the work left at this point is Part IV, with some remaining gaps in Parts II and III to fill in, plus a tiny bit in the short Epilogue. I switched to a new desktop picture of my protagonist, for fresh inspiration and a constant reminder to be a good fairy godmother and give him the happy ending he was denied in this life.

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I’ll be releasing And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth probably within a month. I don’t consider it a major release, just my second volume about Jakob and Rachel. When I was turning my long short story/piece of backstory about my longtime secondary character Jakob into a full-length novel in 2012, the plan had been for it to be one entire book. At the time, I was entering it in contests and having my query letter critiqued as upper YA, so I was cognizant of the length. I even did a fade to black on the wedding-night scene, even though Jakob and Rachel remain technical virgins due to their fear of creating a potential half-orphan before Jakob’s military service ends.

I only expanded the remaining material into a second volume when I felt the story would be too long for YA if it were all in one book. The most perfect ending opened up, and I was able to make the rest of the story as long as it needed to be. Of course, I later admitted to myself I largely write adult historical which just so happens to have young characters. There’s no mistaking the second volume for anything but an adult book, not least because it has a number of sex scenes!

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I still want to have my other two covers revamped, hopefully this time finding an artist who responds to queries in a timely fashion instead of getting deep in arrears. I love the work that artist does, but I don’t need to sit around waiting for a response from someone who takes that kind of attitude. Even if it’s not your day job, you should still be professional and not risk losing potential clients.

I released nothing last year because I was so disappointed and embarrassed at not selling anything. Even if I continue getting far more congratulations and “that sounds interesting” than actual sales, it still can’t hurt to release the books I’d wanted to release last year. The more product out there, the more chance I have of gaining a name.

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I finally achieved my longtime goal of seeing 1,000 silent films on New Year’s Eve, and the list is still growing strong. My lucky #1,000, Victor Sjöström’s The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen), just so happens to be one of the films I’ll be featuring during this October’s spotlight on classic horror or horror-ish films with landmark anniversaries this year.

I’d like to share the beautiful, haunting prayer offered by phantom driver Georges, his New Year’s prayer for all humanity, a prayer which is repeated in the final intertitle:

Gud, låt min själ få komma till mognad innan den skall skördas!

God, let my soul come to maturity before it is reaped!

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What are your goals, writing or otherwise, for this year? If you could offer one prayer or wish for all humanity, what would it be? Do you celebrate Orthodox Christmas or Epiphany, or have you ever shared in someone else’s celebration?